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.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Dodgy talkback in Isle of Whithorn

Monday 25th March
Isle of Whithorn

Last night's plan to get comfortable in front of the TV with a glass of wine dissolved, when the call came from Daybreak.

If an engineer could be found to operate the ITV Tyne Tees Border satellite truck I would need to go into the depths of Dumfries and Galloway where the heavy wet snow had brought down many power lines leaving thousands of homes without power.

One of the worst effected was the remote village Isle of Whithorn.

Not that long after the initial call Susanna from the office called to say a volunteer had been found. We were go for live broadcasts in the morning.

So, I set off, suitably equipped for snow, to an hotel that had been organised for me in Newton Stewart.

Correspondent Nick Dixon was on his way from London.

At around ten pm I got to the hotel which was full of electricity workers drafted in to repair the damage caused by the snow. The journey had been surprisingly easy and free of snow.

I managed a few hours sleep. A bit later than me Nick arrived in the rather flash BMW hire car he had been given because there were no 4x4s available at the airport.

I met him at four fifteen in the small reception area of the hotel for the forty minute drive to Isle of Whithorn.

The snow had already started to disappear from the roads and fields. However, for stretches we drove along a road flanked by high walls of snow made by the ploughs and blowers when they had been working full out to keep the routes open.

Dave had the truck all set up when we pulled into the Saint Ninian's Hall car park and was starting to get the camera cable rigged.
The ITV Tyne Tees Border news truck.. the community hall car park
This was the emergency centre for the local community.
Inside the hall
The first thing that Nick and I were aware of was that all the street lights were on, as were the lights in the hall and there was no snow at all.

We had come to cover the story of a place with no power.

The next thing that struck us when we went into the hall was that there was no-one there and the supplies of food that had obviously been brought in were unopened.
The powerful space heater that was never used
Kenny, one of the community leaders was in the hall. He told us that the power had been restored yesterday early evening. It was from a generator, not the main but, at least the locals had heat and light.

They had spent a total of sixty hours without either.
The room at the back of the hall with facilities for making hot drinks and food
On the face of it we appeared not to have a story.

Nick called the office to let them know.

They wanted us still to do a couple of live broadcasts to tie in with Richard Gaisford and a crew in Northern Ireland where the conditions were still pretty bad.

So, we did a few live shots and the two main broadcasts asked for.
Photograph that I tweeted of the sunrise over the village
We did have one very annoying problem. The mobile phone signal in the area was very bad indeed, almost non-existent.

The only phone that had any sort of signal was the one on the satellite truck and we needed that for the talkback. There was a land line that worked but, we did not have the kit to allow it to be used for the talkback source.

The frustrating thing was that the quality of the sound from the talkback was so bad that it was virtually just white noise.

We could just about make out the odd word but were far from being able to hear anything resembling a conversation.

Nick had to figure out what was being said over talkback. Then repeat it back and ask if he was correct by getting a single word response.

It must have been equally, if not more frustrating for the guys at the other end in the gallery, because they could see and hear us perfectly. It would have been difficult for them to get their head around the fact that we could only hear what was in essence a fuzzy noise.

The viewers would have been totally unaware of that because Nick managed to pick up the cues. We got away with it again.
Walls of cleared snow still there on the drive back
The snow might not have been too much of a hazard but, sheep can always be one

Live Budget reaction with Daisy McAndrew and a Ken Bruce lookalike

Thursday 21st March

The budget is an event that happens every year, the date is known about, the format is pretty fixed and these days, thanks to various intended and unintended leaks most of the content is known about before the Chancellor stands up.

However, it appears that how it should be covered does come as somewhat of a surprise.

Late on yesterday afternoon, the day of the budget I was dispatched post haste to Harrogate and then on to Wigan.

The budget pre-filming that I had been taken off of on Sunday had been done by another cameraman and shown on Daybreak yesterday morning. Sam, a married lady with two kids from Wigan and Lisa a single mum with two kids had given their thoughts on what they would like to see in the budget.

It transpired that it might be a good idea to get their reaction to what was actually said by the Chancellor.

So, I did my five and a bit hours drive south from Edinburgh to Harrogate, meeting Rav the producer who had done a similar drive north form London at around eight thirty in the evening.

