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.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Morning After

Thursday 28th May

It felt as if I had just fallen asleep when the alarm went off. I felt like that because I had just fallen asleep. 

It is not often that I would like to have anything to do with Maggie Thatcher but I really wish I could be like her and operate with a tiny bit of sleep.

So it was feeling pretty knackered I went with Emily and Ben back to the Colosseum. 

We arrived to find the satellite truck with stuff strewn all around it and Colin looking a bit stressed.

Colin trying to workout how to solve the problem.

He gave us the bad news. The generator that provided the power for the truck was not working.

The ideal thing would be to take power from a nearby mains source. The problem with that was that all the possibilities would involve the cable going across a pretty busy road.

In these days of Health and Safety paranoia there was no way that was a goer.

The BBC had offered to help but their truck did not have the spare capacity.

The little generator brought for any lighting was just too small and instantly tripped out when the dish was powered up.

It was all looking pretty bad. Along with the Manchester united team and their fans it looked like we would be going home without doing the full job.

Ian, the Programme Organiser in London was making frantic calls, waking up lots of people in Rome from other companies that had satellite dishes in town to see if we could use any of their trucks.

He was having no joy and it was getting near to transmission time.

Colin was raking around all the little cupboards, drawers and spaces where he might find bits and pieces to repair the fault.

Scrabbling about to try and find a solution.

He gave a tentative shout for joy as there was a chance that something might just work.

He set to work, his hands were a blur of action as he fiddled and  screwed things faster than George Best on acid.

A cough and a splutter heralded the welcome quiet confident purr of the generator.

The generator kicks in and Ben and Emily go over scripts as Colin calls London.

Were we going to get on air?

Our slot was right at the start of the programme.

It was now very very close.

The satellite dish still had to lock on to the satellite 32 000 kilometres above us in space. That could easily take at least 10 minutes.

We did not have that long.

I got the talkback ready so that Colin would have one less job.

The very cool and calm Scottish tones of Doug the Technical Director in the Studio came on saying, “Seeing you. Just checking talkback to Rome. One minute to air.”

Ben and I got ready.

The titles rolled. 

The music played. 

The presenters in London did their quick openers.  

The Director cued Ben.

The viewers would have been totally unaware of the stress that had gone before Ben’s relaxed piece to camera.

Unlike the pleasant and courteous pundit that we had yesterday in the form of Henry Winter. The crusty faced arrogant vision of another football writer, Brian Walno approached.

He is the antithesis of Henry. 

As a supposedly good writer he seems to have the complete lack of a vocabulary containing any words of common courtesy.

Well, that is of course unless you happen to be a Presenter, journalist, footballer or someone that will provide him with a fee.

Most of  inhabit a planet that orbits the sun and is populated by millions of people. We are fortunate come into contact with some of them.

He is one of those people that believes he is at the centre of a universe with planets only populated by people useful to him. They are blind to any others.

I put a microphone on him and got him wired up with talkback. His only words to me were a few moments later. 

He barked, “Where’s the volume on this?”.

I showed him.

No thank you or acknowledgement was forthcoming.

Having said all that he’s not too bad on air.

David Davis and Kevin Miles made a return appearance giving their take on yesterday’s events.

It was not surprising that no fans were keen to make the journey early this morning to see us.

Once we were off air Ben dashed off in a taxi to the airport to catch a flight home. He would have to rush to get there in time.

Given the experience of the local taxi drivers he would have a good chance of getting there.

Emily, Elaine and I went back to the hotel to pack for our later flights home after we had derigged and said a big thank you to Colin for getting us on air.

On the way from the hotel to the airport with not a lot of time to spare to catch the flights I remembered not seeing one of the cases that Emily had to take back to London.

The porters at the hotel had not brought it out from the room they had stored our kit in whilst we waited for the airport transport after checking out.

We had to get back to the hotel to pick up the box.

