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.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Hotel or Prison?

Sunday 27th September

Edinburgh airport was not very busy but the flight to London was.

There were a few well known Labour party faces who were heading for the same destination as me, Brighton and their party conference.

It would be the last one before the next general election.

I was met at Gatwick by a driver with a car big enough for my six big boxes of equipment.

Brighton was bright, sunny and very busy with traffic converging on the conference centre.

There was a bit of a union demo going on as well which did not help with traffic flow.

Some of the Demonstrators on a Sunny Sunday.

A Snapper Doing his Stuff.

I arrived at the hotel not far from the conference venue.

Not too far to walk. Great.

I checked in and was given the key card to my room.

After getting the gear carted up in the tiny slow scruffy lift I opened the door to the room.

There was enough space to squeeze between the bed and the wall, a small wardrobe and a tiny little desk.

There was barely enough room for me on my own never mind six boxes filled with kit that would need to be used in the room, battery charger, editing equipment and a video tape machine.

I turned on my heel and went back to the reception.

I explained that the room was far too small.

They explained that it was the only one that was left.

Kings Hotel Room or is it a Cell.

There was nothing that I could do except try and not need any of the things in the boxes, but I needed to make sure that they were working.

I was just getting things out of the boxes and wishing that the concept of the tardis was real when I got the call to go and do some work.

I met Gloria de Piero at the conference venue and we set about the arduous task we’d been assigned.

She had to ask a few of the people attending the conference what they thought of the contribution Sarah Brown makes in helping Gordon.

It did not take too long.

I gave the tape to David the production manager to send to GMTV in the morning.

My work for the day was done.

That would usually mean a relaxing sleep in a comfy hotel bed.

On this occasion I went back to the cramped, hot noisy room and tried to get some sleep.

The last time I saw inside a prison the cells were bigger but almost as sparse as this room.

I did have my own toilet though and I was not sharing with a psychopath.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Out of the Jungle

Tuesday  22nd September

Short bits of the GMTV broadcasts.

It was Edinburgh’s “September Weekend” holiday. All was quiet. I was keeping my head down and enjoying the local day of rest.

That was until around 4pm when I got a call from Chris the programme organiser at GMTV. 

Did I fancy a little trip to France?

At 6:15 I was sitting a cramped middle seat on a sardine packed flight to Heathrow.

Nearly two hours later I was getting into a bus to take me to collect a hire car to drive to Folkstone to get on Le Shuttle to Calais.

The Channel Tunnel passenger terminal was all but closed when I met up with producer Gary and correspondent Jonathan Swain.

They had just bought the last burger before the shutters came down. 

I was glad that I had grabbed a sandwich from M&S at Heathrow.

We did not have long to wait until we drove onto the train.

It was my first experience of the Channel Tunnel. I was very impressed with how efficient and quick it was.

When we got off the train we headed in the direction of the refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais.

It took us a bit longer to get there than we had planned  because after a long day for Jonathan, he’d done live broadcasts for GMTV earlier and then spent six hours on a mini tour of England going from Bristol to Coventry and then to Folkstone, he missed the exit off the motorway.

I was following. I did think it strange that we were heading towards Belgium.

“It must be the right road because the pair of them had done the trip before and knew the lay of the land.” I thought.

At the next junction when Jonathan’s veered off and started going back the way we’d come I realised what had happened.

At the area where the camp is we stopped

There were reputedly one thousand five hundred illegal immigrants in the makeshift camp. Or so we had been lead to believe.

We went rather carefully into the darkness towards the camp. 

I did not want to blast the pitch black night with my bright camera light for fear of upsetting the campers.

We were not exactly welcomed with excited smiles and hearty hellos, but we were not barraged with abuse either physical or verbal as had happened to Jonathan and Gary on their previous visits.

There were sparks and smoke from a camp fire glimmering through the tangle of bushes and trees.

As we got closer it was clear that there were a lot of people sitting and standing around it. 

There was not much chatter for so many people. The cracks, pops and hisses from the fire drowned out what little noise their was.

