Friday, 30 November 2012

Sorry. It's been a while.

Spurt. It's one of my favourite words. It is so onomatopoeic. Unlike onomatopoeic - which doesn't sound like itself. Spurt sounds like the noise it makes. Like boom. And pop.

Anyway - my initial spurt of blogging calmed down as I decided to judge the aftershocks. Predictably, friends enjoyed my writing, whilst doubting my wisdom at publishing. Wha'evah. I'm back.

I have decided, way before the weather folk tell us, that this glowing year of 2012 has been the worst for weather we have had for some time. Not just the summer - which was so poor they should take the season out of the calendar - but the whole year. From the lingering snows of January & February, through the torrents of April, May, June & July. There were a few decent breaks of dryness during the Olympics and September. Then October and November went downhill into the terrible flooding.

In 07 I spent an inordinate amount of time in one of our helicopters filming the floods for the various news organisations, and that came after filming the Boscastle floods in Cornwall. In 09 we were again filming floods from the air. The knowledge I have from seeing a unique angle on the disasters is obvious.

We, as a nation, have built in places where nature would rather run water. We have farmed our fields so intensively that the soil and debris run-off is clogging the arteries of nearby rivers. We have concreted and tarmacadamed so many areas wihout providing suitable alternative drainage. Our civil engineers have been most uncivil - diverting the rivers and streams that are the natural drainage systems of the country in order to build over them.

I don't subscribe to climate change as a reason for the increased flooding. It's not the (new figure this week) 1cm rise in sea levels over the past 2 decades. I believe that the relatively short space of time since this country got industrialised and wealthy - just 150 years - has done more damage than the millennia that came before.

It's not just the built damage. It's the thrown-away stuff - this clogs our rivers and fills needless landfills. Our water tables get higher and more polluted. The least shower of rain, and there's a flood.

Did you see the poor folk of Malmesbury in Wiltshire last week? They worked hard to sandbag their properties, only for the water table to come up through their floors. Sandbags only made the problem worse - the floodwater couldn't drain away quickly.

What can be done? Well, future planning and building must take the mistakes into account. Traditionally our towns and cities were built at crossing points of rivers. But we don't need that restriction now. The way life runs in the 21st century is very different to the 18th & 19th centuries.

Traditionally, we built in valleys and in low-lying areas - it was convenient when all you had was a horse, cart or barge for transport. But we can now all live in elevated positions - we have powered transport. We don't mind a hill.

And, traditionally, we've always built "normal" houses even in areas prone to flooding. But look beyond our shores to the stilted houses of the US deltas and coast. Even closer to home, in the flatlands of northern Europe. Beautifully-engineered housing that sits above flood level.

So we can architect, engineer and build our way out of a situation which was created by architects, engineers and builders. We need to let the best of these people create - and we don't need the turgid, petty planning laws that pervade through the parish, county, regional and national levels of government in the UK.

The alternative is millions with no home insurance facing increasingly frequent floods. Polluted drinking water. Infrastructure destroyed. Who do you think pays the bill for all of this?


So WE must change.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A great horse - brought to you by great people

Saturday 20th October at Ascot - and the Frankel story closes. A remarkable 3-year racing career ends on a high. The thrill of the build-up, the drama of the race, the continuous tv coverage bringing all this spectacle to you. Did you notice the slow-motion close-ups, the grass level shot on a corner, the sound of the hooves and the crowd, the fact that not one millisecond of this historic race was missed?

No? Good. That's how it should be. For this is sports outside broadcasting and it is very much in the business we call show. You, the customer, shouldn't see the workings and the people who make it all happen live. You should just enjoy the moments.

My part in all of this? Well, a large part of my presenting career has been spent standing in freezing or boiling locations talking to a lump of metal controlled by a human in suitable clothing, whilst being shouted at in my earpiece by producers & directors bathing in the comfort of their mobile heated/cooled tv control room - or "scanner" as it is quaintly still called.

I cut my teeth on outside broadcasts. The unique world of OBs.

These days I'm more likely to be found beneath the whirring blades of one of of our flying tv studios, offering live pictures from our gyro-stabilised camera system. OBs are full of special cameras. And the more that can seem to fly, the better for the dynamic coverage. Hence the "spider cam" that spans many sports stadia. The "wire cam" that flies smoothly across a venue - London 2012 outdoor venues were nearly all equipped with these systems. Many of them are UK developed and built and sold worldwide - our OB industry is trusted everywhere.

It's not just the technology - that doesn't invent itself. We have humans who are only comfortable freezing their bums off in far flung fields. The riggers who arrive weeks before an event to lay out the vital infrastructure for the OB. And then have to clean the mud off every cable before reeling it up at the end. That's about 20 miles of cable on many large OBs.

