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"The Prince of darkness"
Paul reflects on the weird and wonderful world of Cameramen
Please don’t get me wrong, Cameramen have, on occasion saved, not only my programme but sometimes my life. However, as a breed they are often difficult and sometimes downright weird. I was lucky to have been trained by some of the best in the industry but even they had a strange side.
The first thing you realise when you take your first crew out is that, even though they were paid large sums of money and lived well on the expenses when filming away, a streak of extreme meanness would come out whenever accommodation was mentioned. In order to maximise pay, and hold on to as much of the expenses as possible, they wanted to minimise the cost wherever possible. No bed and breakfast was too horrible as long as it was cheap!
I have stayed in places where one room was divided into three and you could put your hand around the division. I have seen rats and mice sharing my room and, on one occasion, bare electric wire above my head proved lethal if touched. Their favourite in London was once owned by famous London gangsters the Kray twins and one bathroom was shared by numerous contractors, enough said.
Meanness didn’t just stop at accommodation however. One morning, when I went to the crew room, I found that the cameraman (one of the best I ever worked with) shuffling out of the door mumbling good morning. Concerned, I asked his sound recordist if he had a back injury (worried as we were due out). “No, said the Sound guy, his uncle has just died and left him his clothes.” He had taken to wearing the dead man’s shoes which were three sizes too big, hence the shuffle. That day was torture, he refused to take them off as they were, he said, of high quality and the whole day was just bizarre.
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Then there was the cameraman who was the nicest man you could meet but oh was he accident prone. He had no awareness of where he was, and carrying a 15-kilo camera attached to a long tripod he was, quite frankly, dangerous. I can still remember the day I went to film a delightful elderly lady in her immaculate small living room. She had on the wall two shelves each full of her treasured ceramic figures. As the cameraman went in with the camera on his shoulder a slight movement right and the handle of the tripod neatly swept every figure on the shelf crashing to the floor. “Be careful” I shouted, with that he jumped and turned to look at me. As he turned back, he took every figure off the second shelf, disaster!
And how could I forget “The Prince of Darkness”. This small peculiar cameraman was a dreadful character and an awful cameraman. He once sat cross-legged in the middle of a go-kart stadium and refused to let the race start until he had meditated. (He was very lucky as the drivers had to be stopped from running him over).
He was called the “The Prince of Darkness” because he could never get his exposures right. He hated bright sunshine and put interviewees right by a high wall to keep them in shadow. Mind you, if you forced him into the sunshine, it was worse.
But the prize for the most embarrassing has to go the cameraman I took to a major event specially staged for us.
I was filming at one of the biggest limestone quarries in the country and at huge expense they had organised a massive explosion which would take down the whole of the quarry wall for the next rock collection. It had never, they said, ever been filmed, and had took a week to set the explosive charges. Hundreds of pounds of dynamite had to be drilled into the rock face, a mammoth undertaking.
The blast controller explained in intricate detail where the explosion would take place. The blast was truly amazing and the highlight of the documentary. As this was on film, we had to send the footage off to be processed. I can’t explain my horror, consternation and downright disbelief when we played the film. Yes, the sound was perfect but in one corner of the film all I saw was a small puff of smoke where a monster explosion reducing an entire rock face to rubble was meant to be.
He had the camera totally in the wrong place to capture the event and missed it completely! Such was the varied life of a television director!
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.