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, 18 March 2011

Final broadcasts from Japan, for now.

Friday 18th

It was not too early a start this morning which was nice after our rather special meal last night.

We felt a little spoiled because we had time to have breakfast as well.

The plan was that we needed to speak to some people who were fleeing the country preferably British.

The day would involve a lot of driving around so to save on the expensive taxis we thought that hiring a driver with a car would be cheaper.

We were right and Arata with a friend in every corner of Japan knew just the man, Kento from Kobe.

He knew all about earthquakes. After the Kobe quake a few years ago he had been forced to live in a tent for six months.

The only thing was that it would take him a little while to get to us.

That was fine by me I could fill the time making some space in the laptop and putting in the material that I had shot yesterday.

When he arrived in his little dark blue van we went out to Kansai airport to see if we could find any Brits trying to get out of the country.

We spent a frustrating hour hunting but only coming up with French, Dutch, Germans and a very nice Japanese lady from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was there to help anyone from the UK that needed help but, like us was not having much luck.

We had been told not by any reliable source but was the only lead we had that there were a stack of British people at the Sheraton hotel in the city.

It was a bit of a drive but there were no other useful options that we could come up with.

When we got to the huge hotel the stylishly dark interior was not exactly buzzing with people from any country never mind a specific one like Britain.

We did find an American who had come down from Tokyo to be safe and then a guy from Melbourne who had a pregnant Japanese wife and had come to Osaka from their home in Fukushima.

It might not have been the jackpot but it would do as a consolation prize.

He was happy to give us a quick interview. Unfortunately he was not keen on us getting shots of his wife and anyway she was not around.

We had to work quickly now because we were due on air in two hours and the report needed to be written, edited and sent to London.

Added to that we did not have a location for the live broadcasts. That was a bit of a worry because we were surrounded by tall buildings. Chances of a nice clear shot of the sky to see the satellite seemed slim.

I would need to go hunting and that would take time.

Sitting on the floor in the corner of the Sheraton’s bottom floor lobby was the only place I could quickly find that had access to a power socket.

I got on with the edit as fast as I could.

It was done and encoded just ready to send.

There was no easy internet access in the hotel so it would have to go over the satellite.

Editing in the luxury surroundings of the Sheraton.

Now I had forty five minutes to find a location that would enable me to get the BGAN terminal locked onto the satellite, send the report and set up for a live broadcast.

Throwing the laptop into the case after I had grabbed the BGAN terminal I ran out of the hotel with it hoping that Cordelia and Arata would take my cue and bring the little case and the other bits and pieces out behind me.

I switched the terminal on as I exited the hotel.

The hope I had was that the satellite might be in line with the wide road.

I had not had time to orientate myself with which direction I needed to look.

The slow steady beep and single green light coming from the BGAN told me there was no satellite to be seen.

I ran across the road waving the dish above my head in all directions, the camera slung over my shoulder by its strap banged and flapped against my leg and hip.

I was hoping to hear a quickening of the beeps that would indicate a satellite.

There was a cross roads a few yards ahead I ran towards is still pointing the dish forwards, backwards and from side to side in a somewhat vain attempt to get a signal.

It was little wonder that passers by on the street were paying us some attention, two demented westerners running along the street, one brandishing a strange white beeping box and a bewildered Japanese guy following close behind.

There was no joy at the junction. I kept on going I had spotted a building that was a bit lower than the rest and I had by then hoped that I had worked out that that was the direction of the bird.

I cleared the shadow of the big building with the dish pointing up to the gap above the smaller one.

A very welcome chirrup let me know I’d been right and we were in business.

There was a convenient bin or whatever it was that I could put the BGAN on as it did its thing and found the satellite properly.

The laptop and the BGAN up and running.

There was now less than half an hour until transmission and our first live broadcast.

Shoving the bits that needed to be shoved into the laptop I switched it on and connected it to the BGAN.

It was getting close but there was a chance the report would get there in time.

I sent it on its way.

Whilst it was trudging through the ether to London I got the camera, microphone and talkback set up.

The screen on the laptop indicated that the piece was not yet in London.

Strange I thought.

Then I saw that the lights on the BGAN had all gone out.

Although it had been on charge all night something must have happened.

I quickly banged in the spare.

It only had a small charge.

That would need to do.

I could have done without all this stress.

The report finished sending.

