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.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Spanish wild fires

Saturday 1st September

Fires had been raging over various parts of Spain fanned by strong Saharan winds blowing from North Africa. Yesterday Chief Correspondent Richard Gaisford, senior producer Ravi Vadgama and I were put on standby to head out and cover the story.

By the late afternoon we had confirmation that we would be going.

On the budget airline Jet 2, along with a host of mainly silver haired holiday makers I flew out from Edinburgh on a direct flight to Malaga on the Costa del Sol.

We would be preparing reports to run on Monday morning along with live broadcasts into Daybreak.

Until the call to head to Spain since coming back from the European football in Ukraine and a month or so on holiday the only biggish story that I had been on was Prince Philip being taken to hospital in Aberdeen from the Royal family’s holiday in Balmoral.

I had spent a few days with London based correspondent, Cordelia Kretzschmar and Daybreak’s Scotland correspondent, Debi Edward doing live broadcasts from the hospital in all weathers.
Satellite trucks in the hospital car park

Other crews at work
BBC's James Cook broadcasting to the nation.
Brollies from both ends of the UK 
Sound recordist Ian keeps himself and his sound mixer dry
This morning it looked like we would be doing the big story on the day that the programme would be having another little relaunch.

It would be coming from a new studio with new presenters. Most of the in vision staff that had been brought in when Daybreak launched almost exactly two years ago had now gone.

Lorraine Kelly and Aled Jones would now be the main presenters.

The flight was uneventful, even marginally enjoyable because I had the luxury of an exit seat with lots of legroom.

As usual Malaga airport was bustling even though it was getting to the end of the holiday season. The schools in Scotland were already back to work and the start of nest week would see the English contingent getting back to their desks.

Richard had already got our hire car sorted. So, it was with much relief that I bypassed the long queues at the car rental desks on my way to meet him in the car park, engine running.

In the dusk we set the sat nav up with the address of our hotel and sped along the inland motorway along the coast to Guadelmina.

We began to be aware of that sooty, charred smell that a fire leaves well before we saw points along the route where there was obvious damage to the trees and brush. The fire had come right up to the edge of the motorway, which had been closed during the worst of the blazes.

The good news for us was that we did not need to start shooting straight away like we often do.

When we got to the hotel we were able to head out to a restaurant just around the corner for an acceptable if somewhat overpriced meal.

Sunday 2nd September
Costa del Sol

A welcome change greeted me when I pulled back the bedroom curtains. The sky was blue with not many fluffy clouds for the sun to hide behind.

Richard and I enjoyed an early breakfast on the virtually empty dinning terrace.  The rest of the folk in the hotel were on holiday and were enjoying the luxury of still being tucked up in bed.

In a similarly quiet McDonald’s car park not far from the hotel we met Steve Gilmore, the affable Glaswegian in charge of the Talk Europe radio station based on the Costa del Sol.

He would be our guide and fixer, taking us to the worst affected areas and hopefully introducing us to some of his listeners who had lost homes in the fires.

The good news was that the fires were now largely either out or under control. That meant that virtually all the access roads to where the fires had some the most damage were now open.

The down side to that for us was that the story was now not so important and there was much less chance, if any at all that I would be able to get shots of any flames.

We started to hear of other stories that were breaking that would have a huge bearing on where we would fit in the programme.

There was a little girl who had been found onboard a boat that had not been returned to the hire company with no sign of her parents.  Tragic news came from Majorca where a twenty eight years old father had been killed as he unsuccessfully tried to rescue his seven years old son from the sea and something about a couple who had shot a burglar.

Following Steve’s directions we set off up the winding roads up into the hills away from the coast.

It was not long until the smell of recent burning filled the air. Trees were blackened, road signs had been victims of the fierce the heat, their grey ghostly advertising images still vaguely visible through the black. Thick partially melted power lines sagged and lay along the ground that was covered in a layer of soft black and grey ash giving the whole vista an unworldly and eerie appearance.

