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, 30 November 2009

GMTV's Top Secret Mission

Sunday 29th November

It was a hush hush job with the military .

It was one of those need to know assignments. I had to be careful who I talked to about where I was going and what I would be doing.

I drove from Edinburgh to Fife constantly checking the vehicles behind to make sure that I was not being followed.

The rendezvous was an anonymous looking building on an industrial estate not far from the Police HQ.

It was surrounded by an effective iron fence.

I drove my car to the double gates. I had to get out and go an intercom. I pushed the button on it.

I told the answering voice who I was.

On being told that I was expected the gates were opened and I eased the car through them.

I was escorted up stairs by a colonel and another officer where we discussed the secret nature of the mission and how it would best be acheved.

The building itself was like any building on any industrial estate but it did a big sign on it and signs to it announcing it as the home of the Army Cadets.

The reason for all the cloak and dagger stuff, a surprise programme for Lorraine Kelly’s 50th birthday.

Lorriane is the Army Cadet’s Honourary Colonel.

I was there for them to record some birthday wishes which would go out on a special programme to celebrate the land mark birthday of one of television’s most endearing icons.

There were lots of things planned that she was totally unaware of.

I filmed with some of the cadets seening them doing some first aid, map reading and learning how to play the pipes.

A Map Reading Class.

Some hand picked boys and girls gave little birthday greetings. The CO Colonel Passmore did a short piece to camera.

The big finle was a 50 made out of cadets.

The Grand Finale. (I'm glad the TV Camera has a bit of a wider lens)

I was made very welcome by all the guys who were very patient when I got them to do things s few times over just to make sure it was as good as it could be.

Once I had it all in the can it needed to get to GMTV in London as soon as possible to get edited for tomorrow’s programme.

That meant a drive to Glasgow to STV.

In the late afternoon the material was safely at GMTV.

In the morning when I watched the programme I was quite proud that the only item out of all the items the one from the cadets was the only one that moved Lorraine to tears.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Policeman Bill Barker's Funeral

Friday 27th November 

I thought that Marcella was going to join me in Cockermouth but plans had changed.

I would be working with Elaine Wilcox in Egremont at the church where policeman Bill Barker’s funeral was going to be held.

Groggy with only three hours sleep Kevin and I navigated the winding roads from Cockermouth to Egremont.

It looked like there was going to be a bit of a parking issue outside the dark forbidding church. The council were busy getting cars moved and putting up barriers.

Luckily we had been given permission to broadcast from inside the church. 

Fred, the very helpful church warden’s husband arrived and allowed us in and extended the churches hospitality by keeping us supplied with coffee.

Sound Recordist Stephen Adjusts Elaine's Talkback.

Elaine In Position.

Our broadcasts were all pretty straight forward with only one tiny bit of stress wjhen a police sergeant came into the church saying that as far as he was aware no press were to be allowed inside the church.

Once we had assured him that we would be gone by just after 8 am he wenr away happy.

After we finished the last broadcast we got the gear out as quickly as we could to keep the church authorities and the police happy.

The Inside of the Beautiful Church.
The Outside Ready for the Expected Crowds.

"I wannabe Jordan or Katie Price!"

Thursday 26th November

Another good news, bad news day.

The bad news. When I took my car in to the garage to get the wipers fixed and get it serviced George the service manager told me that I probably would not get it back until Wednesday.

The good news. He produced a very nice Mercedes Estate that the hire company had dropped off for me.

I had plenty of time to enjoy driving it.

I had no sooner jumped into it when the call came from Paul in the GMTV office. 

Could I get to Bishop Auckland in County Durham to film with a little girl who wanted to be Jordan?

Sophie Wants to be Jordan.

So I headed down the A1.

There was some big news breaking at GMTV that caused a lot of us some concern.

ITV, 75% owners of GMTV had bought the other 25% of the company from the Disney corporation.

As of today GMTV was no longer a separate entity. It was now part of ITV.

As with all take overs and mergers there are efficiencies to be made. A euphemism for redundancies.

We will have to wait and see what happens.

In the little estate near the centre of the little town I knocked on the door of the small semi detached house.

I was greeted by the smiling face of Marcella Whitingdale. She introduced me to the very pretty girl who had the ambition of emulating Jordan, or is it Katie Price?

Sophie and her mum Pauline were going down to London to be on the GMTV sofa in the morning.

Marcella and I had to film a little piece that would be played before they did a live interview with Andrew Castle and Emma Crosby.

