Category Archives: Memoir

When I was on telly

In 2006 I spent a rather enjoyable five weeks touring Germany following the England footy team in their latest attempt to win a World Cup. For three weeks we followed their progress through the group stages and two knockout games until the inevitable disappointment of losing to Portugal on penalties in Gelsenkirchen. After that I decamped to Berlin and spent the rest of the tournament on a fixed camera overlooking the Brandenburg Gate.

Like I said, I rather enjoyed it, so when we got home I started dropping some fairly unsubtle hints in certain quarters that I could be available for the 2008 European Championships due to take place in Austria and Switzerland.

First, though, England had to qualify. Much as it might annoy fans of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s probably true that BBC National News only does the full saturation coverage of these things when England are involved. So I was keeping a beady eye on the qualification campaign.

It did not go well. It seemed to start reasonably with a 5-0 thrashing of Andorra but then they started making hard work of it and by the end of the campaign it came down to one game against Croatia at Wembley in November 2007.

As I recall, assuming Russia were going to beat Andorra that evening, at least a draw was necessary to qualify. Seeing as it was a pivotal moment, News decided to send a team to Wembley to watch over it. Funnily enough, most of us on that job were hoping to get the trip the following year, including me.

My position was on a pitchside camera with sports correspondent James Pearce. I’d worked with James before, at the 2004 Euros in Lisbon and we got on pretty well. We weren’t allowed out there during the game but we did a lot of preview stuff beforehand and made ready to go out as soon as it was over.

Without dragging it out too much, England blew it. 0-2 down at half time and looking out of it. They dragged themselves back into contention and with a quarter of an hour to go it was 2-2, which would have been just good enough even with Russia beating Andorra. Then they conceded a third and couldn’t manage just one last goal. Disappointment all round. England, and by extension, many of us, weren’t going to the Euros.

That, you may recall was when photos of manager Steve Mclaren sheltering under an umbrella appeared with the caption “The wally with the brolly” A little unfair I thought, because it really was horribly cold and wet, as you will see.

Wally with Brolly

The other thing that happened that night was that the BBC’s rolling news channel News 24 sent a camera team to shoot material for the countdown sequence they used as an introduction at the top of the hour. This is what they got.

My brush with fame.

This short, blink and you miss it, clip from that night, taken as the team were warming up, appeared in most of the headline countdown sequences on News 24 for many years. Like I said, it was cold and wet which is why I’m muffled up in the bright red jacket.

There is another clip they sometimes used showing James and me interviewing Alan Hansen. If I can track that down I’ll add it here later. This one came from a ten minute compendium of a number of versions of the sequence at YouTube

So we didn’t get to go to the Euros. Not a major tragedy in the history of the world and, as it happened, two years later most of us got the opportunity to go to the World Cup in South Africa so that was nice.

Family Photo

At the funeral of my Auntie June ( neé Tidd) a few months ago her sons, Gary and Jamie, produced a couple of albums of old photos. Mostly they date from the early 1950s. I took charge of one of them and I’ve been slowly scanning the pictures for posterity. Not surprisingly, they mostly feature June, her husband Ron Clare (who passed in 2002) and their friends. Usually on holiday.

But there’s one that sets itself apart. It’s Ron and June with his parents (my grandparents) and ALL the siblings and spouses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them all together before. The scribbled note on the back says it was taken in 1953 or ’54. I suspect it was at their house in Hatherly Gardens in East Ham.

All the family

Front and centre: my maternal grandmother, Rhoda Jane Clare (neé Bailey) Born in London in 1891 and worked as a domestic servant. In 1912 she married a Henry George Simmons and had three children. Henry John known as Jack (1913) Back row, second left. Rhoda Florence–Floss–(1916) Back row, centre and William George, (1918) Front row on the right as you view it.

In 1919, Henry George was carried off by the Spanish ‘flu epidemic. Must have been hard for Nanny Rhoda, but luckily an old friend of Henry’s, Arthur George Clare, seen next to Rhoda on the left, stepped in to help and in May 1922 they married. In December that year, my mother, Hilda Beatrice Clare, far left, was born. Think about that. Take all the time you need.

