This guy built the bunny Trojan rabbit is the holy grail of props

By MIKE STROBEL Last Updated: 29th October 2008, 4:03am

Grim news all over. Stocks fall. Bullets fly. Knives flash.

And now for something completely different.

We sure could use a dose of Monty Python, eh?

Which brings me to the wilds of Highland Creek, in deepest Scarborough.

Remember the Trojan rabbit? Twenty feet tall. It was a high point of low-budget Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the funniest film in history.

King Arthur and his knights build it to infiltrate a French castle, but forget to climb inside. Classic scene. Watch it on YouTube.

Well, I am proud to say fellow Scarberian Bill Harman built that big bunny. Many other things, too, in 50 years in movies. Including the first R2-D2.

But if you are a Python fan, the Trojan rabbit is the holy grail of props.

"We built it behind the pub in Doune, Scotland," Harman, 69, tells me. "Half-logs from the local lumberyard on a frame of 2 by 4s. A local girl made the ears."

Then they wheeled it along Doune's main drag.

"Wh're yew goun wit' that?" asked a town cop.

"To the castle," said Bill. "We're making a movie."

"Well you cannae. Ye need a permit. A procession permit. Yer a procession."

"But it's just one giant wood rabbit."

"Haud oan a meenit." And the copper called HQ.

"Aye, ye can proceed," he told Bill. "But I got to be at back wit' my light goun."

And so they rumbled over to the castle, a giant rabbit under police escort.

"So many silly things happened on that movie," Harman tells me.

The Black Knight scene, for instance, wherein King Arthur hacks off the knight's arms and legs one by one. (YouTube, again.)

Python John Cleese is in the black armour, until he's down to one leg and can't balance. Then a local one-legged silversmith stands in, so to speak.

All the while, Bill Harman is pumping fake blood.

"A lovely old dear happened to come by with her dog," Harman tells me.

"She took one look and fainted dead away."

A million stories.

We're at the Framing Dames, Morrish Rd., near the home he shares with childhood sweetheart Barbara.

The gallery has his memorabilia on view this week.

A stuffed polar bear named Rupert, from Dead of Winter, dominates the display.

Bill apprenticed at 15 at London's Pinewood Studios.

Soon, he was building sets for A Night to Remember, the 1958 Titanic film, for Khartoum, for the original Italian Job, for Cleopatra, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Two hundred movies in all.

Marilyn Monroe kissed him (on the cheek) on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.

Charlie Chaplin sat on his knee, while shooting A Countess from Hong Kong.

On Jabberwocky, Harman's crew disturbed a hive of bees, which buzzed over to the Pink Panther set and stung Peter Sellers.

In Goldfinger, the revolving licence on Bond's Aston Martin stuck. So Harman crouched in the back, flipping it by hand.

For Star Wars, he built R2-D2. The wee robot's head was a studio lamp.

Now, you'd just punch a computer key.

"But I think people are beginning to rebel against digital movies," says Harman.

"Your brain is telling you it's not real, it's not possible."

In 1977, he came to Canada, drawn by our potential as a moviemaker. He helped things along, persuading film pals to shoot in Hollywood North.

"I think it will go great guns here again," he tells me.

The dollar's slide has a silver lining. And filmdom always booms when times are tough.

"The movies pull people out of their misery," says Harman.

Meanwhile, he's working on his memoirs and on scripts.

One is a sequel to Sound of Music, but with aliens from outer space.

Well, that ought to cheer us up.