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, 20 October 2010

From seats for kids to a real hero via no snow

Monday 11th October

It was a beautiful autumn day for an easy paced job.

Daybreak was running a strand throughout the week focusing on mothers who had become sucessful business women.

Today’s mum would be Rachel from Edinburgh.

Born out of frustration with not being able to get her daughter seated easily in chairs in restaurants and cafes she had designed a baby seat that can be attached to any chair and hold a baby or toddler safely and securely.

Sarah one of the producers from London that I have worked with from time to time had easy jetted up to meet Colin the sound recordist and me at Rachel’s home in Edinburgh.

In her bright high ceilinged flat in a nice part of the city we filmed an interview with her and some shots of her and a very happy and helpful baby called Jamie showing just how the fabric contaption worked.

It was a welcome change to have a sound recordist and time to do the filming at an unhurried pace.

I even had time to fiddle with the lighting and not just throw up lights to provide basic illumination.

There were two other parts that needed to be filmed which were equally straight forward to do.

We went to the smart office that she and a couple of her new employees had just moved into and shot another brief interview and some shots of her at work.

Then after home time from school I did some shots of Rachel with her daughter playing in the nearby Bruntsfield Links.

Sarah, Rachel and Freya in the autumn sun.

We then said goodbye and an easy day came to an end.

Of course Sarah still had the Easyjet experience to go through again to get back to London.

I was about to drop Colin off and enjoy the rest of the early evening when the joy of the relatively early finish was whipped from under me quicker than Tommy Cooper could snatch a table cloth from under a perfectly set table.

The Gammu saga was still rumbling on.

There was a very slim chance that her mother was going to give Daybreak an exclusive interview.

So Gregg and I had to drive out once again to her house and ask her.

Gammu's town below the sunlit hills.

We were somewhat sceptical about the chances of it happening but when the newsdesk say go we have to go.

They seemed to think it was a strong possibilty because there was money on the table.

Gregg and I on the other hand were firm in our belief that there was next to no chance for a couple of reasons, the main one being that we were aware that various national newpapers had been almost literally trying to throw money at the family for the last few days with no positive result.

Sure enough when Gregg went to the door the answer was a very polite but firm, thanks but no thanks.

Gammu’s mum did not in any way want to jepordise the court hearing that was about to happen. She had been advised by her lawyers to say nothing to everyone.

Having achieved the expected result the two of us headed back to Edinburgh and my normal easy day had ended up being still easy but about four hours longer than it should have been.

Tuesday 12th October

Colin was with my companion as we trundled down the A1 to meet the Daybreak northern correspondent, Lucy Watson.

We had been due to set off at 6 am but when Lucy discovered the length of our drive and the time I had finished last night she re-evaluated when the shoot could start.

The extra hour in bed was very welcome.

When we arrived in Morpeth we met Lucy and got ready to do a story about the effect that the public sector cuts would have on this Northumbrian town.

It has, per head of population more people working in the public sector that anywhere else. As a result it could be the hardest hit.

Lucy was very upbeat even though some of the people that she had set up to interview had called off.

The first thing we did were a few very short pieces to camera around the town.

I then shot some general views of the town and it’s inhabitants going about their daily routine.

Whilst Colin and I were busy with that Lucy was trying to find folk that were going to be affected and were willing to talk.

It was not proving easy for her but, after a lot of asking she found a local businessman who would talk on camera and a couple of women, one a nurse and the other a worker in the Fire service control room.

Lucy chats to the ladies.

The other elements that we needed to get were an interview with a representative of the unions.

Our man for this role was in the nearby town of Bedlington at the court.

He was able to nip out for a few moments to speak to Lucy. We did the interview against a fairly generic background so that the location was not obvious.

Lucy wanted to talk about the last recession in the area when the big industries disappeared. To illustrate this we went to the nearby pit that had become a museum and a reminder of what used to be a huge part of not just that area but the whole of the north east of England and I did a few atmospheric shots.

The disused Pit Head.

The final part in the jigsaw of talking heads was a councillor.

The man for this bit could only see us late in the afternoon at his rather large farm near the small town, village really of Belsay.

In some newspaper articles and on the phone to Lucy he had been quite outspoken about the amount of wastage in the public sector.

