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, 28 September 2012

A week of floods

Monday 24th September

I thought that the news desk would leave me alone to get all the post trip things sorted out but the grey leaden skies that were relentlessly throwing down a huge amount of rain put paid to that.

I drove through the night and a constant deluge to the unimaginatively named Saltburn-by-the-Sea in Cleveland to meet Gregg Easteal.

We got nice and wet getting shots of the little town as the residents went into "baton down the hatches" mode.

There were already flood warnings coming out from the Met Office.

The forecast was predicting that a massive amount of rain would fall over the next few days.

The shoot did not take us too long to do but never the less the pair of us were soaked right through our supposedly waterproof bad weather gear.

As it approached midnight we got the job finished, at least the shooting part.

Gregg still had to edit the report and send it to Daybreak in London. I was lucky, there was a hotel bed with my name on it.

Gregg had also drawn the short straw in so much that he was also gong to have to get up early to do live broadcasts about the weather from Bishop Aukland in County Durham.

I would just need to get up when I woke up and head for home, or so I hoped.

Tuesday 25th September

The journey home from Saltburn ended before it really began. 

I was only just out of the hotel car park when the call came from Carol at Daybreak.

Live broadcasts tomorrow from Morpeth were going to be the order of the day.

I got sorted out with an hotel in Newcastle and planned a nice early dinner followed by a nice early night.

Both of those ideas got washed away by the need to do a little bit of shooting in Morpeth in the late evening.

Gregg Easteal and I did a bit of filming in a couple of houses that had been affected by the floods.

We met a very sprightly and posh couple, Angela and Cameron who's house had succumbed to a bit of damage.

The lively, good humoured, retired pair were happy to allow us to film in the house, as long as Angela was not referred to as elderly or senior in the report.

As floods go there was not really a great deal of damage. It was pretty much just their carpets that got the brunt of it.

They had been given enough warning to allow them, with the help of friends to get most of the furniture up the stairs.

In 2008 it had been a different story. The flood had been much worse. The water had come up to a height of about five feet in the house.

They had to be out of the house for eight months on that occasion whilst it dried out and some very extensive repair work was carried out.

It was a similar story with John a few doors along the road. In his case the newly installed kitchen had been slightly damaged along with the kitchen flooring.

The floor would need replaced and some of the kitchen units would likewise need replaced.

However, it was nothing like the devastation of four years ago.

Angela, Cameron and John all agreed to have us back in the morning for live broadcasts.

The material on tape was going to be sent to Daybreak from Tyne Tees Television down in Gateshead.

This caused a little bit of stress because of the time we finished shooting, the length of time Tyne Tees would still be manned and the number of other external feeds going into Daybreak.

It all came good in the end. By the time I rushed the rushes to Tyne Tees Carol at Daybreak had ironed out the logistical problems.

This time when I got to the hotel I knew that I was in for a short sleep.

I did not realise just how short it was going to be.

Wednesday 26th September
Newburn and Morpeth

My alarm still had a bit more than a couple of hours to run before it was due to wake me when the sleep shattering call came.

Last night, a while before I had managed to get to bed I saw a report by Dawn Thewlis, one of my colleagues from long ago during my time at Tyne Tees, running on the BBC's late bulletin.

It was a story about a new looking block of houses in Newburn just west of Newcastle that was almost about to fall down.

The flood waters had caused a lot of ground to be washed away. In the case of these town houses some of that ground was what they, until today, had been built on.

The report showed still images of the block of flats with a massive hole where the foundations should have been.

On the face of it this looked like a better story and location for our live broadcasts.

I was surprised that we had not been dispatched to cover it as well, or indeed instead of the Morpeth floods that, by the time we went on air would be "slightly olds" rather than breaking news.

This was the story that was behind the call.

I was tasked by the night editor to go to Newburn, get some shots of the teetering houses and if possible have a word with some of the evacuees who were in a nearby leisure centre before heading up to Morpeth for the live broadcasts.

It is a continual source of amusement combined with bewilderment that there is a genuine expectation by over night news desk staff that there will be a bevy of people up and about, and willing to be interviewed for television at 4 am.

If the people from the houses had not found temporary lodgings with friends or relatives they would be at Newburn's leisure centre a mile or so away from the flats.

Driving into the centre car park I could see lights on but no sign of life.

I had a quick look around. I saw a man in probably in his sixties who appeared to have a uniform sweatshirt on in an office.

I attracted his attention. He saw me, his face filled with a look of suspision and he walked slowly towards the door with an obvious reluctance.

When he opened the glass door a crack I told him that I was from ITV and asked if there was anyone from the flats around.

He said yes but that they were all sound asleep upstairs.

At which point a much younger sleepy looking bald head popped through a door as its disheveled owner looked quizzically at me.

