If you’ve ever met Fran Michna chances are he’s a character you won’t have forgot. A scaffolding instructor with more than 40 years of experience he has taught his trade all over the world.
First lesson in his class: “If you haven’t got a sense of humour you might as well leave.” As for the colourful language, well Fran reckons, “scaffolding isn’t the career for the easily offended”.
One thing you will know, with a meticulous attention to detail, if you’re a scaffolder that’s been trained by Fran, you’ll certainly know your stuff.
Now, after five decades in the industry, the 65-year-old NETA instructor has decided to lay down the spanners.
“I’ve had an interesting career, to say the least,” said Fran – who has worked in every aspect of the industry from offshore oil rigs to ship yards. But it is no doubt his tales from 10 years as a roadie working with some of the biggest names in music that is the real attention grabber.
Fran has toured with the likes of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, REM, the Rolling Stones, and the list goes on.
His personal highlights include working at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, where Fran, incidentally, put his motivational skill to the ultimate test, offering Ozzy Osbourne a pep talk backstage.
Reeling off a list of celebs he has met and worked with over the years the stories come thick and fast.
It seems extraordinary that Fran, who lives in Yarm with his wife Jan, was the man given the job of holding the spotlight on Gerri Haliwell at the Brit Awards 1997 – the year she wore that infamous Union Jack dress.
It’s fair to say work’s been far from boring for the dad-of-two who was born in Huddersfield and moved to Teesside aged just four.
Touring with Bruce Springsteen in 1988, he said: “He would have a craic on with the crew and was just like one of the lads.”
He added: “I didn’t really know his music at the time.” But some 142,000 who piled into the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona knew different.
But it’s not all been plain sailing for Fran whose biggest regret was having no choice but to to turn down the Oasis world tour in 1996 after suffering serious injuries in a motorbike accident.
“I was pretty smashed up and then tried to go back to work too soon,” he said. “The doctor looked me in the eye and said I would never work again.” As it turns out it proved just the starting point of what would be the second half of Fran’s career.
Retraining to be an instructor, a real stickler for detail he proved to be pretty good at it. With real life experience to back up every lesson and inspire, hundreds of scaffolders world-wide now owe their skills to Fran.
“The thing with scaffolding is you get your cowboys that just throw it up and think that will do, but it has to be right,” he said.
“You have to be strict because what you are teaching is dangerous. When you are 300 foot in the air, you have to know what you are doing and you have to have your wits about you.”
Then of course you need that all-important sense of humour as well.
Describing a good scaffolder as “like an artist”, it’s certainly a career that’s indulged his creative streak. Using tube and fitting – “the best system in the world,” according to Fran – you can build anything.
He put the theory to the test building a ship for the Staithes Regatta back in 1984 and years later produced an M.C. Escher-inspired staircase for a set for Doctor Marigold at Arc theatre.
“The thing about scaffolding,” he said, “is if you are good, you’ll never be out of work.”
And, as his career shows, there’s no shortage of ways to put those skills to good use.
Michael Allan, Scaffolding Training Co-ordinator at NETA where Fran spent in total 15 years of his career, said: “Fran Michna has been a figure head in scaffolding for a number of years and he has always been heard of. Wherever you go people know Fran.
“He has been an absolute pleasure to work with and I have learnt a lot from him that hopefully I can pass down in the training area. Fran leaves a legacy of tales behind him and no doubt will still be heard of for years to come.”