LIKE EMMA Peel's kinky boots or Doctor Who's Tardis, the lava lamp now seems an emblem of Sixties kitsch; a fluid, hallucinogenic flask of fluorescent wax in a space-age phallic capsule, an aid to bachelor- flat seduction or the beginning of a particularly bad acid trip.
The lamp was featured in the cult television series The Prisoner and its evocative image remains potent: its latest filmic outing came last year when it made an appearance in the Sixties pad of Felicity Shagwell (played by Heather Graham) in the Bond spoof Austin Powers: the spy who shagged me. But in fact, its shape was modelled on a Tree-Tops orange bottle, the wax was a secret mixture, and its inventor, Edward Craven Walker, was a colourful wartime pilot and naturist who had happened across the original model on the bar of a New Forest pub.
Walker was born in Singapore in 1918, where his father was a port agent for P&O. He was educated at Charterhouse, and in the Thirties worked for British American Tobacco at their huge cigarette factory in Millbrook, Southampton. There he met Pearl Corney, with whom he fell in love, only to be parted from her when he was posted to India. But the Second World War broke out on the day he was due to sail, and instead he joined the RAF, becoming a squadron leader and flying "blind" missions in Mosquitoes on photographic reconnaissance.
Back in civilian life, Walker and an RAF friend, Simon Templar, set up an international home-exchange agency, "En Famille", arranging for families to swap their homes for holidays abroad. The venture accorded with an optimistic post-war spirit: "It was good fun," said Walker, "and it encouraged international friendship." It also seemed to lead naturally, as it were, to his next great enthusiasm: naturism.
On a visit to the Ile du Levant, off the south coast of France, Walker was inspired by the naturist movement and, back in England, discovered the delights of practising his new-found hobby in Studland, the now famous nudist beach in Dorset, and at Spielplatz, a naturist club near St Albans. As part of his mission, he turned his hand to film production, directing Eves on Skis (1958) - Austrian madchen on the piste - and Travelling Light (1960), named after the Cliff Richard song and featuring a nude woman swimming underwater to the soundtrack of Song of India.
The first naturist film to be passed by the British Board of Film Classification, it ran for more than eight months in the West End and was distributed world-wide, albeit to audiences who did not always have a serious interest in the healthy benefits of the naturist cause. "I didn't make it to make money," said Walker, "although it did make me very rich. I made it as propaganda for the naturist way of life."
In the mid-1950s, Walker and a friend chanced upon a bizarre contraption on the bar of the Queen's Head near Ringwood, Hampshire. A novelty egg- timer dating from the Second World War, it had been filled with odd oily globules - when the wax melted and rose to the top of the glass, your egg was ready. But lit from below, it cast strange and wonderful shadows on the wall. …