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.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

There are good days and days like today.

Thursday 10th June

I got a hint that my highlight would not quite be the highlight I hoped for when the light began to come up.

Thick grey clouds were sweeping across the sky

We were going to be doing most of our live broadcasts from a balloon high over Johannesburg.

The balloon being inflated in the morning light.

Rudy the man in charge of the big balloon sent it up to check out the wind.

We did our first quick broadcast at 6am on the ground whilst the test flight was done.

The balloon crew were happy that we were good to go.

So along with the pilot four of us got in to the big but narrow doughnut basket that was suspended underneath the massive balloon.

The balloon ready to fly into the grey sky.

It was a tight squeeze for Ben, Oliver Holt from the Mirror, Mike the engineer, and me.

The thick metal cable reeled out from the huge drum in a hole in the ground and the balloon started to rise.

Mike attached the directional arial on to the Digi Link and pointed it towards the receiver back on the ground.

Oliver got into position for his down the line chat with Emma Crosby on the GMTV sofa in London.

The position was fine so that I would see the city far below when we got to our planned height of 120 meters.

I concentrated on sorting myself, making sure that the audio was working, the Digi Link was working and most importantly that there was enough battery power because it is very power hungry.

I had just finished my quick checks, thrown the camera on to my shoulder and framed up when the Erron the studio director gave us a standby.

Emma then started to talk to Oliver about an outburst by Fabio Capello, Joe Cole wanting to throw photographers to the lions and Michael Carrick's comments about the Jabulani World Cup ball.

I was aware that Oliver was holding on to the sides of the basket fairly tightly and was looking rather less than comfortable.

As well as that I was conscious that I was having to wedge myself in and the background was moving a bit.

A couple of times Emma referred to Oliver looking cold.

It was cold but not too cold.

The slightly chilled look on his face came more from unease rather than the low temperature

Out of the eye not concentrating on the viewfinder I could see the ground below wizzimg past, coming to a sudden halt, then wizzing off again.

The end of Oliver's broadcast coincided with a big increase in the strength and gusting of the wind.

Suddenly we were not in a gentle benign balloon but on an intense roller coaster ride.

The pilot's wide eyes told the story as did Ben's white face and nervous giggles.

There were only two minutes to the next short broadcast.

I was on the opposite side of the big basket from Ben.

I started to move to go over to that side but the bucking of the

basket and a high pitched "stay where you are!" from Mike made me


I framed Ben across the centre of the balloon.

I had to make it a tighter shot than I wanted because there was a lot of Hyundai branding.

I'd be in trouble if I got that in shot.

We were now on our way down but we would not be down before the broadcast.

The balloon was still bouncing all over the place like a bronco on speed.

Ben did the quick broadcast telling it like it was.

Less than a minute later we had regained terra firma a lot more gently than I had braced myself for.

Our next long broadcast was imminent.

Rather ashen faced from witnessing our airborne antics Mark rushed over to check that we were OK and tell us he had organised our friends from yesterday's parade to be in the broadcast.

We dashed across to a grassed area where St George and his new American mates were waiting.

Technical director Doug and Erron asked over talkback if we'd make it in time.

Ben said yes and I nodded the camera as we made our way across to the grass.

We stopped.

I framed up.

Ben was ready to go.

It hit me like Tyson haymaker.

Ben was about to interview the guys.

He was wearing a personal mic.

In the rush off the balloon I had not picked up my run bag with all the other microphones in it.

I hastily told Ben to get close to the people as possible because his personal mic would have to cover the guests as well.

I was pretty confident that Ben would help me out, but I did mentally cross my fingers.

This time the technical gremlins in their perverse contorted way helped me out.

Ben had no sooner started speaking than voices came over tailback saying that the pictures and sound were out of sync.

He carried on talking for a bit longer and I moved the shot to St George aka Paul and his buddies so that Ben was out of shot.

He was told to shut up long before he was about to talk to anyone because the sync problem was so bad.

There is always an intense feeling of disappointment tinged with guilt when a broadcast has to be cut short for technical reasons.