Arata had managed to find me a power socket that I could get access to in the building beside us.

I took the BGAN into the building to give it a charge that I hoped would be enough to last for the first live broadcast. Once that was done there would be time to get it sorted for all the rest.

Then my phone rang.

On the phone to London.

It was Dave the technical director at Daybreak to tell me that the report had indeed arrived but Cordelia’s voice was not on it.

As soon as he said it I knew what was probably the reason.

It was a finger click fault on my part.

When I had sent the edited piece to be encoded I didn’t check that all the audio tracks had been selected.

I ran back into the building and grabbed the BGAN. Any charge in it now would have to do.

While it was locking on to the satellite I re-encoded the report. This time with the audio correctly set.

There would now be little, in fact no chance of it getting to Daybreak before the start of the programme or by the time Cordelia was due to be broadcasting.

It was not due to run until a few moments after Cordelia did her live report.

There was a slightly added complication on this one.

There was an interview that needed to be edited into the report when it arrived in London before it was transmitted.

It was about half way gone by the time I had to stop and prepare for the live broadcast.

As soon as it was done I continued the send.

I called Ian the programme organiser. He told me that it had arrived and was being edited.

Then I called in to listen to gallery talkback. It sounded to me as if they were on the item that should have contained the report.

If I had been a contortionist at that point I would have kicked my own arse the length of the long wide Osaka street we were on.

I was giving myself a damn good talking to and feeling pissed off because I knew that if it did not run now there was no way that it would run at all.

I cut the call.

My phone rang straight away it was Ian to say that they had managed to get it edited and the order of the item had been altered and the report wad on air as he spoke.

I was relieved and thankful to the guys in London that had turned the thing round so quickly after my stupid schoolboy error.

There was also a bit of a deliberate mistake in the report that only someone with the knowledge of Japanese dialling codes and iPhones would notice.

When I spotted the error I did not have the time to fix it, for obvious reasons.

Part of the report contained a recorded message from a British consulate in Japan.

I had recorded the sound from the Osaka office but when I took a shot of the iPhone to use over the sound the number on the display was for the office in Tokyo.

In the original running order of the programme after 6:17 am our contribution was over and we were just to be on standby.

It is always a real bore to be hanging around just in case.

So when the call from the office came to say that we would be needed in the rest of the news bulletins we were happy having something to do.

Setting up for the live broadcasts.

Arata and Kento being typical Japanese.

Cordelia standing-by to broadcast.

In between broadcasts Cordelia gets e-mails from London.

When the programme went off air our job in Japan was over. I would have been nice if the same could be said for the fifty brave guys trying to get the reactors at Fukushima back to a safe state, the rescue workers still out in the inaccessible areas of the country searching for survivors and the poor people left homeless after the tsunami had gone leaving nothing but destruction behind.

Not for the first time and not for the last we felt a tinge of guilt as the full Daybreak team; Cordelia, Richard. Hannah, Kyle, Arata and I had a reunion and final meal at a Japanese Korean BBQ restaurant. We were joined by an old friend of Kyle's and Hannah's boyfriend Tom.

The Daybreak team and friends.

The locals having a meal....

....and being typical Japanese.

Not so much fish or noodles tonight.

A lot of the talk was about what we had seen and what the future holds.

Cordelia, Hannah and Tom.

For Arata it is setting up a volunteer programme based up north in Aomori to give aid to the people around the Sendai area who have been dispossessed.

A lot of the phone calls he had been making during the week were about getting that organised.


Kyle, a photographer had taken a lot of shots of the devastation when he had been with Richard and was keen to get them published and use the money to help.

Richard and Kyle.

Tomorrow we will start our journey home via Paris although it will be Sunday before I get there.

The work of doing the broadcasting and telling the story might have been over but there we foresaw some stress ahead for the next few days.

There was a list of things that would need to be dealt with: We needed to pay Arata in cash and Cordelia's card would not work in the ATMs anymore. The kit that had been left in Tokyo had to be sent back to the UK. The mobile phones and internet hubs that we had hired would have to be returned.

The big issue that I was not looking forward to dealing with was the Customs Carnet. I had left it in one of the flight cases deposited at the the hotel in Tokyo.

I would leave the country without getting it stamped and I would not have all the kit with me that was on the list.

When it came back in the box I would need to contact Customs in the UK and sort it out.

