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, 26 January 2013

Dunkeld Snow

Tuesday 22nd January

Over the last few days it has been the southern part of the UK that has had great heaps of snow dumped on it.

Now it was Scotland's turn. I was dispatched to Dunkeld in Perthshire for live broadcasts with Debi Edward in the morning. She had already done Monday's ITV Evening News and News at Ten. The snow had been falling very hard during those broadcasts causing much amusement to Mary Nightingale as she introduced Debi who was almost obscured by a blizzard.

The weather in the late evening on the M9 heading north was as the forecast had predicted.

..glad I knew where I was going..
..especially on the lesser, yet still A roads..
..snow not the only hazard, the odd deer or two on the road
Destination Dunkeld..
..and its snowy bridge.
In the early morning hours the satellite truck needed a little assistance from the hotel's tractor to clear a way up the drive to allow access to the still snow covered main road. Debi and I required no such help on our Land Rover Discoverys.

The location we chose for the live broadcasts was the southern end of the main road through the town, Atholl Street just before the bridge over the river Tay.

Atholl Street, Dunkeld's main street
Dave did not have a great deal of time to get the truck set up and running because to took a little while to get up the long hotel drive.

He did get it ready with enough time before our first broadcast to allow us to get the shots of the snowy town I had shot sent to London.

My shrouded camera at the back of the satellite truck
It was not the busiest of mornings but, we did have all the news bulletins, one programme broadcast and a multitude of weather shots to get done.
Covered camera looking down the main road
Debi poised to broadcast..
.. in the truck between broadcasts
The roads were pretty slippy and a lot of non-four wheel drive were having difficulty and at least one bus could not continue on its route. It just came to a slithering halt when the driver tried to get it up a slight incline on to the main road.
Dave helping to get one of he local's cars on its way
I was not cold with all my bed weather gear on. However, the wet was starting to penetrate. So, it was with no reluctance that we accepted a cup of coffee from the lady that had come to open the chemist shop that the truck was parked beside.
The driver of the stuck bus, Dave and the lady from the chemist shop with the welcome cups of coffee
The traffic builds, as does the daylight
The camera on the bridge..
..The River Tay beneath it
This was not the only offer we got. A while later the chap from the hotel opposite came and made the same offer. A perfect example of good old proper Scottish hospitality.
The 4x4 having done its job
Roads a little clearer heading south

North Yorkshire snow

Monday 21st January
Great Ayton

Another Sunday's personal plans were ripped up when Carol from Daybreak called.

I was needed somewhere in the north east of England to carry on the snow saga.

The forecast was once again for a heavy fall in many parts of England.

The other weekend ITN had a fleet of spanking new four wheel drive vehicles hired for cameramen throughout the country. I had just soldiered on, having no major problems, with my trusty six years old 142000 mile front wheel drive Ford Galaxy.
However today, erring on the side of caution and not wanting me to get stuck, I was advised to get a hold of a four wheel drive car.

After a few unproductive calls I managed to find a place that had one available. 

I drove to the garage to pick up a gleaming black Land Rover Discovery.

Once I had decanted my camera kit, cold weather clobber and snow gear its pristine interior was hidden under jackets, boxes, bags and a shovel.

With a bit of unplanned perfect timing I approached a steer in Middlesbrough where Craig, our man from the RAC with Gregg were arriving to deal with a car that would not start properly.

I filmed Craig do his stuff on the car.

He got it running smoothly. 

Gregg and I did an interview with the drover of the car and Craig. He talked about the huge number of call outs that he had been to that were simply flat batteries caused by the low temperatures.

I followed Craig and Gregg for a while but, that first call had given us all that we really needed.
Craig's RAC patrol vehicle
 I got to my hotel on the eastern more coastal side of the country and Gregg went home a bit farther west.

The plan was simple. One of us would be best placed for the forecast dump of snow that would happen in the very early hours of the morning and continue on through our air time.

The rather nice county house hotel in which I was staying was uncharacteristically noisy with loud thumping base beating its way into the car park. Which I thought strange for a Sunday night.

