Monday, 27 July 2009

Goodbye Five News

It isn't going anywhere, I am. It was my last shift yesterday so I thought I'd take some grainy, blurry shots of the place. Not everyone is aware that Five News is made at Sky News (above). The Sky compound is on a bleak industrial estate near Osterley, just off the A4. The Sky News building, whilst unlikely to be in the running for any architectural awards, is a thing of wonder. The Sky News studio takes up the bulk of the two floor building, and it is vast. There in the distance (above), is the tiny form of Chris Skudder, doing his weekend sports round up. Like many things you build up a familiarity with, it's easy to take such a work environment for granted, but really it is spectacularly odd, and grand, and Newsy. The Five News office is on the first floor and the Five News studio is much smaller than the almost operatic Sky set. The Five News weekend bulletins come from the mezzanine level within the Sky studio. And this (below) is what it looks like from the presenter's chair (the camera is just to the left of the shot - the big light above it was burning everything else out so I just took a pic of the monitors). I always wanted to work at Sky, just to see what it was like. Unfortunately living in North West London made it almost impossible to consider by public transport and pushbike.

When I moved to Walton on Thames and bought a scooter, Sky was just 11 miles up the road and suddenly nearer than my usual places of work - Newsbeat (W1) and 5 Live (TVC). When I got the opportunity to work for Five, I jumped at it.

I was granted a meeting with the then assistant editor on the recommendation of a colleague. What I thought would be a chat about the possibility of a few freelance shifts turned into quite an aggressive job interview. "Oh." I remember thinking. "That's that, then." But they called me up and offered me some production shifts and things slowly went from there.

I loved working at Five - the team were/are great, the sensibility fitted, the work ethic was incredible and the coffee bar does the best coffee I have ever tasted at a work canteen anywhere. And it was half an hour up the road. What's not to like?

I also learned an awful lot about television from the two editors I served under - Mark Calvert, who now appears to be running a television channel in Australia - and the current editor David Kermode, who has a very distinctive and coherent vision for what a news programme should do and say.

David is also famous for banning noddies - and if you want to see him sending this up in a leaving tape for an ex-colleague of his (who now happens to be my big boss at BBC South East) - it's here on youtube.


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Oasis at Wembley Stadium - the interview

The gentleman above, with a soon-to-be-filled Wembley stadium as his backdrop, is Noel Gallagher, derivative rock star, genius behind the third biggest-selling uk album of all time, raconteur, wit and working class hero.

Briefly, my relationship with Oasis is this: Definitely Maybe comes out when I am 21 years old and a student in Liverpool. It soundtracks virtually everything I do for a good 12 months.

My first ever radio show - "The Weekend Spam"* on LJMU's student radio station Shout FM, had the long intro to "Rock n' Roll Star" as its opening music, because at the time, I didn't believe there was anything more likely to make anyone feel more alive in existence, anywhere.

What's the Story (Morning Glory) comes out and I'm an ex-fan. The music's lost its edge, Noel's not saying anything new, it's slipping comfortably towards the dadrock which reaches its nadir with The Verve's dinner party staple Urban Hymns (not that either of these are bad records - just that I would rather be listening to the Pixies, Jane's Addiction and Nick Cave).

At the point everyone seems destined to lose interest in Oasis, Wonderwall comes out as a single. It's picked up by commercial radio, and Just. Goes. Massive. From then on, Oasis aren't just a band, they're a phenomenon, and everyone knows what the story is...

The first time I saw them live was at Glastonbury in 2004 and they were mediocre. The next time was early 2005 at the Hammersmith Apollo and they were mediocre. The best part of the evening was after the concert when I saw Michael Eavis under the Hammersmith flyover.

I said to my friends: "That man standing on his own looking confused is almost certainly Michael Eavis. Let's try and found out who this year's Glastonbury headliners are." - or words to that effect.

Michael was sporting that unmistakeable beard, a lumberjack shirt, jeans and a pair of battered desert boots which had their laces undone. He looked unkempt and startled to be suddenly confronted with five people, all of whom started asking him questions about his evening: Michael - what on earth are you doing here? "I just wanted to see Oasis again - I thought they were very disappointing at Glastonbury and thought I'd give them another go." What did you think? "Nah, no, not very good. Not my thing." and so who is going to headline Glastonbury this year? "Now, you're not journalists are you?"

After a good chat (in which he didn't divulge who was headlining) he said: "Now, does anyone know the best way to get to Paddington - I've got to catch a train back to Castle Cary."

We stared at him as if he were joking - surely he was... but no, the (multi-millionaire?) founder of the Glastonbury festival, who had seemingly taken it upon himself to travel to London alone to see Oasis, in his 70th year, with no record company people to look after him - wanted directions to Paddington station. "Get a cab!" we said, almost in unison, and he started looking round for a cab, as if one might suddenly parachute off the flyover and land next to him with its light on, door open and driver saying through the window "Paddington, is it?".

A member of our group walked him to the nearest rank.

