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, 7 October 2012

Police Funeral and the search for April

Wednesday 3rd October

Rippling stiffly in the dark sky above Manchester Cathedral the Greater Manchester Police flag flew at half mast.

It had taken Paul, the satellite engineer, Tom, the sound recordist, Gregg, the correspondent and me a bit longer than we thought to get into position for the live broadcasts marking the funeral of 23 year old Nicola Highes, killed recently in an unbelievable gun and grenade attack.

The confusion that had us scratching our heads was because Deansgate, one of Manchester's main roads which runs right in front of the Cathedral has been blocked off by some semi-permanent ornamental tubs of shrubs and trees.

It foxed our sat' navs and even local boy Tom's local knowledge.

Once we had managed to get to where we thought we would get the best shot, a couple of policemen about to come off night shift came over for a chat.

Slotting nicely into their prescribed roles of good cop/bad cop they spoke to us.

The one with the short, carefully sculpted beard, who found eye contact difficult played his part by doing the, "You can't park there!" thing.

Which was fine because we had no intentions of parking where we had stopped. We were however, interested to know if media vehicles had any allocated area because there would be a fair few turning up over the course of the morning to cover the actual funeral.

Our truck would be staying after our Daybreak broadcasts. It had been designated as the pool satellite feed for the inside of the cathedral transmitting the service.

It was not too surprising that at that time in the morning they did not know.

What they did know, at least bad cop knew for certain, was that we could not park where we were.

We found a perfectly acceptable place from which to transmit our pictures and sound to London in a car park across the road.

It was a bit of a cable run to where the camera needed to be so I attached the power hungry beast that is the Digi-link.

Then all we had to do was wait for the automatic satellite dish to lock on to the satellite.

The pattern of confusion for the morning continued as the dish stuttered around pointing at various parts of the sky trying to make contact with the geostationary bird in space.

Could the internal compass be getting thrown off kilter because the car park we were in is basically a large iron bridge?

Paul gave it a good rebooting a few times to kick it in to life.

Eventually we heard the Daybreak ident loop "this is Daybreak IFB for Manchester", followed by a burst of tone break through the static in our earpieces that told us the frustrating waiting was over.
Manchester Cathedral
There was still a little while to go before we went on air.

The big story of the day was the search for little April Jones the five year old girl who had gone missing in south Wales.

There were three satellite trucks with three crews and three correspondents working on that story.

We thought that we might only do one live broadcast at around 6 am .

In the event we did a broadcast in all the news bulletins.
Gregg in thoughtful mood before one of the broadcasts
After the last one the truck then had to be moved to the area designated for it to cover the service.

It had been a little after 7 am when we found out where that should be.

I then went for a short sleep followed by, what I hoped would be, a jaunt back up the M6 and M74 taking me back home.

A call from Daybreak dashed those hopes.

I would be embarking on a journey further south to be a part of tomorrow's coverage of the April Jones story.

As I prepared to leave Manchester the mood in the centre could certainly be described as somber.

Hundreds of police lined the route down Deansgate. Some were in normal uniforms, some in plain clothes and others in dress uniforms with ribbons and medals glistening on their chests.

Members of the public also took up positions to pay their respects to the young murdered officer.

I drove down the M6 and across the long winding Welsh roads for around three hours.

When I got to Machynlleth there were lots of signs asking for help in he hunt for April.

The golf club at the start of the town..
..and all over the place.. was the same in Aberystwyth..
It was in the fading light of the evening I arrived at my B&B in Aberystwyth.

Thursday 4th October

The heavy rain that had spent most of the time I was trying to sleep battering against the thin glass of the bedroom window has ceased.

The location for the morning was planned to be the Government Buildings in Aberystwyth.

The post code, which was all I had as an address was not recognised by the sat' nav'.

I opted for the nearest one which took me to part of Aberystwyth University.

Trevor the satellite engineer for the morning from ITV Wales was already at the location. He talked me in when I called him asking for directions.

It was a very uninspiring location to say the least and not of huge relevance given that any press conference to be held there would not be happening until around 11 am, unless of course there was some news, good, or as was increasingly likely, bad.

When Jonathan Swain arrived he asked Trevor to reposition the truck to the Police Station a few hundred meters along the road.

This was where prime suspect in April's abduction, Mark Bridger was being detained and questioned.

There was no panic because the first broadcast was not scheduled until 6:35 am. That was in over an hours time.
ITV and Sky News trucks outside the police station in Aberystwyth
After that the plan was for us to be on standby for the rest of the morning. The crew in Machynlleth with Katy Fawcett would be doing the bulk of the work.

We were just about rigged and ready to go when the request came for a short broadcast in the opening part of the programme at 6 am

I would need to put a bit more urgency into getting the camera, sound and talk back sorted but it should be fine.

