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.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Breaking News!

Wednesday 31st March

I thought that coming out to a snow covered car had ended for this year but not yet.

Snow? It's Nearly April.

Another Bleak Morning Overlooking the Castle.

The snow had eased and on the roof of STV it was not heavy but very windy. So all the snow did was swish around and manage to get to get under cover and through gaps.

So as well as the usual camera cover I put an old Tyne Tees jacket to good use, using it as an additional cover.

The Camera Under its Layers.

Still Useful After Nearly 20 Years.

There were still audio problems with the mics and audio inputs to the camera.

Alex the STV engineer rustled up a mic with a good wind shield for me to use until I got mine working.

The first broadcast at 6 am was touch and go right up until a few minutes to six because somewhere enroute from Edinburgh to GMTV in London via lots of cables the signal had gone astray.

BT were busy trying to find out where it was.

They found out in time and Jonathan did his first report.

What the Reporter Sees.

Then when were taking the opportunity between broadcasts to go down to the STV office to get warm the local GMTV bulletin came on.

Katie the news reader started by saying that there was some breaking news.

We pricked up our ears.

A bus filled with thirty nine teenagers, five staff and a driver had gone off the road and crashed into some water near Biggar, the place Jonathan and I had been at yesterday evening.

Immediately Jonathan called the police and fire brigade to get some more information.

At that stage details were very scant but it was clear that there was a major incident and there were serious injuries.

Jonathan Prepares to Report the Bad News.

Our next broadcasts now focused on the crash and getting updates.

Jonathan gets Details of the Crash.

By the last broadcast at 9 am we knew that there were four very serious casualties and another seventeen less badly injured.

Equipment Nightmare in the Snow

Tuesday 30th March

Short sleep was right.

At a bit before 3 am I was roused from a restless sleep with a call from Jonathan to ask if there was any snow around my area.

Part of the reason my sleep being restless was the whistling wind helping the heavy rain lash the bedroom window.

So almost without looking out I knew the answer to the question.

Although there was no snow in our immediate vicinity to report the newsdesk still wanted us to go the the roof of STV as planned and be on standby because there were reports of snow from other parts of Scotland.

At least I would get another hour under the cosy covers.

By 6 am and the GMTV titles rolling I had the camera set up on the roof.

The talkback was all working and it was all systems go.

The camera was all wrapped up with it’s rain cover.

The Covered Camera Pointing to the Castle.

The rain was relentless.

There had been snow further north but not enough to warrant Jonathan doing a live report.

However, I could not pack the camera away because I was needed for some shots into Clare Nazir’s weather broadcasts.

The Castle Looking Grey and Bleak as the Light Comes up.

It was an easy job, or at least it should have been, just a simple zoom out from Edinburgh Castle to include a nice big wide shot showing the horrible grey skies, but the fiercely gusting wind made it a more difficult task.

Trying to do a smooth move from a fairly tight close up with the angry wind shaking the camera in a temper tantrum was not easy.

I am not sure if I managed to hold the camera steady enough to make the move without irritating jerks.

Whether I did or not my efforts were worthwhile as Clare gave me a quick name check as the cameraman braving the hideous weather in Edinburgh.

Hope it did look OK. Not good to get bad work name checked.

After the last weather broadcast Dave the technical director gave me a clear so I gratefully brought the gear in from the rain.

In the afternoon it became clear that the promised snow was indeed on its way, with a vengeance.

Jonathan and I was assigned to do a report on it.

Edinburgh itself was escaping the white menace but out in the rural areas it was a different story.

Without any major weather related incidents to report on how could we convey the severity of this late assault by the British climate only four days into British Summer Time.

I suggested that at lambing time this weather would most certainly not be welcome.

Then I remembered that not too far from Edinburgh there is a farm that does trekking on Icelandic horses.

So we headed out of Edinburgh on the Biggar road that was fast disappearing under a thick layer of slippy white snow.

We pulled into the farm and were greeted initially with a hint of suspicion by Gill the owner of the beautiful little horses and a variety of other animals.

Once she had checked our IDs and was happy that we were who we said we were my technical nightmare began.

We got out the car in a full blown blizzard, just opening the door resulted in snow swirling around inside the car.