The dash to Osaka.

Thursday 17th

It was another early start this morning. The plan was to do the long drive to Sendai or over to the east coast to some of the devastated areas.

So at 5 am I met Cordeilia and Arata in a dark quiet hotel lounge.

Two things put wiped out the plan.

The first was an e-mail from an office very jittery about the radiation risk. It told us simply, “Do not go anywhere near Sendai!”

The next was a bit of a local difficulty. On top of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, Japan, well the northern part, was having to endure blizzard conditions which had blocked many roads.

There was just cause for the concern over the possible problems with the radiation.

In a situation like the one in which we found ourselves media organisations use as many sources as possible to piece together lots of bits of often conflicting information to give them a picture from which a judgement can be made.

There were not so many really conflicting opinions on this one. They all confirmed that the problem of radiation was real. The only difference was in how serious it was deemed to be.

One very reliable and credible source said that there was already a sizeable amount of radiation in the atmosphere. Any answer to the question as to where that might go was literally blowing in the wind.

At the moment that wind was favourable blowing out over the pacific but, it was forecast to change.

It was decided then that we needed to leave, certainly northern Japan as soon as we could.

So then the annoying nonsense of getting us flights home began.

The office in London told us that there were no flights out of Akita.

We started thinking about alternative exit routes either directly out of Japan or to another airport in Japan that would get us out.

It was during breakfast and our colleagues from ITV News were sitting next to us going through the same process only they were not being told that there were no flights but being given a choice of flights that they might be able to get on.

There were lots of frustrating phone calls going on.

To say that the ears of our folk at the ITV travel company Uniglobe, should have been burning would be one huge understatement. At best their apparent inefficiency was annoying and frustrating. At worst in the current circumstances it could seriously endanger our lives.

The result appeared to be that we could get a flight out of Osaka on Saturday but would need to drive there as all the flights going there were full.

The only solution would be to drive, which would take around thirty hours.

Richard, Hannah and Kyle did not have much option being much further south and much closer to Osaka but, it would still be a long trek for them .

One of the ITV News team told us that there should be at least two free seats because they had just cancelled them.

Our travel company said no.

We decided that given the airport was not much of a detour off our marathon journey it might be worthwhile stopping by, not just to check for flights but to send a pre-recorded report.

We prepared to set off.

There were all sorts of pieces of advice coming from the safety experts in London and being passed on to us.

One was that we should dump any clothes that we had been wearing when we had been down in the Sendai area in case they had picked up any radiation.

Given that I had been wearing the same clothes for the whole time we were in that area if I had picked any radiation up it would be well soaked in.

So, I got the jacket, fleece, t-shirt etc. that I had been wearing and piled them up in the small bin in the bathroom.

My "radioactive? pile" of discarded clothes.

I was just about to leave the room with all my kit when it dawned on me that the jeans I was wearing were the ones that I had been in since I left the UK.

I quickly slipped them off and added them to the pile. There was another pair of trousers in my case that I got to without too much bother.

On the way to the airport the runner at Daybreak, without the help of the travel company had managed to come up with a flight to Osaka for us.

There were two problems, well minor inconveniences really.

The flight was via Tokyo and there was only thirty minutes to change aircraft, which is about the optimum time for bags to go missing.

Leaving a snowy Akita.

Some pretty sights on the way to the airport.

At the airport I set up in our tried and tested position this time in bright, if not warm sunlight, not snow. Cordelia went in to get out flights sorted.

The camera position ready and waiting for Cordelia to come back.

She came back with a double doze of bad news. Firstly we had just missed, by a minute or so the last time to check in for a direct flight to Osaka that had seats available on it and secondly there was no record of our booking on the flight that we thought we were on.

Not far from me Arata was on the phone. Cordelia interrupted the call and they went back in to the small airport terminal. I waited by the camera.

In the bus car park in front of me a group of red cross workers were getting out of minibuses that bore the registration plates from Hiroshima and Kobe.

Sorting out their kit.

Cordelia came back a little while later with a broad “we’re sorted” grin.

We were not on the flight that we thought we were on. She had managed to get us on a slightly earlier direct flight.

Minor panic over.

Cordelia then did her little report that was recorded in London.

I derigged, packed and we went into the terminal.

Arata who is a bit of a phone addict appeared, even for him to be on the phone a lot while all this was all going on.

