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.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Elephants and Whales

Tuesday 22nd June

Once more into the dark predawn we ventured on the hunt for a rare species, one that unlike the England football team can play football.

Not much of a hunt really. These guys were all tucked up in bed at the Kynsna Elephant Park.

The great thing about the place is that there are rooms which are above the area where the elephants sleep.

The doors to these rooms open out on to a lounge area that directly overlook the huge beast’s bedroom.

Once you become acclimatised to the smell, which does not take too long it is a fantastic place to sit and gaze at one of the biggest land animals on the planet.

Unfortunately we did not have the luxury of gazing or pondering or lingering.

Things were a bit hectic for most of the morning.

The first thing that we had to do was pre-record a couple of things with Ben in this lounge area and get it sent to GMTV in London from the satellite truck that Mike and Colin were in the process of setting up in a field a little way away.

Mike and Colin do their thing getting the dish up.

We had to do the pre-record because it would not be sufficiently light to do the opening bits where we wanted to.

Another pretty morning sky.

I was getting the camera ready for the next live broadcasts when, over talkback I heard the material going out on air.

The rest of the amazing morning was as breathtaking as it was fun and interesting.

There was one nervy moment for both me and Simon, the director in London.

The first short live broadcast was going to be Ben riding in on an elephant.

The little line of elephants were starting down a bit of a hill.

I was unable to hear Ben’s radio mic. I knew that I would not hear it until he came quite close.

Greig the general manager of the park told us it would take about a minute for the elephants to walk up to us.

There was a smidgen more than a minute to go until we were on air and we cued the elephants to come in.

Simon was counting down from one minute.

I could hear nothing, not even any hissing or banging coming from the radio mic.

Ben, on top of Harry, a big teenager was coming closer in the line with the other elephants.

There were 10 seconds until they came to us.

The silence rang out in my earphone.

The level meters stayed belligerently on zero.

There were now 5 seconds to us.

Ben was very close high up on the magnificent animal but very mute.

Simon was very trusting the count kept coming.

4 seconds.


3 Seconds


2 Seconds

A sizzle

1 Second

A crackle.

Cue Ben

There was another sizzle and a crackle and then Ben’s voice was loud and clear.


We got away with it again.

Harry lays down to let Ben off.

The rest of the morning was technically fine.

It was manic with elephants kicking footballs all over the place.

That was except for big boy Harry, he has such a shot he blasts basketballs across the field.

Harry on the ball.

A deft touch from the big man.

It was incredible how well the elephants could control their kicks when they passed the ball to their handlers.

Shooting the wildlife..and elephants!

In between broadcasts the beasts had a bit of a rest and were allowed to graze on the grass.

Relaxing between broadcsts.

Ben gets a quiet moment as well.

Enjoying the (legal) grass.

We were just beside the house belonging to Alex, one of the Park bosses.

There are a couple of nice trees and plants in the garden.

At least there were nice leafy trees.

One of the girl elephants, Sally decided that the grass was not as tasty as the bushy tree leaves and went for a sneaky nibble.

The handlers were quick to chase her back to the grass.

Cheeky Sally gets chased away from her sneaky snack.

We were all very excited to have had this morning’s experience.

Mike and Colin by the ITN satellite dish.

View from an elephant.

Mike being interviewed by the Knysna video crew.

The only down side was that the intensive search for a Slovenian flag had come to nothing.

Ah well, can’t win them all. One would be good from and England point of view though!

We had just derigged, said good bye to our fantastic hosts and were contemplating a late breakfast when Mark’s phone rang.

This call, one of the stream that he was dealing with was the one we wanted to get.

The whale watching weather was wonderful.

Charlie from Ocean Blue told Mark that whales had been seen and the conditions were near perfect for seeing more.

We opted to skip breakfast/lunch and hot wheeled it to Plett.

In no time we were onboard a boat and being launched from the beach by a tractor pushing us off a trailer into the Indian Ocean.

Our skipper Tracy at the helm we bounced through a little swell towards a seal colony.

The Skipper.

When we got there she pulled back the power.

There were hundreds of seals all aver the rocks. Some were just basking in the sun. Some were having minor territorial battles.

You're in my space!

Lots more were enjoying the sea, flapping, rolling and diving.

Having fun!

The boat bobbed about a little whilst I got some footage, Ben did a couple of pieces to camera and I sneaked a few stills.

Ben watching the action.

It was then the turn of Tracy’s phone to ring.

Another boat had spotted whales.

Tracy gets the call.

Good news.

We headed off into slightly higher seas to the location she had been given.

I held on tight to the camera as we cannoned from one wave to the other.

As we approached the other boat Tracy slowed us down.

I put the camera on to my shoulder. The battery light was blinking away to tell me that the big battery on the back needed to be changed.

I took it off. At the same time Mark was getting my run bag from the locker under the seat to get the spare battery.

