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, 2 August 2010

Chefs at Sea

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th

Flybe is a budget airline for workers on bankers bonuses.

I thought that there was going to be a rhyme in there. Where did I go wrong?

Anyway, the point is, it is not a budget airline at all. In fact I would like to suggest that they have a change of uniform for the check in staff.

A nice black and white stripped top with a fetching little black eye mask finished off with a useful over the shoulder accessory, a large bag with “SWAG” printed on it would be most appropriate.

I was not taking my usual amount of kit because most of it was coming from GMTV in London. All I had apart from my personal case was a tripod and box of bits including camera batteries.

The three bags were prepaid on my booking.

All sorted I thought.

I had not reckoned on the money grabbing machinations of Flybe’s management.

I put my bags on the belt at check-in and was stunned when the girl told me that for a measly 15Kgs I was going to have to pay £261!

The moral “If you want to get robbed in daylight go and see Flybe!”

I arrived in Southampton to be meet up with the participants and crew for the Chefs at Sea strand we were doing on GMTV all next week.

First thing was to get the sound, satellite and edit kit onboard the Ventura, one of P&O’s cruise ships.

Ventura parked at Southampton's Ocean Terminal.

We were all issued with hi-viz jackets and after both us, and the kit was security screened we were dumping our many boxes in a room set aside for us as a production office.

Hi Viz all round as the kit is made ready to be loaded.

The gear goes onboard.

Some boxes in the Peninsular Room.

Then we had to get off to get back on again.

When we were told that the cruise was full, in fact there was a waiting list I knew that my worst ship borne fear was going to come true.

My cabin was an inside one. Can’t complain about the quality of the decor or furnishings. The level of service from the cabin staff would be good, but not having any daylight coming into the room is not fun.

Not quite a "Big Band" to play as we leave.

Passing one of P&O's other ships as we depart the port of Southampton.

However, it was great having nothing to shoot until the Sunday, for once we had time to unpack and settle in a bit before starting work in earnest.

We did of course have to have a bit of a safety drill not that long after we set sail. All us passengers had to get a life jacket from our cabin and go to a muster station to be told what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Muster Stations.

On Sunday morning we checked out the location for the live broadcasts that were due to be done on Monday morning.

Nigel and Ian (Sound) and Jack (Production co-ordinator) discuss power etc with the ship's engineering officers

Carl, the other cameraman on this two camera shoot went off with the four contestants and Rosemary to one of the many galleys.

In the afternoon it was my turn to work in the shiny stainless steel environment of another of the galleys. Lots of galleys and they’re not small, any of them.

No wonder with almost 5000 mouths to feed each day!

The chef’s task was like one of those classic Generation Game things.

They had to decorate a Black Forrest Gateau after a quick demonstration by one of the ships skilful chefs.

Development chef Haydn gets things started.

Ian gets our nervous chef mic'd up.

It was fun and messy for the chefs and not too difficult to shoot to get lots of reactions to them getting it almost right and a little bit wrong, with school mistress Rosemary giving words of encouragement.

Rosemary also gets her mic on.

The finished? cakes.

The only stress that I had was one of the sets of lights I was using deciding to not work because of a broken switch.

So after the shoot Carl, sound recordist Ian and I set about repairing it with gaffer tape, brute force and ham fisted skill. Our combined efforts did manage to get it going, or at least half of it.

Alan the satellite engineer on the other hand, whilst we were having fun playing at electricians, was tearing out tufts of his thinning hair because our friends the gremlins were back to wreak havoc with his kit.

They were doing a great job. After much stress and a lot of help from the engineering department on the ship and lengthy phone calls to SIS, the manufacturers of the equipment he eventually managed to get it to do as it was told.

The dish stowed on the sun deck.

It was one of the Formal nights on the ship. We were not really in the mood or have the time to get all togged up in black tie order just to eat a meal. So, feeling somewhat underdressed we mingled with the gleaming black dinner jackets, sparkling long flowing dresses, mixed aromas of perfume and cologne alongside the dapper officers in their white uniforms as we slinked off to the restaurant for the scruffs at the back of the ship.

End of the first full day on P&O’s Ventura, although not for all of us.

The problems with the satellite and the amount of material needing to be cut meant that Nick, the editor and Sarah, the producer had to stay up well into the wee small hours getting the material back to GMTV in London.

Sarah and Nick start the editing process.

The plan was to sent the edited items back to GMTV using Alan’s dish but it was not a happy bit of kit. The gremlins were having a field day by causing all sorts of problems that resulted in it being impossible to get the footage back to London.