He was trying to solve his problem. We had driven all the way up here. Now we were leaving by air.

There was no one to deal with the car. It was Arata’s Tokyo boss’s car and she actually needed it to get her and her family out of a now panic stricken and scared city.

It was now also pretty full of fuel that could be put to some good use.

Instead it would languish in the car park a Akita airport until someone came to collect it or some sharp-eyed opportunist, fair to say not many of them in this law abiding country, noticed the keys hidden behind one of the wheels.

In the airport terminal we did a bit of filming of people getting on flights and an interview with a rather scared Chilean lady.

We then had time to get a bite to eat and a coffee before take off.

It was then that my little hasty error came to light.

Cordelia was yet to join Arata and me in the coffee shop so I offered to get the drinks in.

I ordered and automatically went to get the cash out of my back pocket.

The only thing was that my pocket was not there it was back at the hotel in a large bin. As I had left the room the chambermaid went into clean it up and I told her just to throw out the clothes.

That was rather unfortunate because the pocket contained the hundred quid in Japanese Yen that I had taken out on my credit card at Heathrow so that I had a contingency fund.

I got the cash for the coffees from Cordelia and gave myself a good talking to.

Out transport to Osaka.

The Red Cross lot that I had seen earlier in the car park were on our flight. They were going back home for a short rest after having been on shift for four days pretty much non stop.

One of the doctors on our flight.

I did some shots on the plane and a piece to camera. The sound was far from perfect because the only microphone that I had to use was the camera mic and aircraft are noisy things.

The shot was far from perfect as well because to get some kind of usable sound I had to be very close to Cordelia, too close for a flattering shot.

On the final approach to Osaka.

Japanese TV interviewing the Red Cross guys in Osaka.

There was one small problem that was apparently solved as we boarded the flight.

It had taken a while to find a hotel with any rooms for us in Osaka but, we were told one had been organised.

By the time we landed we would have the details on an e-mail.

The name of the hotel had alarm bells ringing. “Comfort Hotel”.

It got worse when we got in the taxi and told the driver the address.

He said that it was not in Osaka.

We ended up in a grimy industrial area called Sakai.

The tall thin hotel was in keeping with the rest of the grey washed out buildings that we could see.

Sure enough the word comfort and this hotel did not quite fit.

I could just about squeeze into the space behind the door that somehow qualified to be called a room.

As wide a shot as I could get of my "room".

The three of us feeling a bit pissed off went out to get something to eat.

There was no restaurant or cafe in the hotel.

We walked a short distance and saw a tall slightly grand building not quite in keeping with the local area.

I had a hunch it was a hotel. It was not easy to get to on foot. There was a river and rail track in the way but we found our way there.

It was indeed a very nice hotel, maybe not five star but certainly not too far off.

We asked if there were any rooms for tonight and tomorrow.

Tonight was fine but tomorrow seemed to be causing problems.

The receptionists did a lot of sucking on their teeth, shaking their heads at each other, pointing at the computer screen, tapping on the keyboard and writing things on scraps of paper.

After a few moments they smiled and produced three key cards.

We then went back to the other hotel in a taxi to get out luggage.

Later on we tried to get rooms for the other three who would be arriving tomorrow after their live broadcasts in Kyoto.

Once again the same ritual was enacted but the result was different. No rooms could be found.

For the first time since we had arrived in Japan we had two hours of free time.

Cordelia had a nap, I had a shower and Arata chilled.

Feeling slightly refreshed we had a drink in the hotel bar overlooking Sakai and Osaka in the distance, although it was impossible to tell where the boundary was.

With the lights of the buildings and streets bellow twinkling it was difficult to believe that the country was undergoing its worst time since world war two.

We went through to the restaurant next door and ordered three set meals.

It was a Teppanyaki restaurant.

The food was excellent. There was very fresh sea food. It was impossible for it be any fresher.

The steak was, ironically, Sendai beef, It was the most tender that any of us had ever tasted. It genuinely melted in the mouth.

Given the treatment the cows get it should be a bit special. They are fed on a diet which contains beer, they are massaged every day and classical music is played to them to keep them calm.

It was lucky in some ways that we had been forced to skip so many meals and eat frugally for most of the week because when the bill came it looked like quite a lot because it was quite a lot.

There were a few days worth of meal allowances there.