Later on, they had Arthur Edward (1925) back row, second right, and Ronald George (1931) on the right at the back. Completing the family group we have my dad, Hilda’s husband, James Edward directly behind her, half hidden, and June Iris Tidd, Ron’s wife, in front of him on the right.

I’m absolutely fascinated by this picture. As I said, I’ve never seen all of them together before, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of grandfather Arthur at all. And as he died in 1959, I really remember very little about him.

They’re all gone now, as you might imagine. June was the last living member of her generation of the family. But we do have these and many other photos, and I hope they keep on emerging.

When Santa got nicked

Well over thirty five years ago, in the run up to Christmas 1986 or ’87, I think, the BBC got an invitation to see a Santa waterskiing on the Thames under one of the bridges. I imagine it was some kind of publicity stunt, but for what I have absolutely no idea any more. And Christmas being (in those days) a quiet time of year for news, they decided to cover it.

Off we went, cameraman Albie Charlton and I, to capture this rather trivial event for posterity.

We set up somewhere on the South Bank, and sure enough, there came a speedboat towing Santa under the bridge. Not Earth shatteringly important but maybe mildly diverting.

Problem was, the organisers of this stunt hasn’t bothered to coordinate with the Met Police’s Thames division, who soon showed up in their blue boat with their blue lights and nicked Santa and the pilot for some obscure breach of the rules of the river, hauling them into their boat and zooming off with them.

We thought this was quite amusing, and so did the editor of the lunchtime news who put it out as an “and finally.” (The BBC didn’t actually call it that, but you know, last trivial item before the weather.)

What nobody realised was that on a quiet day that close to Christmas, LOADS of small kiddies would be watching, and so, no sooner did the item finish than the switchboard lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree with outraged parents yelling that their kids were horrified and demanding to know if their presents would still arrive.

I believe they had to run a line in the early evening news that Santa had been released without charge and would be operating as normal.

I do wish I had evidence, but I didn’t take any stills at the time (one of the regrets of my career) and a search has turned up no sign of the video. If anyone has or finds anything, do tell.


In late 1989, the Warsaw Pact, and indeed the Soviet Union, were basically dead on their feet. The governments of Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia amongst others were changing and parting company from the Soviet Union, which itself was slowly falling apart.

One consequence of this was that East Germans could do an end run around the interior German border by going into Hungary (my first draft of this said it was Czechoslovakia, but a little research suggests it was actually Hungary) and crossing into Austria and onto West Germany. In September, I was sent out, with sound recordist Roger Snow and correspondent Michael MacMillan, to do the story.

It only took a couple of days, after which MacMillan went home and Roger and I were asked to head for Munich and meet up with a different correspondent (and for the life of me I can’t remember who. Possibly Chris Wain) to cover a NATO exercise which was to take place the following weekend.

We had a couple of days to kill so, it being September in Munich, we went to the Okboberfest. (I know, I know)

We had a wander round and decided we wanted lunch. Under the circumstances, beer and sausage seemed appropriate. But every beer tent we went into was absolutely rammed.

Finally, we found one where we could at least sit down. We had some beer, as you see. <glugglugglugglug> We probably had some sausage too. Honest

Then we had another beer <glugglugglugglug>

And Roger turned to me and asked, “Do you feel in the slightest bit pissed?”

No. I didn’t. After two LITRES of beer.

That was why the tent was half empty. The Germans knew it was selling low alcohol beer. Funny thing was, though, we never realised. It tasted just like, well, beer. Clever brewers those Germans. It’s taken us thirty odd years to catch up

The NATO exercise was fun when we got to it as well but that’s another story

Happy New Year, everyone

Just watching the BBC News Channel. They’re previewing the midnight fireworks from Embankment in London.

Took me back to the night I was on that job.

I *think* it would have been NYE 2000 into 2001 <*> but I’m not 100% certain. Not really important. The Millennium Wheel was in place, though.