I set up the lights and we did a quick interview with Lisa.
Rav interviewing Lisa
Rav went on to get to a hotel near Leeds and I went across to Wigan to my hotel near Haydock race course which I got to at around midnight .

At four thirty this morning I drove the short distance to Sam's house where we would do the live broadcast from.

As soon as I arrived and Peter the satellite engineer had his big HD dish up and working we sent Lisa's interview from last night down to Daybreak.
Peter's truck with its big dish
When Fred arrived he did a little interview with Sam which was recorded down at Daybreak in London.
Fred doing the interview
A short while later Daisy McAndrew arrived.
Daisy showing Fred the front of the Mail with it's composite shot of George Osborne looking like Maggie Thatcher
I set up Sam and Keiran's little dinning room for live interviews that Daisy would do at around ten past seven.

The plan was that she would talk to Sam, a local businessman and Angela one of Sam's neighbours who is retired.

The local businessman, a butcher arrived as I was busy getting my little little lights set up, Martin the sound recordist, who bears a striking resemblance to Radio 2's Ken Bruce, was fiddling with microphones, Peter was dashing about distributing talkback units and Fred was chatting to Daisy about the plan for the morning.

He sat down on the sofa looking a little unnerved by all the bustling activity. After a short time of listening to what was going on he said that he had been told by someone who had called him yesterday that he would be finished by six thirty.

When Fred confirmed that the one and only planned broadcast was not going to be until after seven he said that he had to go.

We rather thought that he had developed a bit of stage fright.

Given that the broadcast was probably going to be less than two minutes, now being left with just the two interviewees would be fine.

However, when Fred called London to let them know that one of our contributors had bottled out he was asked if he could rustle up a substitute.

One of the things in the budget was a reduction in the price of a pint of beer by one penny.

Sam's husband, Kieran works in a brewery so he was the ideal and in fact the only candidate.
Martin gets Kieran mic'd up
He was prepared, if not exactly ecstatic, to do it.

We got everything set up and prepared for the cue.
Taking notes before the live broadcast
Just before we went live a voice from London in our ears told Daisy that she had one minute and twenty seconds for the whole broadcast.

It was going to take some doing to get an introduction done and interview three people in the time of one twenty.

We got the cue from the gallery and off Daisy went. She had no sooner finished her short intro' and started the first interview when the call came over talkback to wrap up.

There was a slight edge of panic to the disembodied voice. George Osborne had just arrived and was now sitting on the sofa in the Daybreak studio. Perhaps they though that he might run away if Lorraine and Aled did not start talking to him soon.

She carried on talking, getting to Angela and Kieran as quickly as possible.

The now slightly more high pitched voice burst into our ears again, "When you can!"

Daisy handed back to the studio.

The interviews had run over the allotted time but only by a few seconds.

We had done our one and only broadcast of the morning. The job was done.

Angela had to head out. Sam had to get the kids to nursery. Keiran, who had just come home from his night shift in the brewery was keen to get to bed.

We de-rigged, said our thank yous and got out the house.

Daisy needed to get to the station to get a train back to London for an appointment that she did not want to miss.

So, the rest of us looked forward to a nice early breakfast back at the hotel.

Unfortunately for us the powers that be in London would not let us leave the location until the end of the programme in case there was something to report on from the Wigan area.

Peter's truck might be big but, unlike the smaller trucks it is full of racks of equipment with no space for a bit of shelter.

So for the next hour or so we enjoyed the chilly morning sun on the streets of Wigan before daisy was allowed to get away to catch her train and we eventually got back to the hotel for a bite of breakfast. At least it had not rained or snowed on us.
Martin the Ken Bruce doppelgänger

More snow and wind!

Tuesday 19th March

Yesterday, Sunday and Friday had been some of those classic days. 

On Friday I had a call to tell me that Monday's job would be in Liverpool and then jaunting across to Harrogate. It was something to do with the up and coming budget.

Later on Friday the job kind of reversed, although still on the same subject, the budget. I would drive down to Harrogate first and then after having done the job there, head west to St Helen's for another part of the job.

On Sunday that all changed.

The job was changed to a location in Sunderland where I would shoot a story about a woman who had been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease before she was thirty years old with correspondent Nick Dixon.

Then on Tuesday morning we would do some live broadcasts with her into Daybreak.