Unfortunately automatic satellite dish deployment systems do not react to any sense of urgency.

Trevor and I were ready. Jonathan was all geared up and raring to go.

The PA counted down to the start of the programme, the titles rolled and the presenters started the introduction that should have included our contribution. 

All we could do was stare at the dish on the roof of the truck as it stuttered and jerked in short robotic stints of movement searching for the satellite.

It did find it in plenty of time for the main broadcast but too late for the short tease that we had been asked for.
Camera in position
We planned a trip to the nearby McDonalds for a coffee in the warm where we could be on standby in relative comfort.

The best we managed was a quick dash there to grab some takeaways from the drive through.

We ended up doing a lot more broadcasts than we had anticipated.
Jonathan Swain ready to broadcast
When the last broadcast into the Lorraine programme was done we were standing in the truck getting ready for a slow derig.
The trucks in the daylight
Earlier I had noticed a prison transport van drive into the gated car park at the back of the police station.

At some point today if Mark Bridger had not been charged or released police would have to apply to Magistrates for more time to question him.

Would he need to go to court for that to happen?

Probably not was the consensus. It was a formality done without him needing to appear.

It was more than likely the usual routine for the white van with the characteristic little dark square windows to turn up to take last evening's drunks, burglars and other miscreants to court.

We dismissed it from our thoughts. 

It appeared at the junction beside us a while later with a police car in front and one following it. That was certainly not routine.

I leapt out the truck and dashed to the camera, switching it on and simultaneously squeezing the record button.

I got one short shot as the mini convoy pulled out into the main road and disappeared into the distance.

Jonathan spoke to a police officer who confirmed that Mark Bridger was indeed inside and on his way to the magistrate's court.

The shot wasn't going to win me any awards but at least I had it.

There was still one more short bulletin in the programme. Trevor quickly put the tape in his VT machine and fed it to Daybreak in London.

Sky News were beside us busy doing their live broadcasts but had not noticed either the van or it's significance.

We offered them the shot.

They were unable to use it, much to their frustration because their kit was High Definition, ours was the old technology of Standard Definition.

There was not enough time for them to get the kit out to allow them to do the conversion.

What had started out being a quiet easy morning ended up in true rolling news fashion a busy and effective one.

That might have been the case from our point of view but in the scheme of things that was not important. What was important was that there was still a missing little girl and a distraught family. With each hour passing bringing no news of April it was increasingly likely that their lives would be ripped apart and horribly changed forever.

My thoughts did turn to the long journey home, but that would be for another day. The office had already extended my stay at the B&B on the wind and rain swept Aberystwyth sea front.

Me not getting home and having to change rooms was trivial in the extreme compared to the upheaval the Jones family was enduring.

Friday 5th October

During the course of the evening my assignment had been changed.

Instead of a nice short drive to the police station in Aberystwyth to work with Jonathan Swain I had to drag myself out of be almost an hour earlier to drive along to Machynlleth to do live broadcasts with Katy Fawcett the Daybreak northern correspondent.

Once again the rain had been heavy and consistent during the night. It had not been a problem for me tucked up in bed, even if it had been only for a short time.

However, for the many teams out in the countryside looking for April it had made their already hard task all the more difficult and unpleasant.

When I arrived at the leisure centre, which was being used as the main co-ordination centre in the search for little April Jones, there was already a lot of activity. It had been like that for the past few days.
Search dog cars and satellite trucks outside the leisure centre
The response from both the professionals and amateurs was incredible.

There were a lot of people who had not had a lot of sleep since the search for the five year old girl had started.
Katy checks her e-mails
We did our live broadcasts outside the front door where most of the media had been broadcasting for the last few days.
Sky News doing their broadcasts
Coffee and tea on hand throughout the night
As the light came up and we got through our broadcasts the place became progressively busier.

Sky's Jeremy Thompson doing his broadcast
The leisure centre starts to get busier..

..with teams waiting for their instructions..

..before going off to do their searching

There had been no change in the story, April had still not been found and Mark Bridger was still being held and questioned on suspicion of abducting her.

Katy and producer Matt had been out filming with some of the searchers for a little while last night and had sent the shots back to Daybreak where they had been edited into a short film that Katy linked into.

It was a stress free morning as far as we were concerned, everything working out well including a couple of live interviews with a search dog leader and the mayor of Machynlleth.

I could not begin to imagine how the Jones family were feeling as the hours and days dragged on with no news of their precious little girl.

When we had finished our planned broadcasts we waited until the end of the programme before heading off to our respective homes and families.

I bet April’s parents wished that they were just facing the prospect of a long drive rather than the spectre of a future without their daughter.