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.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Almost thrown out of British High Commission Car Park!

Friday 14th September 
Kuala Lumpur

Another coach, this time rammed with hacks, snappers and cameramen took us the short distance to the first location on today's agenda.

There had been a strict news blackout on broadcasting where we were headed.

We had known about it for quite some time but were duty bound to tell no one outside the tight media circle.

Security was one of the reasons for no publicity being demanded by St James's Palace. Given what had been happening in the Islamic world over the last few days the caution was well founded.

Additionally the local officials wanted the visit to be a true reflection of the solemnity of the place with no crowds to spoil the atmosphere.

The royal couple were going to visit the Assyakirin mosque
The bus did not take us right to the mosque. We had a bit of a walk in the now familiar sticky heat.

I was lugging both my kits. This time I had put the two bags in my roll along hand luggage case.

It would have been a good idea had it not been for the construction of the roads and pavements in Kuala Lumpur.

I lost count of the number of times I had to manoeuvre the little wheeled case with the satellite dish and computer box balanced on top over the high black and white kerb stones, not to mention the bumpy pavement.

So, again I reached a location feeling like I had just stepped out of a shower.

The mosque nestles below the iconic Patronus Towers.
The Assyakirin Mosque with the Petronas Towers behind

Some of the media had already pitched up. There was the usual minor confusion about what the positions were and where we could stand.
The press starting to take up position
Confusion about where barriers need to be placed.. keep the media at bay..
..decision made

One position was very close to where the couple would be but only offered a profile shot.

The head on shot of the couple taking off their shoes sitting on two chairs positioned there for that purpose was a bit of a distance away on a steeply sloping bank.

I opted for the second position. It would give a better view of them taking off their shoes and when they came down the stairs to leave I would have a shot that placed them in Kuala Lumpur by having the towers in shot.
The second position
I was reassured with my choice when the photographers who were old hands at the job started to gather in the same area.

We all expressed one reservation.

If security or any one else stood in front of them we would be stuffed.

Which was exactly what happened. Not just security that got in the way but, some of the photographers in the pool who should have known better.
Photographer Ian Jones explaining to BBC cameraman Joe and Nick Witchell what is gong to happen
The first pen being put in place..
..organised with a little briefing going on
On the day that the Duchess was visiting a mosque, dressed very modestly with a scarf covering her head a magazine had published pictures of her topless on holiday in Provence in France shortly before she and the Duke had come out here.

That pushed us up the running order a bit and put a little more pressure on us.

As soon as the pair had left we had to get to the Residence of the British High Commission for our live broadcasts.

Cordelia went off to find a taxi. I gathered up my gear, loaded myself up and trudged to where the roads were open to meet her in the taxi.

Then came the confusion about the address, which was different to the actual High Commission added to that the driver read the address wrongly and started to take us to the wrong place.

Eventually we arrived at the road that had lots of places with big gates and brass plaques with names of countries on them.

We knew then that things were looking up.

There was still a reasonable but, not a huge amount of time to get the material fed to London and set up for the live broadcasts.

The sat dish was set up in the grounds of a large delapidated house next to the residence, which uses it as a car park.
The satellite dish location next to the High Commission Residence
The uplink and downlink in position
Things became a bit fraught when we were told by the security from the High Commission that we were not allowed to have the dish there.
High Commission security trying to throw us out
As the discussions went on I was also trying to get the material from the mosque back to London as quickly as possible so that it could be distributed to all the other broadcasters involved in the pool.

They would all be desperate for any "today" shots because we were now dealing with the top story of the day.

I was sending the pictures back using the little BGAN terminal. It was slightly frustrating because although the machine was showing a high signal percentage, it was taking longer than I would have liked to do the long trip through outer space to London.

Another thing that was occupying my mind was how I was going to get to the airport to do the shot of the Duke and Duchess leaving Malaysia. I had a commitment to the UK media pool to do that job.

Additionally I needed to see if someone, probably Rob from Channel 7, could do the last live broadcast at 8 am UK time, 3 pm local.

To make sure I was at the airport in time I would have to leave the Residence just after the 7 am Daybreak news bulletin (2 pm local).

As we had experienced on our short stay in Kuala Lumpur the traffic is a nightmare and this time there would be no sharp police motor cycle outrider to weave me through the tangled traffic.

Although at one point in the discussions with Miguel and Nick the Duke and Duchess's press people there was a possibility that I would travel in the royal convoy.

During all the security schenanigans with the High Commission there was even talk of police being called to manhandle us out.