Camera operators who will spend all day stuck up a crane waiting to get a 30-second "money shot" of a passing royal. Or horse. Or royal on a horse.

We started to cover horse racing for the BBC in 2004 as independent production started to takeover in some BBC Sports output. I was out for a walk one day and bumped into a director I'd presented for in the mid-90s. Most OB directors have their own aura. Their own way of working. And a reputation. It's inevitable, because sometimes they are directing a crew of several hundred professionals who all have different ideas. They have to be Generals in Jeans. The sex is unimportant. The attitude and the ability to think ahead are everything. Steve Docherty is such a director. We chatted and, as soon as Steve learned that I had started an aerial filming operation, he said he would call.

He did. Just a few weeks later he twisted my arm into covering some racing at Goodwood free. The basis being that if all went well, he would ask us back later in the month for a week of Glorious Goodwood. Well, that went according to plan - and 8 years later we have reached a milestone as the BBC ditches horse racing and the sport is to be carried exclusively by C4 from 2013. Over the past 8 years we have become the BBC's sole provider of aerial coverage at horse racing. That means 6 Derbys, 5 Grand Nationals and about 100 other major races.

OK - I'm proud that we've done that from scratch. No other aerial filming provider has such a great record.

Yesterday at Ascot was our last flat race. And the BBC's last race at Ascot after a truly amazing 62 years.

The day for us is largely unscripted and we are trusted to turn up, turn on our transmitter and get covering. Our live picture is fed wirelessly to a receiver on an OB truck and then delivered to the director who chooses which of his 25 cameras he will cut live to air. It's edgy, unpredictable, pressured work which my team enjoy. Our brief for the races is to deliver a continuous shot without fail from start to finish - because no other camera can get that shot. On something as complex as the Grand National (42 cameras!) I will direct on the helicopter, counting the camera operator into each of the fences, whilst the pilot copes with wind, rain, sometimes snow and gets us into the right position. It's aerial choregraphy and we have developed our own unique style.

That continuous shot can save the race coverage, catching incidents not seen by other cameras. With the increasing paraphernalia at courses - enormous viewing screens, safety margins etc - yesterday I was struck by how many ground cameras had obstructions across their shots at vital moments. We see past all of those.

Steve called me once. "How low can you get?" He wanted a horse-eye view of the courses. We got permissions from the CAA to fly the courses on non-public days at 6ft above the ground! Our lap of the Derby and Grand National courses is still in use 5 years on. An amazing shot that puts the viewer in the saddle of the horse.

For this year's Derby, Clare Balding tweeted me a few weeks before. Could we get a continuous shot from Highclere stables to her family's stables at Kingsclere to help tell the story of Bonfire - her brother's horse, a favourite for the event? We did the shot whilst out on another job, as a favour. The proof of a happy ship in broadcasting is the lengths that people will go in support of giving the viewer the absolute best.

I'm sure some of the freelance off-camera people who worked on BBC horse racing will be a part of C4's offering. But many won't. C4 have done horse racing proud over the past few years and, now that they have rights to all racing, I'm certain they will continue to develop the coverage with the viewer constantly in mind.

And if you carry on not noticing how good it is, then they will have done their job.

Thank you Steve "The Doc" for your skills, your attention to detail and your ability to ignore fools. And to all the crew from Sunset+Vine, production company, - you know you made a big difference to horse racing on tv. You made a big difference to my team as well.

We will all be in operation for our final gig together at Chepstow for the Welsh National on December 27th. And then, the nosebag gets passed to C4. It will be brimming with the best quality oats, farmed by a great team.

And that is the worst analogy I have ever written. If I had a stable, I'd go and muck it out as punishment.

iPlayer coverage here. The Frankel race is the 5th - about 2h 40m in from the start of the programe

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Damon Hill's babysitter

Motorsport has always been close to my life. I can remember having a Dinky Toy of Stirling Moss's racing car in about 1958 when I was 3. I was a passionate enthusiast for Jim Clark and will never forget where I was when he died at Hockenheim that day in 1968. I was just 13 and he was just gone.
Then I followed his team mate, the gentlemanly Graham Hill.

In fact, I followed anyone who drove with Ford power - my Dad worked for Ford all his life and together we got wrapped up in motorsport from when I was very young. He actually taught me to drive when I was 9, on disused airfields. Until I could reach the pedals, I would sit on his lap steering & changing gear.

Motorsport is actually a very small world. And, despite the short lifespan of drivers in the early days, a lot of motorsport people never stop until they are very old. Hi Bernie!

In fact, every time I watch a GP I see Charlie Whiting doing his extremely important job running the races. Charlie used to be a mechanic at his brother's tuning shop just outside the gates of Brands Hatch in the 70s & 80s.