It was possible to use the ships satellite communications system to get it back but it would take a long time because of file compression problems and also be quite expensive, hence the late night.

Monday 26th

I was not having trouble standing up and things were not flying about the cabin but I was aware that there was a bit of movement of the ship as I got ready in the early morning.

It was on its way into the port of Vigo in northern Spain.

The moon sets as we approach Vigo.

The plan was that the first few broadcasts would be done with the ship at sea. It should not have been a problem. We did it without mishap last year when Deanne Berry and Mr Motivator worked out on the Ruby Princess.

This time the conspiracy hatched by the weather, the technical gremlins and a different satellite dish from last year came together to give Alan the satellite engineer nightmares and us problems.

It was obvious that things might not be perfect when we pushed the door to go onto the promenade deck to take the gear up to rig.

The heavy hand of the wind was hard at work trying to force the door closed.

We got it open and manhandled the kit up to one of the sun decks, rather inappropriately named this morning. It was dark, windy and a fair amount of salty spray was sweeping across the it, even though we were on deck fifteen, ten stories or so above the level of the slightly bubbling Atlantic.

There was no point getting any of the delicate electronic equipment out of the boxes. It would be corroded with salt in a matter of moments.

If the satellite dish was deployed chances are it would either fly away or add to our speed by acting as an additional sail.

Clare Nazir was onboard just for today to do her weather broadcasts.

She is always a joy to be around, easy to work with and a beautiful sight to look at through the viewfinder on cold wet and windy mornings.

This morning was no exception which was surprising because she had just found out that come the new programme in September she would no longer be with us. I am sure that it is not easy to be upbeat and chirpy doing a job that you love when you know that it is all coming to an end.

Clare managed it.

Given the circumstances Clare Nazir still smiling and looking beautiful.

Sadly, for what may be her last broadcasts from outside the studio before she goes there were not as many as there should have been because of the problems getting the satellite signal.

Carl and Clare prepare to do the weather.

When things start to go wrong and broadcasts are missed there are normally a barrage of phone calls from various people in the studio in London.

Alan huddled under his tarpaulin tries to get the dish working.

Technical folk want an explanation as to what has gone wrong and how can it be put right.

Editorial folk want to know if they need to find other items to fill the time allocated to the broadcasts or what changes need to be made to the content if things can happen later.

Management folk want to know who to blame so that they can send someone a bill for the lost transmission, particularly if the item is sponsored and the sponsor has paid for a certain number of slots.

Today was rather different because everyone back in London was busy coping with a different studio.

For the last eighteen years or so GMTV has come from Studio 5.

From September the 6th Daybreak, GMTV’s replacement will come from Studio 7.

In the interim the programme is to be broadcast from Studio 3.

So over the weekend the GMTV set and various techie things were moved to its temporary home.

This morning was the first day of transmission from this short stay studio. Consequently, we were the last thing in the mind of the guys who would usually be giving some or all of us a bit of an ear bashing.

When day started to break through the dark sky the wind calmed and the sea began to smooth out.

We got set up to do the live broadcasts.

Our little early morning crowd watch as we prepare to broadcast.

The weather broadcasts that we had missed were done by Kirsty from the studio back in London.

Carl did the few remaining weather broadcasts with Clare.

The sun had come out and the ship was firmly tied up on the quayside at Vigo.

I did the Chefs at Sea broadcasts.

They were, from a camera point of view fairly straight forward.

Claire Sweeney and Captain Julian.

The chefs were given marks for the Spanish Omelettes that they had cooked yesterday.

There was just time to grab a very quick cup of coffee and croissant before we went ashore to do a bit of filming in the Vigo fish market.

A bus had been laid on to take us to the market. We piled aboard and Sarah the producer gave the driver a piece of paper with the address on it.

He stared at it for a while, said something in Spanish and then looked again at the bit of paper.

His English was nil and our collective Spanish stretched to ordering a two beers and finding out if the toilets were here.

So his gabbling and pointing to the bit of paper meant nothing to us.

He shook his head and jumped off the bus. Sarah followed.

When the pair came back on the bus a few short moments later the driver was still shaking his head and Sarah was giggling a bit.

Our destination was just across the road.

Now that we were all on the bus it was just as quick for us to be taken the few hundred meters to the market entrance. We did then dismiss the bus and walked back.

It was a Monday afternoon so the market was to say the least less than thronged with the buyers and sellers of fish.

There were a couple of stalls open. Rosemary went through her tips on buying fresh fish.

The chefs were going to be filleting turbot, a big flat fish and not cheap.

We only needed to buy two for the guys to work on because there were already some onboard the Ventura for our chefs to work on.