As I dragged my little suitcase and battery charger into reception I was passed by little groups of happy people who said jolly hellos, one of  the group slightly drunkenly asking if I needed a hand with my luggage.

That was very nice of him I thought.

When I was checking in I found out the reason for the familiarity in the welcome and the offer of help.

It was the hotel's belated staff Christmas party.

Even when I got to my room some distance away from the jumping dance floor I could hear fairly clearly the tracks being played.

I only got about four hours sleep but, that was nothing to do with the noise, I happily blotted it put and got to sleep.

It was simply that after a late night's work I was up very early for this morning's live broadcasts.

 It appeared that our plan was coming together because when I spoke to Ian in the Daybreak office he told me that there had been hardly any snow where Gregg was so he was on his way to my side of the country. That was where the latest forecasts said the snow would hit.

I looked out to see a little bit of snow falling, but not much, and it had obviously just started.

I was telling Ian this on one phone line to the office. Gregg was also at that point telling someone else in the office the same thing.

He went to check out another location where the snow might be falling a bit harder.

It was. We now had a definitive location, Great Ayton North Yorkshire nestling at the foot of the Cleveland Hills.

When I arrived Gregg was already there. It was going to be a little while before the satellite truck would arrive. According to Craig the engineer the roads were very bad.

At one end of the High Street there is a car park right beside the village green. It was covered in a few inches of snow which even for the two wheel drive satellite truck and Charles the sound recordist's little front wheel drive hatch back was not a problem.

The first planned broadcast at 6 am was in jeopardy because of the ETA of the truck.

In the event it was not the later than desirable arrival of the truck that scuppered getting us on air for a little while.

What did the damage was a small significant list of faults in the truck's technical equipment.
ITN satellite truck in Great Ayton
The main problem was that the router which takes the sound and audio into the truck and sends it to the dish to be transmitted was not working.

As well as doing the live broadcasts the material that I had shot last night needed to be sent to London to be edited and transmitted. Gregg also had a voice over to get to London.

Craig arrived a tad frazzled after his almost four hour trek across the country and without the normal pleasantries and time to gather himself he had to get the problem sorted.

A minute or two of head scratching, working out what other minor problems and replugging of cables he had a workable solution.
Routing the audio and video through the truck's VTR machine
In an almost human fit of petulance the computer that runs the whole show decided it would play its part in making the simple task of getting us on air just that bit more difficult.

So after another restart and a few changes of cables the footage was wizzing through the ether to London.

 The snow was now falling, not too heavily, just enough to make the shots look like it was snowing.
The shops of Great Ayton coming to life
The main broadcast that we were needed for apart from the news bulletins was at twenty past six.

We were all set up, using Charles' car with its bonnet up as a prop showing the battery to explain the importance of getting the car's battery checked in the cold weather like this.

We managed to make it for that one and all the others including lots of live shots into the weather forecasts given by Laura Tobin out in another snowy location further south.

Rather unusually a few shots were required well into the Lorraine programme. This meant that we did not start packing the wet kit away until around 9:30 am
My Discovery and satellite truck
Great Ayton's High Green.. old North Yorkshire village
The result was that as quite often happens I was too late to get back to the hotel for a bit of breakfast because it finished at 9:30.

I gave the hotel a call to check that it was indeed at 9:30 the breakfast finished. 

The lady that answered the phone confirmed my fears. Then without any prompting said that my late return would not be a problem and there would be some breakfast for me.

A bit more that a half hour later I was sitting at a table set especially for me in the plush bar tucking into fruit and perfectly cooked  poached eggs.
My personal table in the bar
Snow still falling on the drive north but, roads relatively clear

Friday, 18 January 2013

X Factor audition course

Wednesday 16th January
Bishop Auckland

At 5 am Katy Fawcett, Paul and his SIS satellite truck pulled into a chilly car park of Bishop Auckland College.

Geoff the Janitor let us into the warm brightly lit performing art area with its small stage right opposite the entrance doors.

I got the kit, camera, tripod and lights in and Charles the sound recordist started to line up the camera with his sound mixer.

Paul was getting the cable in through the small window in a storeroom.