When I was 14 (1969) my Dad took me to Mallory Park in Leicestershire for a race meeting sponsored by Ford. These meetings had enormous crowds - all members of the official Fordsport Club. And they were largely enticed to attend because Ford's top drivers like Graham Hill and, from rallying, Roger Clark would do demos and sign autographs.

Graham, or Mr Hill as I knew him that day, was there to demo the Lotus Ford F1 car around the short oval + hairpin circuit. There were probably 30,000 fans there too. My Dad asked me to do something "important" for him and introduced me to a couple of kids. A boy and a girl. The boy was called Damon and I was to be their babysitter whilst their Dad did his job.

Damon was 9. And I will find the picture I have of us on that day.

Fast-forward a few years. 1978. Damon now 17 and keen to be a motorcycle racer. When he was just 15 his Dad had been killed in a plane crash, and Damon was being raised by his Mum, Bette. Bette didn't want Damon to go bike racing. So she organised for him to take part in his first ever car race. It was a one-make saloon car event at Brands Hatch. It featured racing and other "names". Frank Williams & John Surtees were in it. So was I.

The babysitter won. Surtees was 2nd and Damon Hill came 3rd.

Someone, somewhere has the photos to prove it.

I could go on and tell you the tale of how I poisoned the Ford Rally Team. How I was the opening titles of "Grandstand" for 6 months. And what it is like to have suspension collapse at 180mph.

But we'd need a big fireplace and some drinks.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A bit of a breeze

A lot of people have got their own stories of the Great Storm of '87. It was 25 years ago today that winds scythed through the UK causing incredible amounts of damage.

I was awoken by a thud that morning. Not my usual 4.30am alarm. This was a bass profundo thud that vibrated through our house in London and shook me to life. It followed a disturbed night as the winds built.

I was the Radio 1 Breakfast Show host at that time. And this was to be one of my strangest days ever.

Not able to work out what the thud was, I then panicked and remembered that, up on a flat roof, we had an early satellite system installed. Not your modern day mini-wok size Sky dish. This was a 1.5 metre motorised dish held in place by 3 kerb stones. I went downstairs and turned on the tv - dish still working and still motorised. Phew.

I gently awoke Sarah, who had so far slept through the emerging chaos, explained the noise I'd heard and said I should be setting off for work. My car was parked onstreet directly opposite the house. When I got to it, I discovered what caused the thud. A 2m tall brick wall, about 10m long had been blown over. It was almost entirely in one horizontal piece. The nearest bricks to my car were just centimetres away.

No damage to car. But no streetlights - the power to the neighbourhood had just gone down.

I set off down our street, only to have my route blocked by a fallen tree. I reversed back up the street just as a smaller, younger tree came down. I drove backwards over that and got out to the other end of the street.

My journey from home to Broadcasting House at that time of day normally took 15 uneventful minutes. No jams. Just the occasional London pigeon squatting on a manhole cover to keep warm. That morning was very different. Still no streetlights. Bus shelters shattered and spread across the road. Shop windows smashed to bits by flying debris. This looked like life after the bomb.

I eventually made it to BH and parked up. Made my way to reception where I was greeted by wide-eyed commissionaires who had been chasing around the building with torches. The whole of that part of the West End was without power. Then through the tunnel to Egton House and the welcoming sight of the studio.

My tech op had made it in and we set about doing the show. Not long after we went on-air a tech manager visited and said that BH was running on emergency power from generators. But that there wasn't enough power for all networks to stay alive. Only Radio 4 and us were able to transmit. As he left the studio he turned off the main lights and told me to just use an anglepoise, to save power. We played some strange music that morning, as the turntables tried to cope with fluctuating volts!

It became apparent that there wasn't much other broadcasting anywhere. Many local & regional transmitter masts had been blown down or had no power. Television was non-existent. So we decided to open our phone lines to the people. A lot of people were waking in the dark and wondering what was happening. The only information they could get was from us.

One angry woman came on the phone and shouted "I'm in East Anglia and all I can hear is you. Why?" I explained that we knew her local transmitter had been blown out of action. "Well - get it fixed. And quick!" she blurted as she hung up.

It wasn't until tv pictures were gathered later in the day that we all realised what had happened. Whole forests decimated. Roads blocked. Houses destroyed. People killed.

Then commerce kicked-in. I heard of several new millionaires who imported shiploads of chainsaws in the next few weeks - because that was the only way to clear the countryside wreckage.

I've never spoken to Michael Fish since 1987... :-)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Inside Radio 1

Some week. And I'm never one to ignore the "elephant in the room". Just a few facts to begin, about a man whose face has this week made me want to be physically sick. Some perspective.