We set up on Embankment overlooking the Wheel: me (on camera) an engineer in the truck, a producer and a correspondent from News 24, as it was still called back then.

We did an insert into the 8 o’clock sequence, and of course as soon as the lights went on we became a magnet for every drunken idiot in a quarter mile radius. They capered behind the reporter; they shouted (slurred) insults and rude suggestions and one came right up and gurned into my lens. I actually reached round and hauled him out of the shot by his collar, which was probably not wise but I got away with it.

After we came off air and got rid of the morons we got a phone call from the correspondent who was due to do the Network news at 10. “Get that sorted out or I’m not coming”

We moved position slightly to get the correspondent into a defensible right angle in the parapet and chatted up a couple of cops who agreed to pass by at the top of the hours. The 9, 10 (with the Network reporter) and 11 went off without any further trouble and we came to midnight.

Quite a long piece, and as we were doing it I noticed a few blokes hanging around just out of shot. They were quite clearly as pissed as newts, glazed eyes and swaying slightly but not actually making any trouble. They waited until the lights went off then stumbled across and gave each and everyone of us a hug and a handshake and wished us, in thick Slavic accents, a very happy New Year. Then they happily weaved off into the distance, presumably to spread good cheer to anyone else they could find.

And that, I realised with some regret, was the difference between the pissed Englishman and the pissed Slav.

Happy New Year, everyone

<*> PS, do you want my tired rant on when the 20th Century *actually* ended? Thought not 

What has the EU ever done for us?

One warm sunny morning in August some considerable time ago, I woke up in a strange place. It was a chalet style ski lodge, built, I was told, for a long passed winter Olympics.

Standing on the grass outside the door I looked out at a beautiful, steep sided, densely wooded valley, dotted with small villages and towns. I swear that even now I can smell the freshness in the air.
A bus came and took us all off for a day’s filming.

In the early afternoon, the bus stopped at what might have once been a farm; maybe cattle, maybe chickens. There were two long, low sheds.

But the sheds no longer housed cows or hens. They housed men and boys–some no older than 13 or 14. They sat and lay in long rows, no more than three feet apart. Thin, dirty, resigned. Our tour guides stood around glaring at us, fingering their Kalashnikovs.
It was called Manjača, and it was one of several internment camps operating in Bosnia in 1992 as a consequence of the Yugoslavian wars.

I was there because Paddy Ashdown and Russell Johnston had bullied the Serbs into letting us in.

i found it a sobering experience, not least because I really couldn’t see what separated the guards from the prisoners apart from a national label

This happened only 25 years ago, only a three hour flight from Heathrow or Gatwick. In our own backyard near enough. It’s what can happen when you divide the world into Them and Us. When you let yourself give in to unthinking nationalism and the fear of the Other.

Eventually of course the wars stopped and the various parties sat down and *talked* and now two of the former Yugoslavian republics are members of the EU and more are on track to join and it *won’t happen again*

The EU is where you talk first. But its more than just avoiding conflict. It’s where you actively co-operate with the others to make things better for all of you. It’s about NOT turning inwards and creating squabbling fortress nations but welcoming new ideas even new ideologies if you want. It’s about being part of something bigger and more varied.

So when you go and vote later (you are going to vote later, aren’t you?) please do vote Remain for a more peaceful and more prosperous Europe.

(By the way, there’s a better written and better recalled story of that trip to Bosnia in Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography, *A Fortunate Life.* It’s not a bad read if you ignore Paddy’s slightly pompous style)

A quick taster

So you probably know  we got married.
Karen and me. We got married.  Friday 20th.  It was great. We had a seriously good time–so good I’m still reeling  and trying to bring it all into focus to write something about it.

But while I do, here is something I prepared earlier. It’s the short speech I gave before the Best Man’s speech. I’m not sure that this was fully in compliance with the traditional order of events, but I really don’t care.  There was stuff I wanted to say, and say it to all the friends and family.

This is my script. It was NOT delivered exactly as written. I kind of surfed the euphoria a bit and ad-libbed a few times.  “Check against delivery,” as it used to say on the advance copies of political speeches I occasionally saw in my previous life.