At the airport we checked in and after a bit of stress about my excess baggage not being paid Emily and I dashed to security. Elaine had gone to get her flight from the other terminal.

The queue was huge and not moving slowly. It was getting tight to catch my flight. There was another set of security at the other end of the terminal.

Chris Hollins from the BBC was just behind us as we joined the queue. He went with his producer to check out the other security section.

They called to say it was much shorter over there. Emily and I hurried over.

We cleared security quickly and made the long journey through the terminal to the gate. We went past lots of interesting looking shops.

I would have loved to have had the time to stop and get a gift for my wife, but no chance.

The flight had started boarding as I arrived at the gate.

That flight and the flight back up to Edinburgh were both very busy.

I got home at just after midnight Rome time. I was somewhat shattered.

Elaine's Wee Stained Trousers and a Visit to The Vatican.

Wednesday 27th May

It was a bit cooler this morning as our taxi driver raced us to the location overlooking the Colosseum. He drove as if his pole position was at stake. 

Ben, Emily and I arrived at the satellite truck suffering from a slight excess of G force and well aware that our budding Mad Max would take on all comers in a game of chicken, and win.

The journey took half the time it had taken us yesterday. 

We paid for it though. He charged more than it costs to get from the airport to the city centre. 

Hey Ho, a thrill ride for three, and transport to the workplace costing a mere fifty Euros. 

The first hit was nice and Easy. It was just a sedate piece to camera with Ben and the Colosseum in the background.

Emily getting told what the programme wanted.

Looking every inch at home in Rome and blending in with the local style the smiling gent that is Henry Winter strode over to do his bit “down the line” with Presenter John Stapleton.

Henry is the Daily Telegraph’s main football writer, author of Steven Gerrards Biography and regular guest on GMTV.

He is always a pleasure to deal with and a great font of knowledge about footy.

He was joined by the Ex- Chief Exec'of the FA David Davis who has been a long time Manchester United fan. He was particularly excited because he had just become a granddad.

Emily briefing Henry and  the ex-FA Chief Exec' David Davis.

I wired him for sound from the studio and mic’d him up. As ever the interview with John about the game went very well.

Ben and Kevin have a chat before he does his bit.

Emily had organised for a lot of fans we had met yesterday to come to our location to be on the programme. As the morning wore on they started to turn up with the regulation football strips and scarves.

Some even arrived with banners and replicas of the cup. They were all excited and brimming with confidence at the prospect of another cup win.

We did a lot of broadcasts with them leaping up and down, and singing various football chants that were able to be put out to the breakfast audience. Ben also did a few little interviews with some of the fans.

It was looking pretty good. All the action and bright red of the Man’ U. colours in the bright morning sunlight really giving a good flavour of the mood.

It is a pity that the same could not be said for the sound. When there is no Sound Recordist that is my responsibility. 

There was one of the broadcasts where the sound was a bit distorted for my liking. I was trying to get the sound levels right when there was all this variety of soundscape going on.

There was also a bit of pressure on Ben from that point of view because he was having to do it all with a stick mic. So it was his job to try and keep the mic at the correct distance.

Anyway on one of the occasions when I was busy trying to; keep an interesting framing, make sure, with the sun going in and out a bit, that the exposure of the picture was correct, be thinking about who Ben might talk to next, listen the sound of the programme Presenters in my left ear, listen to the sound from the Director in the Gallery back in London in my right ear, and monitor the sound with both ears the sound was no up to scratch.

I earned great kudos amongst my sons and their friends when on one of the broadcasts we did a little bit with Mani the exbass player with the Stone Roses and now Primal Scream.

Sometimes I can be a cool dad.

Mani the Man "on air".

The Manc' and The Geordie.

After the madness of a busy morning we went to our little nearby coffee shop for a very welcome breakfast.

We were all pretty tired because none of us had a great deal of sleep last night by the time we had finished.

Back at the hotel we planned to relax for a couple of hours before the busy night ahead.