He worked in the dance halls of the mid 50s. He actually managed a dance hall just a few miles from my Essex birthplace in the year I was born. His first radio work was recording record company shows for Radio Luxembourg in the late 50s. He claimed to have invented Top of the Pops and was its first host in 1964 from Manchester - pre-dating Radio 1's existence by 3 years.

He didn't actually work at R1 until 68. And by the mid to late 70s he was only an occasional visitor.

These are all facts in the public domain. But you wouldn't think it from some of the press coverage in the last 7 days.


This blog is about the period 75-88 and my experience of being around Radio 1. I'm not writing this for any other reason than to educate those who weren't there. This was the Radio 1 I knew.

The HQ of R1 was then Egton House - a small building close to Broadcasting House, just off Portland Place in W1. So close that it was joined to "BH" by a small foot tunnel under the road.
When I first went there in the mid 70s there were no on-air R1 studios in Egton. These were a good 10 minute walk away through BH - so the on-air side of the station was totally separate from the production offices.

Egton had 4 floors and a small basement. R1 occupied (in 75) the 3rd & 4th floors and a bit of the basement. The ground floor reception was also dedicated to R1 with a stalwart BBC commissionaire called Tom. Firm and fair and militarily upright.

The reception had pigeon holes for various shows and production people so that the record industry "pluggers" could leave their samples. These folks weren't really supposed to go beyond reception but, provided they were signed-in by a BBC staff member, they could.

They would head for floors 3 & 4. These were the production floors where all R1's main output was created by producers, DJs and production secretaries. The male/female split was around 60/40 - very healthy for the time.

On floor 3 were the evening & weekend programmes. John Peel, Tommy Vance, Fluff. There were tiny individual offices for some producers and an open-plan area for all their secretaries. Some producers looked after several individual shows, some just concentrated on one.

Floor 4 were the executive offices of the Controller and support staff, alongside the offices for the main weekday output. Again, tiny individual offices for producers sharing with their DJ and separate space for secretaries.

You can only imagine the paperwork involved in UK music broadcasting at the time. Every running order and scripted was typed. Every record or tape played had its details recorded for "needletime" payment purposes - reporting sheets to the Performing Rights Society and the Musicians Union. After every show transmitted a "PasB"  (Production as Broadcast) was prepared - this had to record exactly what had been played and for what duration.

So the R1 secretaries spent their days doing the paperwork mountain and also compiling the record boxes. These very useful black boxes could take an entire 2-3hr show of singles and albums and scripts. They were prepared, checked and then sent over to the R1 studios in time for the DJ to arrive and, ostensibly, do prep before "tx". The secretaries also fielded off phone calls from record pluggers, visits from pluggers and dealt with their producer's requirements.

One of their particular skills was keeping DJs in line. Some of the male DJs were like schoolboys. Actually, my schoolmates were more mature than some of the idiots who got jobs as DJs. The secretaries were brilliant at putting DJs in their place. They were assisted by a forceful, direct executive - Doreen Davies. Doreen, a BBC careerist, hired & fired DJs. She nurtured some, tolerated others. And she was fiercely protective of the secretaries, instilling them with a confidence that they needed to have. The last thing that most of my contemporaries would do is pick a fight with an R1 secretary. You would lose and they would not let you forget it.

Their producers dealt with compiling shows, listening to new releases (sometimes 80 new singles and 30-40 albums a week), attending playlist meetings, planning future broadcasts, dealing with DJs' egos and problems. No wonder they liked to disappear for lunch with a record plugger - to get away from the factory for a bit.

It was a production line. Complex, intense and yet it produced a seemingly simple product of entertainment. Although it wasn't a 24hr service in the early days, it did make big demands on people's time. Breakfast producers in a 5am. Night producers still there at 11pm. And BBC staff back then were paid very badly.

Now music stations are completely digitised with touchscreens. Then, if you wanted an "oldie" you had to visit the 2nd floor of Egton and comb through hundreds of filing cards to find a reference number. Then fill-in a requisition set of forms, and then wait to get the records delivered to you.

If you wanted to edit a pre-record you had to book a studio and an engineer. So enterprising producers had tape machines in their tiny offices to do their own edits. And, eventually, someone nicked a BBC outside broadcast kit and had it installed in the basement of Egton, so we could actually record and make output without going through the archane BBC studio system. This studio was never permitted to go live on-air - because there would have been a strike.

Over the years the building changed as the BBC became less restrictive. When I went back in the mid-80s we had our own 2 self-op studios on floor 2 - these were the main output studios. Close to the production heart - brilliant. We even had a kitchen with a bread bin where Bruno Brookes would grow penicillin on his white-sliced.

So - that's how it all happened. That's who they were. Executives, producers, secretaries, DJs.

