Mike Roberts, pyrotechnician

 2 August 2012

Mike Roberts went from disillusioned science teacher to pyrotechnician by starting up his own company.

"I love that I work outside for at least a part of my life, and that our work brings pleasure to a lot of people, sometimes moves them, and


I'm originally from Farnham, now living in Tonbridge. I've also lived in Manchester, Brighton and London.

What job do you do?

I’m the director of The World Famous, my creative pyrotechnics company. I've been running it for eight years. 

The work I do is varied. We've done large-scale firework shows, and special effects for indoor theatre. We've also done outdoor events involving fireworks, music, big images and performance.

What previous jobs have you done?

I worked as a physics teacher for a few years. I got bored with it, quit my job, and started working as a freelance photographer, mainly of live entertainment. .

Apart from lighting my school play when I was about 12, I had no creative industry experience. I didn’t make much money.

"After volunteering on a firework show, I met a special effects director at a party, and was offered a job."

Then I volunteered on a firework show, and enjoyed it. At a party, I met the director of the Walk the Plank special effects company, who offered me a job making a low-voltage lighting system for a show.

I liked the work, and soon I started working for Walk the Plank as a freelance pyrotechnician. I learned a lot quickly, and soon I was able to start working for other companies as well.

After that, I did freelance pyrotechnic work, along with occasional lighting tech, for several projects and special effects companies. These included Walk the Plank, Emergency Exit Arts, and Le Maitre.

I worked freelance as a pyrotechnician for about seven years. The only thing I got a bit bored with was the lack of creative control. So I set up my own company, The World Famous, with two other like-minded people, and we made fantastic shows! Four years later, I went full-time with the company. 

What qualifications do you have?

The relevant ones for my work as a pyrotechnician are a special effects explosive safety certificate, a shotfirers certificate and a certificate in transport of hazardous goods (for transporting explosives).

Most of my other qualifications are irrelevant to what I do now! They include a physics degree, a PGCE (school teaching qualification) and A levels in sciences. 

What do you do at work?

Nowadays it involves more desk work than anything.  I'm in charge of running the company, writing show proposals, making funding applications, and managing budgets.

"Volunteer. We all started out that way."

But I do still spend some time putting creative teams together. I also still occasionally design, make, rig and direct shows.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best bits are always the shows – exploring the creative possibilities of the medium.

I love that I work outside for at least a part of my life, and that our work brings pleasure to a lot of people, sometimes moves them, and perhaps makes people think.

And the worst part of the job?

Red tape and financial worries. It would be good to have someone else to worry about the money and deal with the bureaucracy! I'd also like to get some bigger budgets to play with.

How do I get into music?

Volunteer. We all started out that way. There is formal training for my line of work available, but if you have an aptitude for the job, people will employ you, and you’ll learn by doing it.

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