Elaine went for a sleep. Emily tried to chill, but had to think about and contact potential guests for tomorrows programme.

Ben went for a short sleep. I chilled for an hour and wrote my blog.

Ben had not seen much of Rome apart from this morning’s location by the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain during our bit of filming last night.

To be able to give a truer overall flavour and his impressions of the city he really needed to see and experience a bit more.

So, with only a short time available and our hotel being quite near to the Vatican I went with him to do a whistle stop tour.

We arrived at the Vatican Museum to see no queue. At the door we asked a guide if it was still open. He said it was but only for an hour.

Ben and I looked at each other, shrugged and went in. There was a slight flash of surprise on the guide’s face.

As we got in to the building proper after going through security and buying the tickets we began to realise why.

The place is vast and full of fantastic wonderful works of art.

We decided that the obvious must see is the Cistene Chapel. 

The great historic and breathtaking things on display kind of whizzed passed us as we strode through the long corridors, our heads on a swivel as we looked this way and that.

Then we noticed a rather interesting thing. There were many more Manchester United fans in town. Barcelona had even returned several thousand of their ticket allocation unable to sell them all.

There were thousands of Man’ U. fans around the place desperate to get a ticket because the Man’ U. allocation was sold out.

In and around the Vatican there were countless Barcelona strips and loads of people not wearing them speaking in Spanish.

We saw one red Manchester united strip and heard very few folk talking in English.

The few that we did see were keen either to nudge each other as we passed and whisper “Is that Ben Shepherd?”, or “Is that guy on the telly?”.

Some wanted a quick photo of Ben.

They were mostly just here on holiday and not interested in the game.

The Cistene Chapel is a pretty special place and we gazed and marvelled at the artwork not really knowing what it all symbolised.

We both felt a bit embarrassed about our ignorance of what the significance of all this breathtaking beauty was.

There were a few little guided groups being told about the history of and told stories about the site of Michael Angelo’s masterpieces.

We sidled up to a few hoping to get a little education, but we would have needed to have been educated in either German, Spanish, Italian of some strange slavic language to have taken advantage of our eavesdropping skills.

I did buy a guide book from a shop on the way round, but neither of us had time to read it.

It was getting near the time to get back in order to get ready for the night’s action.

There was just time for a quick nip to St Peter’s Square. 

Only Barcelona strips in sight near the Vatican.

Ben on the other side of the camera in the famous square.

Ben and another new friend in St Peter's Square.

Ben went off to see the game.

Elaine, Emily and I went on the hunt for fans watching the game. 

First stop was a bar called the “British Bulldog”. It was so full that there was a crown on the street peering through the doors and windows craning their necks to get some kind of view of the game.

There were a few English accents but the bulk were Italian. 

There had been a booze ban imposed by the Italian authorities for a period before, after and during the game. Bars and restaurants were not allowed to sell alcohol of any description.

A great number of the people were drinking out of plastic juice bottles. It was a strange thing because this “juice” was causing a little bit of slurred speech and staggering. 

It also had a familiar non fruity smell!

I did a few shots of the activity and surprisingly, the lack of reaction to the game. 

The inside of the bar was very dark so we decided to go and check out an Irish bar that we had been told about.

The Irish Bar was huge,two bars with a restaurant in the middle. There were two things that were clear as soon as we pocked our heads round the door.

There were lots of fans in red and they were scooping back the supposedly banned booze.

I was stunned that the management of the place was happy for us to film the flagrant disregard for the ban. There was a big sign on the door saying that no alcohol would be on sale.

Anywhere I pointed the camera all I could see were faces that were fixed with resigned disbelief. 

All the fans we had spoken to and every pundit earlier were quite certain that it was going to be a definite Manchester win, No question.

That confidence had seeped away like the beer from a lone discarded beer bottle trickling down a drain in gutter.

At the end of the game we did the obligatory interviews with the disappointed fans. They were upset about the result but did not offer excuses just saying the on the night the best team had won.