The Farm. The only still I managed to get. I ended up too busy with other things to take more.

I connected a microphone to the camera and noticed that something was not working properly.

Fortunately there was a dry room that Gill let us into where I could have a look and see what the problem was.

I checked mics, cables and the sound inputs for the camera.

There appeared to be a faults on on three. The only usable audio I could get was from the top mic on the camera, rather ironically the one that is the most exposed to the elements given that I thought that the cascade of faults were due to the weather.

There was no other solution I would just have to use the top mic even for the interview that we would do with Gill.

Outside the snow was now literally being blown horizontally.

The first shot I got was Pauline, leading a couple of the horses out of the storm into a barn because there was a real danger of them suffering from hypothermia with fatal consequences.

I did another few shots around the exterior of the farm and an interview with Gill with the camera a bit closer than I would have liked to enable the top mic to pick up the sound of her voice that had to fight against the howl of the wind.

The lambs on the farm had already been brought into another part of the large barn so I got some shots of the cute little things frolicking as they were fed.

We had the basis for quite a good report, good atmospheric pictures and a story of how the sudden late bad weather could be a killer.

We did need a little bit more to tell the full story so we headed for a bit more civilisation.

When we got to Biggar the weather there was not too bad and there were no people around.

We turned towards Edinburgh.

Tracking shots to illustrate the state of the roads would be a good idea.

Jonathan got in the driving seat and I brought the camera into the front of the car ready for when the roads got bad again as we headed back.

Less than a mile out of Biggar the road was under there somewhere.

I switched the camera on.

Any flashing red light is never a good sign. When it is accompanied by a caption in the viewfinder saying “Humid” it is going to be a frustrating time.

I was not too worried because at the rate we were travelling it would take around an hour to get to Edinburgh and there was still enough light left.

However, I did crank the heating in the car up and direct all the hot air to one vent.

I took the tape out of the camera and blasted the air into the tape mechanism to dry out any dampness that was in there.

About half an hour should do it. Oh yes.

It took more than an hour to get the humid light off and the camera running again.

By that time the light had all but gone and we had passed a little mini pile up caused by the weather.

Luckily I have a little camera just for little frustrating problems like this.

So I did manage to get shots of the bad roads, a piece to camera in the care with Jonathan and shots of the cars that had skidded into each other.

At a Tesco supermarket in a town called Penicuik outside Edinburgh I managed to get the big camera operating again along with a microphone.

So we were able to do some vox pops with worn out shoppers asking what they thought of the weather.

This included a guy who had just slipped in the slushy snow in the car park, fallen and dropped all his shopping.

His little vox pop was very good given that he thought that he had broken his arm. He did look a bit white right enough.

With all this in the can I dropped Jonathan at his hotel where he would have the pleasure of being up until 1 am editing and sending the report.

No Snow. Yet!

Monday 29th March

“Can you pick Jonathan Swain up from the airport?”, was the request from GMTV in London.

He was being sent up because the forecasters were predicting a bit of late snow, and it would be a heavy fall, even blizzard conditions.

Through the windscreen that was being doused with water I gazed at the grey skies and looked at the thermometer on the dashboard.

Yes the rain was heavy but with a temperature that fluctated between 4.5 and 5 degrees celcius I found it difficult to believe that it was going to snow.

When Jonathan arrived off his flight the rain had eased a little and the temperature had dropped the odd half degree or so.

On the way to his hotel we checked the forecast, spoke to the news desk and disccussed our options.

There was no way that it was going to snow any where near us.

The plan was that we would go to bed and if reports came in of snow we would get up and do some filming.

If we were not wakened by snow sightings we would go the the roof of the STV office to the camera position in the morning for live broadcasts.

I dropped Jonathan off at his hotel to enjoy a potentially short rest in his hotel bed and I went home to mine.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Under Age Drinking in Whitburn

Friday 26th March

There was no real rush for Nick and I to get down from Inverness to an old mining town called Whitburn half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

We were going to be accompanying some police officers on an operation to clamp down on under age drinking.

We left the hotel after a leisurely breakfast and stopped off for a pleasant coffee at the House of Bruar an up market tourist trap selling all kinds of expensive food, drink and clothing.

