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.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Mr Hague, Mr Alexander (again) and a Big Bang.

Friday 30th April

We were to be lucky with the weather. Yesterday most of the other broadcasters had to endure heavy rain and did most of their broadcasting from under sturdy collapsable gazebos.

Just in case we had to put up with the same conditions Ravi had made a trip to B&Q returning victorious having spent ten pounds of GMTV’s or is it now ITV’s cash on one for us.

I was relieved that we did not need to use it.

An edict had come from the editors at GMTV in London that there would be two cameras used on this morning’s broadcasts.

I could not really see the need for more than one because there was not a huge amount for us to do compared with yesterday, but with the help of Derrick the satellite engineer I rigged both my camera and the one that is carried in the truck.

The shots from each camera would go over two satellite paths to the GMTV gallery.

There was a little technical hurdle to be overcome by Doug the technical director sitting at his control panel in London.

Although the camera’s were the same make and model they had not been set up to produce the same quality of picture.

They were not what is termed “matched”.

In order to get them to look as equal as possible I tried to get a matching colour balance and exposure. Back in London Doug would tweak the picture from one of the cameras to get the colours, contrast, saturation etc. as close as possible.

Sue Jameson was there to do her reports on the post debate chat, the Mirror’s Kevin McGuire would fo a bit and along with William Hague Douglas Alexander would pay us a return visit.

Sue and Kevin did their broadcasts without any problems or the second camera shot of the beautiful red brick university building being used.

When the cheeky geordie had gone Sue still had a couple of broadcasts to do.

We were setting up for the second when a producer in London spoke on our ears.

The senior producer had not been happy with the light turquoise coat that Sue had been wearing for the first broadcast and deemed that it should not be worn on the next broadcasts.

It might not have been raining but at that time in the morning even when it is shaping up to be a balmy day it is still pretty cold and some kind of outer clothing is kind of needed.

I felt for Sue as she took the coat of to reveal an rather stylish purple jacket.

I was not quite sure what the problem was with the coat but hey I am just a bloke and maybe the fashion shoots that I have done have not rubbed off on me.

The Coat Comes Off!

Our main two down the line guests, William Hague and Douglas Alexander had arrived in plenty of time which had Ravi breathing easily.

They were happily waiting behind the cameras as Sue prepared to do her broadcast.

We were almost about to go on air when I heard the distinct sound of a taxi on the road that lead up to the front of the building.

I was just hoping that it would not drive into the back of my shot when we broadcasting when it stopped and out came a TV couple straight from central casting.

The slim brunette woman in an elegant cream trouser suit got out first and was followed by a tall dark haired athletic guy comfortably carting a bundle of camera equipment.

They were a crew from Australia coming to do an interview with William Hague after he had done his bit with us.

When he saw them he went over to the attractive smiling woman and said hello.

The BBC had their camera position not far from us looking in the same direction.

Unbelievably the Aussie cameraman started to set up for a sit down interview right in the back of our shots.

The broadcast of Sue’s piece to camera was imminent. I waved to him and motioned for him to move.

He nodded in apology and took his red plastic chairs to another bit of the grass.

It was now time for the pair on opposite sides of the political divide to be on GMTV.

Jason the sound recordist wired them up with talkback. William Hague is such a pro he even comes with his own moulded earpiece.

Jason Fits Up Douglas Alexander as William Hague Waits.

I set up one camera on a two shot and prepared to do single shots on my camera.

The pair were in good spirits and joked about the cold standing in their thin shirts and suits, but being able to cope because they were both from the north. I was wearing my cosy thick down jacket, as was Jason.

The warm Aussie tones of Pete, the regular stand in freelance director in my right ear told me that he might use the two shot camera during the little debate but would start with a two shot on my camera as the eyeline was better for the introductions.

I had not needed to go through the rigmarole of telling the chaps to make eye contact with the lens and not to look away. The pair were old masters in the art of the down the line interview.

They just needed to know which camera to look at.

The Dynamic (Verbal) Dualists Standing By.

John Stapleton in the studio kicked off the discussion about last night’s debate which had focused mainly on the economy.

The two skilled debaters spun their arguments and rubbished the other’s.

