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.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lost Memories and Megabucks for Make Up

Monday 26th October

On the first dark morning after the clocks went back I was in Durham.

“Good morning. Would you like a bacon sandwich.”

Those were the magic words that Sandy greeted me with when I turned up at his door at a horribly early hour. 

His wife Christina having been misdiagnosed several times ended up suffering a massive brain haemorrhage.

As a result she had been left with virtually no short term memory.

Christina and Sandy.

Elaine the correspondent and Pete the sound recordist arrived very shortly after I started munching the bacon roll.

Steve was outside setting up the satellite dish.

Christina called us all darling in an exotic east european accent.

Donna one of her 24 hour carers helped to get her ready for our two little teases and one main broadcast.

All the time we were setting up Sandy and Donna were asking her simple questions and gently prompting her to remember little things.

She had just come back from a holiday in Cyprus but had no recollection of any of it. She did, after many hits and clues work out that she had been there but that was all she could say about it.

I really felt for both Sandy and Christina. Sandy because having to repeat everything all the time only to have it almost instantly forgotten must be wildly frustrating. Christina because she does know that she is unable to remember. It must, quite literally drive her crazy racking her brain to recall what happened on a few moments earlier.

Elaine, Christina and Sandy.

From a technical point of view the broadcasts all went off with no problem. 

Well apart from Pete having an issue with Elaine’s neckless jangling against her microphone, but he sorted it out.

A TV crew doing a live broadcast from inside your house is a great event. It doesn’t happen every day. People talk about it for years.

The sad thought is that by the time we were in our cars and driving away Christina would have absolutely no recollection of what had gone on.

Donna had taken a few photographs of Christina and Elaine to help record things. I hope this blog helps as well.

All the best and thanks for the excellent hospitality.

Almost as soon as we came off air we got a call from the office.

 The result of the call had Elaine and I heading north east to Sunderland to do a spot of filming with Debbie who was earning a quarter of a million quid a year selling cosmetics.

We arrived at her house in a fairly modest estate of private homes. It was in a state of total upheaval. She and her partner were getting a massive amount of building work done.

In the lounge surrounded by partially demolished walls and other evidence of major refurbishment Debbie was perched on a tall chair having her hair and make up done.

It was a good story, Debbie had been made redundant from the factory that she’d worked in for years and needed £400 to pay her rent.

She started to sell Avon products door to door.

That was five years ago. Now she’s sitting in the midst of expensive construction work and a top of the range Mercedes sports car in the drive. All of it funded by her current £250 000 salary.

She reckons it will be nearer £300 000 next year.

Debbie and her nice car.

It may well have been a good rags to riches story but we thought it was going to end up as a bit of a promotion for Avon because, even in these days of compliance and being unable to mention the products by name it would be pretty obvious who the company was.

Avon certainly thought so. A few moments after we arrived Emma, one of Avon’s PR team jumped out of a taxi after flying up from London to oversee things.

It was going to be a fairly easy shoot, a quick interview with Debbie out on her rounds, a few shots of her in the flash motor, a few shots of her delivering her products to a customer and of course a piece to camera with Elaine.

In the end it all pretty much worked out but there was a time when it all looked like falling apart.

None of her local customers wanted to have the pleasure and joy of appearing on GMTV.

We did a quick rethink and as a lot of Debbie’s earnings comes in the for of commission from her huge sales team we filmed her chatting to a couple of them.

The time of year imposed its deadline on us. 

For the next few months it will be the same old story of fighting to get things done before the light goes.

We did manage to finish the outside shots in the fast fading winter light.

Elaine and I parted company. She headed south west and I headed north.

The only thing left to do was to get the tape fed to GMTV. That would be done by out ITV colleagues at Tyne Tees.

In a modern call centre type building not far from the Metro Centre in Gateshead I left the tape with the security guard at the Tyne Tees reception and continued on up the A1.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Diving, Drizzle and Noisy Gardeners.

Thursday 15th October

Wish I’d thought of the catch phrase, “Today I’ll mostly be ....”.


In today's case it would be “Driving.”

At least the first part of the day would not be a schlep.