Now - I may have painted a bit of a Pollyanna picture. Because there were exceptions. There were producers who would go out and get so drunk that they couldn't prepare their show - so the secretary would do it. There were people doing commercial work on BBC premises using BBC equipment. There were pluggers with so much access to a show that they virtually controlled the content.

But the scale of these offences was minimal. And if you look around other public institutions you'll see far worse corruption. A recent newspaper article reckoned that £13m of equipment every year goes missing from the NHS.

Humans, huh? You just can't trust 'em.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

You couldn't make it up

Monday 8th October was, shall we say, interesting.
News of my last blog had got to 5 Live. They were on the phone first thing. Believe me, I haven't made a habit of leaving my number with news organisations, but they all seem to have it when they need it. It's quite spooky.

Would you be interviewed by Richard Bacon just after 2pm? About your blog comments?

Not a problem. And that was it, until just before 2 when they called and set the whole thing in technical motion. No researcher asking me for further details. No idea of length of interview. Nothing.

Suddenly : On Air.

Immediately my suspicions were raised as Richard introduced Jackie Brambles as a co-interviewee. Nice move - get the female point of view. Shame they didn't tell me in advance - I never worked with Jackie and we occupied different era at Radio 1. Would have been nice to do some research.
The interview started and it had all the feeling of a pre-arranged agenda. Which would be fine if the participants had received the same briefing. We hadn't. Jackie somewhat ruined their plot by agreeing with me.
From the tone of Richard's questioning, the rush to get everything in and his repeated questions "Are you calling Liz Kershaw a liar?" I knew instantly that I had been trapped. This was not about my blog. But I could hardly do a Gary Barlow and stomp off when such delicate issues are being discussed.

I stuck with it and tried in vain to get my points over. In one exchange Richard asked me "When isn't it a crime?" To which I replied that when it's between consenting adults and it may have been misconstrued as joshing around. That got me attacked on Twitter. Not by people who had listened to the whole interview - but by people who believed a tweet saying that I had disregarded Liz Kershaw's complaint as mucking around.

People hear what they want to hear. I'm male, I was a Radio 1 DJ - so I must be part of the problem. The best comment I've seen is the one on my original blog from Joss Sanglier - neatly sums up his experiences and makes good points.

So - 5 Live.
 I agreed to go back on later. They called and said they had had some text reactions to my comments. Would I come back on? Sure.

So at 3.56pm began a rushed session lasting less than 5 minutes. In that I was confronted not by texts, but by a woman on the phone. Again, no warning. No briefing. All over in a flash.
Then the trouble started.

A Mail journalist, who must spend all day listening to 5 Live for free stories, tweeted his mate - another Mail journalist. Neatly tucked in his 140 character allowance, he found space to call me a "prick". Somehow these tweets must have got picked up by a Telegraph writer who published what can only be described, at best, as a precis of what was actually broadcast. This was plastered with a headline claiming that I'd said the Savile "witch hunt" must be stopped.
I was actually referring not to the apparent crimes of someone who should never have been knighted, but to the wider accusations raised by Liz Kershaw last weekend. Which is what my blog was about - and which is why 5 Live had me on the radio.
A little bit of detective work using social media and I quickly established that Susanna Reid of BBC Breakfast had retweeted Richard Bacon's tweet which linked to the Telegraph story.
I may never get to the full facts behind all of this. But it is plain that when it comes to reporting stories, some people are really happy to publish without checking sources.
At about 7pm last night, in the dark, a journalist from the Telegraph turned up at our house and asked if I have anything further to add.
"Anything further to add? Well, it would have been nice if the Telegraph called me before publishing their story. Other than that, nothing." She left.

Tuesday October 9th
Story still carried by the Telegraph. Mail rips it off, changes a few words and claims it for itself. Then, Tuesday pm, The Sun does likewise. Another curiosity, after the Met's press briefing this afternoon both the Mail and The Sun have removed their stories.

I've done my best. I stepped forward purely to defend the reputations of innocent people and to ensure that proper investigations take place. The Met stated that they have 120 lines of investigation. So, hopefully, it won't take long to resolve the horrors of J Savile. And they say that they are not investigating the BBC. So that surely clears the way for the BBC to conduct its own investigation on the sexual abuse claims made by both Liz Kershaw and Janet Street-Porter this week.

As a society we can take heart that things are not, now, as bad as the Mad Men days. But sexual abuse and harassment is all too frequently still happening across our lives. We must get better.

Listen to today's Womans Hour and form your own opinions.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Radio Onederful

Been quite a challenging week for Radio 1, what with Savile, Everett - and now Liz Kershaw. Some tales revealing aspects of life at the BBC that Auntie seems shocked to hear.

