Category Archives: Retirement

The final party.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the last few weeks is that I never seem to have been far from some sort of  party. I was bought lunch (a very up market burger) on my last operational day; we all went down the pub on my birthday; I had a barbecue in my garden a few days later and on Thursday just gone I was invited as a retiree guest of honour to what is becoming the annual summer party at the BBC News operational base in Park Royal.  They get caterers in to do the barbecue properly,  lay on some beer and wine (and soft drinks, don’t forget the soft drinks)  and just relax for an evening.  They chose the date in the hope that it would be a quiet spot between big stories–after the World Cup and Commonwealth Games but before the Scottish referendum and the party conference season.  This year they got Bob Prabhu to issue a general invitation through his retired staff newsletter.

It was already going when Karen and I turned up. Plenty of people eating and drinking and just about the first person I bumped into was  an old picture editing hand who got the evening off in the right spirit with an anecdote about the old days. Apparently he showed up to edit on a job I was doing and I promptly forced the camera on him because I needed the loo.  I’ll have to take his word on that because I don’t remember it at all. All I can say is that I knew he’d cope because we’d done the basic ENG course together thirty years ago.

Then I was accosted by a someone I knew by sight but had not ever had an occasion to speak to–Andrew Steele, a senior manager in Operations. He’d actually been my manager about three levels removed for the last  year or two but somehow our paths hadn’t crossed.  he said he wanted to introduce himself because in an hours time he was going to severely embarrass me and I should at least know who he was.

That was nice.

We had a burger; we drank beer (They got in some good stuff. London Pride and Marston’s Ped for a couple although unusually I ended up drinking San Miguel, mostly because it was kept cold) and soon  Andrew called the meeting to order.

After a few words about the trials and tribulations and successes of a stupidly busy summer he took us back to 1979. Margaret Thatcher and so forth and how, on the 29th October, a young man called Roy Gillett started with the BBC and I held my breath

It was mercifully brief. He didn’t give a full rundown of my time, just mentioned that I was one of only a few who’d come through engineering to the camera unit (actually he reckoned I was unique in that respect but I don’t think so) and only told one embarrassing anecdote: a tale from 1990 about how I drowned a camera car in Wales, losing my wallet in the process.  You can read my version–the true version– of that incident here.

Then he gave me a leaving  gift . Another present! I thought the assignments desk had taken care of the leaving present but here was another one.  I scrabbled to unwrap it as Andrew segued from my departure to saying goodbye to Andrew Latham, who’d been running Operations for many years and was also leaving.  I got the parcel open and…

OK, I wasn’t quite as stunned as I was when I got the paintings from Karen (here and here) but it was quite a shock.

Some history. When I left Manchester  (UMIST)in 1979, a bunch of friends got together and got me a leather beer tankard with the UNIST Socials logo on it. I still have it. I never actually drink out of it; I suspect it would be unwise after thirty five years. At the very least it would need to be re-conditioned (soaked in beer for a couple of days) but I keep it on display in the living room.  Steve Hughes, who was part of that team,  had the idea to do it again, for the sake of symmetry. He conspired with a mutual friend, Jackie Burns, who knows people in the art world and recommended the craftsman  and with Karen whose task it was to get my precise joining date out of me without spilling the beans (because it seems HR couldn’t oblige)  and commissioned a leather tankard with my career dates.

And as I stood there gazing at it in disbelief, Andrew thrust the microphone at me.

I babbled. I gabbled. I’m not entirely sure what I said. I think I eventually burbled something about thanks and how the two mugs perfectly bookended my career. There is a threat of a video. Bob Prabhu was filming the whole thing for prosperity. If it goes on Facebook I beg you not to watch it.

And with the formalities over, we settled down to some serious partying. I was pleased to see a couple of recently retired  colleagues show up, including Monty Johnson who gave me advice on being retired (get up in the morning!) and Dave Heath. Everyone I ever speak to who has retired has never regretted it. I was amused to find I’d become the advocate for leaving. Several serving members told me they were seriously considering their options and I told them, with all the authority of my three weeks’ experience of retirement, Go For It.