We did not have much time to shoot because they had to catch a train and before they did that they were off to get a spray tan.

As quickly as I could I set up a couple of lights in the small lounge where a large plasma TV and an off white faux regency sideboard topped with a  sizeable mirror fought for dominance of the room.

Marcella brought down a large red heart shaped cushion that we put on the sofa. Marcella and Sophie then sat sown and I filmed an interview with them.

One of Sophie’s main reasons for wanting to follow in the Katie Price / Jordan footsteps was that she was a good business woman and had her own range of hair straighteners.

I did a few more shots of the very attractive little girl having her hair curled by her mum, putting on make up and doing a bit of posing in the big mirror in the lounge and another large kitsch mirror at the top of the narrow stairs.

That was all we had time for.

Two Beautiful Ladies, Marcella and Sophie.

I was glad that there was a bit of time pressure because on the way to Bishop Auckland I had been told that I would need to head back to the flood zone for another live broadcast in the morning.

Marcella was also going to be doing the broadcast. By this time it was nearing 6 pm and she had been up since 3 am. So she elected not to drive across the A66 until the morning and get her head down locally.

I would go over to Cockermouth and rendezvous with the satellite truck that was also on the way and use it to send the stuff I had shot back to London.

That was the plan.

There was one slight problem with that. The truck trundling up from the depths of Yorkshire was not carrying a machine to play the tape. So the playout would have to be done using my camera.

Thereby hung the problem.

After the shoot with the beautiful budding Jordan I had taken the tape with the rushes out of the camera and put a fresh tape into the camera.

The new tape was now jammed inside the recorder mechanism and would neither go right in and lace up or eject.

I was still in Sophie’s house. Sophie and her mum had rushed off to the tanning shop and Marcella was off to get some sleep.

There was only Sophie’s step dad, who’s job during the filming had been to keep their little Staffordshire Bull terrier from making a noise, left with me.

I did not want to over stay my welcome.

I shut the camera down stuck it in the car and drove through the never ending rain to Cockermouth.

As the sat nav guided me to the address of the hotel I had been booked into I was surprised to be getting closer and closer to the area that had been devastated by last Thursday night’s deluge.

When I got to the hotel and rang the bell to get in it took a while for the door to be answered.

I asked if I could check in.

The lady, who looked a little wind swept said that the hotel was closed and asked if I knew about the floods.

I said that I did and added that as far as I was aware I was booked into this hotel.

The lady introduced herself. Her name was Carol Anne  and she was the owner of the place and there were absolutely no bookings at all. 

There were a few phone calls between us and GMTV.

It appeared that a booking had been made at a hotel of the same name 40 or 50 miles away.

Although the hotel was closed Carol Anne was kind enough to say that she would be able to give Kevin the yet to arrive satellite engineer and me rooms but, there would be no food or bar available.

The Hotel I Wasn't Booked into.

I went off to a restaurant nearby that was open to get some food and have a look at fixing the camera.

I saw a few of my fellow diners give me some strange looks as I took the camera to bits depositing screws and the like on the table in an attempt to free the tape.

I succeeded. I inserted and ejected the clean tape a few times. It was fine.

Camera Repair Over Dinner.

By the time I had done that and eaten Kevin was just about to arrive at the hotel car park.

The Truck in the Car Park and my Car.

The Camera in the Truck, Naked Again!

He set his dish up and performed the black art that is getting on to the satellite.

Whilst he was doing that and talking technical with someone on the phone I ejected the tape and tried to insert the tape with the rushes on it.

The camera partially accepted it but then held on to it harder than a banker and his bonus.

I could hear the distant sound of the gremlins giggling as I once again had to pull the camera apart and fiddle with the tape transport mechanism to get the tape to load and lace up.

Eventually with very gentle persuasion the delicate assembly of levers, springs, cogs and wheels accepted the tape and I got it fed to GMTV in London.

I was not looking forward to less than 4 hours sleep as I got to bed sometime after midnight.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Cumbria Floods Day 5

Wednesday 25th November

This morning it was one of those good news, bad news days.

It started off with the bad news.

There was no hot water for me to get a shower. I could do nothing with my hair. So my secret ambition to be like the professor in Back to the Future had at last been realised.

The good news followed.

It was not raining so I could take my car.

Once again we had a little convoy of the lighting truck and Sean in the satellite truck.

The Truck with its Sail Up!

The location that we were heading for was the temporary rail station that was being built on the north side of Workington.