This was a point that Lucy wanted to get over in the report.

However, when it came time to do the interview he stubbornly refused to be in any way as fervent as he had been before.

Lucy tried every possible way to get him to say what he had said both privately and publicly before. He was having none of it.

I could sense Lucy’s deep frustration and annoyance.

When Lucy brought the interview to an end he said very smugly, “You didn’t get what you wanted did you?”

When Lucy said yes and asked why, he answered in an even more smug fashion with a liberal smear of patronising arrogance, “That’s politics my dear.”

There was one part of the piece that I felt that I had not covered. I had taken plenty of shots of the town and the people. I had done some shots of the local pit that is mow a museum to illustrate previous times of cut backs. We had plenty of voices of the community.

The thing that I did not have a lot of shots to illustrate was simply public sector workers.

I had managed to get a couple of shots of guys working in the park but apart form that any obvious types were not around.

It was all that Lucy would have to play with in the edit.

In the early evening we parted company. Lucy headed south to Manchester. Colin and I went up the A1 to Edinburgh.

Tuesday 19th October

The call came early.

“Get yourselves up north the first snows of the winter are forecast and they are going to be heavy!”

Gregg and I jumped into the car and started to hot foot it to the place the snow was forecast to be the heaviest, Cairngorm.

No surprise that there might be snow there it is one of Scotland’s main ski areas.

The skies over the A9 as we motored north were a very fine blue and the cars instrument panel glowed showing an outside temperature of 8 degrees Celsius.

We may not have any formal, or indeed any qualifications in meteorology but neither of us thought that the conditions were conducive to snow.

As we got further north and climbed the Drumochter Pass the temperature was getting a little lower, the sky in the distance was looking quite grey and a few of the distant mountains had an icing sugar sprinkling on their very tops.

We drove further north. The car emitted a sharp ping to let us know that we were entering possible freezing conditions as the temperature had hit four degrees Celsius.

Our collective scepticism was not quite so profound and we started to plan how the report could be done.

We went up to the bottom station of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway.

A little sign of snow.

The mountain was covered with a fine dust of wet snow. Above us the track disappeared into thick mist.

The first snow of the season on Cairngorm.

The Met Office and a variety of other forecast sources were predicting that from 3 pm onwards for up to six or nine hours, depending on the source we were due to get a heavy dump of the white stuff.

Around us on the mountain there were a few little flurries but, looking down on the wide vista below of the pretty Loch Morlich and in the distance Aviemore the sun was picking out the beautiful autumnal colours of light browns and red, with the coniferous green standing out.

The shore of Loch Morlich.

Over the loch to the clouds and the slightly snowy hills.

The clouds come down a bit lower, along with sleet and rain.

On the way back down to Aviemore we stopped off at a ski school and did an interview with the very bubbly owner. She told us how the snow would be very welcome after last years long and enjoyable winter sport season.

It had lasted all the way through to after the longest day in June.

There was not much else we could do. There was no need to do any shots. There was no snow to shoot.

A duck enjoys the loch.

After a pleasant dinner Gregg and I went to our hotel and with the sky twinkling with lots of stars we headed off to bed.

We would await a call from the chaps in London if they heard about any heavy snow falls during the night and Gregg would get up in the early hours to have a quick look outside to see if it was worth getting up and going out to shoot.

Wednesday 20th

As predicted when I drew back the curtain on the hotel bedroom window there was not the slightest hint of snow.

The walkway below my window was as dry as the the sky above was clear. Orion was directly ahead of me with the stars on his belt twinkling in the deep blackness.

Gregg and I wandered out to the car feeling like we were embarking on a rather pointless journey.

The weather had pointed up the possible start of winter by giving the car a little layer of ice over the windscreen and windows.

I drove along the dark tree lined road towards Loch Morlich. The shot that I wanted to do would be from the little water sports area by the side of the loch.

It was not easy finding the entrance through the trees in the pitch black but we did it.

Using the headlights of the car as working lights Gregg and I dragged the kit on to the little loch side beach and started to set up.

The good news was that the Bgan satellite terminal fired up at the fist attempt and the laptop connected straight away saying that the signal was strong.