The four of us, Charlotte, Kim Ian and I only had a short trip from our impressive old hotel.

Lumley Castle is one of best places to stay in the north east of England.

That is not because it is the ultimate in luxury or the food is very good but because it has an atmosphere all of its own.

The conversion to an hotel has not ruined the real feeling of history that oozes out of every inch of the stone work around the place.

The view from my hotel room window.

Nicola lived in a small flat on a small estate in Chester Le Street.

She was our big winner having won £25000.

She was lovely with a great geordie twang and broad happy smile.

I filmed her interview in front of the fire in her little lounge.

I wanted it to look as relaxed and warm as I could to emphasise her open and warm demeanour.

Nicola by her fire.

Who said you could get comfy as well Kim?

We then went outside to film her with the giant GMTV cheque.

Thankfully although still a bit grey the rain had stopped.

That was great for us to film but also the sign for the local gardeners to start up their grass cutting machines.

There was one earnestly pushing a big petrol mower with his mate rampaging around with a big strimmer.

The sound of the Ride of “The Valkeries” would not have been out of place as like the helicopter scene from “Apocalypse Now “, fifty yards away two huge lawn mowers appeared in formation from behind some parked cars.

They headed to the large areas of  grass to do their stuff.

Kim worked her southern charm on the burley workers and got them to stop whist we recorded.

The next location was a two and a half hours drive south to Bridlington.

Sadly we did not see the North Yorkshire Moors at their best because the weather was grey and horrible.

The picturesque fishing town of Whitby, where we stopped for a quick coffee was not much better in the cold damp drizzle.

Carol the winner of a holiday to Australia was as welcoming as all our other grateful winners.

I filmed her interview in the large spotless kitchen of her smart modern house and the stuff with the cheque in her large well tended garden.

Carol beside the cheque and my camera.

That was the end of the shoot but by no means the end of the day.

Before Ian and I parted company with Kim and Charlotte we had a late lunch in a nearby pub.

Then the girls headed on their five hour journey back to London and Ian and I set off on our five hour journey to Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Everyone's A Winner!

Wednesday 14th October

The dark mornings were taking hold when I joined the stream of  red tail lights heading over the Forth Road Bridge into Fife.

It was going to be a busy couple of days travelling. Fife, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Chester Le Street near Newcastle, on to Bridlington and then back north would be our schedule.

First stop,Kirkcaldy was home to one of the winners of a GMTV competition. A tall soft spoken retired engineer called Robert had won a holiday to Nice and spending money.

I arrived with the kit hired for the job. It was just a wide angle lens and monitor.

I stuck the lens on and set it up. Fine.

I went to switch on the little wireless monitor after I had set it up. Not Fine.

The thing had come out with a flat battery. There was only one spare and no charger.

Lets hope it lasts for the length of the shoot.

Ian the sound recordist and I met Charlotte the producer and Kim the researcher.

We trooped into the nice reasonable sized detached house.

I set up my lights and we recorded an interview in the dinning room. I shot it from a few different angles to allow Charlotte to edit it in an interesting way.

Out in the garden I shot Robert holding a GMTV cheque for £250000, the prize for the competition he would introduce.

Job done. 

We jumped in the cars and set course back the way I had come, to Edinburgh.

Robert and The Cheque.

In a small cul de sac off a street not far from Edinburgh’s port of Leith we saw Anne a small grey haired lady who had, like Robert won a holiday and spending money.

She gave us a friendly welcome and put up with Charlotte asking the same questions several times so that I could shoot the interview from different angles.

I also filmed her in her garden with the huge cheque. 

While we were doing it I had the erie feeling of having someone or something’s eyes on me.

My instincts were not wrong. Her big black cat was taking an intense interest in what was going on and ready to pounce should we step out of line. 

Having satisfied the feline sentinel we went back indoors where Anne extended the already warm welcome by producing scones and cakes.

Good Old Scottish Hospitality


 The Cat Keeps its Eye on us.

We left for Glasgow and lunch not feeling all that hungry.

However, when we got there a little early for the next shoot we did manage a small sandwich.

Our next visit was to another winner of a holiday. Lorraine had won a holiday for six to Crete.