In the case of Liz, was I present? I worked at R1 from 75-78, 82-84, 86-88. Notice the short bursts, rather than a fully-fledged career. I knew Liz - in fact I worked with her before she joined the station, making a BT chart rundown telephone service every week. And I was also around when she joined the station.

I don't know which of the schoolboys stuck his hands where they shouldn't be. And, frankly, I don't know why Liz can't name him. But if this "trick" happened, it was a specific case. In her R4 Today interview she goes on to imply that it was a more general practice.

It wasn't. I simply don't recognise the culture she describes. R1 was staffed by (mainly) fun people from both sexes (if that matters) and what went on was no different to any other institution or workplace. We had straights, gays, closets, tarts, tramps and even the occasional vicar. But, strangely enough, we had people who worked hard at being professional.

If anything, R1 was more camp than predatory. If someone has that picture of me at a Radio 1 Week dressed as Tina Turner, please let me know. (That very day I had been racing trucks at Brands Hatch with Barry Sheene....). Any chance that some of my male colleagues had to put on lipstick and tight clothes as "entertainment", they took it.

Liz says it was like a rugby club. No - it was like a comprehensive school. A uni. A college. Liz - it was life.

Times, as she said in the interview, change. 2012 is a very different world to 1987. And better for it.

However, my English master (grammar school, btw) told me something I've never forgotten. It is wrong to generalise from the particular.

Liz - you're guilty of that.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Up in the air

So, it appears I am a bit of a career chameleon. To be honest, I've never really had what my Dad would have called a "proper job". Since the age of 19 I have been self-employed and/or running my own business.
I don't really know the security of pensions, employment contracts, paid leave and all the other benefits of being a fulltime employee.
If I take leave, I don't earn money. It's that simple.
So why, after nearly 30 years as a broadcaster, did I choose to set-up my aerial filming business? Well, I fancied being in some sort of charge of my own destiny - and I wanted a new challenge. The challenges in broadcasting were becoming stagnant. My "career" as a presenter was becoming less in-demand as "reality" (cheap) tv took over. If the public wants fast food tv, that's what they get.
Aviation and filming appealed. My passions for helping to make great visual images and being in the truly 3D world of flying were sated.
That love affair still exists today, nearly 10 years later, despite the fact I have spent most of this morning decoding the latest regulatory missive from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Simply trying to find out what they mean in their bold statements is to enter a jungle of jargon. It all appears to be designed by retired Soviet bureaucrats who've sold themselves as consultants to western Europe.

1) The Civil Aviation Authority, in exercise of its powers under Article 242 of the Air Navigation Order 2009 ('the Order'), hereby exempts any helicopter or gyroplane, together with the operator and commander thereof, from the requirements of Article 37(2) and paragraph 4(15)(b)(v)(dd) of Schedule 4 to the said Order, to carry the equipment specified in paragraph 5, Scale EE(1) of Schedule 4, subject to the conditions set out below.

2) This Exemption applies to aircraft flying above the part of the River Thames contained between Kew Bridge and the Isle of Dogs with the permission of and in accordance with any instructions given by the appropriate air traffic control unit.

3) This Exemption supersedes Official Record Series 4 No. 877, which is hereby revoked.

4) This Exemption shall have effect from the date hereof until 30 September 2013 unless previously revoked.

I hope you get the idea. Our industry is governed by the UK Air Navigation Order. This 480-page document makes reading a whole new black art. Labyrinth is the word, I think. Lord only knows how many pilots and operators have broken rules that they didn't even know existed. To read the ANO you actually need to open it in at least 3 separate pdf windows, such is the level of cross-reference required.

It gets worse. For the last decade at least we have been treated to the "harmonisation of European airspace" and the "One Skies" policy of the EU. This has resulted in more confusion than a pack of meerkats on ice skates.

Our end of aviation is called GA - General Aviation. This catch-all describes just about anything that isn't a commercial airliner or military. Farmer with flex-wing checking his animals, private pilots having fun, young pilots training to be professionals, air ambulances. It's an industry which thrives on green shoots, enthusiasm and a high level of training.

It is being strangled to its early death by over-regulation, confusion, badly-drafted laws and a draconian regulatory authority who pick pointless fights instead of concentrating on the freedom of the skies. The costs of regulation have soared (no apologies for the pun) as the layers of bureaucrats have their day - the State doesn't pay for this disaster, we're funding our own firing squad. And so the costs of participating start to get beyond reasonable reach.

GA has suffered from the money crisis like many areas of commerce, and it certainly wasn't helped by the ridiculous knee-jerk called Olympics Airspace Restrictions. Just about every south & south-east GA business has suffered tremendous losses for the 2-month airspace restrictions. And there's no compensation being paid for those losses.