The bad news was that when it tried to connect with Daybreak in London the error messages started to ping on to the computer screen.

I was glad that it was still inky black and there was no rush to have the shot ready.

I made calls to Dan in the technical area down at Daybreak. He fiddled with the equipment at his end.

I waited a few moments and tried again. This time the ends talked to each other and we were in business.

In the end all that I did was one shot in one of the weather forecasts.

The scene was beautiful. The Loch was flat calm with the white topped mountains and mysterious clouds reflected in the watery mirror.

So it was a bit af a disappointment that it was only the one shot.

Predawn at the loch.

The flat calm Loch Morlich.

The camera set up by the loch side.

Camera, laptop and Bgan satellite terminal.

I was doubly disappointed when Dave the TD told me that the zoom out from the snowy peaks to the stunning sight of the Loch had been a bit too fast for the Bgan system to cope with and there had been some picture break up.

After breakfast we headed back down the A9 to Edinburgh

Monday 25th

I was glad that the sun was shining and the blue of the sky was only mildly interrupted by a few high thin candy floss clouds as I drove down the A1 to meet Gregg at a building site in a small town close to Durham.

The beautiful sky on the drive south.

Time was tight because one of the people that we were going to interview could only see us at a specific time.

As a result my gastronomic lunch time delight were a few chicken bits dipped in ketchup and a coke grabbed from the drive through at the golden arches and gobbled as I headed south.

There was a minor tomato sauce incident as I approached one of the roundabouts on the Berwick By-Pass. The little container tipped the red goo onto the floor of the car.

Even though I did make an attempt to wipe it up less than appetising smell lingered for the rest of the journey and indeed the return one too.

Gregg had driven up from his southern base in Teesdale. We met in the car park of the site of the new houses that was going to be the location of the day and had a quick chat about the story.

The building company was a case study of what went on during the recent recession and they had managed to cope and survive. This would be a preview piece prior to the official announcement of the figures on GDP.

It would be a very straightforward piece to do. Albeit dealing with corporate businesses and PR people usually comes with it's own bag of difficulties.

All we needed was a quick interview with the high up guy from the company, the same with the chap tight for time from the Chamber of Commerce, a few shots to cover those and a short piece to camera.

That was until we were about to go and say hello to the people and get cracking.

Gregg was being told on the phone from the office that the piece they wanted was not what we had in mind at all.

They wanted a "self authored" item which means that all the commentary comes from the person involved with no input from the reporter.

If the contributor is not au fait with the whole TV thing then these types of pieces are not easy to do.

Thankfully, Andy the Finance Director with help from the PR lady Kate and carefully posed questions from Gregg did a fine job. One of the things that he explained was that the company had survived by producing a type of house.

In essence it is a house that uses up no energy.

The zero energy house.

Obviously it still took a lot longer that we had wanted but at least that was the difficult bit done. All that was needed to finish were some shots around the site.

We got kitted up in the obligatory personal protective equipment of hi-viz jacket and hard hat and were ready to head on to the site.

Then the site manager insisted that he should come to look after us.

When he arrived it looked like this part of the shoot was going to be torture because he did not want us to go on to the site but do all the shots from the makeshift gate.

He was worried that it was too busy for us.

I explained that it was the shots of a busy working building site that I needed to get.

I was relieved that he kind of understood and we proceeded to get the shots.

One aspect that Gregg wanted to illustrate with some kind of image was when Andy talked about the unpleasant aspect of the recession, having to lay off some of the workers.

We were almost done and the bulk of the workers had gone home and I did not have Any shots to cover that.

Then the bright setting sun blasting on a brick wall gave me an idea.

Michael, the initially reluctant site manager then pitched in and was very helpful.

I asked him and his last remaining colleague to set to work with a spade and I filmed their shadows playing on the wall.

I had the image I needed. Time to wrap.

Gregg took the tape and went to Tyne Tees Television to do the editing and I set course for Edinburgh, stopping of very briefly in Berwick for more fast food, a fish supper.

Tuesday 26th

Yesterday the sun shone on the drive south. Today when I met Gregg at Waverley station for the drive north it was far from sunny.

The tops of the hills and mountains of the highlands disappeared into the grey mirk of the low clouds.

