Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Private Eye No 1378 Post Office follow up

Issue no 1378
In the latest Private Eye In The Back section (Eye 1378 p.34) there is a small follow-up article to their recent piece on the Post Office's branch computer system Horizon (Eye 1375).

That piece was made freely available on the web. This one, as yet, isn't.

If you are a Sub-postmaster or journalist interested in the latest twist in the mediation scheme saga, I urge you to go and buy a copy of this fortnight's magazine.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Burglars and Break-ins: Caught on Camera (S2 Ep5)

It's not as good a title as Armed and Dangerous: Caught on Camera, is it? But it's a damn fine episode and it's on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.

As the title suggests, this week's programme features lots of home-installed CCTV catching burglars being idiots, or in the case above, drug-crazed idiots. We also have the usual amazing stuff from the Met's airborne unit India 99. 

I say the usual, but we shouldn't take it for granted. The insight this footage gives you into modern policing is extraordinary. 

Tonight's episode features a crime which was entirely picked out from the sky, ending in an arrest. All thanks to the excellent work of the spotter on board.

We can also take you into the strange world of the 24/7 monitored council estate. The set up below in Wolverhampton is a service voted for by residents, who now rely on the three "concierges" below to keep tabs on anti-social behaviour, and help people out when necessary.

You may have heard the stories about CCTV being able to talk back. In this episode you can see that happen, much to the surprise of a resident fly-tipper.

So there you go - Channel 5, 23 Oct 2014, 9pm - and of course again an hour later on C5+1 at 10pm. And again on C5+24 tomorrow at 9pm....! 

If you miss all that you can watch any already-transmitted episode of the Caught on Camera strand here, on Demand 5.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Armed and Dangerous: Caught on Camera

In what is easily the best title of our Caught on Camera strand so far, I am delighted to present to you the fourth programme of series 2 of Criminals: Caught on Camera - Armed and Dangerous.

Those disappointed at the earlier start time will be filled with joy on remembering that Channel 5+1 will be showing the programme at 9pm unless there's some kind of extraordinary disruption in the space-time continuum. Which this programme may very well cause, because it's that good.

There's a lot of helicopter action in this one, including a bike chase which makes for a thrilling drama and demonstrates a quite brilliant use of technology to identify criminals mid-pursuit. There's also some excellent detective work on a drugs bust, plus a girl gang dressed in clothes from an 80s pop video going on the rampage. It is our series producer's favourite episode so far. 

Although very little is certain in this world, there are four more Criminals: Caught on Camera due to be screened later this autumn. Hopefully we'll get a good weekly run of them.
You can catch up with all the programmes from the strand (and a collection of faintly unnerving publicity shots) on Demand 5, including the first series, which we filmed last year.

Monday, 22 September 2014

GUEST POST: Field producing the Scottish referendum

My former colleague and all round good egg Callum May spent last week in a tent working for the BBC, so I asked him to write a few words about it for publication on this blog. Here are those words:

Guest post starts here

"Journalists use a mildly patronising term sometimes. “Can you go and talk to some real people?” I’ve been asked this by more editors than I can remember. 

Real people are the opposite of politicians, or public officials, or PR types. They are - in many cases literally - the person on the street.

I set off for Scotland four days before polling knowing my main job would not involve meeting many such individuals. The acre or so of grass outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh - normally a public space - had been fenced off and reserved for the most unreal of people, broadcast journalists.

The front of the TV gantry

For every reporter and camera crew making a TV news piece, there are producers and organisers and engineers-in-charge whose job is to make sure big news operations run efficiently.

Often, these people are found behind office desks. I sit near lots of them at Broadcasting House. But when a really big story comes along, they travel to the scene and the entire enterprise is run from temporary buildings and hotel rooms and laptops perched on knees and café tables.

Three colossal gantries were built for TV news crews from around the world to stand in front of the parliament building in Holyrood. Behind them, a hamlet of marquees, Portakabins, and satellite vans formed.

Radio tents at the back. Ahh...
My specialism is radio news, so I was put in charge of a large tent containing two temporary radio studios plus a couple of small internet-connected boxes that allow reporters and guests to speak to almost any radio studio in the BBC.