The losing fans always evaporate away right after the final whistle leaving the streets clear for the victors to party.

We went to the Trevi Fountain to do a piece to camera and sure enough within fifteen minutes of the end of the game almost the only fans visible on the street were wearing the red and blue of Barca.

Elaine did her piece to camera accompanied in the distant background by Barcelona fans singing and banging a drum.

The really pleasing thing for us was that the advertised trouble had come to nothing. The body armour was safely in the bags we were obliged to carry with us.

The only thing left to do was record the voice over and send the material to London, this time by the much more reliable way from a satellite dish.

The only place I could find for Elaine to record her script was a little dark corner beside a wall near to the satellite truck.

Elaine sat on a low wall below the higher wall to get shielded from the small amount of background noise. 

Wiggling her bottom on the wall to get comfortable she prepared to deliver the lines into the mic. A slight zephyr wafted past us delivering a cooling breeze. Simultaneously we wrinkled up our noses and gagged.

The stench of human recycled drink was overwhelming. At the same time Elaine screwed up her face as she stood up slowly and gingerly.

The little dark quiet corner not far from the satellite truck and a bar was obviously an annex to the bar’s toilet.

Elaine had sat in the improvised external urinal. Her white trousers were now not really so white and certainly not fresh!

Back at the hotel as we parted to fall into our beds Elaine was aware that her Blackberry had joined my sunglasses as Italian crime statistics.

I fell into my bed with the prospect of nearly three hours in it before the next days live broadcasts.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Stress and Frustration. All in a Days Work.

Tuesday 26th May (pm)

I went out for a little walk in the down time before we might have to shoot a piece for tomorrow’s programme. I savoured the atmosphere of the long straight shopping street that ended at the Piazza Venezia.

I was thinking about grabbing a cappuccino in one of the cafes and people watch for a while. Then the phone rang. It was Elaine. 

“Bang goes my coffee.”, I thought as I hit the answer button.

Sure enough I had to hot foot it back to meet her to go out to one of the iconic sights of Rome to record an 18 second promo to be broadcast tonight.

It needed to be back in London by 4:30pm UK time. It was already after 2pm.

I power walked back to the hotel in double quick time.

Somewhat sweaty I got in a taxi with Elaine to go to what is one of the most famous spots in the city, The Trevi Fountain.

It was thronged with people throwing coins in the fountain, getting their picture taken and generally enjoying the place.

We tried to start filming but there was nowhere safe to leave our kit. After one or two aborted attempts to film Elaine in the mass of people whilst keeping an eye on the valuables we spotted the welcome sight of a couple of British Bobbies.

Great, we would not only get a shot of them for the piece but we could ask if they could keep an eye on the stuff for the length of time it took to shoot the piece, all of twenty seconds.

In a manic flurry of activity we managed to get it done, get shots of the cops and get some excited fans. 

We retrieved the gear. Nipped in to a nearby cafe to get the material into Elaine’s laptop so that we could get it sent to London.

When I say lap top it is not really a true description. The computer actually calls itself a “Mobile Work Station”. 

When Elaine goes through security at airports it is checked not for explosives or drugs, but to see how many illegal immigrants might be concealed in it.

After Elaine having to carry the thing what with all the cables and power supplies  that go along with it she has developed a bit and I would not want to challenge her to an arm wrestling contest!

Although she does appear to be getting shorter every time I see her now.

As we composed ourselves I discovered that someone had made off with my sun glasses during the hustle and bustle at the fountain.

I was gutted for two reasons. Firstly they were pretty expensive Oakleys, but mainly they had been a birthday present from my wife Anne and my sons Cameron and Murray.

The material went in to the computer without a problem. 

When it came to sending it my rather down mood deepened. We were now up to deadline time. There was no broadband signal to get on to the internet to get the material to London.