There was no great stress because our first bit of shooting would not happen until after 7 am with the first live broadcasts not until 7:45 am.

We were there to do a down the line interview with Mike Jinks the director of a course which now incorporates an element of preparing for a reality show audition.

The pressing thing for us was to find some means of getting a wee shot of caffeine to get us going. Without a fast approaching broadcasting deadline and because this was not a particularly complex job the usual adrenaline that kicks in to wake us up was not flowing.

Geoff found us a vending machine in the Hair and Beauty area that dispensed pretty good coffee. That did the job, although Charles was happy with just water for the mint tea he had brought with him.

When a few selected students arrived at around 7 am I got some shots of them doing a few snippets of performances that might be give at an X Factor audition, a bit of singing and dancing. These particular students were doing another course which does not have the audition element in it but, what they did was illustrative of what we have all seen on these X Factor type programmes.

London recorded them to be played out a bit later in conjunction with a couple of live shots of the students warming up as teases before Mike's interview.

Tutor Sue does come warm up exercises for the live shots..
..Charles gets the mic in
Sue and her students 
I set up Mike's position for the interview well in front of the stage so that I could get the performers doing some of their stuff in the background during the chat with Aled Jones and Lorraine Kelly.
Mike's interview set up with the students on the stage behind
There would also be some others joining them on the sofa to discuss the pros and cons of the course. They were Joe McElderry, an X Factor winner, Jonathan Shalit, a showbiz agent  and Arlene Phillips, a choreographer and reality show judge.

After a little film had been shown about what these reality programmes are all about it was time for Mike's little interview with Aled and Lorraine.

When his bit was done the chat continued on the sofa with Arlene being very vocal in her opposition to the very idea of any course like the one Bishop Aukland College was doing.

Mike was listening to the discussion on the programme sound in his ear. I was also listening to that and the talkback from the gallery. I could hear that they might come back to us to defend what he had heard.

They did and Mike gave a good account of himself.

Job done.

Long snow day

Monday 14th January
Abington South Lanarkshire and Danby North Yorkshire

The forecast was for a "white hell" over the next few days.

Newsdesks like nothing better than a good snow story. The pictures are good and it is easy to fill a lot of air time.

Resources from all over the country were mobilised by all the news organisations ready to cover the chaos that was about to ensue.

ITN had hired a veritable fleet of four wheel drive vehicles so that their crews could respond to the inevitable command, "(insert name of remote village) is cut off by the snow. Get there now! We need shots as soon as possible!"

Yesterday it started happening. Debi with cameraman Alan had been sent out down the M74,  the motorway that snakes out of Scotland becoming the M6 as it gets close to England, in their shiny new hired all terrain machine.

The snow fell for a few hours in tje afternoon giving them the chance to get a few shots which when seen by an excited news team in London ended up as a full report in the ITV news last night.

I had been put on standby for live broadcasts from Edinburgh.

Apart from the short window of snow fall that Debi and Alan filmed the forecast deluge of white had not quite materialised.

In Edinburgh the sprinkling of snow that had fallen had actually started to melt.

As a consequence I had the feeling that there was little chance of snow in the morning.

The arrangement was that in the morning early we would go to wherever there was snow.

When I went to bed at 10  pm after a quick check call to the Daybreak Newsdesk the roads outside were a dark black and the sky was fairly clear with a few thin clouds hiding the stars.

When I got up at just after 3 am not much had changed. The roads were black. It was possible that the clouds were a little bit thicker.

The flurry of phone calls  between  Daybreak, Debi, Alex the satellite engineer and me was considerably heavier than any snow nearby we decided to head south to the M74 motorway junction at Abington in the hope that at least some of the snow that had fallen yesterday would still be there.

Driving south along the A702 there were a few short stretches where snow was visible. There might well have been a lot on the hills over on the right of the road. However, they were hidden from view in the darkness.

When we got to the services there was enough snow around to make the point that there indeed had been a snow fall.