The nearer we got I started to make out a few other little TV cameras and guys with stills cameras.

I started to get some shots of the faces that were beautifully lit by the quivering light from the fire.

There was one great image of a swarthy chap in baggy trousers with his head in his hands and his shoulders hunched in despair.

The flames picked out another thin stubbled face drawing deeply on a cigarette. 

I was getting quite excited about the images I was getting that really told a story of desperation and resignation.

I looked for others like those that showed the emotion and stress that the guys were going through.

Almost all the others looked a bit more relaxed and far from middle eastern or central asian.

It dawned on the three of us that the majority of people enjoying the heat and light from the fire were either local supporters of the refugees or like us members of the press.

The word was that there were now around only sixty to seventy actual refugees in the camp.

We left with some atmospheric shots but a feeling that the morning might be a bit of a non event.

It was after two  in the morning UK time when we got to our hotel.

We needed to be back at the camp to prepare for our live broadcasts, feed the shots to GMTV and perhaps get a few more, at around four am UK time.

I lay on the hotel bed and tried to get as much sleep as I could in the less than two hours I was going to be there.

Although it did not feel like it I must have had a little bit of much needed slumber because the noise of my alarm dragged me unwillingly in to the land of the non sleep.

Some of the CRS called in from other parts of France to deal with the morning’s situation were also staying in out hotel. 

That was good news because the night porter had been instructed to set up breakfast much earlier than normal.

So when a bleary eyed Gary came down ready to leave he was thrilled to send us texts to say that there was fresh coffee, well machine coffee, croissants, cold meat and cheese waiting for us.

The satellite truck that we had seen last night that we thought was the one we would be using, wasn’t. It was in a state of inoperation.

The truck we would use was still on it’s way.

“Here we go. Now it starts.” I began to think that not only would it be an uneventful story, it would be a stressful uneventful story.

The truck arrive in plenty of time. There was still more than an hour before transmission and we got it parked up in exactly the place we wanted it.

Things were looking up.

Vincent and Clare from SIS Live in Paris, and I started to get the technical things sorted out.

Vincent asked how much cable we needed and where the camera was going to be.

I told him we needed as much as he had on board and pointed to the dense blackness. 

I cabled the camera up in the truck.

Vincent and Clare had the satellite linked back to the UK.

I fed the pictures from last night back to GMTV.

Then began the ritual of hunt the sound and vision.

The cables were all connected correctly to my camera which pumping out pretty colour bars and annoying tone.

However, none of it was getting to the truck.

When Vincent and Clare started pulling out cables and referring to screeds of circuit diagrams it felt like things were starting to unravel.

The mantra “We’re getting near to on air” was in my head and from looking promising it was looking bleak again.

There was enough stress going on as the French pair hunted for the illusive sound and vision that I thought it unwise to mention talkback.

I prepared my little kit of phone, transmitter and receiver and spoke to Bill the technical director to let him know what I was doing.

I heard over talk back that there was only eight minutes to go until the programme was on air and we were due to be the first item.

Our pictures and sound from my camera were now getting to London.

Jonathan and I set off over the soft sandy ground into the gloom.

There was still forty or so meters to go to reach the much needed light of the still burning fire when I felt a strong tug on the cable.

We had reached it’s full extent.

It was still very dark. 

The Light Comes up but we're Still too far Away.

Any activity we could see was distant and barley discernible in the mirk.

We could hear talk back but it wasn’t very clear. 

The charity worker Jonathan was going to interview was nowhere to be seen.

Then just to add to the frustration I could see ahead of me just where I wanted to be the sudden bright glow from the Sky News camera lighting the reporter.

Oh how I wanted a Digi Link at that point!

The PA counted into the titles.

With less than a minute to go I gave Simon the director the thumbs up that we were ready to go even although there was no sign of Jonathan. 

He’d gone in search of the guest.

I could hear Simon over the gallery talk back say that Calais was not looking good.

There was less than thirty seconds to go to us when out of the dark grey shadows a slightly breathless Jonathan appeared with the guest.