Richard sped off to check out the location and work out what we could do when we got there as we had not seen it.

I was leading the two slower trucks.

We were tootling along about as quickly as we could go. If it had not been a black emptiness outside the side windows we could have enjoyed the beautiful Cumbrian landscape.

I lead the guys over a roundabout. I was not, as is usual following sat nav because it would guide me to the wrong side of the town and over the stricken bridge.

I had gone a little way passed the roundabout when I realised I had taken the wrong exit.

I gave myself a severe talking to. We could not turn around safely until the next roundabout.

A few moments later we were on the right track again.

The phone was ringing. Richard told me that the location that had been selected for us to do the live broadcasts from was no more than a flattened bit of earth and some piled up scaffold poles.

There was nothing for Neil to light because there was nothing to see.

So we were going to go to the Calva bridge.

When Sean, Neil and I arrived at the bridge we all had to work quite quickly to get set up ready to go for our first broadcast at the start of GMTV.

Sean expressed some concern for the speed and gustiness of the wind.

He parked the truck in the most sheltered area we could find.

He then got the dish set up. Pete got his sound kit ready. Neil dragged out his big lights. I got the camera ready and Richard pulled the cable out.

It was a blur of action as it all came together as the GMTV titles rolled.

Well all except that there was a problem with the programme sound getting to us.

The GMTV gallery could see and hear us but we could not hear them down the programme sound circuit.

I was able to hear the director because I had dialled into the gallery talkback.

We just had time to let them know that Richard would have to take his cue from me.

I gave him the cue and off he went talking about the temporary rail station up the road and the damage to the bridge.

As he was talking the programme sound burst into life with perfect timing for us to hear Helen the news reader apologise to the viewers for our pictures and sound disappearing.

The wind which was picking up had blown the satellite dish off the satellite.

The beam of radio waves that the dish sends around 32 000 kilometres into space to the satellite transponder is very narrow and as a result it does not take much movement of the dish to knock it off.

Sean was doing his best by transmitting with as much power as possible. The boys in London receiving the signal coming back from the satellite were doing their best by using as big a receiving dish as they could to suck in as much of the signal as possible.

The dish could not maintain the signal on to the satellite for any guaranteed period.

It was too risky to attempt another live broadcast.

What we could do however, was record a piece and feed it back as many times as was needed until there was a full version there.

It was then that we noticed a problem with what we needed to show.

The problem with the bridge was a crack in the middle arch of the three arch bridge.

The bank of the river beside the bridge has lots of trees on it which currently were bare of leaves but festooned with all kinds of debris left behind by the water.

In all our rushing to get on air for the first broadcast we had not seen that the central arch, the important one was slightly obscured by a few annoying branches.

Some of them we managed to bend back a bit and wedge behind other parts of the trees.

However, there was one that was too far over the river to get a hold of to bend.

It needed to go.

It was the first time I had used the saw attachment for my Swiss Army multitool.

I was pretty impressed and how easily it went through the branch that was not much thinner than my wrist.

At Least We got to see the Bridge Lit Even if the Viewers Didn't.

The Swiss Army Tool at Work.

We were all set. There was plenty of light. We could see the relevant part of the bridge.

We did a recording.

Back in the truck Sean tried to feed it back to London.

Standing inside the truck was like being on a ship the wind was rocking it so much.

Sean tried sending the piece a number of times. GMTV in London were only getting a few second before the signal was blown away.

Sean Plays and Re-plays The piece of Tape.

Still Windy.

There was one more thing we could do.

Sean took the truck to see if he could find a sheltered area to set up in and we would send the piece from there.

The light was starting to come up so we did yet another piece on tape.

Even in the most sheltered place he could find the wind still caused problems.

We were pretty frustrated with it all by that time.

That was when the technology gremlins decided that they would get in on the act to add to our nightmare.

The computer that controls the dish and all the associated electronics exerted its own power by not allowing Sean to increase the power of the radio beam.

No matter what he did or said to the unhelpful collection of silicon chips it the tiny blip on the spectrum analyser stayed tiny compared with the large ones from other trucks beside it.

Sean Tries to get the Computer to do as it's Told!

We all left feeling tired and deflated.

At least the rain had held off for my wiperless journey north.

It held off for the start of the journey.

My days misery was not over as I drove home in relays, stopping to wait for a lull in the rain that was sometimes just light drizzle and often torrential downpour.

I did get home eventually.