The only thing was that as well as being very cold it was raining fairly heavily rather than snowing.
STV's four wheel drive satellite truck
Debi kitted up for the weather...
.. and ready to broadcast..
..just time for a quick tweet
There had been a bit of snow over parts of the country, perhaps not as much as the journalists in their warm offices would have liked but, just enough to justify the facilities devoted to the story. Daybreak alone had four satellite trucks, four correspondents and four sets of camera crews assigned to the story.

At least I just about had time to dry some of the gear off before I hit the road again. As soon as we had finished our broadcasts for Daybreak Debi was heading north to Aviemore at the behest of the ITN.

I was off in the opposite direction.

I had the feeling of a wasted journey as I drove down the east of the country. It was a relatively clear night and not too cold.

Then I was subjected to a bit of rain. The deeper I got into England it gradually turned to sleet and then at last my near four hour journey was becoming justified. I got to North Yorkshire where the snow was thick on the ground and falling in big flakes.

I met Gregg in a snowy Great Ayton. Sure it was white but, nothing spectacular and all the roads were quite clear.

Up on the Moors it was a different story. 

The snow was thick and there was a covering on the road. 

In the little village of Danby Gregg and I did a few interviews with folk at the local pub, The Duke of Wellington. 

When we got back down from the moors at around 10 pm Gregg took the tape to send to London in the morning before he did a series of live broadcasts from another snowy North Yorkshire town Guisbourough.
Pretty trees..
..on a roundabout near Guisborough

Baby's ashes

Friday 11th January

Debi Edward and I met up to do another chapter in the baby's ashes story. 

For many years Edinburgh's Mortonhall Crematorium had been telling parents with babies who had died that they would get no ashes when their babies were cremated.

The parents then discovered that there were ashes which were buried in very small boxes in a grass area on the grounds of the crematorium.

Dorothy Maitland was one of those parents. Twenty six years ago her daughter had died a few days after she had been born and had been cremated at Mortonhall.

At her house Debi did an interview with her. We then went to the crematorium where we did a few shots of her at the place it is thought the baby is buried.
Debi interviewing Dorothy
The light in the cold, grey January sky  was quickly starting to fade when we arrived.

It was a bit of a double edged sword scenario. The quality of the light would give the shots a little bit of atmosphere but, it would not last long. 

I had to work quickly giving an apology in advance to Dorothy because there would be no time for polite niceties.

We got the few shots done with just enough time to get some general views of the crematorium and the gates that have become even more renowned to the people of the city having appeared on the front page of the newspapers quite often over the last few months.

Dorothy was very understanding about the rushed way we had to work given the sensitive nature of the story. Thankfully we were a respectful distance away from a funeral that was in progress when we were bustling around.

On Sunday Dorothy will head down to London to appear on the Daybreak sofa to talk about what had happened and what was being done about it prior to meeting Scottish Justice Minister Kenny McKaskill.

Debi headed to Glasgow to edit a short news report and send the rest of the material to London for a short film that would be played before Dorothy's stint on the sofa.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

First Designated Flag day in Belfast

Wednesday 9th January

This morning saw the Union Flag flying, or more accurately, hanging limy in the cold still air above the grand old building for the first time since the decision had been taken to fly it on designated days only.

Today was the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday, one of those designated days. 
Matt the satellite engineer had parked the tuck slap bang in front of the City Hall. 
Our satellite truck on the pavement outside Belfast City Hall
The Sky News edit/satellite van

At first sight that would have appeared to have been the ideal place for the shot. 
However, the important feature, the white flag pole that the Union Flag would be  hoisted up on had the background of the brightly lit, light stone of the building's dome tower. Hence it was pretty difficult to see, particularly on camera in a wide shot. 

So, to avoid the trees and put the white line of the pole against the black of the sky we set the camera and assorted paraphernalia on the corner of Donegall Square.
Our position on the corner of the square
Richard checking things on his iPad before broadcasting
Zoomed in on the empty flag pole against the black sky
The first little while was quite busy. We had a succession of broadcasts of varying lengths and another down the line interview with a guest, Eamonn Mallie the renowned journalist and commentator, which involved getting him rigged with Richard's microphone and talkback quite quickly because there was not much time between the end of Richard broadcasting and Eamonn doing his bit. 