So, on Monday morning I got up and got on my way down the A1. I was in no rush, taking it nice and easy, as I was not due to meet Nick in Sunderland until mid afternoon.

The phone rang.

It was Carol from the Daybreak office.

As soon as she started to speak I knew from the already apologetic tone of her voice and her opening question that things were about to change yet again.

"Are you on your way to Sunderland?"

"Yes.", I replied pretty sure I knew what was coming next.

"Have you gone far?"

Now I was sure that I knew what was about to happen and I was not wrong.

After pulling over and a period of about an hour of being neither in the northeast of England nor in Edinburgh whilst the logistical plans were worked out in London I was instructed to head back north.

I turned the car around and came home.

The forecast was for snow in the morning and I would be needed to man live broadcasts from the outside camera position at STV in Edinburgh with Scotland correspondent Debi Edward.

This unseasonal surprise snow was making its heavy mark in my little estate, which nestles at the bottom of the Pentland hills, when I left in the early hours of this morning to drive the relatively short distance to the STV office in Edinburgh.
4 am snow in Edinburgh's outskirts
By the time I had driven a few hundred meters up to the main road the wet snow had turned to an unpleasant mixture of sleet and rain. The roads were just wet. Any residue of falling snow was quickly assimilated by the laying water.

There was a bit of a breeze blowing at ground level making the rain swirl around me as I unloaded my kit.

Alex, STV's engineer who was suffering from a bit of cold helped me get the camera, lights, run bag and tripod up to the offices of Todds Murray. They are a company of solicitors that actually own the building that STV lease their office from.

One of the lawyers smart conference rooms has a balcony that gives good views of Edinburgh. The backdrop is not nearly as good as it was from the old office that STV had in George Street in the centre of the city but it is acceptable.

Only a few floors up had made all the difference to the speed and ferocity of the wind. Also what was falling as rain at ground level was in the transition from snow at this higher level.

I set the camera up where it would get most shelter from the almost horizontally blasting mixture of snow, sleet and rain.

Alex got the cables connected and saved me the job of checking that all the vision and audio was working.

Alex rigging the cables in the horizontal snow.
I set the lights up inside the massive glass window that looked out on to the balcony to light the area where Debi would stand to prevent them getting launched into the turbulent sky.

We only did a few short broadcasts, which was enough.

The sleet, snow, wind, rain combination was doing a great job of saving Debi a huge amount on exfoliating products.

Don't know how Debi's managing to smile whilst being battered by the weather
The only real excitement of the morning was when the elements of both the lights blew, one very noisily and spectacularly. It was only the safety glass that prevented us being showered with tiny bits of very hot glass and quartz. 

Helping Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway team

Saturday 16th March

Out of the blue late yesterday afternoon as my wife and I were having a celebratory drink because she had just been offered the job of Head Teacher of Edinburgh's flagship positive action school I got a call from Ant and Dec's Saturday Takeaway team.

Graham, the production manager asked if I could help them out with a bit of directing and coordinating.

There is a part in the programme where one of the studio audience members wins all the products seen in the commercial breaks.

When the audience come into the studio each one has their photograph taken.

These photographs are then put on a loop and shown on a large electronic billboard mounted on a van which is driven around a city.

Towards the end of the programme one of the photographs is randomly selected to win the prizes. It is called "Win The Ads".

So within the madness of the programme there are a couple of shots of the van. The first one shows the van moving past or near an iconic image in the city. The second is van standing statically when the winner is revealed on the screen.

Normally these shots are done live. However, this week for logistical and technical reasons they could not be done live. They would though, need to be done as near to the broadcast times of the slots as possible.

That’s where I came in. It would be my job to get the shots done and then whisk the tape to ITV Tyne Tees in Gateshead to get them down the line to the gallery in the South Bank in London.

The actual job would only take two or three hours.

So, this afternoon I met Lee the cameraman and the guys that drive the billboard van, Ian and Aiden.
The van with the screen on the Quayside..
..checking that the screen is working

I had a plan. Once Ian had received and loaded up the photographs we would get shots of the van going over the Tyne Bridge. It is by far the most iconic structure that says Newcastle.