Once Rosemary had done her thing in her inimitable style telling the guys all about looking for nice red gills on the fish and that there should be no fishy smell, just the aroma of the sea it was time to buy the fish.

She was keen to get more than two, but at nearly €30 per kilo it was going to cost a lot. Contrary to popular belief, TV's old licence to print money does not exist any more.

At £140 for two fish the budget could not stretch really stretch to another one when it was not really needed.

Back aboard ship we were given the honour of being allowed up onto the bridge for the sail away from Vigo.

Who said she could drive?!

Rosemary gets a lesson from Captain Julian.

Carl was very excited, not so much about the privilege of being in the nerve centre of the ship but because we were not the only guests.

Matt Le Tissier was there with his family enjoying the cruise and the experience of seeing the ships officers at work as we pulled out of the port of Vigo.

Matt Le Tissier meets cameraman Carl.

The officers on the bridge.

Concentration is everything as we leave.

There was the usual production meeting to find out what we would be doing in the programme tomorrow and sort out any problems that could be foreseen.

Production Meeting in the Peninsular Room on Deck 6.

Nick got down to editing the material.

Nick at the editing hotplate.

We tried to feed the edited material back to London in the satellite but again, even though the weather was good and the ship steering a steady course it was not possible.

The dish and the camera feeding (or not) the tape in the sunset as we cruise along.

So Nick once again had to depend on the expensive and slightly unpredictable ships satellite systems.

Tuesday 27th

This morning when we dragged the kit on to the deck the weather was much better and the mood was good because we would get the broadcasts done.

Ian wheels the sound kit along the promenade deck.

We were on our way into Lisbon.

There were no weathers to do. Clare had returned to London from Vigo and was doing her broadcasts from the temporary studio.

This studio move had further repercussions on our operation in terms of staffing.

In the past broadcasts like we were doing would have required the services of a director because we were using two cameras and they would be cut on site.

However, neither of the directors were available to take a week away from the mayhem ensuing in the London Television Centre as the new studio was sorted.

Instead Nick, one of the picture editors was sent to double up as a vision mixer using a little portable vision mixer.

To keep it simple and as easy as possible for Nick, Carl kept it wide and I did various close up shots of the Chefs, Rosemary and the food.

We were setting up when the less than good news came. The satellite dish was still not performing as it should.

Alan was able to keep the dish locked onto the satellite for a little while but it kept dropping off without warning.

It was increasingly sounding like live broadcasts would be a problem.

The decision was that when the signal was getting back to London we should just do our broadcast as if it was live, although not actually saying that it was live, and it would be recorded back in GMTV and transmitted a short while afterwards.

We did this for one transmission and it worked.

The entrance to Lisbon going under the April 25th Bridge is quite spectacular.

April the 25th Bridge and the Statue of Christ on the approach to Lisbon.

The next broadcasts were not a problem because we were docked at the quayside which is close to the bridge giving us a fantastic backdrop and a steady platform for the satellite dish.

Another day, another broadcast from the sun deck.

Alan can manage a smile this morning.

Producer Michelle and Nick go through the running order with Rosemary and Claire

Alan and his dish.

The chefs were busy filleting Turbot.

Clare gets filleting...


..and Robin do the same.

Almost as soon as the stress of the live broadcasts was finished the guys were going ashore.

This was Carl’s shoot.

When they came back aboard I was not unhappy at not having been involved in that one.

Carl and Ian were shooting Rosemary and the guys being shown how Pasteis do Belem are made. They are the speciality sweet of Portugal, sometimes known as Pasteis de Nata. To put it simply, they are custard tarts.

The temperature in Lisbon was in the low forties degrees Celsius and the shooting was being done in a hot, very hot bakery.

The working temperature was high but health and hygiene dictated that it should be made a little higher and more uncomfortable.

Everyone had to wear white coats and hats. The ones for the crew were a nice sweaty plastic.

Lookin' good! Carl in the sweaty Pasteis do Belem bakery.

I was not the only one left aboard to enjoy a little bit of down time.

Sarah the producer had been feeling the ill effects of the slight movement of the ship during the night. She was tucked up in bed trying to shed the remains of a bit of Mal de Mer.

In the late afternoon back aboard ship Rosemary helped by Karen the food stylist got things ready for the chefs to be shown how to make the tarts and then have a go themselves.

I filmed that with Ian in the galley whilst Carl recovered and rehydrated from the bakery shoot.

Once that was done Carl came up for air.

We had to film some standby pieces just in case tomorrow’s broadcasts did not work.