Tracy shouted.

Ben echoed “Look at that!”

In the distance beyond the other boat a humpback whale had broken the surface of the heaving water and did a small but classic breach.

By the time I slammed the battery home, switched the camera on, pressed record and the mechanism had laboriously whirred and clicked to start recording the massive mammal was way down deep, leaving no trace of where it had been only seconds ago.

Then It suddenly appeared again.

I got the shot this time but it was not a full breach, just the tail, the other boat was in the frame and the shot was a bit wobbly.

The other boat did not stay for much longer, but long enough for the passengers to give us a loud but short England chant.

Left on our own Tracy went to where she thought the whale might reappear.

There were in fact at least two of them in the vicinity.

When they do appear out of nowhere with at first a spout, followed by the sight of a grey body just above the water and then sometimes the flick of a tail as they dive back down it is all very quick.

In the time we were there I did manage to get a few shots of the beasts but it was not easy.

There was no clue where they’d pop up, the boat was moving up and down with no rhythm at least six feet and when they did it come up it was only for a very short time.

When we felt that we had done enough and we were feeling green enough we asked Tracy to head for home.

She asked us to hold on to the gear and sit tight because it would get bumpy and we’d get wet.

Enroute back to the beach her phone rang again.

When the answered the call and slowed the boat down she said, “Here’s the scoop!”

Now that is a word that is music and joy to journalists, especially GMTV journalists.

She told us that a reliable guy on shore had spotted a school of common dolphins just off the shore a few kilometres from where we were.

That’s not unusual, what was unusual was the size of it. He estimated it to be in the region of ten thousand strong.

We needed to get to Port Elizabeth to organise the location and guests for the live broadcasts in the morning.

It is at least a three hour drive.

Our watches told us it was getting close to 2 pm.

It did sounded like a shot too good to miss.

We said “let’s go for it.”

The dolphins were quite a way from from us. The quickest way to get there would be in a bigger boat.

So, we went off to meet that bigger boat.

However, once we realised that it would be a trip of at least two hours we reluctantly decided that we could not spare the time.

None of us had eaten since we got up at before 5 am, apart from the very nice coffee at the Elephant Park and small nibbles that they had generously given us and we had that long drive looming up.

The journey back onto the beach was interesting and somewhat scary.

The boat was pointed straight at the shore and given full power.

Michael our land driver was unperturbed as the boat hurtled towards the beach lined with other boats and tractors.

We on the other hand gave each other looks of mild to utter fear with a liberal helping of total disbelief.

The boat skimmed the calm water, the wind rattled our cheeks as the mad manoeuvre continued.

The boat hit the beach remarkably smoothly and came to a steady but fast halt,

We loosened our white knuckles from the grab rails and got out shaking our heads in awe at the fact we were still in the land of the living.

Mark checked his Blackberry and his face told the tale. The programme did not now want the material that we had just spent the last three hours or so getting.

We might have been hungry and suffering a tincture from mal de mer but it had been fun even if we can’t show the rest of the British public how fantastic it was.

As day turned to night Michael drove us to Port Elizabeth in the pouring rain.

Michael our driver.

At the petrol station they're still hoping for a Bafana Bafana win.

The slight disappointment in not getting the footage transmitted continued when we listened to the games on the radio.

Bafana Bafana managed to beat the French but not by a big enough margin for them to go through to the next round.

When we got to Port Elizabeth, or PE as it is known, at after 6:30 pm Mark was not happy because we had no location, no fans and the band that we hoped would come had not returned any of his calls.

It had all been going so well up until now.

We drove along the sea front on the way to the hotel and saw a potential live spot.

When we got to our hotel it was teaming with England fans who had already begun the job of emptying the town of all its beer.

The Summerstrand hotel is not the best we’ve had the pleasure of so far, pity that it might be the last memory of the Word Cup trip to South Africa.

Faded 70s chic and Fawltey Towers on a grander yet less elegant scale.

There appeared to be no rooms available in PE so when Michael did not have a room it was a bit of a worry.

Richard and Nick were having to share on this one.

Luckily after a few anxious phone calls a room in a nice B&B was found for him.

It was so nice Mark and I thought about staying there too.

When the room debacle was sorted things started to come together.

Mark and I went to check out the location that we had seen earlier.

It might have been outside a KFC but the view in the other direction out to sea was pretty good.

It was from a bar on the first floor above the KFC that I heard the first rendition on this trip of, “I’m England ‘til I die” belting out.

Mark was looking for fans to be on the programme in the morning, he avoided that place.

He did find a few in a nearby restaurant.

The band eventually did call and said that they’d be happy to turn up.

The night finished off with a reunion dinner with Richard and Nick in a chinese restaurant that had run out of pretty much everything apart from chicken.

1 comment:

  1. Look it was a real soccer game with elephants and they were cute and they were amazing........................................
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