I got a couple more little leaving tokens from Grant Henderson (wine!) and Alan Murdey, which touched me greatly and we eventually weaved our way home when things wound down at about 10.

I managed not to take any usable photos at the party itself (camera in self-timer mode, photographer in  beer mode) but here’s one from the next morning: me with both mugs.



I look pleased I think

So thanks to Steve, Andrew Steele, Karen, Jackie , Bob Prabhu and everyone who came to Park Western that night and gave me a great send off.

Maybe I’ll see you next year.


Courgettes, I’ve had a few…

Sorry about that. One of the things I’ve been doing for the last ten days is helping Karen harvest her kitchen garden and the aubergines and courgettes are coming in.

So what is retirement like?
I don’t know yet. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in.  At the moment it’s a bit like being on leave, or in the middle of a long weekend. I spent the first three days getting the house ready for having a few people round for a barbecue. We got in enough booze to launch an ocean liner only to discover that everyone was driving. I’m now self sufficient in beer and wine for months and the freezer is bulging with burgers and sausages.  Then I came over to Southend and relaxed for a bit. Swimming, cycling, bringing in the veg–exactly what I’d do on an August weekend any other year.

Something inside me still hasn’t quite disengaged. Several times over the last week or so I’ve seen a news item or a friend’s Facebook update from location and instantly thought, that will be my job soon. No it won’t! But the gut reaction is still there. Yesterday I briefly found myself wondering when it would be my turn to stake out Cliff Richard’s place in Berkshire and this morning I had a moment trying to work out where I’d park for the Ecuadorian Embassy.

“I don’t miss this at all” I commented on Facebook.

“Liar” came the response.

The truth is perhaps somewhere in between, but rather closer to my comment. There are things I’ll miss, but not so many I want to change my mind.

Definitely “…too few to mention.”





The Present

My OH, the lovely Karen decided that a Significant Birthday needed a Proper Present. So she commissioned a couple of paintings from a Liam O’Farrell.

Here they are on my wall.


They’re studies of the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice with a slightly forlorn cameraman in the foreground

Bailey RCoJ

The Old Bailey has a lone cameraman trudging down Old Bailey to take up his position in the early morningDeatil1

and the RCoJ features the cameraman and his correspondent doing a  piece to camera


Karen tells me she sent the artist every photo of me on location she could find so he got the idea–and then he filtered it through his style. Apparently he loved the  the woolly hat (which I was wearing the very first time she met me at the Bailey eight years ago; a story I will come to sooner rather than later) and really wanted to include it.

I think they’re wonderful and I think in some ways  the hat says everything.

Thank you so much dear.



So that was it. My very last official day at the BBC.

No one expected me to film anything (although I did take the precaution of ringing in at 7 o’clock, same as usual, just to make sure) so the schedule was up to me.  I had a few bits of admin to do and then I was going down the pub where I would attempt to stay upright and coherent at least until Karen poured me into a taxi.
First up, handing back my camera and stuff.  I had a relaxed  start, walked round the corner to the BBC’s engineering base and hauled the stuff out of the locker.
photo (3)

Couldn’t resist one last selfie–if I can call it a selfie when someone else actually took it.
The maintenance manager and I stepped through his list and he didn’t grimmace  too much at the occasional ding or evidence of  <cough> wear and tear.   I even had everything on his list still in the kit.

Job one, <tick>

At New Broadcasting House later that afternoon I handed back the laptop that I’d never edited on. I tried to hand in the phone but they told me to keep it until the number got transferred to my new handset.

Job two. <tick>

Then–the surprise. The assignments team took me to one side and produced tea and cakes; a few then someone made a short speech thanking me for my efforts.  At that, Louise Croft produced a card absolutely crammed with good wishes, a bottle of what I am assured is top notch wine (Chateauneuf du Pap) and two magnificent cut glass goblets to drink it out of.

I was stunned speechless. (and not for the last time that day either but we’ll get to that) It wasn’t something I was expecting and I was rather touched. <sniff>

Then: the pub. I got there a bit after Karen did having got slightly wrapped up in tidying my BBC network area but she bumped into a producer she knew slightly

I lost track of who came. A couple of dozen at least. I lost track of who bought me a beer and who I bought beer for. I think we drifted away sometime after ten. A good night. Masons arms

That was about half the number who came. I won’t name them all; they know who they are. Thanks.