When each was giving an answer the PA in the gallery was giving John a specific timing countdown so that each of the three participants, there was a Lib Dem in the studio had exactly the same amount of time.

They Listen to the Studio.

Although they had not been told now much time that they would be given their respective media machines staffed in part by folk that had worked for GMTV, other broadcasters and newspapers had a pretty good idea of the time that would be allocated to them.

So the duo would have been well briefed. I even had an idea who might have had a word or two with each of them.

If required John would wade in with an interruption to shut them up.

The party’s well honed media training added to their own skill and knowledge meant that it was as if they could hear the PA’s count as well, because their answers were timed to perfection.

When the discussion was over William Hague went to join the pretty Aussie lady and Douglas Alexander disappeared to reappear a bit later to once again take part in a little more verbal swashbuckling this time on the BBC.

William Hague Sitting Down for the Australian Media.

Their Lib Dem opponent was with them, another premier league player, albeit a veteran, Paddy Ashdown.

The Pair on BBC Breakfast Joined by Paddy Ashdown.

Sue did one more broadcast then it was time for us to be on standby. The rest of the post debate stuff would be done by John Stapleton.

He was on his way over the Thames from the GMTV sofa in the studio on the South Bank to a camera position on Abingdon Green opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

So we staked out the nearby campus Starbucks until it opened where we had a leisurly cup of coffee whilst we waited like coiled mongooses ready for action if there was any breaking news or there was a technical problem at any of the other live locations.

There were none so we all went off on our homeward directions. All except Sue, she went off to see an old GMTV colleague an ex-political correspondent Susie Norton who was now a big cheese in the Birmingham film world. I never knew there was such a thing.

I set off up the M6.

I was happily tootling up the motorway when I was aware of a car in the outside lane going at the same speed as me.

I glanced over. The passenger and driver were waving to get my attention.

They pointed at the back of my car and made a gesture with their thumbs and forefingers.

Now they were either trying to be rude about the size of my manhood or telling me that I had a flat tyre.

They looked like a respectable couple so I though the tyre option would be the one.

There were services coming up so I pulled off and stopped at the air line.

Idid indeed have a slightly flat tyre, but not totally flat.

I thought that I would pump it up and when I got to Edinburgh take it in and get it sorted.

After inflating the soft one and checking the pressures in the other three tyres I joined the motorway again.

An hour or so later I exited at another service area because I was getting a bit tired.

I drove into the car park and with the warm sun on me I fell into a fitful asleep for about an other hour.

When I woke up I went to check the tyre. It had gone down a little but not disastrously.

I put some more air in it and re-embarked on my journey.

Nearly two hours up the road I was hungry and thought that I should check the tyre again.

So at my favourite service area on the M6, the Westmoreland I had a bowl of the delicious ham broth that I certainly regard as their speciality.

My hunger sated I filled the car with fuel and went over to the airline to give the tyre another top up as it had gone down again, this time a bit more than before.

I attached the nozzle to the tyre valve and I heard the compressor kick in and the tyre started to inflate.

A propellor driven RAF training aircraft buzzed low and noisily overhead making a tight turn and quickly disappearing from view.

A little while earlier a Hawk fast jet trainer had done a similar manoeuvre only much noisier and faster.

Suddenly there was an almighty sharp bang. I jumped away involuntarily as the car dropped a few centimetres.

The tyre had burst in a loud dramatic fashion.

The Flat Tyre After the Big Bang.

When I got the wheel off I felt lucky and was very thankful indeed that it had not gone bang on the motorway.

The tyre was very worn of the inside of the tread and the inside wall was also dangerously worn and that was where it had burst.

The Damage.

I immediately made arrangements to get the car into the garage to get the tyre replaced, the other one and the wheel alignment checked.

I drove relatively slowly for the rest of the more than two hours just incase the other side was as bad.

Unhappy Special Branch

Thursday 29th April (pm)

As well as winning on the wristband front the BBC came up trumps on the catering at the press centre in the Avon Theatre at the University of Birmingham.

Best yet, but do you need to call home to tell them about it?

It was the usual plan for Ravi and I. We were to be doing the post debate interviews with the members of the audience.