We arrived at La Mairena a modern village about a half our drive in to the hills. It was a ghost town. There was no one around. We did find one lady who had come back to her home that had been untouched by the fires.
Richard and Steve chat to the lucky lady
Although a large proportion of the countryside had been damaged there were little overt signs of damage to any of the evacuated properties. There were some bits of ash and small pieces of fire scarred debris dotted about over the empty streets.

There was one couple in particular that we were looking for. It was reported that Roger and Nancy Holdsworth’s thatched cottage had been totally destroyed and that they had lost everything.

Given it was a thatched roof cottage we were prepared for a long drive further into the countryside after we had looked around the village.

We drove around for a while still not seeing anyone or any damage worth getting the camera out for. We then saw a “property maintenance” white van.

“The folk in there might know where there is good damage to be seen. In all probability they could be going to repair some of it.”, we thought.

“Let’s follow it.”, was our collective idea.

Richard swung our Audi estate car round in a swift U-turn and we got behind it as is went up a steep hill.
Following the van
After another few turns the van pulled into a steep driveway.

The woman got out and was not phased at all at being suddenly accosted by three men jumping out of a dark car behind her.

She did not know of any real damage around where we were but did know where the Holdsworth’s burnt out dream home was.

Contrary to what we thought it was actually in the middle of an apartment complex down in the village.

Sadly she did know the current whereabouts of the unfortunate couple.

As Steve and Richard continued to chat to her I looked down from the elevated driveway over to a row of white walls of what looked like garages to terraced apartments.

I saw a whisp or two of smoke waft up on the gentle breeze from behind on of the apartments.

Then directly in front of me I saw them, the burnt out remains of two cars. The make and models were unrecognisable.

I picked up my camera. At last it was something to shoot. I went down the drive and walked towards the black gate that had the cars behind it when a large chap on a bright blue shirt came strolling along from the end of the road with a burly boxer dog straining slightly at the leash.

When he got closer to me he cheerfully said,” Want to see some burnt out cars?”

We had found the owner of the cars that had been wrecked by the fire which by some quirk of nature had jumped over the house leaving it only slightly smoke damaged on its way to the cars.
The cars were well damaged
..but not the bikes only a few feet away
 I did some filming with Mark putting out some little fires that were still burning near the house and an interview with him beside the light grey skeletons of the cars, a Fiesta that was less than a year old and a slightly older Jeep Cherokee, neither of which were insured fully comp.

We were surprised that he was not as upset as either of us would have been with an unrecoverable loss like that.

He confirmed the location of the Holdsworth’s cottage but also said that he had no clue as to where they might be.
Richard, Steve and Mark
Burnt trees all around Mark's terraced house
The cat escaped the flames too
We climbed up the narrow path and steps up the where we thought the cottage should be.

Sure enough, perched above a pool that had very little water in it but a lot of black ash and was surrounded by blackened frames of sun shades that had lost the fabric to the fire there it was.

Good fortune was being kind to us.

At the same time as we came from the path a couple in their sixties arrived from another direction.

It was semi retired dentist and part time businessman Roger and his wife Nancy.

She instantly recognised Steve when he introduced himself.  His distinctive Glaswegian accent has earned him the nickname of “the voice” amongst the British expat community that tune in to his radio programmes.

She did say however, that she had pictured him to look a bit like the actor that had played Tony, the nasty factory owner in Coronation Street a while back.

Like Mark they were in surprisingly good humour given that they had lost their whole house and the vast majority of its fittings and contents, which included their dream kitchen which they had only just completed.
It was their ideal home..
..with their dream kitchen
Unlike Mark, them being upbeat was not quite as surprising because they had made sure that they were well insured for all eventualities.
Richard gets details from Roger in front of what remains of his home
It was just approaching lunch time and we had plenty of material in the can for a report. That made Richard and I very happy, the pressure was off.

We had been told that there were other areas and people that had been badly affected. We were duty bound to check them out along with the various placed that had been set up as evacuation centres.

There was one pressing thing that Richard needed before we carried on. He was not able to get on to the internet easily. So we dropped Steve off at his home and went to get to a phone shop and get a mobile internet  device.

I had been at this particular shopping centre before. The last time, a few years ago the car was broken into and all my expensive electronic toys and cameras got nicked.
La Canada shopping centre
We got one, which Richard set up over lunch. It was not as easy to do as we had thought.