These were done in the evening sun by one of the Ventura’s pools.

Flamenco for Claire as Ian puts her mic on.

Carl shoots the Standby links with the crowd.

Wednesday 28th

This was to be our sea day. The location for the broadcasts was to be the terrace of the White Room, Marco Pierre White’s restaurant on the ship.

Getting rigged on the White Room terrace.

It was in an ideal position for our broadcasts because we would be overlooking the ship’s wake as we cruised along.

We were not filled with belief that these broadcasts would even happen because the forecast for our route was not good at all, high winds and a bit of a swell. There was more than a suggestion that there would be a bit of movement from the ship.

However, when we dragged ourselves out of bed there was no sense of any major movement and when we were on deck things all appeared calm.

That cheered us up. Things might go a bit better this morning. The satellite dish had been behaving its self when it was tested again.

P&O PR Kate keeps us fed with goodies as we rigged.

Optimism was returning.

That was until Alan noticed that that the ships course was very different from the one we were expecting.

That little mystery was solved very quickly resulting in another problem for us.

A passenger had become rather seriously ill overnight and needed very urgent medical attention in hospital.

So rather than follow a straight course back up the coast of Portugal and Spain to tomorrow’s destination of La Rochelle we were now heading towards Monday’s port of Vigo.

In the bay the very sick passenger would be transferred on to a small boat to be taken ashore.

This would of course involve a bit of manoeuvring on the part of Ventura and a few rather large changes in course.

This would potentially be a major problem for us but we would just have to deal with it as there was no question that any of these medical emergency plans could be changed or altered to suit us.

There were two problems for us to deal with, the movement of the ship and the fact that now the view from the rear of the ship was not nice wide open sea but bits of land and other ships.

The guys were finishing off the custard tarts that they had started yesterday.

Ian gets a mic on Clare as Karen sorts out the ingredients.

The first broadcast went off without a hitch. The satellite dish was managing to keep locked on the satellite as it should even though the ship was doing some course changes.

Jack and Alan on station by the dish.

There was no need to run the material that we had filmed by the pool with a small crowd yesterday afternoon.

The only problem at that point that Carl and I were having to deal with was that the White Room Terrace was in shade and the background was in bright sunlight.

The next broadcast was a totally different story. Right in the middle of the transmission the ship did a big pirouette of one hundred and eighty degrees. There was no way that the satellite could maintain lock in the bird.

Consequently we lost half the broadcast.

There was no time to have any post mortem or discussion about what had happened because we had to get our gear very quickly up to the Tamarind Club where, in front of a large audience of the ships passengers the chefs were doing a bit of a cook off.

The Crowd for the Cook Off!

We needed all our kit because there were multiple radio mics required and we were shooting on both cameras.

Robin and Julia started cooking. The competition was between Robin’s Kofta kebab and Julia’s Lasagne.

Then Claire and Dawn slugged it out with a Kumquat pudding and a raspberry chocolate pudding.

The audience decided the winners by holding up coloured boards representing the different chefs.

Sarah preparing the voting cards.

I seem to remember a programme in the dim and distant past that did a similar thing with, was it red tomatoes and green peppers. Is there nothing original left to do?

We were all looking forwards to a much needed late lunch and rest in the evening.

Best laid plans and all that, because of the problems with the live broadcasts and them not really working as well as they should the boss in London had decreed that all future items from the ship should be pre-recorded and sent in before transmission.

So after a bit of talk about what we could do and where we could do it we went to one of the pools to do two recordings that were planned to be live tomorrow.

Carl does his thing on camera.

These would take the number of chefs from four to two. The remaining pair would then prepare a meal for the Captain and Marco Pierre White. Then the winner would be chosen.

The idea was that whoever was not going through to the final would symbolically walk the plank by having to jump into the pool.

We quickly got set up. The sun was starting to go down fairly fast.

The first one to go in the water, although she did not know it yet was Julia.

Carl was doing his now customary wide shot and I was doing the close ups.

As Claire, Rosemary and the contestants positioned themselves beside the pool it was clear that Julia was not in the least happy about the prospect of going into the pool.

Looking at her through my viewfinder I had my doubts as to whether she would jump or bottle it and not go in.

When it came to it she jumped in very quickly when Rosemary said her name.

She did look terrified and went into the water with a loud scream which made a fun bit of telly.

Out of the next pair it was Claire that went in.

Although both disappointed about missing out on both a proper chef’s master class with Marco Pierre White and a two week Caribbean cruise the wet pair had enjoyed the experience.

Nick had a lot of editing to do with the two camera cook off shoot to cut.