So, hop forward 4 years to last week when I got five days worth of showbiz shifts at London Tonight.

On Tuesday Max Velody, top producer, casually said "oh it's Noel Gallagher on Thursday at Wembley Stadium".

At that moment I was reminded why I got into showbiz reporting. Because it's fun. Noel Gallagher is the real deal. Whatever you think of him and his music, he has led a band which has lasted the distance over the past 16 years, and will, during the course of this short stadium tour, have easily surpassed the number of people they played to over three days at Knebworth, in 1996.

They are, live at least, more popular than ever. He is also very funny. Very few people can hold their own with Russell Brand - Noel does so with ease. If you ever heard the two of them together (Noel had a weekly guest slot on Russell's 6Music show and continued to appear on his Radio 2 show), you'll know what I mean.

A recent comment on an issue du jour from the stage in Coventry: "This Michael Jackson thing is dragging on a bit, isn't it? Who do they think he is, Jade Goody?"

I think that just about sums it up. Noel is also a willing pro. At every relevant gig on this tour he did the local TV media - outlets many stadium acts are far too quick to ignore - and because I was representing ITV London on the night the Oasis machine rolled into London, I got a few minutes of the great man's time.

We parked up in the bowels of Wembley stadium and were taken by a PR to Noel's dressing room. "Perfect" said the cameraman, eyeing the designer lamps, low-lighting and pretty orchids.

"No - let's do it in the stadium seats." I said. Why film an interview with a band at wembley stadium about a band playing wembley stadium in a room that could be anywhere?

The PR wanted us to do it in the dressing-room, as that's what she'd arranged, but I was adamant I wanted it in the stadium. It didn't help that my cameraman was loudly agreeing with the PR.

Eventually another PR came along and said she was sure Noel wouldn't mind walking up two floors.

On hearing this, and as the person with ultimate responsibility for the shoot, I overruled the cameraman, which left it 2 to 1 against the PR still holding out for the dressing room, with 1 abstention (thanks, mate).

The PR who thought the stadium would be a good idea led us to a lift and walked us out into the Royal Box. Perfect! Rock royalty in the royal box.

We were early, so we got to watch the band soundcheck for 45 minutes. No Liam. Liam doesn't soundcheck. Then the cameraman redeemed himself spectacularly. The crew after us were from BBC London and I knew the reporter, Jane Witherspoon, quite well. After we'd said hello, the cameraman suggested we pool resources and do a two camera shoot - allowing us to dispense with reverses and noddies - the two most humiliating and excruciating things about being a TV reporter.

I leapt at the idea and put it to Jane. She was cool and we set about working on how we were going to do it. In the end we decided my camera would shoot the principle and the BBC cameraman would be shooting the secondary (me/jane) and wides. After each interview we would start new tapes so we could both walk away with our own footage. The only problem was the BBC cameraman only had one tape, which was going to mean me dropping by BBC LDN reception to pick it up, until my cameraman, who had not only redeemed himself, but was now showing everyone up with his resourcefulness, explained the situation to the MTV crew who were interviewing Noel third, and sponged a tape off them.

The only stipulation I put down was that as we had arrived first, I got to be the one being filmed meeting Noel for real as he walked into the Royal Box.

Jane had to film their "meeting" shot after their interview. The interview itself was not earth-shattering. Noel can deliver some phenomenal copy, but most of it comes into a print reporter's tape recorder after a few drinks, or in a more relaxed chatty interview which has time to breathe, conducted by people he's met before. Getting good soundbites from Noel on radio is hard.

Hats duly tipped to: 1) Colin Paterson at 5 Live - whose interview with Noel on Jay-Z playing Glastonbury became big news and was played out to the crowd at Glastonbury at the beginning of Jay-Z's set - inadvertently becoming the highlight thereof.

2) Chris Moyles, who always gets the very best out of him. Getting good quotes in the incredibly sober, sterile, artificial environment of a pre-recorded 4-minute TV news interview is nigh on impossible, unless he is in the mood to say something. And on Thursday, he wasn't. Why would he want to give his best lines to me?

That's not to say he didn't give droll and interesting answers to my questions, just nothing earth-shattering. I called base and told them that we had taken a unilateral decision to bring forward the start date of Michael Grade's memorandum of understanding with regard to the sharing of newsgathering resources between ITN and the BBC at a local level.

I explained it would mean that the interview edit would be a million times better, but that the shot of Noel on ITN and BBC would be almost identical. I asked if that was likely to be a problem.

"No." said the editor. "Because we're on first."

Before we left, one of the PR ladies who we'd got increasingly chatty with during the soundcheck, asked if I'd like to go to the gig that evening. Hell, yes. The other PR then asked if Saturday were preferable.

Er, whatever, either... er... Saturday please. Blimey. You don't turn down a free ticket to see Oasis at Wembley Stadium. Not after having seen the inside of the new Wembley stadium for the first time. Not after interviewing the man who is about to fill it 3 times over. And so that was Thursday. Next entry, I would like to relate to you: Oasis at Wembley Stadium - Up There With One Of The Best Gigs Ever, with a full scientific explanation as to why.