So after partaking in some of the cold buffet paid for out of our licence fees we made our way across to the main building inside the inner security cordon.

Once again we went through the airport style security check to get to the debate area.

The Avon Web Building Lit for the Debate.

The BBC, ITN and Sky were all busy getting set up for their live broadcasts into the nightly news programmes.

The BBC and ITN Amost on air.

We started to wait for the debate to finish in a few moments.

Then we thought that as well as getting the interviews we could take the opportunity to get shots of the leaders leaving.

As the debate finished we sauntered across the large tarmac area in front of the brightly lit building.

Some of the posh cars were being driven up to the main doors.

Someone was about to leave.

The cars were between me and the door when there was a mini rush of activity as guys with earpieces talking into their sleeves strutted out.

One of the three was about to exit.

I rolled the camera and as Nick Clegg came out I filmed him as I made my way to the building side of the car, thinking as I did it,”Special Branch won’t be happy with this.”

Ravi shouted to Mr Clegg asking him what he though of tonight’s debate.

He replied whilst getting into the back of the car simply saying that he had enjoyed it.

The car door shut with solid clunk and the small convoy swished away accompanied by more talking into sleeves.

The hiss of the disappearing cars was still fading into the distant damp night when Ravi and I were turned on by two rather upset chaps.

The first one to round on me was one of the overcoat wearing officials who had been having a conversation with his shirt cuff.

“Where did you come from?”, he asked in a rather serious voice.

I pointed in the direction of all the other media preparing for their broadcasts.

He looked at me with obvious annoyance. Then he turned away.

I knew why he was upset.

It is a bit of a no no to get in front of a VIP vehicle as it ready to drive off.

It would not be the first time I have seen cameramen, photographers, reporters or even innocent members of the public quite forcefully moved unceremoniously out of the intended path of the cars.

At this point a rather more casually dressed chap standing beside another cameraman who I recognised as a BBC producer asked Ravi where we were from.

When Ravi told him he said that there had been a pool arrangement for the departure shots and no questions were to be asked.

We had not been aware of the pool situation.

A bit of a discussion ensued.

He said that the security people did not want anyone to throw questions to the three leaders.

I had to wonder why the security services had any say in whether, as both members of the press and the voting public we could not ask legitimate questions to anyone that was about to be elected to serve us in high office.

The BBC cameraman was clearly not happy and from under a black beanie hat gave me a challenging stare through narrow eyes.

I ignored him.

Then another crew from ITV Central arrived to do a piece to camera at the other side of the door.

The BBC producer then went over to chat to them.

There was another out spill of plain clothed policemen, including the one with the friend up his right arm.

He was still clearly not happy with Ravi and I and proceeded to ask us and the BBC guys to move slightly.

We complied.

Gordon Brown and his wife then strutted out of the building looking reasonably relaxed.

They got in their car and off it went.

The BBC producer was busy sending and answering texts.

Clearly it was not only Special Branch that was not going to be sending us any Christmas cards this year.

Then it was David Cameron’s turn to come out.

Ravi again asked a question. This time about what the tory leader though about a snap poll that said he had won the debate.

At first I though that he was about to give us a bit of a sound bite but he just gave the stock reply that the people would decide and he had enjoyed the debate.

He was then whisked off to his hotel in the city centre.

We went off to do the next bit of the job. Ravi told the BBC producer that our material would also be available if anyone wanted it on a pool basis when it was sent to GMTV via ITN.

He and the BBC producer then parted on friendly terms.

The BBC cameraman on the other hand who had found himself unable to talk to me fixed me with another look that was full of a mixture of anger, aggression and disgust.

I returned it with a “it’s just one of those days” shrug and wandered off to get the interviews with the audience members who were at that moment being lead out.

We knocked them off and the material was fed to London.

I returned to my hotel to see the cars in which Mr Cameron had departed parked outside the front door.

I bet that his room was better than mine.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Last Debate Preview.

Thursday 29th April (am)

On Wednesday Afternoon BBC Staff Enjoy a Picnic.

The BBC Lighting Rig.

