Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The hotel's on the Radar but I Can't See it!

Tuesday 8th September

Last night in the faded light and cocooned in comforting darkness I drove towards my hotel in the centre of Liverpool.

The Tom Tom confidently told me that I had reached my destination.

None of the buildings around looked in the least like a Marriott hotel. There was a car park, a Yates wine bar and over the roofs I could see a tower advertising Radio City.

The hotel had to be close.

I now know what a bee feels like as it repeatedly batters itself against a window trying to get to those tempting pollen filled flowers.

Between the various buildings I could see the hotel. It was a few hundred meters away.

I started to drive in the direction of the hotel. That road ended in a one way street.

I doubled back to see if I could approach from another direction. I got on to a one way street. It lead me on a nice little tour ending up exactly where I had started.

For fifteen minutes I drove around in ever decreasing and then increasing circles. From time to time I would catch a glimpse of the building. Sometimes it would be on my right. Sometimes it would be on my left. 

It did not matter which way I turned it never saw it in front of me even although I had turned and headed towards it.

Then as if some giant magicians hand had removed a big black cloth the hotel appeared on the right of the car.

I was very relieved because I was getting tired. It had been a long though uneventful drive from Edinburgh.

On my little impromptu tour of the city I had seen a feature film crew getting kit ready to do some filming. There was a crane, chuck wagons, lighting trucks and security all preparing for a night shoot.

I wondered if I had somehow stumbled into the triple worlds of David Copperfield, Derren Brown and David Blaine?

Were they up to some huge illusion to make a big hotel disappear and then reappear in another location?

I only held that thought  for a few moments because my main concern was to get to my comfortable cosy hotel room and get a few hours of precious sleep.

Quicker than Homer Simpson can down a dozen doughnuts the thought of getting straight to bed was devoured.

The credit card that had been used to book the room was declined. 

I was politely but firmly told that unless a valid card was passed over there was no way I would be slipping my weary bones under a Marriott duvet.

I handed over my card and was given permission to access the room I would be inhabit for a little over four hours.

I then had to go back out of the hotel to park my car in the car park.

“Just drive up to the gate and flash your lights. It’ll then be opened.” said the friendly porter.

I did as I was told. At the gate I flashed my lights.

Nothing happened.

I flashed them again.

Nothing happened.

I flashed them again.

Nothing happened.

I gripped the steering wheel, gritted my teeth and tried to keep a lid on my frustration.

After a series of increasingly frantic flashes I decided to go back into the hotel and do a bit of bad tempered questioning.

My hand was moving to the door handle when the roller gate made a loud click and it started to rattle up.

At least the lift up to my floor was quick and efficient. Maybe a bit too quick because it had not given me the time to get my temper back to a state that would be receptive to sleep.

The wave of heat that hit me when I opened the room door almost melted the skin in my already internally overheated face.

Had they given me the Presidential suite with it’s own sauna obligingly switched on?

On this strange night was I entering a worm hole that would transport me to an hot exotic Caribbean beach?

No. Some wag had decided to put the air con on it’s highest heat setting at full power.

I opened the window and reset the air con to cool.

It wasn’t quite the cosy room I had been thinking about for the last hour or so.

I thought about asking for a change of room but that thought was  overridden by the thought of the hassle of making the call, asking for the room and schlepping my stuff to the new room.

The room should not take too long to cool down.

As I got ready for bed I was beaded in sweat.

The air con was whirring away.

I stuck my had up to the vent.

The air was blasting out, air that although not hot enough to use for paint stripping was not cold enough to chill a good champagne.

Now my clothes and stuff were strewn around the room I was less inclined to try and change rooms. 

When the alarm went off less than four hours later I suppose I did manage to doze for some of the time.

The room was at least at a manageable temperature when I got ready to leave and getting out of the car park was stress free.

Yes the Hotel Does Exist!

At least the live broadcasts at John Lennon Airport would be nice and straight forward. We would be transmitting from a location that had been used many times before and the airport management were going to be very helpful.

I arrived at the satellite truck after quickly being allowed going through a few security barriers.

Pete already had the dish up and was all set to rig in the terminal building.

We would have to use the Digi Link because the location was over a road that we could not put a cable across.

Pete had done live broadcasts from here before and had come across a few little problems that he had the solution for.

The main one was that with the link on the camera the signal was a bit intermittent for some unknown reason. The distance was not too great and it was certainly pretty much line of sight.

The remedy was to set the Digi Link a short distance from the camera and then cable to it in the normal fashion.

I set about rigging my camera and some lights.

Mark the sound recordist gave Pete a hand to rig the cables and link.

Pete and Mark set up the Receiver.

Transmission time was creeping up but there was still a relaxed amount of time to finish the rig.

Jonathan Swain was learning his lines, dealing with briefings from GMTV and talking to Andy the Airport Operations Manager who was going to doing a down the line interview later in the morning.

We were all pretty much set up.

Pete went back to the truck and switched the link on.

A loud screech belted out of the speakers in the truck. It was interrupted by an other short regular loud buzz.

Instead of a nice set of colour bars from the camera the monitors showed a strange checkerboard pattern of black and violet.

“Looks like interference from radar.” said Pete.

That wasn’t going to be a problem he hoped because there were other frequencies that the link could use.

It was the same on all the other frequencies that Pete tried.

We would have to use the cable. This meant the only place we could do the broadcasts from was very near to the truck.

There was no time to get things relocated in time for the first broadcast at just after 6am

I had been keeping Doug the technical director in touch with what was going on and let him know we were not going to “make the six”.

Along with me, Mark, Pete, Jonathan and Andy the airport director helped get the gear and the other bits and pieces we needed out across the road.

The airport in the morning light. The Outside Location.

I was telling Andy what the problem was and that it looked, because of the regular short loud buzz like interference from radar, but there had never been that problem before on any of the broadcasts done from that very location.

Andy then told me that at the end of an exciting, expensive two year project the airport’s new state of the art radar had been switched on for the first time yesterday.

We got the next broadcast done from the front of the airport and with a bit of time in hand before the next one we though about how we could get back into the terminal.

Pete and I spotted a place where the satellite truck could park to get the signal out and there was easy access for a cable into the building.

Andy was happy for the truck to go there.

So we derigged the kit. Pete moved the truck. We rerigged the kit.

The rest of the broadcasts went off without a hitch. 

The only problem was the background of the shot. 

When we were setting up and waiting to go on air there were nice long queues of passengers checking in. The place was buzzing and very busy. 

When we went on air the efficient check-in staff had done such a good job that the crowds had gone and tumbleweed blowing across the terminal would not have looked out of place.

That is not to say that the rest of the morning was not without stress and dashing about.

The story we were doing was the release of the details about the attempted bomb attacks by terrorists using bottles of fluids and the subsequent effect on security at airports.

GMTV were very keen that we needed to show the security area in our shots somehow.

We could not be live from there but we could do some filming.

However, after rushing through to the security area all I was allowed to shoot were the big signs and bins for stuff you are unable to take through security.

On no account was I to point the camera in the direction of the x-ray scanners or other bits of equipment.

It was with a familiar sigh of relief that after the last planned broadcast the three of us said thank you and good bye to Andy, and sat down for a breakfast at Subway.

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