Seemed to go down reasonably well.  It got a few laughs anyway.  For those who did see it live, thank you for being so appreciative.

Well, it’s been a while coming, hasn’t it?

I mean, not many people wait until their 60s to dip their toe into matrimony for the first time.. Usually once you get into middle age, you’re a bit set in your ways, but this seems like the right thing to do now.

From another point of view it’s been twelve years. Twelve years since Karen and I decided we’d been typing at each other on social media long enough and went to see Buster Keaton in a silent film called The Cameraman. It was great fun to see him inventing all the slapstick stunts with the tripod that we were still doing 100 years later. And afterwards we decided maybe we should do something one day again soon. So we did, and 12 years later we still haven’t stopped talking.

But maybe the real wait has been six years.

Let me take you back to March 2012. Karen had joined me at the BBC at a retirement party for a fellow cameraman.  As usual, a whole bunch of old hands showed up and I found myself in conversation with quite a few of them. Most of them seemed to think I was likely to be the next departure, and on the whole they were encouraging me to take the plunge as soon as I could. And so so, they reckoned, should Karen.

Well, we chatted about it and started thinking out loud about what retirement would mean and then she said something along the lines of, “That would be a good time to “sort out the paperwork”.

“Sort out the paperwork” was our euphemism of choice for the “upgrade” of Karen and Derek’s long standing separation to a full divorce.

Hmm. I said. “Well, if you did do that, I’d be happy to do the next bit of paperwork”

There was a pause. She looked at me, looked at the glass of BBC red wine I was holding, which was definitely not my first of the evening, looked back at me and said “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Er…yes. I suppose it does,”

There may have been less romantic proposals, but maybe not by much, and I couldn’t let it end there. So a little while later, when were leaving the party I did, in fact, get down on one knee and proposed properly, just so it was official.

And for the avoidance of doubt, I said it AGAIN once I’d sobered up the following morning.

And here we are.

Before I hand over to Steve for the ritual character assassination I do just want to say a few words of thanks.

When I started seeing Karen I was a bit nervous about meeting her extended family. I needn’t have been. Without exception, everyone on her side has been welcoming to the newcomer. Particularly, I want to thank Chris, Tom and Clare who took to to “mum’s new bloke” without so much as blinking an eye and made me feel like one of the family.

Thanks also to the staff here at the hotel for arranging all this for us.

And finally thank you to all of you for coming. Some of you have come some distance to join us today and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that. We hope you’ve had, and will continue to have, a good time.

And now it’s Steve’s turn, but first

At this point I muttered something about traditionally giving the Best Man a present but thinking that he’d appreciate this rather than a set of cuff links or something and handed him a bottle of decent (as recommended by the local Majestic Wine Warehouse) Pino Grigio (As recommended by a mutual friend)
I ran the first draft past Karen and she made a few suggestions, which I incorporated and reminded me of the following .  I’m including it for completeness.

We actually first became acquainted online in the late 90s: the earliest post from “Roy Gillett” on UKCA I can find quickly in my archive is from 2000, and even then we were disagreeing *very politely* on the existence of God 😀

In 2004 we nearly met, but Brendan [Brendan Stallard, an old online mate of ours]  couldn’t find a slot in the schedule so it fell through. I can’t find the one where we all met up in the Black Friar but it must have been shortly after that.

In 2005 you were helping me with getting a facsimile signature into my E mail sign-off, and I was helping you with family research on the Censuses.

At the end of the year, or early in 2006, the famous “Life on Mars” thread started – and you, as an old UMIST student, queried the credibility of the price of a ticket to Old Trafford as portrayed on the screen. I aced the game by being able to produce an actual stand ticket from Easter 1980, priced at £1.40. It’s fair to say I have a certain reputation for record-keeping.

After that the conversation sort of carried on and deviated into other matters – culminating in me saying I was going to The Cameraman, and you offering to meet up for a drink between work and then….(see above)

Steve’s speech, since you ask, was pretty damn good.  I was only very slightly embarrassed and Karen didn’t recoil in horror once. Well, in twelve years she’d heard most of the anecdotes already,

I want to write a bit more about the planning and build up and the event itself but it’s going to take a while and I need to wait on the photos from the official photographer.