When we got back into the car, Nick clutching a bag of tablet, something the expat Scot living in London rarely sees, there was still plenty of time.

It is a Scottish sweet delicacy and like the oft quoted but seldom actually eaten deep fried Mars Bar, an indicator of the reason Scotland’s diet comes pretty low down the scale of healthy living.

Tablet is just condensed milk and sugar heated and left to go hard.

As we neared the Forth Road bridge that plenty of time shrank thanks to a huge queue of traffic because of road works.

We did mange to get to the Police Station in the centre of the small town at the appointed time.

The rain was pouring down and it was pretty cold.

Those sort of conditions are usually pretty good at keeping most mischief makers indoors.

The police officers did say that the weather would have a bearing on what we might encounter on the streets, but we might be surprised at the number of kids out with their bottles of alcohol, usually mixed with soft drinks and not very cleverly disguised in those bottles.

Before we went out on the operation a plain clothed officer took us on a tour of the most likely spots where we saw the detritus left by the young drunkards.

There were blue plastic bags littering the back lanes and secluded wooded areas along with discarded cans and bottles of all descriptions.

The weather was still very miserable when with a uniformed sergeant and the police press officer Nick and I went out in an unmarked car to follow one of the vans on patrol.

I was in the back with the camera at the ready as we drove around the places we’d been shown.

We were a little disappointed when our boys in front had to break off from the operation because they had spotted a chap who had an outstanding warrant against him.

So they had to go and deal with that.

The rain was cold and relentless. The streets were fairly empty and most people that we did see were rushing from car to building or building to car.

“What’s your location?” asked Steve the uniformed sergeant in answer to a voice in his ear.

It was a little before 6 pm.

He turned to us and said, “One of the units has one guy, but his mate has run off. We’re looking for him.”

Rounding a few corners not far from the local community centre we saw a small police van.

I got out the car and filmed one policeman talking to a youngster outside the van and another officer busy taking the details of a kid sitting rather too casually in the back.

I knew that the faces of the two boys would have to be pixelated out to preserve their anonymity.

I had not filmed the police making the initial stop but at least we had something in the can.

A few moments later we were once again behind the police van patrolling the streets of one of the estates in the town.

I saw a group of three young girls, hoods up against the rain walking along the road.

Instinctively I started shooting through the rain smeared window of the car.

I noticed the girl in the middle was carrying a bottle in her left hand. There was a dark liquid in it and it had no label.

The cops in front must have spotted it too because their van came to a halt and when they called over to the girls the one in the middle quickly put the bottle behind her back.

The games up for you I thought and we were about to get the money shot of the police speaking to the girl.

When the police started to speak to the trio of little hooded girls I got out of the car and continued to shoot what was being said.

The weather played to my advantage because I could shoot quite happily from behind the kids without seeing their faces as the police officers spoke to them and took their details.

It was convenient, their hoods being up against the rain.

The two without the drink were sent on their way but the girl that had been carrying the bottle was put in to the police van to be taken to the police station.

When the policeman opened the bottle a powerful smell of alcohol hit us. It was almost neat Tia Maria with a tiny drip of cola.

It was only just after 6 pm.

I had the shot. I had good close ups of the bottle before the police swooped and great audio of them talking to the girls.

Nick did a little interview with one of the officers and got really good sound bites.

We and the police were a bit surprised at how old the girl was. She was only twelve years old, in first year of high school.

On the way back to the Station we heard that the kid that had run off earlier had been spotted and was in the process of being chased by a policeman on a bike.

We headed in that direction and arrived just as the policeman had caught the boy.

Once again I jumped out of the car and shot the action.

This fourteen year old was not to happy about the camera and made that obvious, thankfully for him not in an aggressive way.

It was clear from hearing him speak that he had consumed quite a bit of the vodka and lemonade from the now half full two litre 7 Up bottle he had been carrying.

Whilst I was shooting this action in the scruffy car park behind some shops I was aware that Steve our sergeant was dealing with another little matter.

Unbelievably with all this police activity taking place a chap had driven his car into the car park, parked and then very drunkenly got out and went to stagger right past us.

He ended up in the back of our car to be driven to the station. We had to walk back.

The piece was coming together nicely.