Then on the Quayside with the bridge as a background we would do the reveal shot.
Turning the screen round so that it faces in the correct direction to get the shot
It took a couple of takes of the van going over the bridge before we got it right. On the first take the screen froze on one of the photographs for no apparent reason so we had to go again.
Lee shooting the van as it crosses the Tyne Bridge
View of his monitor showing his shot
Lee and Ian talk screen brightness as.. is set up for the reveal shot in the fading light
In the short time it was there it attracted a small..
..but excited crowd
There was not much time to get the tape across to Tyne Tees in Gateshead in time for the programme.

I grabbed the tape from Lee once he had done the shot, jumped into the car and drove as fast as I could.

On the way I had a few calls from the gallery in London to check when I would get the material across.

I whisked into the Tyne Tees car park and dumped the car outside the front door where I was met by the technician who would feed the tape.

We dashed into the little room filled with all the technical gubbins. The tape was slotted into the machine. I called Dan the producer to check that he was seeing the shot, which he was.

The absolute deadline for getting the shots to London was 7 pm. We made it with just over ten minutes to spare.

Once I had seen the shots go out on air and was happy that it had worked it was time for dinner.

Newcastle has a reputation as a tough, hard drinking party city that is well deserved.

The Bigg Market might not be as boisterous and unpredictable as it was back in the eighties and nineties but there were still enough police vans around to quell an Athenian anti austerity riot.

Clinging to each other in small noisy groups, the girls universally wearing clothes that was like a second skin revealing all their contours, most much more lumpy than the few that actually looked good in the skimpy dresses.

They appeared to need to hold on to one and other to stay upright as they tottered along on tall thin stilettos trying to maintain an equilibrium that had been upset by their intake of cheap vodka.

Most of the guys roamed around in slightly larger packs than the girls. Although not physically holding on to each other their support system was more through loud manly banter.

There were a few lone wolves out there too. They had obviously taken a little time out of the gym to prepare themselves for the night's promenading.

Their hair was groomed either sightly spiky or smoothly slick, coated in expensive hair products. Tight t-shirts traced the outline of their over built chest and shoulders. 

They swaggered without the need to counteract the effects of alcohol they either did not, or were yet to consume.

The whole area was in the process of the transition from slightly drunken lighthearted fun to a full blown post apocalyptic kebab munching, tear stained pavement pizza factory.

The restaurant we chose at random for our Geordie eating experience was just disgorging one of those noisy lager, and now curry fuelled groups of guys as we were taken to our table. A strange eerie calm settled over the restaurant as the echoes of the slurred nonsense coming from the crowd died with the closing of the door.

We chose our meal but, after having a chat with the very friendly waiter we had to try something special.

Unknowingly and without research we had stumbled upon a world renowned restaurant with an entry in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records for the longest curry delivery distance, from Newcastle Upon Tyne to Sydney Australia and the reputation for having the hottest curry.

The waiter brought us a small bowl of redish brown sauce. 

The small amount that I scooped up with my little finger and then licked off was enough to numb my whole mouth, bring tears to my eyes and cause a delayed burning to the back of my throat.

The waiter was ready for our collective reaction. He produced a bowl of yogurt that we gratefully dug into.

He told us that very few people had managed to eat a whole meal. Some, self appointed very hot curry aficionados had not even made it to the toilet before succumbing to the sauce.

There was a moment of national pride when he told us that one of the rare times the dish had been defeated and devoured with no apparent difficulty was when a group of Scottish girls had come in, ordered the Chilli Hell, eaten it without demur, asked for the bill, payed up and went out on the town.
Rupali's deadly, world renowned curry sauce.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

£10.5 billion pothole repair bill!

Thursday 14th March

After the earlier than usual start, driving through snow from Bradford to Scarborough, sitting around for a few hours in the satellite truck yesterday morning waiting to do something and ending up doing nothing Katy was dispatched up the road to Ripon to do a report on the cost of repairing the potholes in the country's roads and the damage that they do.

It would take many years and cost £10.5 billion to repair them all.

I was assigned this morning's live broadcasts.

It wasn't snowing outside Barker's Garage at 5 am but, it was certainly cold as waited to get in to set up for the broadcasts.

The plan was to do one programme broadcast at 6:20 am and two broadcasts into the news bulletins at 7 am and 8 am.

Keiren, one of the mechanics had been volunteered to show the areas under a car that are most vulnerable to damage from going over potholes.

There was a car up on one of the ramps that we would use these areas and components.