Thank you for reading.

PS I should probably mention that the headline picture is an early preview of the set from the official snapper–an old BBC mate, Jon Daly Photography. An the embedded speechifying picture is courtesy of Louise Nicholson, probably my oldest friend there.


The long hard life of Elizabeth Philips

About twenty five years ago–long before Who Do You Think You Are– I started looking into my family history, just out of curiosity.

Back then, there was no internet, no Ancestry, no electronic indices and the search procedure was rather tedious so it took me quite a while to track down very much at all.

Over the years, though, I built up a patchy but reasonably accurate (I hope) picture of my ascending family tree.

Mostly it’s fairly mundane. The Gilletts and the Clares (my mother’s family)  were mostly “ag labs”–agricultural labourers–in the nineteenth century and even when they migrated to the towns and cities in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries they remained mostly unskilled.

I was, though, oddly fascinated by one particular ancestor and her life.  It took a while to put it together. In fact, I ground to a halt on a bit of a problem and stopped looking for quite some time until about ten years ago  I got to talking to Karen about it and she managed to break the logjam.

But this isn’t the story of how we unearthed it; this the the story we unearthed.

Her name was Elizabeth Philips and she is one of my Great Great Great Grandmothers.

Elizabeth Philips was born to Anne (born Trehearne) and William Philips in Upton on Severn in Worcestershire in 1804, they having married in August the previous year. She was baptised there on the 22nd of July and that’s really all I know about that. There’s some information regarding William and Anne in later life, including a couple more children (Hannah, 1806 and Joseph, 1815) but little else.

Elizabeth didn’t trouble any other official records that I know of until 1835 when she had her second child, Ann, baptised at Saint Martin’s in the city of Worcester.  I have no way at the moment of knowing how she came to leave Upton on Severn to the city.  I know Ann was at least her second child because she  also recorded an older brother, James, in the census of 1841 but I haven’t turned up evidence of his birth or baptism–which would have been sometime around 1829 or 1830. She didn’t mention a father for Ann and it wasn’t until the 11th of December 1838 that she married. Her husband was Edwin Gillett, a plumber and glazier originally from farming stock in Gloucestershire–perhaps tenant farmers, perhaps ag-labs; I haven’t been able to find out.

Was Edwin Ann’s father? I have no idea. He might have been, but there’s no evidence of it. He would have been eighteen or so at the time. He was born to a Charles and Mary Gillett,  in a small Gloucestershire village called Temple Guiting in 1813.

Edwin and Elizabeth did definitely have one child, John, born in October 1839, but he only lived for six months before being carried off by Tuberculosis in the spring of 1840. Edwin, sadly, had gone before, also succumbing to TB in December of 1839.

And so in the first national census, taken in April of 1841, we find Elizabeth, James and Ann living in Water Course Alley in central Worcester.  It seems likely that it was a bit of a slum. My first thought was that, from the name, it was canalside, but  a more or less contemporary map shows   houses on the alley marked as “City Ditch (site of)” Presumably the ditch was built over. . Water Course alley isn’t there  any more of course. It’s now a municipal car park between Queen Street (which does survive, at least in name, from 1841) and the A34, constructed on the course of Silver Street.Watercourse

It must have been a hard life for Elizabeth, what we’d now call a lone parent, faced with bringing up two children once Edwin died. Ann was quite young, only about 6 and James was 12. He was in fact working, as a “twine spinner” which is part of the process of ropemaking but at the age of 12 he couldn’t have been getting paid very much.

Elizabeth  was a “gloveress” which is interesting in itself. According to Amanda Wilkinson, a historian specialising in 19th century female work, in Worcester it was very often a cover for prostitution.

Glove making was skilled and delicate work, but appallingly badly paid and so many gloveresses supplemented their income on the streets. I can’t help wondering if that’s how Elizabeth found herself with two fatherless children by the age of 30.