However, this time I was slightly, only slightly thankful.

There was a bit of time before the next broadcast we set about testing the sync problem which ended up being a problem between us and London.

Not giving Ben a round of applause but doing a clap test to test the sync problem.

In many ways that wasn't a surprise because the route the signal was going through was a tad circuitous.

From our dish the signal was going 38500 kilometres up to the satellite, then 38500 kilometres down to a receiver in New York.

It then gets put on to fibre optic link to the ITN bureau in Washington DC to be sent on another fibre optic cable to ITN's MCR (Master Control Room) at Gray's' Inn Road in London.

From there it zips across the city to The London Studios MCR and on up to the GMTV gallery on the 3rd floor of the building on the South Bank of the Thames.

This convoluted path was the cause of another little problem.

A sizeable delay between us in South Africa and the studio in London.

The only remedy to that one was the one adopted by Erron the studio


He had established the length of the delay and was giving Ben his cue a few seconds before either Emma or Andrew Castle stopped speaking.

This was a bit disconcerting for Ben because he was apparently speaking over them.

It can be a problem if the presenters in the studio deviate from the script.

That did happen this morning when Andrew asked Ben a question that neither he or Erron were expecting.

Our grey mood was now matching the grey skies.

Mike had gone back to the truck and came back with the cable.

So with the cable attached we did the rest of the live broadcasts which went off without further mishap.

Getting ready for the later broadcasts.

Not feeling at all elated we had breakfast before going back to the apartment to dump our kit and go out to find a location for tomorrow's programme.

Ben and Mark on their Blackberrys at breakfast.

We did have a place in mind but it was not possible from a satellite point of view.

So Mark and I spent the rest of the day trawling round Johannesburg looking for a suitable place from which Ben could co-anchor the programme.

We were not on winning form. Entrances having limited headroom, places that are like ghost towns when we are on air and awkward areas to get a satellite signal from were defeating us at every turn.

Richard and Nick had a slightly more successful morning getting interviews with a handful of the few fans arriving at Johannesburg airport and were now heading up to Rustenburg.

Ben went for a sleep and then went out for a cup of tea with Kevin Kegan!

Mark and I then found a suitable location and got some guests organised including some fantastic dancers.

Then, as we were approaching the final whistle with a victory in sight the opposition dealt us a blow in rather tragic circumstances.

It was with sadness that we heard the news of a bus crash way up north of us involving two British people.

The sadness increased when we heard that the two that had been killed were 19 year old girls.

In the news business there is little time for sentiment and the story had to be covered. So the ITN satellite dish that was going to be with us at our cafe location in Sandton was dispatched post haste to Baberton in the north eastern border with Mozambique.

The other ITN Johannesburg truck was going to be in Soweto all the next day.

It would have been a good location for GMTV from an editorial point of view but with a lot of the roads heading out of Johannesburg heading in that direction being closed off as off midnight tonight prior to the opening game South Africa v Mexico getting to and from Soweto would make a long journey much longer than normal.

The result that all the guests we had organised would not make the journey.

We were facing defeat square in the face.

If we had to do our live broadcasts from Soweto in the morning they would be very flat with no guests and no atmosphere.

In the 90th minute a tactical substitution was made after much negotiation and inter coach wrangling.

It looked like we would snatch back the win.

We would find out in the morning.

Another dish was organised to go to our preferred live location.

Well into the evening Mark was on the phone and computer making last minute arrangements with guests and sorting out logistical things for Nick and Richard up in Rustenburg.

I also did a bit of phone bashing and went out on a bit of a shopping spree for props to dress up out little set a bit more than it already was.

The South African’s, helped by the football fans from all over the world who had started to arrive, were going mad buying up all kinds of World Cup stuff.

The shops were starting to get sold out.

I was surprised at that given nothing was cheap. I paid nearly £40 for a bit of international bunting.

As for the Jubalani balls, well, over £100 for a replica one!

The whole thing is a big time business fest.

After being up since 4am it was 7pm and there were still things to be sorted to make sure the live broadcasts would work.

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