Laden with the camera, run bag, bits bag, hand bag, computer bag and holding the computer with the broadband dongle dangling we searched for a signal.

It appeared. We sat in the middle of a group of tourists and managed to get the piece sending.

It did not take too long to get there, thank goodness. We were becoming a tourist attraction in our own right as we sat on the ground surrounded by various bits of electronic paraphernalia.

The sigh of relief was just easing out of the pair of us when the phone rang. The sound on the piece was unusable. All that the people at GMTV in London could hear was the delightful sound of the fountain and a distant but a hardly audible Elaine.

We checked the edit. Sure enough the audio track that had gone to GMTV was not the correct one. It was the effects track and not the audio from Elaine’s mic.

The piece was then resent. I double checked that the correct audio had gone this time. 

It was now well past the deadline time.

I confirmed with the tech guys back in the UK that the piece was there and the sound was OK. 

We heaved a giant sigh of relief. 

We could now turn our attention to the imminent arrival of Emily the Producer and Ben Shephard the Presenter and the pieces that needed to be shot.

I was on my first mouthful of water when the phone rang.

The promo was not going to be used because the sound of water from the fountain in the background of the shot could be heard. The promo department wanted to cover that shot with other shots that did not have water in them.

I was livid. If we had known that “clean” audio had been required I would have shot the piece to camera somewhere else.

The brief we had been give was: an eighteen second piece to camera containing the word that had been e-mailed to Elaine.

We had just wasted nearly three hours of what could have been productively put to use filming for the pieces for the morning.

I had just ended that call when Emily the Producer called to say that she and Ben were almost at our location.

We met, quickly got the hellos done and downed a quick drink of water. A plan for what was left of the day was formulated after a bit of discussion between us and the office in London.

Ben, Emily and I dashed of to do some shots of Ben around the Trevi Fountain and talking to some fans as he walked around. 

This was needed to show Ben around Rome on his first visit to the city.

The light was starting to become an issue as I started filming with Elaine.

The piece needed to talk about the amount of dosh it was costing the fans to get here, where they might be staying and give  a flavour of the growing excitement. 

I did some shots of guys selling scarves and shirts. There was a chap who had come all the way with his son from Australia just to see the match and there was a group of singing fans that I filmed and Elaine did interviews with.

That was two boxes ticked.

We jumped in a taxi and headed across the city, past the stadium to the area dubbed “Fergies Field”. this was where a lot of fans would be camping.

The sun was down but there was still enough glow in the sky to film for a little bit longer.

We did an interview with some students who did not have tickets but were happy to be there just to enjoy the atmosphere.

I was setting up to do a piece to camera with Elaine when five guys started to get there tent put up. 

They did not get very far because they had forgotten the tent poles.

After we finished the piece to camera I filmed the guys and some of the others on the campsite taking the mickey out of them.

It was all very good humoured and made a great little end to the film.

Darkness was well established by the time we got back to the hotel.

All we needed to do now was get the material in to the computer again and get it edited.

If ever a piece of technical equipment was nearer to being blown up with the enthusiasm Richard Hammond and Co blow up caravans it was Elaine's monstrosity of a computer.

I had shot the material and Elaine had conducted the interviews in such a way that it could be edited quickly and easily.

It was going to be a while before it got to the editing stage.

It took the best part of two hours to get the material into the computer.

Anything in brackets that says anything like “not responding” now sends me in to an instant Pavlovian rage.

If there was a prize for the most exceptional “exceptional error” then that computer gets a gold.

The computer had to be shut down and restarted more times than Gordon Ramsey says his famous word!

After being up at before 5am I left Elaine at 10pm to get the edit done.

It took her less than an hour to edit a great little piece full of the colour and atmosphere of what it is like for the fans in Rome.

Unfortunately for her it then took until 2am to get the material to London.

LIke me she had been up since 5am and was due to get up like me at 5am again. At least she had managed to get an hours kip when I had taken my walk to the Piazza.