Krishnan, the Channel 7 fixer, managed to make a call to the owner of the crumbling white building, who was some form of Malaysian royalty.

He got his permission for us to be on the property. There was still much discussion, menacing policemen in the background in case things turned nasty.

Our plan was to keep these talks going for long enough for us to get at least one live broadcast done before we were forcibly ejected.

Whilst some of this chit chat was going on and various phone calls were being made to almost every one except the Duke himself Cordelia and I managed to record a standby piece which I started to send back on the BGAN.

With less than five minutes to go before we went on air we I connected the camera cable. We had been granted permission to go ahead.

Cordelia stood in front of the camera outside the High Commission Residence where the first of the guests for the tea party with the Duke and Duchess had already started to arrive.

I framed up. We were one minute away form our first shot of the morning, a quick live shot of Cordelia in the opening part of the programme.

She would be sharing the screen with Daybreak’s Chief Correspondent, Richard Gaisford. The story about the topless pictures warranted him being live outside St James’ Palace in London to talk about the reaction from the UK press.

A moment or so after that quick shot it we were live. Cordelia linked into a video taped report that had been edited in London using the material that I had managed get to them just in time for it to make the slot.

The editor and producer in London had done a good job in getting it cut in time.

If this had been a normal day we would have been able to catch our breath a bit after the manic morning and hassle with the High Commission officials. However, this was not just the royal visit story.

Now we had loads of broadcasts to do and for longer durations.

During the short lulls in between the broadcasts I managed, with the help of Krishnan to organise a taxi to take me to the airport as quickly as possible so that I was there in plenty of time to get the departure shot.

We were about a minute or so away from one of the longer broadcasts when the first of the motorcycle outriders zoomed past us blue lights flashing indicating that the Duke and Duchess were very imminent.

The timing of the broadcast was going to be just about as perfect as you can get without it being preplanned.

The rest of the motorcycles and the dark limos of motorcade began to go past.

There was about thirty seconds to go to us when the black beast bristling with antennae swept past taking with it all our talk back.

The huge mount of RF that the communications vehicle was pumping out had totally wiped out the programme sound and gallery talk back, which I was receiving on two mobile phones.

I called to let the gallery know that we had lost talk back so would not hear any cues. As I was doing that I was redialling the gallery number. I knew that it would be the quickest one to latch.

At the first attempt, at which point the car with the Duke and Duchess in it was peeling off to go into the residence, the signal was not there.

At the second attempt with the comms vehicle now further down the road I had a signal and could hear Erron the director in the gallery.

I called over Cordelia’s mic and gave him a signal that I could hear the gallery and would cue Cordelia, she still could not hear any programme sound.

As soon as I had said it and framed up again Erron said, “Cue Cordelia”.

I dropped my hand and re-enforced it with a verbal “cue!”, hoping that it would not be heard.

Cordelia then started off talking about how the Duke and Duchess had reacted to the news of the pictures, she had been given the information by a “source close to the couple”.

It was just a pity that the talk back had gone at that moment otherwise we would have been live when they were driving into the Residence.

At least we did get the live broadcast out though.
The vehicle that killed our communications with London

The Malaysian morning had turned into afternoon and it was getting close to the cut off point for me to head to the airport. There were still at least two more definite live broadcasts to do and one that came as a bit of a surprise.

The London office had asked Arthur Edwards the renowned royal photographer to come and do a live down the line broadcast to hear his thoughts on the taking and publication of the pictures.

He had decided not to make any comment so had not turned up at the appointed time.

Cordelia had won another slot. She did an unscheduled broadcast.

There were two definite broadcasts left to do, the 7 am (2 pm local) and 8 am (3 pm local) bulletins and probably one at around ten past eight.

Arriving a few minute or two before the 2 pm slot, Channel 7’s cameraman Rob Brown was a welcome sight as he came over to where we were to prepare for their live broadcasts. He would be sharing the dish, broadcasting when we were not.

He would be able to return the favour that I had done for him by doing our 8 am bulletin, allowing me to do my dash to the airport in a taxi.

I did the 7 am broadcast, gave Rob the number on which he would get Doug, the technical director to sort out the talk back.

I packed away the live kit as quickly as I could, leaving it with Cordelia to take back to the hotel, along with the card containing this morning’s footage from the mosque for the others in the pool and getting some cash from her for the taxi that was sitting waiting for me, the driver all ready to go.

There was a media bus leaving to go to the airport with the members of the pool doing the departure shots but I was told that it would be easier to go directly to the airport from where we were.