The highlight of the evening though was the present from Karen. Entirely unbeknown to me she’d commissioned a couple of paintings from one Liam O’Farrell. They show the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice with a tiny cameraman in the foreground.Paintings

That was when I was really, truly struck dumb. They will have pride of place on my walls for ever more.


We got a cab home (courtesy of the app on Sara Shepherd’s phone) and collapsed into bed to sleep it off.
And just so you know, I didn’t have that much of a hangover.

The presents


‘Poo from Bobski Prabhu and craft ale from Sara.

Many, many thanks to everyone and I may see you again at future events.




Going, going…

Thursday was almost certainly my last day on camera for the BBC. I have one more day on shift, next Wednesday, but that’s going to be taken up with handing back my camera kit, editing laptop, phone, ID and other stuff. Unless various kinds of gooey stuff hit the fan in a big way between now and then I won’t be expected to film anything.

Yes; curiously, some of us still casually use “film” as the verb despite the fact that it’s been thirty years since we switched to tape and I’ve never shot a frame of film in my career. We’ve been through three different cassette formats and now shoot on solid state memory cards but the terminology seems dug in. It’s less common to hear the edit suites called “cutting rooms” but it has happened.

If I’d thought I was going to get an easy ride, a gentle, relaxed day at the end of a career I was sadly mistaken. Just as I was going home the night before I was handed the call sheet for a six o’clock start: a two camera interview in the NBH building with the outgoing CEO of energy company Centrica.

It wasn’t anything particularly challenging, but I could have done without needing to get up at half past four. Especially when I actually had to get up at half past three, unable to sleep. Still, it meant I was unlikely to be late.

The job went off painlessly enough and I was a bit chuffed that John Moylan, the correspondent took a minute to wish me all the best for the future.

Another quick job in the building followed and then, after a couple of large coffees, came the call. Could I please set up on the Piazza at the front of the building for an interview at midday?

Of course I could.

That, it seemed to me, was liable to be IT. My last job. Ever. My crack of dawn start meant I was supposed to be back in West London at half past three and allowing for travelling I didn’t see time for any more shoots.

My last job. Better get it right then.

Don’t panic, I got it right. I did keep obsessively checking that I was turning over; (See what I mean about the terminology? Memory cards don’t turn) it would have been mortifying to make that classic mistake at the finish. (I did do it once, in about 1995, and when the pain has faded in ten or twenty more years I might write about it)

I got the producer to take a couple of photos for posterity.


Perhaps I could have tucked my shirt in but then again it’s how most people will remember me.


The guest is a James DeWaal from Chatham House, the international affairs think tank and he’s talking to correspondent Nick Childs about NATO’s response to Russian aggression.



And the camera’s eye view.  I can’t post a video due to filesize restrictions so here’s a grab


Admire how I threw the background out of focus.

And that was it. Unless  a truly major story–and it would have to be Senior Royal Death major I think– breaks in the next three days that is probably  the last thing I’ll ever shoot for the BBC.

I have to say It didn’t feel that momentous.  The sky didn’t darken and lightning didn’t flash. There was no portentous synthesiser accompaniment swelling in the background. I handed over the card, wrapped up and took the kit back to the car.

And apart from the very nice lunch the desk took me out for, thank you all, that was the end of the day. One more to go and I’m as free as a bird.



In eight days time I shall become a retired person. A<gasp> pensioner. 

Well, sort of. I’ll be in receipt of an occupational pension. (At least, I assume I will be. So far I’ve heard very little from the pension fund. Maybe they don’t adopt me until August 7th)  But as far as the government is concerned I have another five years and eleven months to go. They moved those goalposts while I wasn’t looking. I will get free prescriptions though unless they change the rules in the next week and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.

But yes. Retired. A pensioner. Friends of mine who’ve gone before say it’s a bit like being a kid on the summer holidays again, only with my own money. I can do anything I like. Anything. (You knew  that within the law  is to be taken as read, didn’t you?)