Matthew her husband met us at the door and invited us in. 

Lorraine was in the lounge nervously waiting for us looking very cute, bubbly and a little bit pregnant.

But, beside her, stealing the show for cheeky cuteness was their daughter Caitlin.

She was straight from central casting, a pretty girl all sugar and spice, complete with blonde ringlets and a mischievous smile hidden behind lots of shy glances.

We set up in the lounge and did most of the filming in there. Lorraine although nervous was great. She gave lots of good answers and was very natural.

We then did the thing in the garden with the cheque.

Job done.

Lorraine, Matthew and Cutie Caitlin.

The Star of the Show!

All that was left to do was schlep down to our hotel in Chester Le Street.

Over dinner I told my Micha Barton story and Ian recounted his Sean Connery story. In my view the best TV anecdote ever. 

Sadly neither are for public consumption for fear of litigation although both and others are oh so true.

Perhaps if you want to hire Ian as an after dinner speaker at a private function for many pounds I am sure you could hear that and many other funny stories from his life around the rich and famous.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Now Then!! Vernon's Bro' Teases GMTV

Thursday 8th October

I collected my edit kit from Ravi's hotel and checked out of my hotel in Manchester.

I then had to kick my heels for a little while before going off to Bolton.

I would be shooting some brain teasers with Steven Kay the school teacher brother of the presenter of Family Fortunes Vernon Kay.

Here’s one for you that we didn’t use: What word of just one syllable can be made into a three syllable word by adding just one letter? 

The Teacher in the Classroom.

In the afternoon I met Steven at his school, a smart new primary on the edge  of a huge estate of  mixed housing.

He greeted me at the door of the school.

His shirt, with the tie slightly undone and the v neck sweater marked him out as a teacher.

His smiling open demeanour marked him out as one of the popular teachers.

I could well imagine the girls in the school being desperate to be in his class.

I am sure that the boys would be the same but for very different reasons.

Bit of a lad sprang to mind.

He was looking slightly harrasred when I arrived because he had been having a bit of a busy day away from school and had to rush to get back to meet me.

He Still Managed a Smile After Two Hours Brain Teasing for GMTV.

We had a look at a few locations for the brain teaser questions he was going to pose.

Once we'd agreed on the places I would shoot I started to rig my lights.

The head teacher popped into the classroom we were in and said hello.

Steven learned his lines.

I rolled the camera and off he went.

Now then! He delivered the questions and answers in a great Lancashire accent.

There were not too many retakes.

We used a few locations both inside and outside the school.

Steven changed as well.

We finished just in time before the cleaners kicked us out and locked the place up.

I had to head back down to Manchester.

The decision had been made that the tape needed to be fed to GMTV from Granada TV.

My hotel, the one I had checked out of earlier in the day was a ten minute walk from there.

The hotel I was booked into was about a thirty five minute drive back up to Bolton.

Did you get it?

The word is Are (one syllable)

Add an a

You get Area (three syllables)

Ah! The Manchester Rain.

Tuesday 6th October

Our assignment for the day was straightforward. Ravi the producer simply had to get opinions from "salt of the earth" Mancunians about what the Conservatives needed to do to win their vote.

The ladies of our weather department got it dead right.

It was going to be heavy rain all day.

The pair of us ending up looking like two forlorn puppies after enthusiastically chasing a ball thrown into the sea but returning without it.

It took the best part of two hours in the pissing rain to get what was needed.

It was not for the shortage of hardy northerners grimly determined to shop despite the monsoon conditions.

We went through the full gamut of: "sorry I've got a bus/train/appointment to get to", "I don't really do politics", "Oh I don't want to be on television",

 "Get ME on telli!"

"What could the Tories do for you?"

"I don't know really..... When will I be on?"

"Don't point that camera at me."

Of course there was a large number of people that either just stared straight ahead and kept on walking or gave us a look that said "no I won't allow you to take a dump in my mouth", when Ravi very politely approached them.

By the time we'd finished I was surprised that the coast guard helicopter was not overhead preparing to winch us up and dump us at our respective hotels.

Boris and Benefits.

Monday 5th October

In the bright afternoon sunlight Ravi the producer and I set about the story of the day.