So I stepped in to help with the trusty mac and Final Cut to edit the pre-recorded items.

We all had a bit of a late night editing and sending the material back to London.

At least we did not have to be up too early to do the now cancelled live broadcasts.

In the early hours in the open sea feeding the material back to London.

Thursday 29th

Ah the joy of not having to get out of bed at a hideous hour of the day.

The first thing we needed to shoot was the guys going ashore to La Rochelle. So after breakfast we boarded one of the shuttle buses that took us the half hour journey into the town.

There was not much to shoot in the pretty town. That was a relief because a combination of the late arrival because of the detour to drop off the sick passenger, the need to pre-record the broadcasts for tomorrow and the planned shoot with Marco Pierre White in the galley this afternoon meant that we only had about forty five minutes to do what we needed to do.

I filmed Robin and Dawn as they had a wander around, had a cup of coffee and bought one or two bits and pieces.

Shooting in La Rochelle.

Once again we found ourselves in the ships galley all too soon.

It was a bit disappointing that we did not have more time to spend in there as it is a very nice looking little town.

We were going to be doing another two camera shoot, this time recording things separately in our cameras.

Usually we would do a shoot like this on the one camera but we had word that Marco was not in the best of moods and would not be keen on doing things more than once and with just the one camera that would be a must.

We were all set up and in he came. He did not seem at all grumpy but was certainly an ego on legs.

He quickly had the galley staff jumping around making sure that he had all the bits and pieces of equipment and ingredients that he wanted.

I was sitting on the top of one of the work tops to allow me to get close up shots of Robin, Dawn and the food as Marco made lobster spaghetti.

Perched on the work top.

It must have looked a little strange but he totally ignored me on my perch and the rest of us.

Getting the close ups from the work top.

He was also rather dismissive of Sarah the producer when she went to talk to him and explain what we needed to get out of the short bit of filming.

Ian the sound recordist also got a bit of a minor hard time when he went to put the radio mic on Marco.

He may have displayed diva tendencies but he was great with Robin and Dawn when he both showed them how to make the dish and then helped then do it themselves.

Marco passes on his tips to Dawn and Robin.

It all worked as far as we were concerned. Carl once again did all the wide shots with a few close ups of Marco thrown in and I concentrated on the other close ups with a few cutaway shots for safety when Nick came to Edit it all.

When we were finished the rather aloof Marco came round and thanked us all. So at least he was aware that we were doing something after all.

There was then time for a short break before we went back to the White Room terrace to record tomorrows broadcast.

Rigging the kit on the White Room terrace again.

It was time to for the remaining two to prepare the big meal for Captain Julian and Marco.

In some ways it was a lot easier for us to record this than to have done it live because a main course had to be made and tasted followed by a dessert.

It would have taken quite a bit of mucking about to get the cooling into the length allocated for a live broadcast.

Claire in the golden glow from a reflector ready to do a link to camera.

On the terrace Robin and Dawn did there stuff and presented the food for Marco and Julian to taste.

The Lobster Spaghetti.

The pressure of a time deadline of a live broadcast might not have been on us but we were presented by two other deadlines.

The sun was setting and Captain Julian could only be with us for a limited time because of his other important duties.

Claire and Marco have a chat as Dawn and Robin cook.

We got it all done with Dawn coming off top as the winner.

Both the Captain and Marco were very impressed with the quality of the food.

The Strawberry Dessert.

The big downside of recorded verses live is that recorded stuff needs to be edited whereas once a live is done it is done.

The result was that we had a bit of another late night as Nick and Sarah got on with the edit and I fed the results back to London from Alan’s dish.

Friday 30th

No live broadcasts!

This time the lack of an early rise was not just a pleasure but a necessity because of the late night finish.

We then had a bit of a day trip to Brest the next port on the itinerary.

It would have been better to stay on the ship. Brest is not the best in this case, particularly when the town centre is being ripped to bits as a tram line is laid.

Happy sightseers in Brest.

At night on the ship things got silly as we had our wrap meal and sort of party in the Havana Night Club.

Not one of those debauched nights because the majority of people on the club and on the dance floor were probably only just secondary school age.

Must be the wrap party!

We had our own little corner of the bar area where we had a good time.

Saturday 31st

After a late night we had to get up bright and early to get off the ship.

Baggage hall in Ocean Terminal.

I made my way to Southampton airport to be ripped of again by Flybe on my return flight to Edinburgh!

1 comment:

  1. Just spent the morning reading your blog. Love it! Love it! Love it! Shame Simon missed the cruise but by all accounts - technically it was a nightmare. Well done for getting through it. x