That was the advice that all the locals gave me, as had one of the Duke’s press team.

Taking my camera, tripod and run bag with me I got in the taxi and we set off into the melee of KL traffic.

We had gone some distance when I managed to get through to Nick, the press officer dealing with the departure details at the airport to confirm that I was travelling independently to the airport.

He told me that because of the security arrangements at the VIP terminal situated well away from the main airport I would have to travel on the bus.

We were travelling in the opposite direction from the hotel. I asked the driver how long it would take to get to the hotel.

He shrugged his shoulders and pointed out that we would need to do a U-turn and that the traffic was really busy. It might take fifteen to twenty minutes, maybe longer.

If it took fifteen I be in time for the bus, any longer and I’d miss it.

I had to make the bus. With the interest in the story today every shot would count. I would be the only video cameraman there for both the international and UK pools.

I gave offered the taxi driver the challenge to get me to the bus on time. He grinned and accepted with ill-disguised relish.

I also called Kelvin the media minder who was looking after this bus trip and asked if he could wait until I got there.

I relaxed a little, barring major mishaps I had a better that even chance of making it the bus.

The driver won the challenge. He somehow got me to the bus with almost five minutes to spare.

I ended up being the first to board. There were only four of us going to the airport, two photographers, Arthur Edwards and Ian Jones, one reporter, Simon from People Magazine  and me.

On the hour’s journey I was chatting to Arthur. We were constantly interrupted by phone calls he was getting from newspaper, radio, magazine and television stations news desks.

They all wanted to get interviews about the pictures. Politely but firmly he turned down each request.

At the impressive VIP terminal the red carpet had been rolled out, all two hundred meters of it.

It ran from where the car would pull up all the way through the terminal, across the tarmac, ending at the steps of the Malaysian aircraft.
The start of the long red carpet..
..Arthur and Ian taking a few shots of it
 I had been getting a stream of e-mails and calls from Georgina the ITN producer. There was a strong possibility that one of the Duke’s media team would read, on camera the statement that had been issued regarding the photographs.

I would need to be ready to do it quickly if it was going to happen. I made sure that I was.

With a very serious face the Duke got out the car and came down the red carpet towards us, The Duchess, looking equally stern by his side. On seeing a few faces she recognised she gave a brief, slight smile.

The couple and their entourage headed off into a large holding room before continuing the long red carpet walk.

We all then positioned outside on the tarmac for the walk onto the aircraft. Nick came out to check that we were not going to be going anywhere that we shouldn’t.

A moment before the Duke and Duchess came out the security heavy from the High Commission that had been throwing his weight around trying to get our satellite dish moved earlier in the day appeared and tried the same thing again saying that we were not allowed to take any pictures.

He was given short shrift.

Just at that point the group came out of the terminal doors with the pair in the middle on the red carpet.

The Duke certainly was not at all happy. If anything the stern expression he had getting out the car was stronger.

When they climbed the stairs to the aircraft neither of the pair turned around to wave they just said hello to the aircraft staff waiting at the door and got on board followed by the rest of their team.
As soon as the royal plane started to roll to take off..
the red carpet..
..was being rolled up

I now had to get all the way back to the hotel which would take another hour or so depending on traffic just to get packed to leave the hotel to come back to the airport for the start of the journey to the Solomon Islands.

The Duke and Duchess had left Malaysia a bit later than planned which meant even less time for me to gather as many of my camera cards that were circulating amongst the guys in the pool as they copied the material and get all my equipment packed away.

I might just have some time to get a something to eat.

It was then that I realised that it was now after 5 pm and with all the dashing around I had not eaten or even drunk anything since the breakfast I had taken in my room at 7 am.

In the hold of the bus there was a box of bottled water. I gratefully downed a litre in a fairly short space of time.

Once I got back to the hotel I did order room service, called Cordelia, waking her from her slumbers to get the kit she had brought back so that I could get packed.

Although I did not have a lot of time what with packing kit, getting as much charge as possible in as many of the flat batteries as possible, nipping to various rooms to collect my cards and having a shower, I did eat at a very slightly slower pace than last night.

We ended up being a little bit later than I anticipated in leaving the hotel because it took the porters nearly twenty minutes to come up to the room with a trolley for my boxes and bags.

Then there was a little confusion about the size of taxi that we needed.