I rigged up the lights and put some diffuser on the bright torch Keiren would use to show us the springs, anti-roll bars, shock absorbers and track rods.
Barker's Garage York
The plan for the programme broadcast was that Katy would start outside the garage where, rather conveniently there were a few small potholes. She would go into the garage, introduce Keiren who would take us under the ramp giving us the tour of the underneath of the car and then come out the other end where we could see some actual damage done to a wheel and coil spring by a pothole.

Apart from the minor challenge of the lighting my main concern was getting low enough with the camera on my shoulder to get under the ramp to look under the car without it looking jerky or awkward.

We had enough time to do a few rehearsals. Keiren was great, concise and to the point. I tweaked the lighting and had no problem getting under and then out of the ramp.

Of course when we did come to do the live, rather annoyingly the camera did get very slightly snagged on the ramp as I went under. Keiren however, was as perfect on the real thing as he dad been on the rehearsals.
Katy has a coffee and giggle with the garage's mechanics.. pic, Keiren on the left
We only did the one news bulletin broadcast, being squeezed out by lack of time.
Set up for the news broadcasts showing the damage to a spring and wheel

Snow comes to Scarborough, or does it?

Wednesday 13th March

It was approaching six thirty pm last evening, the kitchen knife in my hand was slicing through a red pepper when the phone rang.

"Blocked Number"


There would be snow in or around the Leeds area during Daybreak's air time in the morning, or so the forecasters predicted.

I needed to get on the road to head in that direction. An exact location for the broadcasts and where I would get a few hours sleep would come as I drove down the road.

I quickly finished chopping up the peppers. Along with some chicken, onion and sauce I threw them into the wok, gave them a quick cook and served the resulting stir fry up to my wife and son, abandoning the idea of having any myself.

My dinner was a sandwich, crisps and juice from an M&S Simply Food eaten in the car, washed down with an extra hot latte from Costa Coffee.

I was clocking up the miles on the A1 as the night progressed and the calm weather stayed calm.

The news from the office was Bradford. I'd been booked into the Premier Inn at Leeds Bradford airport.

I checked into the basic but clean and spacious room at nearing midnight not looking forward to only getting four hours sleep. Outside, the clear calm night continued.

The news I got from the office when I called in before getting into bed was pleasing.

My alarm would not need to be set for 4 am. We would be on standby for the weather and only called if it got bad.

Judging from how it had been like all the way down I felt fairly confident we would get a full night's sleep.

At three am I was disabused of that notion.

The prediction was for some very heavy snow during our air time at various parts of the east coast which would inevitably cause travel disruption.

We needed to go across the country to Scarborough's railway station where we were to be ready to do a combination of weather shots and travel reports.

Leeds Bradford airport is on quite high ground at 208 meters. The weather had not changed there since I had gone to bed less than three hours ago.

So, when I got in my car and started to drive I could not help thinking that I was on another of those wild snow chases.

For most of the almost two hour drive there was no sign of a change in the weather let alone heavy snow.

Then all of a sudden about twenty miles from Scarborough close to the village of Rillington I was in a blizzard. For the next fifteen miles or so there were very heavy snow storms. 
The near white out on the road to Scarborough
For miles at a time the black of the road disappeared under a thick covering of snow.

To the east and north of the village of Ganton as I approached Scarborough the snow petered out. The weather was once again calm.

By the time we got to the town it was a little cold and wet.

There was certainly no point in doing any weather shots.

Katy Fawcett the correspondent there in case travel reports were required called the office to suggest that we went back along the road a little to where there was a reasonable amount of snow.

The reply was that we should stay put and be ready for the snow that was coming our way any time now. The station was wanted as the backdrop for the travel reports.
Scarborough railway station and a fairly clear blue sky
So, Martin set up the satellite dish, Bob got the sound kit rigged, I got the camera set up and Katy prepared to receive the deluge of information on the chaos about to happen.

We waited in the truck for the blizzard to come.

We stayed there until the end of the programme.

A few flakes of snow fluttered down melting away as they hit the pavement.

Katy's inbox stayed empty of notices of road and rail closures.
The satellite dish and a few falling flakes of snow
The camera set up on the corner opposite the railway station
Sound recordist Bob checking that the sound is working
At the end of the Daybreak programme without having had one shot on air we packed the kit away and headed off on our opposite directions either home or off to another job.