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

Two narrow escapes on Thursday the 13th!

Thursday 13th September
Kuala Lumpur

After yesterday's schoolboy error I made another one as I went to bed last night at around 1 am.

However, this one had no knock on consequences other than me missing breakfast and having a slight rush to get ready.

I was in my defence pretty tired at 1 am when I set the alarm on my phone to wake me at 7 am.

When Cordelia called to check arrangements for this morning there were still four hours to go before the alarm was due to go off, but I had over slept my wake up time by three hours.

I had overlooked the fact that the phone I used for the alarm was set to BST not local time.

I was grateful for the extra sleep and glad that I had not missed any deadline to go anywhere.

There was still an hour to go before we needed to go to the "Malaysia Hospis" (for those pedants that is how it is spelt in these parts) where the Duchess would be making her first speech in a foreign country.

There we would do our live broadcasts and possibly shoot some arrival or departure shots for the pool

My first priority was to get the camera kits ready.

I took the stack of electronic toys and batteries off charge and packed the bags and boxes I needed for the live broadcasts, recordings and the BGAN as back up in case things went down.

I also had to rebuild the camera that was packed in a flight case.

I then had time for a shower etc.

Cordelia and I had been given the address of the hospice by the ever efficient and helpful Rob from Australia's Channel 7. As well as doing his camera, editing and live broadcasting he was slogging it out with the satellite crews to make sure they were in the right place at the right time with the right amount of kit and cable.

It took several taxi drivers outside the hotel a long time to decide that they did not know where the address or the hospice was.

I was getting a tad frustrated and was in the process of dialling Rob's number when he and their fixer Krishnan appeared.

Rob began to explain where the place was quickly there was a bit of head nodding and sounds affirming that they knew what he was talking about. Not all of them seemed to know. Rather worryingly one of those still with a quizzical look on his face was our driver.

It took another few words of explanation from Rob and some general chatter amongst the drivers before they were all nodding and chatting in agreement, including our man.

We arrived in plenty of time for our live broadcasts. I was looking forwards to a relaxed morning. We only had a few live broadcasts to do. There was nothing to feed from us. There was the hope that the arrival pictures at the airport would be getting sent out in time for our programme giving Cordelia some pictures to talk over.

Police being briefed outside the hospice in the road.. 
..and staff inside in the car park
Both kits were with me. I put my tripod and camera in one of the pens so that if I got a chance I'd be able to get arrival and departure shots if they happened when were not broadcasting.
Some catering for the media
The satellite truck and dish
Things were looking in good shape. The satellite guys, looking very sharp and efficient in their crisp white shirts with the logo of the satellite company on them showed me the down link from the satellite to indicate things were all up and working when I asked how things were going.

They had also just finished a technical check with the downlink station in LA.

The Malaysian satellite crew
Doug the technical director in the studio called to say the a fault had been seen during the test and that our satellite booking time had been brought forward to facilitate finding the fault quickly before we went on air with the Daybreak programme.

When I went back to see what the guys were up to I was not filled with the confidence that the uniforms and chilled, yet assured attitude conveyed.

I asked to see my camera output again and hear the audio. The screens were all blue and speakers silent. They started pulling out cables and pushing the few buttons that there were to push on the little back of three small lcd monitor screens.

It took them a while but eventually I was happy that I could see and hear my camera output. I then turned to getting the talkback organised.

6 am in the UK was getting close. I could hear Erron, the director ask if he had Malaysia yet. I could hear Bill, one of the technical directors in the background saying that they didn't and it was not looking like it would be there for the start of the programme.

Bill then called to let me know what was going on. There appeared to be some encoding problem with the dish because a few organisations were trying to downlink the signal but could not see it.

The only downlink that was receiving it was our truck.

Talking to mater control one of the engineers tries to sort the encoding problem 
We missed the first couple of live broadcasts but, got on air later on. 
Cordelia checks her e-mails and Twitter etc whist waiting for the problem to be solved
An Australian reporter arrives dragging some kit
Cordelia getting ready for the first broadcast that we actually did
It ended up being a very busy morning, not just with Daybreak but, because there were not enough cameramen around to do what was needing to be done I helped Rob out by doing one of the Ch 7 live broadcasts.

Rob had to be inside recording the Duchess's speech for the international pool.