I asked to speak to him. He was the leisure centre's duty manager and repeated what I had already heard, that everyone was, not unreasonably, fast asleep.
The Newburn Leisure Centre
I made two calls, one to Gregg to let him know that he did not need to come to the leisure centre as there was no one to talk to, the other to the news desk to alert them that there would be no interviews.

All through these calls that I made from the car in the car park the pair back in the leisure centre never took their wary eyes off me.

All the roads that led anywhere near the houses were cordoned off with police tape and the area was in almost total darkness.

This was strange because all of ten minutes ago when I had driven past on my way up to the leisure centre the place was awash with the bright piercing light from large portable arc lights and there was a swarm of people wearing hi-viz jackets buzzing around the place.

Now all I could see were a couple of cold, bored looking policemen waiting for their night shift to be over.

I asked one of them, who appeared to be grateful for the distraction, where I could go to get some shots of the flats.

He laughed.

"Got a night vision camera?" he asked with an amused Geordie twang.

He went on to tell me that, firstly, I was not allowed past the tapes and secondly, that even if I was, all that I would see from that angle was a perfectly normal looking very dark block of houses.

He continued to tell me that in the darkness it was far too dangerous to approach the flats from the other side, where the damage was visible, or at least would be visible when the light came up.

I called the office in London again to let them know what I had been told.

I was on my way to Morpeth having been up for a couple of hours when the alarm on my phone went off to tell me that it was time to wake up.

For all the material that I had to show for my two hours lost sleep I wished that it had been.

In Morpeth I teamed up with Dave on the satellite truck, Phil, the sound recordist and Gregg, for our morning of broadcasting.
Satellite truck beside the houses
The river Wansbeck full and fast
Sound recordist Phil taking in the view
Camera set up for a shot that was never actually taken
It was a busy old morning with a series of live shots and three main broadcasts, two from John's house and garden, where his damaged furniture and carpets were, and one from Cameron and Angela's home.

When we had finished they insisted that we have a cup of coffee or tea.

It never ceases to amaze that very often when we impose ourselves on people who are in the midst of a major trauma in there lives, for the purpose of broadcasting their plight, not only do they allow us to do it, they offer hospitality way beyond what should ever be expected.
Ruined carpets outside Angela and Cameron's house
As we were packing up I saw my fellow countryman James Cook the BBC's Scotland Correspondent.

Like me he had been pulled south to cover the story. In the midst of our very short conversation he took a call which meant he was going to be pulled even further south to York.

At that point I was planning my journey north.

I got as far as Alnwick, where I stopped for breakfast.

The toppling homes in Newburn was the reason for the need to stay south. The plan was that we would do live broadcasts tomorrow from there.

This gave Daybreak a whole day to negotiate access for the satellite truck and camera to the site.

We would not be the only media wanting that access. Sky, the BBC and Tyne Tees along with the local newspapers and radio would no doubt be coving the story.

The good news for me was that at least tonight I would get almost a full night's sleep.

Thursday 27th September

At 2 am my iPhone pinged, waking me from sleep to let me know that I had a voicemail message.

It was Ian from the Daybreak office. The story had changed. No longer were they interested in the block of flats in Newburn near Newcastle that were in danger of toppling over thanks to the flood water carrying off some of the foundations. 

Instead they wanted to do the story in York which might get some more bad flooding during our air time.

I threw my things back in my bag and set off under a clear starry sky down the A1, which was now open at least all the way to the York exit.

The satellite truck had already arrived at our location, a pub in the effected area.

The satellite truck in position
It was not a particularly dramatic scene that greeted us, more deep puddles than biblical flood.
The scene outside the Jubilee pub
A few streets away there was a fire brigade pump busy pumping water, which had bubbled up through the drains.
Fire Brigade high volume pump at work
I quickly knocked off a few shots and after recording a quick voice over from Katy Fawcett got them sent over to Daybreak.
Phil gets Katy wired up with mic and talkback
Running true to form things were getting close to transmission.

We did our first couple of broadcasts at the pub, which was not as badly flooded as we had been told.

The cellar was totally under water putting the pub out of action but the water had risen short of the public areas.

Publican Kelly Bailey talks to Katy outside her pub, the Jubilee
Dave watching a replay of one of the broadcasts
As the light came up along the road there was a bit of activity in the area that the pump was.
The high volume pump in daylight
In no time Dave, the satellite engineer had stowed the dish, driven the short distance along the road, re-deployed the dish and started transmitting. We were lucky that it was a manually operated dish because had it been one of the automatic dishes, called Upods, it would probably not have deployed itself and locked on the the satellite in time for the broadcast.
The sat' truck in the second location
We did another couple of broadcasts from there and then some interviews for Yorkshire's Calendar news programme.
The flood in the centre of the city of York..
..was much more dramatic

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