* I would like to think that this was an early, prescient nod to the junk email phenomenon that has become the scourge of the internet, but I seem to remember we used it in its original sense as an unappetising, nutritionally-bereft, canned piece of stodge. Titterific.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Florence and the Machine, Harry Potter premiere, Fourth Plinth and a new job

It's all been a bit busy recently. On Monday the press release about me getting a new job went out, after the staff at BBC Surrey were told by the station manager. I'll blog about how exactly that came about in a few days, as it deserves its own entry, but dealing with the release seemed to be a whole world of fun in itself.

Obviously, I'm thrilled about getting the gig, and considerably taken aback by the number of people who have got in touch on Facebook and Twitter (and one old-fashioned but very welcome call on the phone!) to offer variations on a congratulations theme.

I've been sitting on the news for some time and had to take the decision in something of an advice vacuum, as there weren't many people I could tell. Anyway - that was Monday - same day as I was reporting on the launch of Antony Gormley's fourth plinth project in Trafalgar Square. I've been meaning to blog for some time that I've got a place on the plinth myself, at the behest of London Tonight.

A few months back the planning desk asked the organisers if it would be possible to get a reporter up there. The organisers said "no, but you are more than welcome to enter the ballot". So an email went round to all the ITV regions from the London desk asking all reporters to apply, because the number of places available on the plinth are divvied up equally, geographically.

So if you live in Cumbria, statistically you've got a much better chance in the ballot that anyone who applies in the London region. I applied, and because I appear to be quite spawny at the moment, I got a place (and a good slot too - 5pm on Thu 30th July). This was very well receieved by the planning desk, and I was pleased that it was mission accomplished, but, to be honest with you, it's not really my thing.

This meant I wasn't really ready for the reaction, with everyone who knew about it excitedly asking "what are you going to do?", to which my answer was "a news report, probably".

This reached a culmination of ridiculousness on Monday when I mentioned my own slot on the plinth to Antony Gormley Himself (whose concept this whole thing is) just before I interviewed him. He suddenly became animated and said: "Really?! Congratulations! What are you going to do?" 

"Well, a news report, probably." I replied.

"Ah, of course." he said, like this would be something that would never occur to him.

The 30th July is my last day at London Tonight, and so it makes sense to have a drink with my soon-to-be-ex-colleagues afterwards, but for some reason my family want to come to London to witness me standing around like a lemon in Trafalgar Square.

I have managed to dissuade my father and wife from coming, but my mother is made of sterner stuff and remains determined to see her son mooching about on a piece of stone for an hour. I have tried to tell her it will be dull, and I will be working all day on making a TV piece leading up to it, and probably doing a live for London Tonight immediately afterwards, but she thinks this is worth travelling up to London for.

And now apparently my sister and her family are coming down from Oxfordshire too. Don't get me wrong, it's a phenomenal achievement to be chosen at random by a computer, but, as I said, not my sort of thing.

Still, I was very happy with the piece that went out on Monday, filmed inbetween dealing with the BBC press office on the final draft of the presser, and edited whilst trying to tell my bosses at ITV I was leaving.

Yesterday I met Florence off of Florence and the Machine for a second time before covering the Harry Potter premiere. It's exactly a day like this you don't need after deciding to leave the world of television.

I basically got paid to watch the new Harry Potter movie, go to the beautiful old Rivoli ballroom in Lewisham to hang out with a pop star and then straight to Leicester Square to meet Daniel Radcliffe for a red carpet live into the programme.

I have moaned about premieres in the past, and been picked up on it by the PRs, who are rightfully protective of their event, but this one was amazing.

The whole of Leicester Square had been taken over by more camera crews I've seen since the launch of Live 8, and the fans who gathered were just unbelievably loud. It was all set for an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular when the most extraordinary cloudburst threw everything it had at London.

We had thunder, lightening, hail and torrential, torrential rain. Despite all this, the PRs ferried all the stars around the sodden red carpet, sticking to the myriad live and pre-recorded commitments and delivering Daniel Radcliffe to me bang on time as we went live on the programme.

Concentration-wise these premieres are difficult enough for us to deal with, but for the stars it must be total madness, blinded by flashbulbs, deafened by screaming, tugged this way and that by PRs and then plonked in front of different crews from all over the world, all asking varying qualities of question for totally different audiences and expecting suave, witty, confident, urbanity from the poor actor they're pointing a camera at. Add the imminent threat of a lightening strike, and you're getting close to what happened yesterday.

I got Daniel as the cue was being read in the studio and so had 10 seconds to shake his hand, tell him I'd do a brief introduction then introduce him into shot. He took the time out to ask which outlet I represented and then took it on himself to be enthusiastic, articulate, thoughtful and friendly throughout the interview - namechecking London Tonight in one of his answers and making light of the appalling conditions.

Daniel Radcliffe is 19 years old. Frightening, isnt' it?