The Lisbon treaty and Europe was at the top of the media agenda for the day.

That big bumbling buffoon like bear Boris Johnston had come to dance in the conference limelight in the place he probably thought only existed in John Osborne plays, the north.

We was mouthing off about a referendum and how if he’s done wonderful things in London there’s no reason that David Cameron can’t do the same in the rest of the country.

I think we were the only media not chasing a sound bite with the sharp operator hidden in a cuddly colonel Blimp disguise.

Busy Boris.........

......and Busy GMTV!

We did various vox pops and then did some filming with three typical Tory ladies.

These were three prospective parliamentary candidates.

Producer Ravi knew exactly what he wanted so it did not take too long to get the shooting done.

I left Ravi with the material to edit and I went off to revisit one of the least salubrious parts of the world.

When I met Jonathan Swain at the infamous Falinge estate in Rochdale there was around an hour of light left.

We did not really want to be there at all and certainly not after dark.

The Light Fades on the Grim Grey Falinge Estate.

It is a very unpredictable place to be in. There is a huge element of the residents that are on drugs.

White Storm cider at just over £1 for a litre is the local tipple. Many of the people we saw were either glugging it down or carrying a bottle or two.

The brief we had was to do a piece about the various plans to reduce benefits.

We planned to work as quickly as possible and try not to have to venture too far into the small but volatile area.

We struck lucky. I had just taken the camera out of the car when we saw a woman come out of a house with a large German Shepherd dog on a lead.

Jonathan asked if she would talk to us. She agreed and gave us a couple of ideal sound bites.

The only thing was that although her well voiced opinions were valid and very broadcastable she was not on any benefits.

We needed someone on benefit.

I shot a couple of pieces to camera with Jonathan.

There were a few groups of guys in wearing hoodies and baseball caps.

To be fair they were not all wearing hoodies and baseball caps. Some had very short dyed hair combed down on their foreheads to form jagged spikes.

They didn't do any more than walk past us.

At Least These Windows Have Curtains.

We walked round the outside of the estate hoping to see a likely interviewee.

We got one.

A thin faced man was at his front door watching his pet dog, some kind of bull terrier noisily play fight with a puppy.

Jonathan went over to the gate and started to chat to the guy.

I rolled the camera and started to record. Jonathan held the radio mic.

I was trying to keep the interview as a two shot with both the man and Jonathan in shot.

It was proving a little difficult because he kept getting closer towards Jonathan and then backing off nervously.

His eyes were flitting from side to side, never staying steady.

I could see he was certainly on some substance or other.

His twitchiness and constant scanning was making me feel slightly uneasy because I could not see what he was looking for or looking at.

What I did see was just out of shot one of his neighbours run into the house with his face covered.

This could be the start of something I thought.

There was also now a small but surprisingly quiet group of kids and teenagers watching us.

The door of the neighbouring house burst open and out tumbled two guys and a woman waving the ubiquitous plastic cider bottles.

They asked in drunken yells what we were doing and where we were from.

They then requested that they should be filmed shouting and pulling faces at the camera at the same time as saying that they did not want to be on telly.

I pointed the camera at them.

They jumped, jeered and made rude gestures.

I took the camera off my shoulder and smiled at them.

They were still cavorting around as Jonathan and I said thank you and retreated to the sanity of my car.

We got what we needed for the piece.

This time, unlike the last twice we were there we were not told to leave or threatened with various forms of unpleasantness.

It was nice for our bottoms not to be suggested as a places to put various pieces of television equipment or indeed the entire GMTV company.

Not and Area to Venture into After Dark.

I headed back to Manchester and Jonathan went off to prepare for a live bungee jump he'd be doing in the morning.

Whilst I was having fun in Rochdale Ravi the producer was enjoying the fun and frolics of getting material edited away from base.

He had quickly and efficiently edited the stuff I had recorded earlier.

Then he experienced the frustrations of the simple task of getting the finished piece back out of the laptop and onto tape so that it could be sent to GMTV in London.

He had my sympathy. Been there (often).

It took him three hours to get all the electronic machines to do as they had been designed to do.