Meet Ken Nightingall, the mysterious 'Pink Shorts Boom Guy' from Star Wars that cosplayers have plucked from obscurity

Ken Nightingall told ABC News about the famous behind-the-scenes photo.

May 22, 2020, 6:36 PM

Editor’s note: Nightingall passed away this week in England due to COVID-19 related complications, his son Terence told ABC News. Nightingall was 91.

Stroll the floor of any sci-fi fan convention, and you're bound to see costume enthusiasts dressed as fairly typical Star Wars characters. Think Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and Jedi Knights.

Recently, however, more fans have been seeing an unusual costume that's a lot less elaborate, a lot more obscure, but just as much fun.

Meet "Pink Shorts Boom Guy."

Pink Shorts Boom Guy isn't a character in any movie. The costume's inspiration actually comes from a 1976 behind-the-scenes photo of the "Star Wars" crew filming on the Mos Eisley set, surrounded by the scorching Tunisian desert.

Roughly in the center of the image stands the movie's boom microphone operator, dressed in only tight pink shorts, black socks and brown work boots. His tanned arms hoist a long pole above actors Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Alec Guinness (Obi Wan Kenobi). Director George Lucas, in a trademark plaid shirt, stands nearby resting his hands on his head.

The photo didn't gain much attention until 2015 when it popped up on Reddit.

"Next time you watch 'Star Wars,' I need you to remind yourself that all the dialogue you hear was recorded by a man in pink short shorts," read the post.

For years, that man has gone largely anonymous to casual Star Wars fans. His name doesn't even appear in the film's credits. But the newfound attention from cheeky costumers brings a smile to the man behind the shorts, otherwise known as Ken Nightingall.

"I think it's very nice," chuckled Nightingall, now 90 years old and living outside London. "They seem to like it. Good for them."

PHOTO: 90-year-old Ken Nightingall is seen in this May 2019 photo in London, England.
90-year-old Ken Nightingall is seen in this May 2019 photo in London, England. Nightingall has gained recent fame in the cosplay community after a photo of him wearing pink booty shorts was posted on a Reddit forum. In the photo, Nightingall is recording audio with a boom microphone for "Episode IV: A New Hope." Since the discovery, some fans at cosplay conventions have started dressing as Nightingall, something the former sound technician says is "very nice."
Terence Nightingall

Nightingall was one of about 100 British crewmembers who trekked to North Africa to film scenes set on Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine.

Tunisia may not have Tatooine's twin suns, but Nightingall said it sure felt like it.

"It was very, very hot," he said of the weather that prompted his wardrobe choice.

PHOTO: Ken Nightingall and his wife Rose are photographed on their way to Buckingham Palace in July 1979. Following the success of 1977's "Episode IV: A New Hope," some Star Wars crew members were invited to visit the Royal Family.
Ken Nightingall and his wife Rose are photographed on their way to Buckingham Palace in July 1979. Following the success of 1977's "Episode IV: A New Hope," some Star Wars crew members were invited to visit the Royal Family.
Terence Nightingall

Filmmaker Roger Christian, who served as a set decorator on "Star Wars" (later referred to as "Episode IV: A New Hope") said conditions in Tunisia were horrendous.

"In fact, the heat was more than enough to warrant pink shorts," Christian told ABC News.

Nightingall's son, Terence, said his dad, like most of the crew, was initially skeptical of the George Lucas space opera.

"Most of them working on the movie thought it was the biggest load of crap they'd ever worked on," he said. "They weren't overly impressed."

That all changed after the movie became a blockbuster hit and won several Academy Awards, including for best sound. That win required Nightingall to up his wardrobe game.

"They went up to Buckingham Palace and had lunch in the garden with the royal family," Terence Nightingall said. "They all went off dressed in top hat and tails, picked up in a Rolls Royce."

Before finally retiring about 15 years ago, the elder Nightingall enjoyed a distinguished career as a boom operator, working on dozens of movies and TV shows over the years including "Top Secret," "Lost in Space" and the Bond flick, "A View To A Kill."

PHOTO: Star Wars super fans Steve Copeland (right) and David Mcintyre (center) pose as "pink shorts boom guy" at the 2019 Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Chicago.
Star Wars super fans Steve Copeland (right) and David Mcintyre (center) pose as "pink shorts boom guy" at the 2019 Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Chicago. "Finding an obscure character like that and having fun with it is absolutely the biggest thrill for us," says Copeland. The costumes are inspired by real life Star Wars boom operator Ken Nightingall, who wore the famed pink shorts while recording the audio for the movie in 1976.
Photo Courtesy Steve Copeland

More than four decades after Nightingall's barely covered backside was captured in that galaxy far, far away, he's still inspiring fans like Steve Copeland from Riverside, California.

"Finding an obscure character like that and having fun with it is absolutely the biggest thrill for us," Copeland said. "Star Wars shaped our lives. This is something we love doing."

Copeland, a member of the 501st Legion fan costuming group, once invested about $5,000 to build a highly detailed, screen-accurate Darth Vader. But his Pink Shorts Boom Guy outfit -- with clothing purchased from Amazon, the pole from Home Depot -- cost him less than $60.

"This is easy. I can get it done in an hour," laughed Copeland, who recently took his esoteric ensemble to the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Chicago. Boom pole raised, Copeland ran alongside a group of fans dressed as Willrow Hood, another obscure character known for carrying a prop space container (actually an ice cream maker) in "The Empire Strikes Back."

Oh, and Pink Shorts Boom Guy isn't just a costume for guys.

With the help of a gag T-shirt printed with the image of a man's hairy upper-body, costumer Deborah Eve said women can join in too.

"The pink booty shorts are so delightful," Eve said from her home in Sydney. "I just think it's fantastic. It's hands down my favorite costume right now."

PHOTO: Australian cosplayer Deborah Eve, (center) poses with friend Lincoln Green (right) at the Sydney Supanova Comic Con in June.
Australian cosplayer Deborah Eve, (center) poses with friend Lincoln Green (right) at the Sydney Supanova Comic Con in June. "It's delightful," says Eve, adding that anyone, including women, can dress up in this look. The shorts are inspired by real life Star Wars boom operator Ken Nightingall, who wore the famed pink shorts while recording the audio for the movie in 1976.
Photo Courtesy Deborah Eve

Eve and her friend, Lincoln Green, both also members of the 501st Legion, believe they were the first to bring the costume Down Under, to Sydney's Supanova convention in June.

"We were pleasantly surprised. People really got the reference," Eve said.

She's even written a guide to help people create their own costume to the correct specifications. ("The shorts are made from a terry-towelling fabric," it says.)

Star Wars cosplayer Marcus Dohring of Franklin, Tennessee, started a Facebook group called "Boom operator in pink booty shorts," where members can trade ideas. (Using a paint roller for a prop microphone is a popular choice.)

"We have around 125 members," said Dohring. "We wanted to make it fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously."

Back in England, Ken Nightingall seemed a bit bemused, but flattered by all the attention.

"I was just doing my job," he said.

Nightingall's son -- who followed his dad into show business and now works as a cameraman and director on the series "NCIS: Los Angeles" -- thinks it's "hilarious" how fans obsess over his father's pink shorts, one tiny but colorful snippet of a very long career.

"He was certainly a very big, loved personality on the set," Nightingall said.

Disney is the parent company of Lucasfilm and ABC News.

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