When we bought it and the chap who sold it said that buying it did not include setting it up we were surprised. Now it made sense.
Richard's working lunch, setting up the internet device
When that was done and lunch was eaten we set out.

We drove around for the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening checking the other places out and doing a couple of interviews. There was nothing better than we had seen earlier.
How indiscriminate wild fires can be
Like Richard and I Ravi had been scrambled to the story.

Unfortunately for him he was on holiday in France.

He had a bit of long and annoying journey to get to us via Barcelona after long drives through France to drop his family off and getting to an airport that flew to Spain.

Doubly unfortunately for him was that the story was now not as big as at first thought and by the time he got to us we would have finished the report.

He would have some work to do in the morning on the live broadcasts that were planned. This also added to his misfortune because he would not get a great deal of sleep.

Monday 2nd September
La Mairena Costa Del Sol

I met Ravi in the car park of the hotel at 4:30 local time, 3:30 UK time. He had managed a little bit of sleep.

We drove to Mark’s house hoping to meet the satellite truck there nice and early so that we could get set up and do some tests with the new Daybreak studio in London.

It was the launch morning of the new programme so there was a bit of excitement and stress. The big bossed wanted to make sure that there were no problems that could be avoided.

Hence all of us on location had been instructed to arrive on location at least an hour earlier than we normally would to get ready.

There was a doubling of many of guys in London so that of anything did crop up there would be the capacity to deal with it.

Unfortunately Jose the satellite truck driver had gone to the wrong town. Addresses in Spain are often confusing and postcodes are of little use because they cover such large areas.

He did get to us in plenty of time for the programme but not nearly as early as had been requested.

When he did arrive things were quickly rigged and after a brief chat with Doug and Dave, the two technical directors that were in this morning we were all happy that technically things were fine.
Jose doing his stuff in the truck
The annoying thing for us was that because of the shift in news over the last couple of days we would only do one live broadcast and a couple of short shots.
Sunrise over the Costa Del Sol
Jose's truck beside a lucky unburnt tree
We were ready to go having rehearsed what Richard would say and the choreography of how we would do it.

Normally what the reporters hear in their ears is the sound of the programme minus any sound from themselves.

If they hear their own voice coming back through their earpiece after a bit of a delay caused by the signal travelling to the satellite, down to the studio and then being rebroadcast on the air it can make all but the very practiced sound, to say the least a little bit drunk.

If a director or producer wants to talk to them to give them instructions or cues there is a key that they can press which allows them to do so.

There is also open talk back, which is what the crew in the studio listens to and what I also listen to if possible. This is mainly the director and PA talking to the various people with instructions and timings. On this talk back all the programme sound is heard via the speakers in the gallery.

For some reason this morning Richard and the other reporters were getting a mixture of both types of talk back which was causing annoyance and could have led to some inebriated sounding live broadcasts.

Thankfully they all coped and there was no slurring or stuttering on air.

Once we had done our little bit we waited around on standby just in case any of the other broadcasts went down and we could fill in.

The new programme sounded pretty good. We would be interested to seen what it looked like and how it was received.

The next little adventure for us was going to be getting back home.

As far as we could see there were pretty much no flights leaving the Costa Del Sol for the UK with vacant seats for the next couple of days.

This was because it was the final days of the English schools summer holidays.

After a lot of work by the travel people in London and probably decisions taken at the highest level about costs we were booked on flights from Malaga to London via Madrid and then me on to Edinburgh.

The high level decision was because the only seats that were available were business class ones and they are not cheap.

At least we would be travelling back in some style.

This also gave us the opportunity to mix, in the loosest possible sense with some VIPs in the lounge at Madrid and on the flight.

Three old Tory Grandees, former Prime Minister, John Major with his wife Norma, the ex Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Lang and in a wheel chair a somewhat frail ex Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, were in the lounge enjoying the facilities.

On crutches with a very swollen foot the Elephant man himself, John Hurt hobbled to his seat in front of Ravi and me accompanied by another elderly gentleman.

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