But this poses, if not exactly a problem, a bit of a conundrum. When you can do anything you like, how do you choose? What shall I do? I was never much good at amusing myself on summer holidays as it happens.

I’ve had some ideas. This is one of them: whitter away on a blog. I don’t see that taking up all that much time, especially as I have no intention of making any kind of regular commitment to it. I’m not going to be like Tim Fenton (Zelo Street–over there on the right) putting up three well researched posts a day regular as clockwork.  It will be as the fancy takes me.

Someone has already noted that I will probably get out on my bike a bit more–there may be note at some point about how I came a bit late to cycling and now love it–and that was always my intention. I  I’d like to do more mass participation rides as long as I can find some that knackered old gits can complete in their own time.

Learn, at long  bloody last, to play a musical instrument? Actually take lessons rather than just aimlessly noodle on one? Possibly. Although I suspect that it was lack of any perceptible musical talent rather than lack of time is what’s inhibited  me in the past. Perhaps, like Dan Weir in Iain Banks’s Espedair Street, I should take up the bass guitar because my fingers are too clumsy for anything else.

Get properly stuck back in to my family history research? I’ve been looking at that on and off for the best part of twenty five years but I’ve discovered nothing much new for the last five. I think there are courses I could take and there’s a  possibly of field trips–particularly to Worcester, where my father’s family came from– to look at actual paper records.

Travelling a bit would be good if the pension will stretch, but I’d always want to go with Karen, the other ‘arf, and she’s still working for a living.

Maybe  something I hadn’t thought of will suddenly come along and, in my late mother’s words, “hit me over the head.”

I think for the first couple of months, though, what I’ll be mostly doing is not going to work.



So why am I retiring from what quite possibly could seem to be one of the best jobs there is? I mean we get to swan around the world at someone else’s expense, stay in four star  hotels and get front row seats at the best events, don’t we?

Well not really, no. And over time I may explain the reality of this peculiar line of work.  But it’s very far from the worst job in the world either. Looking back it’s probably one of the  the best and most interesting jobs I could reasonably expect to have had had given my qualifications, experience and aptitudes. I was lucky to fall into it. And I did fall but again, that may be another story for another post.

None of which explains why I’m retiring. I think the most succinct answer is, “Because I can.”

Six months ago I got a letter from the BBC’s pension fund. Six months hence my pension would, for want of a better term, mature. I would be sixty years old and have forty  years worth of contributions (the maximum) in the scheme. (I chose to pay slightly increased contributions from the word go in 1980)

For old gits like me that means  a full, index linked final salary pension which, I have been reliably informed by previously retired staff, is plenty.

(I’ll insert here the standard apology to my younger colleagues who’ve had their pension entitlements hacked back. Sorry, guys, but there’s not a great deal I can do about it. )


At the same time I was noticing that the job–at least for me– was becoming increasingly routine and even, on occasions a bit tedious.  That was partly my fault I suppose for not keeping up with the technology and learning laptop editing or one man satellite truck operation and a handful of other new skills but there you go.

The Old Bailey has a certain charm occasionally but getting up at 04:30 on a cold February morning to go and stand there for several hours in the rain is not inspiring.

And I was going to be sixty. The job was getting increasingly physically harder with more to carry . (Many colleagues have spinal issues. Something I have, thankfully been spared, but for how long?) In short, I was getting tired. Why not go while was I’m still healthy and with–I sincerely hope–many more years to find something else interesting to do?

So I talked it over with Karen, the other ‘arf, and in April, after a morning standing in Downing Street for little apparent purpose, I told by manager I was off on my next birthday.

I don’t think it came as much of a surprise. He probably knew I’d turned down a trip to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games on the grounds that I might be retired before they ended. It didn’t actually work out like that but it would have meant being terribly busy at a time when I’ve been making strenuous efforts to wind down.

That’s all there is to it. I can’t do it for ever, so I chose to stop when wanted rather than go on a bit too long and have someone whisper in my ear that I really ought to stand aside.

If you want to try to talk me out of it–although it’s a bit late–comments are open.