Paul Baird, national TV presenter?
Paul rides his way into organised chaos, and an introduction to the Hells Angels.
It was the early nineties and I had just been offered the chance to be one of four presenters on a national TV pilot.
I know why I had been offered this presenting role. ITV had a charity programme called Telethon and my mad idea was to rush around the Border region finding and filming one item every hour, for hours…madness. However, a really nice network director had seen this mad attempt. Looking on it favourably(!) asked if I wanted to be one of four presenters on the “Help Squad.” This was to be a pilot for a national television programme to be broadcast on British television during a bank holiday weekend. The idea was that the ‘Squad’ would undertake worthy tasks aided by different people.
To be honest, if I really thought about it, I wasn’t network presenting material but the pay was huge and what was there to lose? I wasn’t used to big network budgets and when the programme planners rang me to say that a limousine would take me down to the first shoot at Buckfastleigh in Devon it was all too much.
“Thank you, terribly kind, but if you just pay my second-class train fare that would be good.” After an attack of the vapours – basically, this wasn’t something they heard, ever – I was informed that presenters only travelled First Class. Fine, I thought.
As it happened, I had recently joined a Mountain Rescue Team in the lake district. I was on a trial period and really needed to boost my fitness. I thought, I could kill two birds with one stone. I would take the sleeper train from Carlisle, get off at Newton Abbot, and bash the 10 miles with full rescue kit, and arrive just in time for the shoot. Brilliant! Cash, presenting and fitness training. What could be better?!
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Once at South Devon heritage railway at Buckfastleigh I, the other presenter and whatever ‘Help Squad’ had been assembled, would paint one of the bridges on the platform and make a feature of it. Well, it turned out, the Help Squad for this little job would be the Hells Angels!
Yep, the local chapter of the ‘outlaw’ motorcycle club were on board, and so was I, on a sleeper! Perhaps I should have read the script before-hand.
The trip down went like a dream. I got a good nights sleep and around five in the morning I was off and yomping. Nice place Devon. I’d never been before.
When I arrived, it was organised chaos. I had never seen so many television people. First problem was security. They refused to believe I was a network TV presenter. The director (really nice lad) looked for my car and after I told him I had run from Newton Abbot I could see panic in his eyes. Second problem was my fellow presenters. Two were really nice but the third was a seasoned professional and visibly unimpressed by the scruff who had just ran 10 miles with a heavy rucksack. Fate would later put us together on the bridge.
First though, into costume. I was appalled. The designers had made shapeless pillar box red jerkins (a man's short close-fitting jacket) that looked as if they were fresh off the set of Robin Hood. This. I thought. will go down really badly with the mountain rescue team. Worse was to come when I met the head of scripting. Even though I had written scripts for countless programmes he was going to write my words, and God help me if I, the presenter, changed it.
So, this was the plan, the other presenter and myself would stand on the bridge and they would say “we need some help to paint this bridge.” Then I was to look into the distance and say the carefully constructed words “Look, there’s some rough lads arriving.”
Brilliant, dressed like an extra from Sherwood forest standing with a presenter who didn’t rate me and six words to project to dozens of Hairy Hells Angels…perfect.
Well, I did it, right on queue. I looked out towards the horizon and with a dramatic pause (so I thought) I delivered the six lines that still live me today. “Look, there’s some rough lads arriving.” “Cut”.
Then a pause, and my fellow presenter looked at me and said “Darling, there’s a dramatic pause and then there’s waiting for Christmas” and walked off.
The pilot duly went out and a series was commissioned. Sadly, I wasn’t in it. The other presenter was. I was replaced by a well-known actor. I couldn’t really complain. I just hoped he liked the Robin Hood look.
Hopeful Traveller is a weekly newsletter and archive of stories about broadcasting in the 1970s and 80s. It is written by former-newsreader and programme maker Paul Baird. For new stories each week, subscribe.