The 1997 Wally Award goes to Fred Bentham for the lasting impact his inventions have had on the lighting industry. The Wally Russell Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Entertainment Technology was founded in 1992 in memory of its namesake. Bentham is the sixth recipient of the award, which is presented each year at LDI. Past honorees include Charles Altman, George van Buren, Tharon Musser, and Frank DeVerna.
The director of technical development at Strand Electric (now Strand Lighting) for more than 40 years, Bentham was responsible for innovations that had a pivotal role in lighting and lighting control, especially in Britain. "Fred had the most profound effect on stage lighting in England," says lighting designer Richard Pilbrow, who has known Bentham for many years. "He was responsible for most of the technical innovations from the 1930s through the early 70s." A true visionary, Bentham was the inventor of Strand's Light Console, the lighting desk that introduced remote control to theatrical lighting in the West End, long before such innovation was common on Broadway.
"In the early 1930s Fred dreamt of an instrument that would allow lighting to be played in a manner akin to music," says Pilbrow, who serves on the Wally Award committee. "His Light Console literally used an organ console to drive remote motor-driven dimmers. With keys, foot pedals, and stops, one person could manipulate hundreds of dimmers in almost infinite combinations." This interested West End theatre owners, who quickly saw the money-saving possibilities of one person running the lights rather than three or four.
Bentham's innovations, many of which were used until the advent of the computer era, include profile spotlights, parallel beamlights, and acting area spotlights. He also wrote several textbooks on stage lighting and was the editor of the technical journal Tabs, published by Strand. And when the Association of British Theatre Technicians was launched, Bentham was among the founding members.
"Fred is a remarkable man," says Pilbrow. "He is a great talker and has a caustic, biting wit. He influenced many people and has served as an inspiration to many generations of lighting designers."