I handed him the mic and switched on the camera light.

At that moment Simon said “Cue Jonathan.”

The first broadcast was done.

There was no time to heave sighs of relief or relax because we needed somehow to get more cable to get us much nearer the middle of the camp.

Clare had unbeknownst to us dashed off to the truck that was not working and brought back a couple of drums of cable.

She and Vincent set to work very quickly to provide us with what we so desperately needed.

The next broadcast would not involve Jonathan talking to anyone so I took the microphone that was on a cable attached to my camera away from him and gave him a little radio personal microphone so that he could walk around as he talked.

It was working perfectly.

Things were starting to get interesting because a few CRS vehicles had started to arrive and the atmosphere suddenly grew much more tense.

There was a possibility that we might see some action when we were broadcasting live.

Unlike my colleague from Sky News with his Digi Link on the back of his camera I would not be able to so a great deal of moving when things kicked off if it did.

The light was coming up. Jonathan started to talk. I had the sad faces of the refugees still lit by the glow of the fire as well as the light of the grey dawn in frame.

The Camp. Busier than Usual.

Before we went live I scanned the area around me and mentioned that it would be handy for me to have a bit of height.

There was nothing I could see that I could stand on.

Gary had disappeared.

He then reappeared quickly wearing a broad grin and wielding a small folding chair that he had commandeered from someone. 

As we’d quickly planned Jonathan talked about the refugees and walked over to the area from which we could see the police vehicles.

I was just stepping on to the chair to get a view over the fences when  Penny Smith in the studio say that they would try to come back to Jonathan later in the programme.

Bill the technical director said that there was some problem with the sound.

It sounded fine in my monitoring, but Vincent in the truck said that suddenly strange things had happened to the sound.

We were due on again quite soon so I tried the cabled microphone again.

It was working perfectly.

It did mean that Jonathan could not go wandering around as much as we would have liked but at least the audience would be able to hear him.

That was when things started to get interesting.

The next time we broadcast coincided with the police coming on to the camp and starting to remove the refugees.

The police approach was fairly softly softly but when some of the local and not so local protesters started to get in the way they were swiftly and firmly dealt with.

All the refugees that I could see went off to their fate with the French police with sad quiet dignity.

The protesters on the other hand gave the cops a bit of a hard time.

None of the police had any riot or protective gear on, but they did have helmets and the usual array of batons, guns and spray hanging from their belts.

It did not take long for them to have apparently rounded up all those that they wanted to round up.

I had broadcast some great pictures of the scuffles and people being lead away.

Jonathan had given some good commentary to the events as they unfolded.

It then became clear that we were no longer wanted on the site by the police.

In the middle of one of our live broadcasts a police officer came up and told us that we had to move out.

A line of taciturn policemen then began purposefully easing us back out along the sandy track to the road.

Some of the remaining vocal protesters were taken out with a smidgen more speed and force.

Gary Keeps GMTV in the Loop by E-mail.

Lots of Satellite Trucks

Crews Everywhere.......
.....Shooting Everything.......
.....Interviewing Everyone.

Clare had earned her SIS salary this morning because not only had she rustled up the vital extra cable, she also did a great job of looking after it and me when the action started.

Once we were outside the camp it was cordoned off and we did our final broadcasts against the background of stern looking CRS police officers who did not look to happy at being on camera.

There was still a number of noisy protesters making their feelings felt to the police.

The Best Protected Satellite Truck in the Land?

They Shall Not Pass.

Jonathan Ready to Go.

Shooting the CRS.

The police then created little sections on the road that you could not get past.

At one point when I was walking back to the satellite truck from having a look at some activity further along the road the black gloves of the CRS stopped me getting past until I had negotiated with them and Gary had arrived from the opposite site of the line to plead my case.

Jonathan, the Sky News crew, the BBC cameraman and the CNN crew were not so lucky.

They were coming back from a little impromptu press conference that a local government official had held, when even with all their collective polite requests, exasperated pleadings, waving of press cards, and general bemused pointing and shrugging they were held behind a police line for no accountable reason.