The BBC had won the wrist band contest with their fabric printed jobs rather like the one my son still wears from his last trip to T in The Park.

The Trio of Wrist Bands.

I somehow think that my nice lilac one will not stay on my wrist for that length of time.

The ITN Truck on Wednesday Afternoon.

When we arrived Derrick the satellite engineer was very busy getting his head round a truck that was not his usual one.

The camera position that already had the camera cable and mains cable laid in around to it underneath a gazebo was a front on shot of the Aston Web building.

The Aston Web Building.

The BBC Sky and ITN were all going to have the same shot which Ravi the producer and I felt was a bit too close to the impressive Victorian red brick piece of architecture to show it in its full glory.

Sky News going Live on Sunrise.

A little bit further back would be ideal and yesterday we had selected an alternative position a bit further back on the grass.

However Derrick was so busy sorting things out that we would need to stay in the pre set area for at least the first few broadcasts.

Ravi had procured an other autocue set up that was potentially better than the iphone app that we used with Helen last week.

It did work but looked somewhat Heath Robinson compared with our neighbours the BBC.

The GMTV budget set up........

.....The BBC set up.

John Stapleton Ready to Broadcast.

Ravi Controls the Machine from his Trusty Mac.

The first broadcasts all went off without a hitch which was a relief because there was talk of the new big boss of ITV Adam Crozier paying a visit to the gallery to see how GMTV worked.

I am not sure if he did end up popping on to the gallery but if he did we did not drop any bollocks.

When the time was right we did move all our gubbins and got the shot that I would have like to have had from the start.

The Return from Afghanistan

Tuesday 27th April

After enduring a crowded train journey opposite a man that spent most of the time on the trip from Manchester clearing his throat and chewing on the resultant phlegm correspondent Elaine Wilcox arrived at Edinburgh’s Waverly station.

I picked her up and we went off to do the story of the men from the 3 Rifles Battle Group who were returning from Afghanistan after taking more casualties than any other British fighting unit since the Korean war back in the fifties.

Thirty of their number had already come home draped in the Union Flag on the shoulders of fellow soldiers to the accompaniment of sombre military music.

One of the main elements of the story was that on Sunday the 8th of May they would parade down the famous Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The road that leads from The imposing castle to the grand palace of Holyrood House.

The large bulk of the members of the Battle Group are recruited from south of the border so it is interesting that these Englishmen will receive this tribute from the people of Scotland and its historic capital.

So the first thing we did was a piece to camera in the High Street, part of the Royal Mile.

The jolly Post Master in the village of Colinton was our next stop where we did an interview and some set up shots.

He had helped raise quite a bit of money by selling wrist bands in tribute to the troops.

When we arrived at Redford Infantry Barracks and met Bill Jameson the army press officer I felt for Elaine as the story was not quite as straight forward as we first thought.

Firstly, we discovered that apart from the repatriation of the fallen soldiers a large number of the lads were already home.

The timing of the others returning was rather “fluid” because of the knock on effect of the ash cloud and other unspecified operational reasons.

We then found out that there was a group actually enroute from Cyprus but we would not be allowed to film their return.

Then there was confusion about the difference between 3 Rifles, the regiment, the battalion and the battle group.

This had a bearing on what was the actual number of casualties.

There were three statistics that were being bandied about 15, 30 and 45.

There was much discussion and drawing of diagrams of he structure of the army before the figure of 30 out of the Battle group was agreed as the definitive fact that Elaine could work with.

A group of the soldiers wives came to the welfare centre, a stone building to the side of the large parade square on the barracks to have a chat with us and help with the filming.

I did some shots of them as they sat around and chatted and their kids as they played around with toys.

After we had done the filming we adjourned to the office in the welfare centre where I recorded Elaine’s commentary and put the material into her computer so that she could edit it.

Elaine Wilcox gets the Material in From my Camera..........

.....Then she Writes her Script.

We had also had a look at the new monument in memory of the soldiers who had given their lives for 3 Rifles.

This was to be the location of live broadcasts tomorrow.

When tomorrow comes and the memorial is on air I would not be shooting it. I would be burning rubber in the way down the M6 to Birmingham for the final of the televised leader’s debates.