Rob setting up the talk back for the Ch 7 broadcast
Adrian Brown, Ch 7 ready to go in front of my camera
I also did a bit of reflector holding on one of the later broadcasts when the NBC cameraman stepped in to do that live.
The ITV documentary crew at work
As a back up I shot the departure. The main coverage was being done by ITN's Mark in the other pen on the opposite side. If for what ever reason the couple were masked from his camera there was an alternative angle.
A Malaysian reporter recording a piece to camera
What should have been an easy morning had once again become a hectic one.

In the end there had been two problems with the satellite signal. The encoding was one which was easily sorted. The other one was to do with the fibre optic cable that was bring the signal into London all the way from LA via New York and across the bottom of he atlantic.

Some maintenance was being done to some part of the cable network that no one knew about.

Anyway it was time to head back to the hotel in the media bus with all the rest of the guys.

I was not going back for some nice down time, oh no.

There was just time, ten minutes for me to gulp down a room service meal whilst I put on my shirt, tie and jacket to go back out on the big event of the evening.

It was the official dinner of the tour. A lot of people were calling it a State Dinner. In strict terms it was not. A State Dinner is when, and only when it is one head of state entertaining another head of state. 

So it was the Official Dinner.

The traffic in KL is renowned fro being dreadful, particularity at the time of evening when we were leaving.

To enable us to get to the Istana Negera, the very impressive new palace we were provided with a police motorcycle outrider.

His job was to weave us through the tangled mess that is the KL rush hour which lasts almost all day.

There were only five of us but we were in one of the large media coaches.

The police outrider leading our bus..
..making the traffic stop to let us through..
..even getting off his bike to make it happen
Not only did the policeman do a fantastic job parting the tightly packed traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea to make space for us to get through, the bus drive did a great job of manoeuvring around some of the gaps and lanes that looked to small for a big coach to negotiate.

In double quick time we arrived at the palace.

The man himself, not even sweating after the drive
In some ways the palace resembled a cross between a very plush middle eastern hotel and grand over the top shopping mall only bigger and much more over the top.
The trades mens entrance to the palace
The stairs for the guests
We were given a quick briefing about what was going to happen and where it would take place.

There were two cameramen there, me and Rob form Ch 7 and two photographers Mark and Ian, two guys very well versed on royal tours.

The royal entrance hall
The red carpet for the arrival
We were further split into two groups of two. I was with Ian and we would do the Duke and Duchess meeting the Malaysian Prime Minister and the King and Queen of the country.

Then we would go to the start of the grand procession into the huge banqueting hall where hundreds of guests were waiting and a large traditional dance would be done before the meal began.

The main reception room
Rob and Mark would do the arrival into the palace and the formal photograph along with a quick look at the gifts that were being exchanged.

They would then join us for the procession but, might not get to it until it was underway.

One of the dancers in the procession
We were then taken to our starting positions. Ian and I were with a few of the local media in a huge room with a few ornate chairs and sofas around the outer area far enough away from the walls to allow people to walk behind them.
The room where the meeting would take place
We sorted out our places. We wanted to get the full length shot as William and Katherine walked in through the door and pan with then as they went to the back of the room to wait for the Prime Minister, King and Queen.

A sudden strobing of light from several flash guns going off at one told us that they were going to be with us soon.

During the briefing from the Malaysian Palace official we had been told that we would be in the room for around five minutes or so.

That seemed like a very long tome to me. Ian Jones who spends his life doing these royal jobs also though that was being a little generous and we would be lucky to get thirty seconds, like what had happened in Singapore.

He said that at Buckingham Palace for photo calls with the Queen and Prince Philip he often only get the chance to burst off six or seven frames before Prince Philip has had enough and starts to wander off.

In they came and we started work. It soon became clear that the briefing was correct we were going to have a little time to get a fair few shots of the Duke and Duchess talking to some VIPs who were not any of the big VIPs

The Duchess chatting to one of the guests..
..showing her charming smile
It was great for me because I had the time to get lots of nice shots of the detail on the dress that the Duchess was wearing, close ups of hands and the hand bag and do some camera moves.

I was just zooming in on a particular part of the dress with my finger on the record button and a shot in mind when there was activity over my right shoulder. I took my eye out the eyepiece and glanced round.

