Felt Trips: “The Natural History of C-3PO” by Henry Rothwell

For some of us, Star Wars changed everything. The passions of our pre-1977 lives, all those beloved Wombles and Mr Men, were cruelly swept aside by an all-conquering cavalcade of droids, stormtroopers, Wookiees and Jedi. We lived, breathed and – indeed – drew Star Wars. At the age of five, I felt more of a spiritual connection with Tatooine that I did with my native Teesside.

Also finding his previous childhood interests compromised was Henry Rothwell, the “recovering archaeologist” whose contrasting passions for both Star Wars and natural history competed throughout 1977, finally conjoining in a delightful tipping point, only uncovered decades later.

Over to you, Henry…

“1977 was something of a learning year for me. We’d moved from the small, oaky West Sussex village of Henfield to the lounging salt-stained metropolis of Brighton, and with it I’d swapped the fairly carefree existence of a small school, woods, brooks, ponds and plenty of wildlife, for a very large school, endless roads and traffic, and a small garden with very little in the way of adventure. But it also brought with it the promise of Star Wars, my obsession with which became a substitute for my obsession with tadpoles, newts, toads and slow-worms (though this too continued on a reduced level). In the US, the movie was released in May, but here in the UK we had an interminably long wait: unless you were one of the anointed few who attended the premiere, the chances are that the film you could have sworn you saw in 1977 was actually the film you saw in January 1978.

Preceding this however, several waves of merchandising made their way across the Atlantic; from Topps collecting cards to long playing records, at least one single, ‘making of’ magazines, t-shirts, rogue X-Wings cropping up in 2000AD comic panels, and a great deal more besides. Plenty, in other words, to feed a growing youth’s growing obsession. I think I must still have spoken at length about missing the country idyll I’d left behind, however, as when I reached double figures in November 1977, my aunt Anna and cousin Georgie gave me a paperback copy of Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selbourne. And much as I’d like to report that I greedily and precociously consumed the text, I very definitely didn’t. I probably dipped in here and there and quickly found that the nature diary of an 18th century parson just didn’t have the same pull as, say, anything to do with Star Wars, and I probably put it on my bookshelf unread, perhaps next to Star Wars, the novel (supposedly written by George Lucas, but not actually).

That being said, it must have made it through the mental haze of lightsabers and TIE fighters enough to have registered somewhere. As an adult I have managed to collect five different editions of the book, and recently while comparing the different copies, I found a pencil sketch of C-3PO, the second best droid in the film, on a sheet of paper that had been ensconced between the pages of the copy I received in 1977. It was a reminder that I had drawn the characters obsessively – mainly the droids, spacecraft and armoured members of the cast, as I wasn’t very good at people, and preferred the machines anyway. One of the reasons behind this infatuated scribbling was that I wasn’t receiving enough information about the subject of my hyperfocus, so I was forced into generating my own. I have no idea what befell the other pictures I drew; I suppose some of them, like this one, may still live on trapped between the pages of rarely opened books, and may yet come to light.

When the film was finally released, I inveigled various relatives to take me to see it a dozen times, and I still didn’t think it too many. The following twelve months was one of great significance; contributions from the big screen, the small screen and the radio would strongly influence my take on the world. In the same January that Star Wars made it to general release, Blake’s 7 appeared, then in March the altogether funnier and more erudite Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made its debut on the radio, with the year being bookended by the arrival of the remarkable Life on Earth on our televisions. Where Star Wars was escapist entertainment, Hitchhiker’s was escapist entertainment mixed with easily digested philosophy, and astounding sound design. Life on Earth contained mind-altering levels of information about planetary formation and the development of the earliest life, and also featured an inspired avant-garde score by Edward Williams. These last two (and dozens of nature programs before them) instilled in me an enduring love of ambient music, and it was with this last programme that my original obsession with nature was successfully and seemingly permanently resurrected.

Anyway. Here’s my picture of C-3PO.”

Thanks Henry… his charming Notes For The Curious website is here:


Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.