The police station was not at all far away and our arrival back there on foot could not have been timed better because at the same time we entered the car park at the back the twelve year old girl and her dad were being shown in to the station.

Another great shot.

We followed them in to an interview room and got a good bit of audio as one of the police officers spoke to them and a couple of useful sound bites from a rather stunned father.

I suspect that the kid would not have been the toast of the family that evening.

The other kids were also back at the station but not so keen to be on camera.

Once we did a few interviews with some of the other police officers and the mother of one of the boys the job was done.

Despite the horrible weather the police got a result. Nick and I knew that we had a good report to highlight the dangers of under aged drinking.

It was still only around 9 pm when I left the location to end my homeward journey.

Stranded at Cape Wrath. (Thankfully Not Us)

Thursday 25th March

The weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t that bad on my drive to Inverness airport.

Nick Dixon’s flight from Gatwick was on time.

When I saw him coming down the steps of the aircraft I was still reelling from what I had been charged for a bacon roll and coffee.

I did not get a great deal of change from a tenner.

After boosting the highland economy even more by paying Highlands and Islands Airports another wad of dosh for parking the car we continued north to Durness.

The weather was still not the best as we navigated the next three hours, mainly on a single track road with passing places.

In the early afternoon we arrived at a quiet and windy Spar shop, the centre of this little village that is almost as far north as you get on the mainland of Scotland.

John was waiting to take us to his remote and weather battered home.

After a five hour journey broken only by the time it took to down a bank busting bacon roll I was about to cross the Kyle of Durness in a red plastic rowing boat.

The Calm Kyle of Durness.

The ferry only sails from May to September and then only if the weather is good.

The Ferry Timetable. Only just over a month to Wait.

John at the Helm of the Red Rowing Boat.

Then, we spent the next half hour in the cramped cab of a red flatbed van bouncing along a track that had more pot holes than Katie Price has had plastic surgery.

When we landed I spotted a nice four wheel drive pick up on the jetty. Might have known we'd not be in that one.

The Only Way to Travel on The Rough Track.......

....Oh No It's Not! Our Transport.

We were going to his and his wife Kay’s little cafe beside the light house at Cape Wrath because the pair had just accepted a Hollywood deal to film their story.

In the depths of the snowy winter last year Kay had gone off to get the Christmas turkey saying goodbye to John on the 19th of December.

She did not see him agian until nearing the end of January because of the severity of the wind and snow.

John only had his six spanials for company and a couple of hardy walkers who stumbled in for a little while before continuing their mad treck through the whilte wilderness.

Luckily for him a large part of the land around is owned by the MOD and used for fairly major miltary excercises.

There are Hardly any Buildings Around Except Military Ones.

The Signs Don't Pull any Punches.

As a result his place is used to store rations and he lived for a large part of the time on boxes of these rations.

The journey over on the rowing boat was calm but, by the time we got to what felt like the end of the earth where the lighthouse and cafe are the wind was howling making the light rain land like mini stinging water bombs.

The van Outside the Cafe.

The exterior GVs took much longer to do than I wanted becasue I had to spent most of the time wiping the lens.

Oh for one of those spinny Kent screen things that fire the water off.

I think that they developed those for cameras when London’s Burning was in production.

(Mental note to self: see if they are still around.)

The Cape Wrath Lighthouse.

I Didn't Knock the Wall Down to get a Better Shot, Honest. It Must Have Been the Wind.

The Massive Fog Horn. No Longer in Use. (Bet John and Kay are Glad).

Wiping the lens, Again.

What made braving the wind and rain a little more worthwile was the soup and the sandwches that Kay had made for us.

Time, tide, light and weather all meant that we did not have a great deal of time to shoot what I needed to shoot.

So we had to work quickly.

I got shots of John and Kay at work in the deserted cafe, eight customers since August, shots of John with his dogs and a little interview with the lighthouse in the background.

We then clambered back in to the truck for the ride back to the tiny boat.

A Bridge Along the Pot Holed Rough Road.

Nick and I were getting in to my car as a waving John sped back over the Kyle back to Kay and his dogs.

Night was falling as Nick drove the three hours back to Inverness where we checkjed into a hotel that was entertaining the other guests, two coach loads of happy pensioners.