Once all that was sorted we were on our way, not to the glamour of the VIP terminal that I had been to a few hours earlier with its opulent stylish décor and spacious quiet calm. No, we were headed for the functional care worn interior of the relatively small bustling Budget terminal.
Kuala Lumpur Budget airline terminal

As ever my first job on arrival was to get the dreaded Customs Carnet stamped.

The office was in the International arrivals area. When I arrived and had been escorted to the desk by a very polite and helpful policeman there was no one there.

One half of a double door beside the office opened and out popped a couple of kids leaping around to the accompaniment of the music that blasted out the door like they had.

A second later a woman in a bright traditional headscarf also burst out the door and dragged the giggling pair back through the door, the music fading as the door swung shut.

Suddenly there appeared beside me a casually dressed man with an ID tag of some description attached to his jacket.

He asked me if he could help. When I told him that I had a carnet to be dealt with he pointed to the door with the music behind it and said, “Just go through.”

I did. There was some sort of party going on with music blaring from a PA system interspersed with what sounded like a woman shouting out raffle prizes and loud cheers coming with each announcement.

A large smiling man in a blue Hawaiian type shirt came over and ushered me to a desk at the other side of the large room.

He asked me for the carnet and then efficiently went on to fill in the bits he needed to fill in and stamp it with numerous stamps.

He asked what I was doing. He then hoped that I would be able to come back and visit Malaysia again when I had more time.

He handed me the completed stamped carnet and said goodbye. As I was walking out he was walking back to where the action was.

By the time I got back to the Air Asia check in desk Cordelia had already checked in and was going through to departures having told the staff that I would be coming with a lot of boxes.

When I rolled up, the last to check in for the flight the tittering started between the check in boys and girls who were speaking in, I assume Malay, but I did hear the odd heavily accented “excess bags” spoken a few times.

The young round faced girl with a headscarf found, to her muttering amusement that she was dealing with me.

She asked how many bags I had through a barely contained giggle.

When I told her she looked at me and let the giggle come out.

“Oh many bags”, she said.

When I had put all of then on the scales beside her it amused her no end that it exceeded the maximum weight on the scales and all that the read out showed was a series of dashes.

With the help of a colleague’s scale she worked out the weight then, smiling, did some arithmetic that I could not quite comprehend on a piece of paper and said something to me about subtracting something from something.

With all the smiling and the way she was acting it was fairly clear that she was doing me a favour with the charges, but to be honest when she told me the amount eeeeee, it was in rmb, the Malay currency and I had absolutely no idea what the exchange rate was.

Then came the slightly tortuous process of the credit card transaction. She had obviously never seen an American Express card before because when I handed it to her she gave another of her little giggles and scrutinised the green card, turning it over a few times.

Then asked the young guy next to her for some help. He went through the process of putting the payment through stage by slow stage.

There was a lot of work being done on her computer keyboard and lots of clicks being made by the mouse. Each click and keystroke preceded and then followed by some discussion between the pair.

Eventually it was done and I was handed a very small printed receipt for the 3400 Ringgits  I had just paid.

She then handed me my thin flimsy boarding card telling which gate and pointing to it on the boarding card.

She then pointed to the boarding time and started to tell me but stopped abruptly and simply said, “Now! You must rush!”

I got through security quickly, there was no one else there. Heading to the gate I could see “Final Call” flashing red on the departure screens.

Bang went my dreams of grabbing a coffee to stick in my flask to drink on the flight as we taxied out.

I got to my small seat with not quite enough legroom for me to straighten my legs under the seat in front.

It was 11:30 pm and we had an eight-hour flight ahead of us. I could see little possibility of sleep.

That was the bad news. The good news was that I was in a row of three with the middle seat empty.

The voice on the PA then started talking about meals that had been ordered on-line.

I had a look in the in-flight shopping magazine and saw that passengers were supposed to pre order meals on line.

Ah, more bad news, now it was no sleep and no food.

Then there was a glimmer of good news. It was possible to buy some food.

The thought crossed my mind, I bet William and Kate did not have to buy a Malayan Pot Noodle and drink of a flimsy cardboard cup on their flight to Borneo.

Then I was hit with “Sorry we do not accept credit cards for food or beverages, only duty free goods.”

I scrambled around in my bag and managed to come up with enough cash in a currency that they would accept having being turned down when I tried what ever came to hand.

I scoffed my food and then tried to get a bit of sleep.

For a large chunk of the fairly long flight I had my headphones and eye mask on but not being able to get my legs straight prevented me from doing little more that lightly doze, even though I was knackered.

I hadn’t bothered to buy a blanket or pillow.

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