Bapty & Co.: Where Movie Magic Begins

By Dan Shea

“The British film industry is very sick, and although doctors have been brought in and we hope for the best, it is hard to say just what will happen to the patient…. I believe that part of the trouble was psychological- Much of this I have good reason to know is due to faulty organization and unwise expenditures- pennies when Pounds were necessary, and Pounds when pennies would have done- but the real trouble was that the British were tackling a job for which many of them had not the right temperament.”  Major P. S. Bapty quoted in “The Sydney Morning Herald;” Thursday, 20 January, 1938, on the Major’s arrival in Australia.

Major Bapty’s personna was variously as wounded war hero, theatrical armorer, Bisley champion, world traveler, collector, historian and general “Man of Mystery.” Starting Bapty & Co a century ago as a gun store in London selling Bapty branded double rifles and military surplus, (The accepted date for start of the theatrical armory is 1919) he was unafraid to obtain or even build whatever firearms and props which were needed for London’s theatrical productions; and when the fledgling movie industry arrived in the 1920s, he was prepared to work with them and supply what was needed. The gun shop ceased in 1932-33 and went strictly theatrical rental and collectable sales. In keeping with his “Man of Mystery” persona, Major Bapty was unmasked as a bigamist in 1935 and by 1938 was in Australia. He joined the Australian Air Force as Australia entered World War II, then was ejected for being too old (And lying about his age); so onward to America; where he was in charge of moving servicemen to the Asian front.

As well as blank firing weaponry, Bapty has a large stock of period and modern weapons ranging from medieval swords, maces and polearms to machetes, baseball bats and ceremonial swords. All of these weapons can be dry hired as props and have the option of coming complete with waist belts and other accessories. Other weapons in this range include:

• Longbows, crossbows
• Roman pilums, spears, lances, halberds, polearms, partizans
• Viking swords, Roman swords
• Ceremonial Military swords (modern & period)
• Napoleonic swords, English Civil War swords, US Civil War swords
• Sheilds: Viking, Roman and Celtic
• Assorted knives and daggers (modern & period)
• Firearms from Matchlock to modern assault rifles and machine guns
• Cannon- ancient to modern.

Bapty & Co will take the process from start to finish- from Script Breakdown (Reading the scripts to understand the story and the “Feel” for the production, then help with the appropriate weapons for the action). From there, needs for stunt weapons in the action sequences, special purpose builds for weapons that need to fly apart, and general props. Bapty spends a lot of time to avoid continuity problems in the filming- ensuring proper prop placement in the reference time of the story.

Other services offered by Bapty & Co: 

Health & Safety Risk Assessments

• Worldwide Shipping and License Requirements
• Military & Technical Advice
• Artist Training
• Hire of Weapons & Accessories
• Custom Weapons Design & Manufacture
• Post Production need

Various owners and operators have had Bapty & Co since then- landed aristocrat and world class gun collector Mark Dineley had been a shareholder and owned it next and when he died in 1971 his s on Peter Dineley, also a renowned collector, took over.

Tony Watts served 3 years in the Parachute Regiment, and after service heard of a job at the BBC as in-house Armorer where he was employed for 2 years, then as a Prop Buyer at BBC for 16 years. In 1999 Tony and his wife Anne accepted the challenge of buying Bapty & Co, having operated it ever since. The armory has grown to over 19,000 firearms, let alone the swords, daggers, shields and general props needed to supply modern movies and television regarding almost any era- past present or future. The Bapty & Co collection including the artillery, along with the displays are a combination of Bapty’s Section 5 (US Class 3 type) licensing, and Tony Watts’ private collection. The artillery collection is considered one of the finest private collections in the world.

Bapty & Co may well be the largest theatrical armoury in the world, and it is certainly now the oldest existing. Ben Rothwell is scheduled to take over Bapty & Co in 2018. The plans are to continue forward, expanding globally, and continue the tradition of serving their customers properly. They are currently on set filming in Mexico and Brazil, as well as several other countries.

Movie Credits

- A Bridge Too Far
- Bridge Over the River Kwai
- Kelley’s Heroes
- The Dirty Dozen
- A total of 21 James Bond films
- Star Wars- the first three made starting in 1977
- Star Wars- the three “Prequels”
- Star Wars the most recent one- Episode 7, although most were props
- Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade
- A Good Day to Die Hard
- Full Metal Jacket
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Captain America
- The Expendables
- The Eagle
- Centurion
- Hatfields & McCoys
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
- Red Tails
- Les Miserables
- War Horse
- Kick Ass
- Saving Private Ryan (Weapons were from Bapty, and Simon Atherton was the on-set armorer on freelance basis)

Bapty & Co
Witley Gardens
Norwood Green, Middlesex
UB2 4ES England
Tel: +44 (0)20 8574 7700
Fax: +44 (0)20 8571 5700

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N1 (January 2017)
and was posted online on November 18, 2016


Comments have not been generated for this article.