Incidentally, fans of Terry Pratchett may be noting the similarity to the profession of “seamstress” in Ankh-Morpork. I’m sure it’s not an accident. Sir Terry was very well versed in social history and must have been aware of the realities facing single women in poverty.

She wasn’t single for all that long. In early 1843 she married one Henry Lewis, a widower and (according to the census) neighbour in Water Course Alley. Henry was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, also a highly skilled trade.  Henry and Elizabeth then fade from official records for ten years.  I’ve never managed to find them in the census for 1851 but in 1853 Henry died at the age of 39 (He was probably born  in 1813 although there’s no definite  record I can find) The cause of death was recorded as a “fit of apoplexy brought on by intoxication,” which is alarming,  His place of death was a street called Lowesmoor, only a short distance from Watercourse Alley. Elizabeth, James and Ann were on their own again.

Until  May 1855,  when Ann had a child of her own. And here it gets just a little murky. Ann’s child was registered as William Gillett CRANNAGE. She gave the little boy “Gillett “ as a given name after her mother’s first husband. Does that suggest that Edwin was  in fact her natural father?

William’s father was named as a William Crannage, a “stoker at the gas works” but nowhere is there any record of a marriage between them. Six years later in the census of 1861 young William was living with his mother,  grandmother and uncle James all under the name of Lewis in Pheasant St, again, very near Watercourse Alley. Of William Crannage there is no sign.  There are a handful of candidates appearing in various census records but none  I can definitely pin down as the father,  the Elizabeth was working then as a laundress–possibly a little too old to carry on as a “gloveress”–as was Ann, and James had become a boatman.

In 1862, at the end of August, Ann (as Ann Gillett) married a Seria Gunnell and then with somewhat indecent haste, had a child in early 1863. Make of that what you will. It seems she left Elizabeth’s home but didn’t take William with her, as the 1871 census shows just Elizabeth and William living together: Elizabeth as Elizabeth Lewis, widow and laundress,  and William as William C. Gillett, a labourer.  There is no mention of James; I’ve never found any definite trace of him since. Ann, meanwhile had given Seria three more children.

Elizabeth was quite old by then  and at some point in the next six years she went into the workhouse where she died of “senile decay”–effectively old age–on the 2nd of May 1877. She would have been 73, not a bad age for a working class woman in Victorian England I think. I’d really like one day to have a sight of whatever records of the workhouse survive.

William Gillett/Crannage/Lewis–take your pick; he did–married a local girl, Jane Stevens, in 1878 and had eleven children, one of whom, William Alfred,  was my grandfather. The eldest child was a girl, whom they named Elizabeth Ann. I find it interesting that William honoured his grandmother first.

There is one odd fact. William married Jane under the name of Crannage, that was what was originally on the marriage certificate and in the register,  but all the children were registered as Gilletts and in 1921 their marriage certificate was formally amended to show that the then William Gillett was the William Crannage who had married 43 years previously. Karen has suggested that this was to validate an entitlement to a pension that was going to kick in at the age of seventy.

It leaves me wondering, though. It seems that by strict linear paternity, I’m not really a Gillett at all, but possibly a Crannage. There’s no guarantee that Edwin was even my genetic three-greats grandfather through Elizabeth. Who, in fact, do I think I am?

But this isn’t my story. It’s the long and hard life of Elizabeth Philips. She had three children by at least two different fathers, both of whom she outlived,  and brought up an abandoned grandchild as her own. She was a survivor and in a curious  way, I’m kind of proud of her.


From the memory archives.

This story is one I’ve told many times in person,  so if you think you’ve heard it before you can go and have a beer or something while I get it off my chest.

I was reminded of it when Andrew Steele, my former boss (well, my former-boss’s boss’s boss but who’s counting?) told it as part of his valedictory address at the combined summer barbecue and retirement party they held at BBC Park Western on Thursday night. This is the full, true (as far as I can remember) and unexpurgated reality.