So please, find your nearest small airfield. Join the Club, meet the folks, take a little introductory training or sight-seeing flight. It won't cost more than the price of that chair that you shouldn't be sitting on right now. Support GA.

This country pioneered flight. Our inventors and designers built such fantastic machines and there's something British in every aircraft on the planet. All those people were a part of GA. All the small airfields (used and disused) that cover our countryside come from a time when we pioneered, we pushed the world along - we didn't follow, we led. Yes - world wars accelerated some of this. But let's never forget that it was our own Government who turned down the idea of the Spitfire. A project that was only saved by a Mussolini-hating Italian socialite. Female, by the way.

The old airfield where Spitfires were serviced & rebuilt near Southampton is lost. Please don't let this part of our heritage die. Please help keep GA alive.

Footnote: the extract above is from a CAA document which tells us that we don't need to comply with a European regulation about instruments to be carried onboard helicopters in certain circumstances. I know - I have the cross-eyes to prove it. How much did it cost to draft a regulation over a number of years, and then it gets ignored?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

All in the best possible taste

Maurice Cole probably wouldn't have made you laugh. But Kenny Everett did. Dear "cuddly" died just over 17 years ago.

On Wednesday night BBC4 will be screening their drama All In the Best Possible Taste - also billed as The Kenny Everett Story. Like any bio-pic, this will have to be heavily abridged - Ev crammed more into his 50 years than most.
Born Maurice Cole, he never found fame in his first job - cleaning the trays used for making sausage rolls - but he became Kenny Everett and, with the help of some incredibly creative recording skills, he awoke Britain from the slumber of the BBC. Luxembourg, pirate Radio London - and then 247 National Radio 1.
I first got to meet him in the late 70s when I joined London's Capital Radio. His notoriety at that time centred on him being unemployable. He had been sacked twice by the BBC, for offences which would now get you a whole new series. (Given what's now emerging about certain people at the BBC in the 70s, Ev was the least of their problems.)
He was Marmite - love or hate. I loved him for his audio creativity and his waspy gentleness. Capital gave him the chance he needed, working with people he loved. Ev, to me, was Beatles, ELO, Queen - big melodic musical performers whose tunes sat very well next to his own layered sounds and sketches.
I also loved him for his complete childishness in the office. Our open plan production office - called The Playpen - was where Ev ran wild on Fridays. If you hadn't been soaked by Ev doing a run-by with the plant sprayer, you simply were not part of the fun.
Then, I went off him a bit.
It was 1980 and I was hosting the Capital Breakfast Show. Ev had stepped down from his Saturday slot due to the increasing amount of time he spent on his tv shows. He was a massive star. I was told by the Controller that I must - must - carry an Ev creation on the Breakfast Show every morning.
Captain Kremmen and The Star Corps was a masterpiece from his Saturday shows.
To keep Ev's name on the station, Capital ordered new episodes of Kremmen to be broadcast every morning after the 8am news - peak listening time.
So - I would wait for these new episodes to arrive. These days, you'd wait for them to be recorded, listened to by a room of legals and then transmitted, once the pages of Compliance Forms were signed-off.
Then, it was different - the 8am news would come. A 3 minute bulletin. No sign of Kremmen. Take an early ad break. Still no sign of the spaceman - or even a taxi with a tape. Play a record. During record, cab arrives with tape. Tape gets rewound and transmitted without being checked.
This was not a rare occurrence. Daily I chewed my nails waiting for bloody Kremmen to arrive.
Ev's box with my added date of tx. Thanks @thisisclive Clive Warren

Sometimes we transmitted old episodes that we had. Nobody really noticed.
Because, by this time, Ev was not in a good way inside that head of his. He was being paid stupid amounts by both ITV and the BBC. He had become a hermit on a Welsh hill with animals. He was chemically altered - and he simply wasn't delivering on the deal.
Kremmen got worse and worse. On some days it would have such a long intro from a previous episode, with an even longer outro repeating it, that the new "original" material was only seconds long.
It was a nightmare for the management. And I was losing faith in one of my genuine heroes.
I will watch on Wednesday. And I will remember a stunning talent - a man who never lived long enough to see the real positive effect he had.
My thanks to Simon Booker for spurring this. "Betty" was a great friend and producer of Ev at Capital and beyond. He sent me the photo above recently - it's how we all remember Kenny.

And if you want to hear some tales of Ev - try this on iPlayer

YouTube is brimming with Ev. Remember Reg the DIY man? 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Oh God. What have I done?

I loathe blogs. I hate bloggers as much as I dislike smug architectural couples with their carbon-neutral boxes on Grand Designs. My loathing for bloggers is surpassed only by the deeply negative feelings I have for many politicians, "personalities", and time-wasting sloths.