In fact, the whole thing was connected using the internet. It’s cheaper than using satellite connections, and easier to install and remove than ISDN, or high-quality telephone lines. 

But being a tent, the conditions underfoot were moist and damp. “Grass flooring to deaden the sound,” joked a sound engineer colleague.

Left to right: Ritula Shah, Dan Kelly, Beth McLeod, me.
Preparing for Friday's edition of the World Tonight on R4. Pic: Gillian Dear.
For a week I put on air presenters and guests for programmes ranging from “Today” on Radio 4 to Radio Ulster’s Gaelic programme and the BBC Pashto service. Everyone got on rather well and kept quiet enough not to be heard over each other’s output. 

There was a moment on the Friday morning after the referendum after the when I welcomed the Church of Scotland’s senior minister, the moderator of the General Assembly, to present Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I used a raised voice to ask everyone in the tent for silence while he presented his slot. 

A colleague piped up: “Do we also have to adopt a prayerful attitude?” I think the moderator saw the funny side.

Alex Massie (L) and Lesley Riddoch (R) shortly before being distracted by Alex Salmond.
Another unexpected guest arrived during a discussion on “PM” on Radio 4 between two journalists, Alex Massie and Lesley Riddoch. The first minister, Alex Salmond, peeled back the soggy flaps of the marquee and wandered in quietly. He was waiting for a TV interview on the gantry in front of us. 

Alex and Lesley were, for a fraction of a second, a little flustered. Back in London, Eddie Mair offered: “If he wants to come on he can.” I looked at Mr Salmond. There were three minutes left of the programme and I thought if I asked him to undergo a rigorous examination of his position in 180 seconds things might sound a bit awkward, even with a presenter of Eddie’s brilliance in charge.

I lost count of the Yes and No supporters who came and went from the Holyrood Tent of News over the week. They were all eloquent and good-humoured, despite the muddy conditions underfoot. 
Some of them were even real people."

Callum May

Thank you, Callum. If you want to read my thoughts on meeting Alex Salmond and Scottish independence, click the links. If you want to follow Callum on twitter, do so. He offers some wonderful insights into his job on an almost daily basis.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Alex Salmond

In 1997 I was a cub reporter sent by the NUS to interview all the party political leaders ahead of the general election. Only John Major refused. I spoke to Dafydd Wigley, Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and Alex Salmond.

I met all of them at Westminster. Paddy Ashdown was terrible. A real let down. Tony Blair was charismatic, surrounded by twitchy advisors.

Alex Salmond was different. Rather than a politician, he had the air of an exiled foreign general.

It really is hard to believe, because in his television appearances he looks and sounds like everyone else. But in person, in that place, he seemed to be the living embodiment of a leader without a land, detained by an occupying power.

It was also clear in his own mind he knew, better than his hosts, exactly what was happening north of the border. Something was building in his absence. He was therefore perfectly happy to be in exile, pacing the halls of the Palace of Westminster. Listening, plotting and biding his time.

That he had no doubt his moment would come, seemed to me extraordinary. This was, don't forget, before Scotland even had a parliament, let alone one led by a Scottish Nationalist.

To call him a wily operator would be an understatement. Salmond is a political giant. Scots nats had a bad name before he came along. To take the movement to the very cusp of independence, forcing those of us within the union to re-examine exactly what the United Kingdom means, and more importantly, who we really are, is a unique achievement.

When our interview had finished, the photographer asked if we could have a posed photo.

"Of course!" said Salmond, and he looked at me. "Did you say your name was Wallis?"

I nodded.

"Then I know just the spot."

He walked us down the corridors until we reached Westminster Hall. "We'll do it here." he announced, pointing to the plaque on the floor.

"This" he said, with a meaningful stare, "is where your ancestor William Wallace was sentenced to death by the English."

Salmond put his arm round my shoulder and we both stood on the plaque as the photographer snapped away.

The implication was clear. Don't forget the blood in your veins. Don't forget, deep down, you're one of us.

It was the single most impressive piece of emotional manipulation I have ever been subjected to by a politician, and it will stay with me until I die.