It was the King and Queen about to enter. I swung the camera round, pressed the button and framed them up as they came into the room. My eye was not tightly on the viewfinder eyepiece but I could see the framing perfectly.

As the King a small, but sprightly man made his way over to the Duke I eased the zoom in the get the bow that he gave the King as they shook hands. After the short words of greeting the King then moved over towards the duchess. I gently eased the lens to a wider angle to prepare for a full length shot of the curtsy the Duchess would hopefully give the king.

The flashes came from the few stills cameras that were there. The framing was great on the curtsy and the volley of flashes made the gold in the dress sparkle. Lovely I thought.

I then concentrated on the Queen talking to the Duchess and put my eye more firmly on to the eyepiece.

My Adam's apple jumped along with my heart. Where was the red light at the top of the viewfinder. I quickly fumbled at with my left index finger on the front of the camera and dabbed the record button. 

Immediately the red light came on.

My heart went straight from its lively jump to sinking to the depths. I had that horrible gut wrenching sick feeling.

"What was the main purpose of tonight?" a harsh voice inside me said.

The answer was simple, "to meet the King and Queen."

The voice was came again, "What is the one shot you possibly do not have!?"

Whilst I was thinking this and other depressing things I was trying to get more shots of the Duke and King chatting and the Duchess chatting to the Queen all the time knowing that I may have committed one of the biggest mistakes of my career.

After a very short time we were ushered out of the room and lead to the point where we would shoot the start of the procession.

Waiting for the procession to begin

..the royals would come out the big doors at the end 
Our little band of cameramen and photographers set up. There was obviously going to be a little hiatus before the grand doors at the end of roof flanked by Malay dancers to allow the King to lead the Duke and Duchess to dinner.

Without really wanting to because I thought that I already knew the answer I pressed the button on side of the camera to reveal the thumbnails of the shots that I had taken.

I saw the shot before the King and Queen came in and the shot after they were in when the Duchess was talking to the queen.

There it was, or should I say wasn't. There was no way to talk my way out of this I just did not have the vital shot. All the other stuff might be lovely and be great for the documentary makers and archives of the Duchess and her dresses but the bottom line was that I had screwed up the story of the day.

I was in a very dark place when when the big doors opened and the first lot of dignitaries did the long walk to the banqueting hall.

The doors were closed and a few moments later opened again. This time it was the King and Queen with the Duke and Duchess behind in the formal group.

It was a splendid sight and sound but at that particular moment it was lost on me. I tried as hard as I could to concentrate on what I was doing, one mistake for the night was enough. Just a pity it had to be such a big one.

I did get a couple of shots that might be of interest. I got the shot of the Duchess asking for water and some bread. There has been a lot of speculation about her diet and whether or not she might be pregnant. 

She been seen only drinking water at all the other functions.

We were allowed to shoot the short little dance that went on before the dinner proper was to start.

As is always the case we were ushered out before fork or knife went into a royal hand.

That was it the job was over. 

There was one chance that I might be able to get the footage from one of the other few cameramen that had been in the room. I rather doubted it because they were all Malaysian and from what I saw when I glanced around in the room before we started shooting none of the cameras were the same format as mine.

As we waited to be taken back to the hotel I was rehearsing my apology speech to the producers on the pool. I spotted a camera that had a P2 symbol on it.

I went over to the young man wearing a traditional black hat who was standing beside it and asked if he had been in the room when the King met the Duke.

He spoke no English. None of the guys around him were fluent but they understood enough after a few repetitions to grasp what I was asking.

He said yes.

There was hope yet.

Did he shoot the actual meeting of the King and the Duke and Duchess.

He said yes to that too.

Things were getting slightly better.

I asked if he would mind if I had a look at the shots

He said it was fine and brought up the thumbnail screen and showed me the shots.

They were there, both the bow and the curtsy. It might not have been full length but it was there.

Mentally crossing my fingers I asked if it was possible for him to let me get a copy of the shots.

My joy was unbounded when he started to take the P2 card out of the camera and handed it to me to make the copy.

My saviour 
I might not have shot it but at least I was going back with the material and at the end of the day in the news game that is what counts.
Rob starting to cut
In heavy rain but with a much lighter heart I boarded the bus with the other guys to head for the hotel.
The rain on the way back to the hotel
On the way back Rob started editing his material. 

I would give the pool the card to copy and send the rushes to ITN when I got back to the hotel.

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