It would have been March or April 1990. I’d been a cameraman, a fully fledged, post holding cameraman, for rather less than a year, so I was still pretty much the new kid on the block.  There had been torrential rain and flooding in parts of North Wales and one town, Towyn near Llandudno in Conwy, was apparently particularly badly hit. I was sent up there to cover it. For reasons I don’t actually remember I didn’t have Denis Howard my usual sound recordist (sound recordists, those were the days, eh?) for this. I was temporarily partnered with someone who shall remain nameless –he’d been a sound man for a few years having started a little while after me.

We drove up to Towyn and the next day filmed around and about for a while. Towards the end of the afternoon we realised it was approaching high tide and went out to an area where the sea had come over the defences and was inundating the railway lines. I got some nice pictures of all that and we headed back to the car to take the cassette to the link truck a couple of miles away.

That was when we found it had all gone a bit wrong.  We’d driven up the main road with no trouble but–well remember I said it was approaching high tide?  The sea had come in and flooded the road both  in front of and behind the car. We’d parked on a bit of a high spot so the car was more or less dry but there was no way we could drive through the new lakes on either side of us. We didn’t even have a clear idea of how deep the water was.   We were trapped.

I called the producer at the truck and explained and we settled down to wait.  After a while the BBC Breakfast crew came past. They’d had the foresight to fly up to Liverpool and hire a Range Rover so they were still mobile. They took the pictures off us (“Nice pictures,” someone said later)  and we waited a bit more.

It was getting dark when I decided I could see the waters receding. I don’t think they were; I suspect I saw what I wanted to see but that’s hindsight for you. I told the sound recordist it was shallow enough to  try driving out. He started the car and we edged cautiously into the pool.

We got about twenty yards before the engine sucked up a lungful  of water and died. I shouldn’t have been surprised; the water was about level with the doorsill at that point. We tried starting the car but (obviously) it wouldn’t and that flattened the battery. Now we were even more stuck.

Ages later, or it may only have been half an hour, a fire engine came past and the crew, bless ’em, stopped to see if they could help. They tried jump starting the car but even the huge battery in the truck couldn’t get us going. (Of course it couldn’t. The cylinders were full of water. ) Eventually they towed us out of the flood to a safe bit of dry land near the links truck. We grabbed our camera gear, locked up and walked the rest of the way. I think we cadged a lift back to the hotel with the the second news crew. The next day I saw the car on the back of a low loader being taken home.

One of the nice things about the old job was the cameraderie. After a wet, miserable day like that you get together with your colleagues and have a drink and chat and cheer each other up. I tried to buy a round for the four of us  in the bar and couldn’t find my wallet. Panic. Where the hell had it got to?

I figured it out eventually. When the fire brigade had dragged the car out of the flood I’d dug out my wallet to give them a tenner (“…for the widows and orphans fund” as Andrew said in his speech.) I was wearing waterproof overtrousers at the time and must have put it back through the pocket slit but not into the actual trouser pocket below. The wallet was probably halfway to Ireland by this time.

It took a while to live all this down–in fact I’m not sure I ever did. Even as recently as last year people were still making jokes about not sending me to cover flooding.

One of the reasons I couldn’t live it down was because the other cameraman on that job made it his business to spread the story about and  keep it alive. Fate saw that he suffered for it though.

About six months later we were, again, both on the same story– a miner’s rally and conference near Durham. I was working for Newsnight; he was again on news.  He was covering a march and at some point his sound recordist, a really nice bloke on attachment from TV studio sound, dropped the car keys. That would have been awkward but survivable given that they had a set each. The problem was that  the keys had the registration number on the tag. Someone–probably a miner–found them, located the car and in what we surmised was retaliation for the BBC’s perceived bias in reporting the miners’ strike some years earlier, drove it into a field and set fire to it.

Total write off, along with a fair bit of expensive TV gear. Not the camera, that was in use, but quite a lot of other stuff. The blackened skeleton of the steering wheel was on display behind the assignments desk for years.

So now I could point out, every time my fraternal colleague had a few beers and began the story of how I drowned a car, at least when they’re wet, they’re that much harder to burn.