We were quite excited about the chap we were going to meet and do a story on. He is Sir Tommy McPherson, Britain's most decorated living soldier.

Superlatives and hyperbole are often far too readily pulled out of the journalistic lexicon and applied to describe situations that are merely slightly out of the ordinary. This means that when there is a real need to use that sort of language it is is not as powerful as it should be.

It is when you hear of people like Tommy and what he got up to in the second world war that extreme language of that kind is needed.

He was awarded three Military Crosses, three Croix de Guerre, a Legion d’honneur and a papal knighthood.

As a member of an elite team, the Jedburgh unit, set up by Winston Churchill himself this now 90 year old had accomplished some amazing feats of bravery and heroism.

Almost single handedly in a stolen German red cross vehicle he had persuaded a unit of 23 000 SS soldiers of the Das Reich tank column to surrender and then handed them over to some grateful yet bewildered Americans.

He was famed for always wearing the kilt. On one occasion he had just landed from his parachute on a mission behind enemy lines when he was confronted by a confused German soldier who for a moment that proved fatal for him though that Tommy was a woman.

So, bravery on all levels. I am not sure if I would be happy to parachute in the kilt.

He had just published his memoirs with the help of author Richard Bath

Gregg and I arrived at his beautiful house in the village of Newtonmore in the highlands as the grey light was starting to fade.

His wife Jean came out of the house with a welcoming wave and a huge smile.

A perfect example of that quintessential never say die in the face of adversity jolly British character, she was certainly larger than life.

We were invited in and introduced us to Sir Tommy.

He stood up and shook our hands.

Immediately it was clear that the stroke that he had suffered a couple of years ago had left its mark.

His power of speech had been severely hit.

However, his thick white hair, lively eyes and broad smile left you in no doubt that there was a lot of life left in the old boy.

After Jean had been very generous with tea and cake we got down to the interview.

The interview process took quite a long time because Tommy was often unable to either find the right word or make his thoughts into coherent sentences.

It was very clear that he knew what he wanted to say but could not put his thoughts into words.

He would pause for a moment to think and sometimes write the word down so that Jean could say it for him and he would try to repeat it.

Gregg interviews Sir Tommy.

For the majority of people a television interview is a fairly daunting prospect.

The mark of this incredible man was that he approached the interview with a good humoured determination and humility.

It was a struggle for him and a mark of the love he shares with Jean along with the strong support she gives him, that in almost a full hour, of what must have been tortuous for the pair there was never any hint of giving up or not coming up with something that we could use.

Still a true hero at 90 years old.

In the end Gregg was happy that there was enough material that could be edited into a usable piece.

We had got into Sir Tommy and Jean's home thinking that the item was not needed until Thursday so the rather fiddly edit that lay ahead would not be started before a good night's sleep.

Whilst the interview was going on both our phones were vibrating away like mad.

The office was trying to get a hold of us.

I had been left a message. So as Gregg and Jean carried on trying to structure what Tommy wanted to say I had a quick listen.

The program me now wanted the report for tomorrow morning.

The job now became a little more involved.

There was good news. A hotel very close to where we were had a couple of rooms and WiFi so that we could eat, edit, send the item to Daybreak and then sleep.

Gregg started the process of putting the material into the laptop to be edited.

We then grabbed a very nice bit to eat to pass the time as the material loaded.

Once it was in and we had eaten Gregg embarked on the job of getting what Tommy said to make sense in a coherent manner so that it would be understood by the viewers.

It was going to take him a while.

When he was doing that I checked out the internet in the hotel.

It was really really slow and the connection was not good.

It was not only going to be a long edit but it would take a considerable amount of time to send to London.

It was time to breakout the Bgan. This small satellite dish is more often used in locations where it is difficult to get a large satellite dish to.

For live broadcasts the picture and sound quality is much poorer and it takes a much longer time to send any recorded material than the bigger dishes or dedicated TV land lines.

We were lucky in one respect. The small window in Gregg’s bedroom was facing in the direction of the satellite. At least we did not need to venture outside in the cold and the rain that was now falling.

The Bgan worked well and the report winged through the ether to Daybreak and we went to our beds.