At least we were off air and just on standby in case something kicked off. CNN were now using the truck to send their pictures to Atlanta and do their live broadcasts.

Will They Not Let You Through?   Do They Not Know Who You Are? Do They Care?

It had been an exhausting few hours, nowhere near the anticlimactic day we had anticipated after last night.

The breakfast that Jonathan, Gary and I then enjoyed back at a shopping centre near our hotel was very welcome indeed.

We retired to our rooms for a little bit of a rest. I got started on this old blog. Tried to connect to the net but couldn’t.

Later on in the afternoon we reconvened in the hotel reception to go out and see how things had progressed and see if there was any story for tomorrow morning.

We set out on a scouting drive.

First stop was the “Jungle”.

It had been totally flattened by the bulldozers that were still there inactive, standing in a huddle like huge animals resting after a huge feast. The remains of the frantic meal spread around them.

There were still TV crews doing live broadcasts and recording pieces to camera. We joined in. Jonathan did a piece to camera with the heavy machines as the background.

Jonathan spoke to the various journalists around to find out what had gone on during the day.

We were not sure if there was a good enough story that would run in tomorrows programme.

There were all sorts of rummers of refugees still around and some having been let out.

It would be great to get some shots if them if that was the case.

Back in the car on the hunt for the story we drove into Calais town centre.

Then we had a story. There was a silent protests going on with a ring of people with banners stopping traffic just across the road from the town hall.

Jonathan and I jumped out of the car and got to work.

I got shots of the protesters and then Jonathan did a few interviews.

With at least a bit of a story in the can we then went back on patrol.

Only a few moments later cruising back towards the now flattened mini shanty town we could not believe our eyes.

On a quiet road there was the unmistakable sight of a pair of refugees with carrier bags full of junk.

Gary stopped the car. The tyres almost screeching in protest. Jonathan and I leapt out like cops on a bust.

The pair continued to saunter along the road. 

I did a nice poignant long end of the lens shot of them walking into the distance.

It would be a slight visual cliché but never the less it was a perfect end shot.

We quickly walked up to them.

Things were getting better because they were walking towards a police van.

I could get another arrest on camera.

Although reluctant to talk and having very poor English jonathan managed to get to speak to them on camera.

They were Kurds very keen to get to London.

Almost their only English was, “London good.”

As we got closer to the police van several of the boys in French blue clambered out.

Now we definitely have a story what ever happens.

All the police did was to block the couple’s route back down towards the “Jungle”.

They were not picked up or in other way harassed.

The two guys just gave the police resigned shrugs and heads a bit lower turned and headed off in the direction they’d come.

My thoughts went out to them as we got back into the car with a story under our belts and the prospect of a nice late dinner ahead.

Where were they going?

Where were they going to sleep?

Who knows?

The meal we had lulled us into a very false sense of relaxation.

The clock had spun on to around ten thirty.

All that was left to do was to put the ten minutes of material into Jonathan’s lap top.

He was going to edit it, which would not take too long.

The thing that would probably take the time would be feeding the cut story back to London.

In Jonathan’s room back at the hotel we got started.

At 1am we pronounced the job dead after many attempts to get the pictures into the laptop.

The lexicon of computer messages came up at various times.

The editing programme went from lots of useful windows to a grey screen with a bar over the top.

It froze. It crashed. It went on a go very slow.

Jonathan and I having had somewhere in the region of two hours sleep in the last thirty six hours were loosing any sense of humour a full stomach had helped to cultivate.

The only consolation from the computer's point of view was that the hotel was not very high so throwing the useless box electronics out of the window would not be worth it.

Dean the boffin from GMTV’s IT department diagnosed the problem as an incompatibility problem between the camera and the computer.

Like Jonathan and I he’d done all he could to get things working.

At that time of night there were no other options of getting the material back to GMTV.

Frustrated that our story would not get to air and almost hallucinating with lack of sleep Jonathan called time.

I went off to my room to try and unwind so that I could get some sleep.