When he arrived he had time to have a chat with Richard. He was very proud of his red scarf emblazoned with white silhouettes of horses. They represented the famous Lipitzana horses from the Spanish riding school in Austria. 
Eamonn chatting to Richard..
..then doing his broadcast
It was good that he was well used to doing these things because when a bus with the noisiest squeal from its engine stopped at traffic lights not far from us he did not hesitate in his flow.

The squealing noise was almost painful in our ears. It must have sounded horrendous on the telly. It did get a mention from Matt Barbet at the end of the interview.

One of the best things about this morning's rather chilly  location was that there was a cafe Nero just over the road from us. We made good use of it. 

As well as doing the live broadcasts I had to be ready to get the moment when the flag was hoisted up the pole. 

We had been give a number of times by various different people who said that they had inside knowledge of when it was going up. 

We were pretty sure it would not be when the sky was still black. My preferred time was around 8 am when the sky, if it was clear, would be a deep saturated blue. 

Eamonn, who said he had a man on the inside told us with certainty that the time would be 7:45 am.

Some had said around first light and others at sunrise. 

Sunrise would not have been good for us as we would be off air. 

When the sky started to lighten and the possible time nearer, we wondered if there would be any form of gathering to witness the raising of the flag. 

The only crowd building up consisted of people like me attached to satellite trucks with cameras on tripods. 

A few folk obviously on their way to work shook their heads and expressed a sense of incredulity over how much fuss there was over this flag as they passed. 

So the general feeling of pointless madness that seems to be prevalent on the mainland over this issue was also mirrored here.

With the sky getting less dark I thought it prudent to get London to start recording my output to make sure the earth shattering event would not be missed. That was about twenty minutes to eight. 

The locals might not have turned out but, in truth some of the world's media had. 

Unsurprisingly the Irish Chanel RTE was there, I was chatting to Ian the cameraman as we waited, there were also representatives from Sweden, Germany and Canada. These were just the ones that I had spoken to and knew where they came from.

Eamonn's firm prediction, rather like the Mayan apocalypse came and went and nothing happened. 

At just before 8 am we saw the dark shape of a person against the deep blue of the sky appear on the roof.

We saw the unfurling of the Union Flag. I started filming. Richard called the office to confirm that they were recording at there end as well. 

The figure then attached the flag to the cord and with no ceremony pulled it up the pole. 
There was no breeze to take hold of it so it just hung limply in the cold still air. 

It was a supreme moment of no drama. 
The flag is up but not quite flying in the still air
There was not long between the momentous happening and Richard going back on air for his final planned broadcast. We wanted to make sure that it had been recorded and would be ready for transmission during the broadcast. 

It was not until almost the second the director said "cue" that we heard that the pictures had been turned round in time. 

There was just one more live shot for me to do at the start of Lorraine's programme and then were were done. 
City Hall looks more like a winter palace in the morning light
During breakfast we got confirmation of what we hoped for and suspected would happen. It was time to go home. 

I opted to give BA the companies cash by going via Heathrow rather than be robbed again by Flybe. The flight tickets might have been a little more expensive but, the excess baggage was less than one fifth of what the greedy airline charged. 

However, after the longer two flights to Edinburgh the laugh was on be because when I got there only one of my four bags came off the baggage belt to meet me. 

All of my kit was still somewhere in the bowels of the baggage system at Heathrow.  

Another night of rioting in East Belfast

Tuesday 8th January 2013

Last night's riot report in full

We were back on the UTV rooftop only fours hours or so after we had finished editing and sending the report and other shot sequences back to London.

We were pleased and surprised to see that a camera and light was already set up for the live broadcasts. There had been some mixup where UTV were not sure if Richard would be arriving with a cameraman. So, Alan, their operations manager had come in early to set things up.

At this early stage of the new contract that UTV had with ITV Daybreak they did not want any avoidable hiccups. 

We did a quick swap of cameras to allow me to use mine. The light stayed up which meant I would not have to use the camera top light.