So - it's started well. My first blog.

I went to a little dinner last week. It was to celebrate the 50 career years of a man who, in many ways, was the foundation of music radio in the UK. Tim Blackmore is a name that will trigger your grey cells if you listened to Radio 1 from the start. He was originally one of the producers - one of the men (they were all men) who got a rushed credit at the end of a show, just before the DJ darted off to another supermarket opening.

Tim shaped music radio. And that meant he also shaped music and the people who played the records. At the time Tim started work with the BBC, I was a 7 year old with ears shaped by the BBC Light Programme. Worker's Playtime was the extent of my excitement. By the time I was 9, I had discovered pirate radio (and it had discovered my sister - but that's for a different day). Then along came the State's answer to pirates - close 'em down and re-employ the "talent" legitimately.

Sept 1967. Tony Blackburn opened R1. The TB Breakfast Show was produced by Tim. His was the last name I heard before going into school each day.

Then he started to produce Noel Edmonds' original Sunday morning show. He didn't know it, but a 13 year old was having his listening habits shaped by the "story songs" which were a feature of the show. Carole Bayer-Sager, Phillip Goodhand-Tait, Andy Fairweather-Low. Tim seemed to like double-barrelled names, despite a deep-rooted socialist layer of wisdom.

Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon - and, of course, Carole King. Tim and I had never met - but he was shaping me.

Then he produced the absolutely ground-breaking documentary series The Story of Pop - the first ever doc series on Radio 1. I listened to every syllable, lyric, tune, explanation.

So, I suppose that it was always destined that in 1975, 20 years old and with a sack of rejection letters from local and national stations, I should pitch-up at R1 desperate. And I mean DESPERATE for a job. My dad was seriously ill and life at home was changing. This fledgling needed to fly and earn some keep.

Johnny Beerling, Noel Edmonds - saviours in my world. Johnny was an Executive Producer at R1. He offered me a fortnightly "job" at £12 a time - making programme trailers. The money really just covered my travel costs - it was the break that I needed. Network radio on the most successful station. Making tea, absorbing from others like a sponge.

JB introduced me one day to Tim Blackmore. You can imagine how I felt. This was the man whose musical knowledge I had stolen. Tim was much in demand and he took me on as his production assistant/researcher for a doc series called Insight and Alan Freeman's Pop Quiz.

Yes - I really wanted to be a DJ. But this was the start. And, as my Dad died at the stupidly early age of 56, it was to be my foundation.

Tim left R1 in 1977 to join Capital Radio in London. Capital was on the brink of collapse after just 3 years on the air. The founders were flogging their valuables to pay the staff. Tim floated down on a parachute and joined a team who saved the station. And, here's the mettle of the man. As he left R1 he said "Give me 12 months and I'll have a job for you."

So, 1978, I find myself on the air doing night-shifts and holiday cover at Euston Tower. Fantastic times as we made the Rockin' Tower London's favourite. My reward, in 1980, was the Breakfast Show. In the next 2 years we reached audience figures not seen since.

Like many an exploding star, Capital started to burn-up on re-entry. My rocket left NW1 and I headed back to R1 and then TV. Tim became one of the first independent radio producers in the UK and guided a few hundred careers. In my little speech last week I said that the word I could best use to describe him would be "imprint". His imprint is on people in broadcasting and people who receive broadcasting. He has shaped a lot of what you hear.

He hates bad broadcasting. One of his mantras was the abuse of "unique". He would hear someone broadcast about "a completely unique situation" - and then gently correct them: "It's either unique. Or it isn't. It can't be partially unique nor completely unique. It's what it is. Unique."

He went on to co-found Unique Broadcasting.

And in the room last week it became apparent that Tim Blackmore is indeed a unique soul in broadcasting - he has no enemies. For me, he is mentor, sounding-board, life map. I consulted him about leaving Capital for Radio 1, I took his advice when I was offered the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Numerous times my conversations with Tim include the words from me "Can I ask you something..."

I would hope that all of us have a mentor. A guide. Someone as truthful and knowledgeable as "mine". In my own little way, I've also tried to help others. Pay it forward. It's really worth it when you see them get on.

So - dear Tim - I've blogged about you because I'm hoping our stories will inspire future generations to never give up, never slacken, never stop enjoying what you do. Working in broadcasting, like many vocations, is a gift to be nurtured and respected. Don't let the buggers grind you down. And don't open your mouth before engaging your brain.

Dear God. What have I done?

There we go. First blog - and little sign of a rant.

PS: Google+. It pisses me off that I selected "English-UK" as my language - but your software keeps telling me that "favourite" is incorrect. You've caught the Microsoft disease.