As well as the broadcasts with Richard there was a guest. Moira Hedron an Alliance party councillor on Belfast City Council. She was to be interviewed down the line by Matt Barbet and Ranvir Singh in the Daybreak studio in London.
Richard getting ready to broadcast
After the first broadcast where Richard linked into the report we had done last night working into the early hours of this morning we were almost apoplectic with rage. The one and a half minute report full of great shots of the action and passionate views of some of the people of east Belfast had been hacked down to just under a minute.

Sometimes we wondered if it was worth the lost sleep and danger involved in getting the shots only for the story to be chopped because it needed to fit a particular time frame rather than sustain the time because of the power of the images.

It is the full unedited edit that is at the top of the blog.

Moira arrived nice and early for her down the line interview. I cabled her up and although she said that she had never done one of these types of interviews before she made her points well.
Moira standing by for her first ever live down the line interview
Viewfinder view of background of the live shot looking over Belfast as the light came up
Richard and I got over our initial rage but, not before he had made our feelings felt.

On most occasions when we send in edited reports and they are re-edited, unless the whole sence of the story is lost we just have to accept that this is the nature of the job. However, when the story has required something extra to get, especially if the something extra is risking injury it does get us rather angry.

This anger is usually, like this morning's, fairly intense but short lived because having reports edited is all part of what happens in a news environment and has to be accepted as part of one of the stresses of the job.

After the morning on the roof Richard and I caught up on a little missed sleep before heading out to get some extra equipment for the potential night of fun and frolics in East Belfast. 

Our safety adviser suggested that we get slightly better head protection than the little bump caps we had with us. 

It was advice offered with a wealth of experience and a nod to what had happened last night.
A couple of my media colleagues had sustained injuries, albeit fairly minor. 

One of these happened right next to me although I was unaware of it at the time being busy concentrating on the action in black and white behind the perceived safety of a viewfinder. 

A bit of rubble launched at the police line by one of the masked yobs had bounced off the road and hit the cameraman next to me quite hard on the knee. 

He limped on for the rest of the nights entertainment but, ended up having to take a trip to the A&E department to get checked out.

The good news was that there was no major damage. A bit of rest should sort it out. 

The other injury was similar minus the need to head to hospital. 

There was a hope that my nice stealth black helmet and knee pads would not even come out of the packaging because we were hearing that things were looking quite quiet. 

We checked out a couple of what are called "white line" protests. These are little pop up protests where a group of a few to a few dozen will stand and block a road for an hour or so.

They are largely peaceful and short lived although there is always the possibility for them to escalate given the right conditions. 

The ones we toured were doing their job of being disruptive but were calm and controlled.

Keeping our ears open for news from all our sources we sat down for a spot of diner. 

We were almost finished when the news of things bubbling up back on the Newtownards Road where we had been last night. 

The new gear was going to get an outing after all. 

Tonight's performance was a lot more subdued and short lived than last night's. 

There were of course a few fireworks, petrol and paint bombs along with bricks and stones of all sizes thrown. 

It was my turn to take a very minor hit from a half brick that was deflected by the side of a Land Rover on to my thigh.

Another large bit of rubble hit the road just in front of me bouncing harmlessly past my left shin.

The main excitement and possibility  of injury was when, in a team effort the boys hurled salvos of golf balls.

They pinged of the Land Rovers, the road, lampposts and walls zipping around us with a potential for pain. 

It was actually quite surprising that no one was hit given the density and speed of the balls. 

A voice from somewhere around us did raise a collective giggle. 

In the midst of this volley of balls came a loud shout, "is Rory Mcilroy over there?!"

That was the finale of the night's show. 

Not long after that things eased off and the guys started filtering away having had their recreation for the evening. 

We also wandered away to find out what Daybreak in London wanted and do a little bit of editing. 

In the hotel we watched News at Ten. I was pleased to see that one of my shots from last night, which had illicited great excitement from the folk at UTV when they saw it in our report in the morning was still making the ITV flagship national news programme at night.

After a few phone calls and discussions the plan for tomorrow had been formulated and the night's material was safely in London. 

It was going to be another short shift of sleep before going live using a satellite truck which had come up from the Republic of Ireland to do our broadcasts from outside the City Hall.