A regular strand – all about ME!
Chapter Two: Home-Made TV
After university I indulged my passion for travel. First America and a nannying job, eventually moving onto Mexico. If this were an autobiography I’d fill you in on those eclectic adventures but we’ll stick to the bits that involve something resembling the media.
On that basis, there was a somewhat bizarre episode in Mexico that relates to my experience of making programmes.
My travels took me to Acapulco where I stayed with some friends I’d met in Monte Carlo (while housekeeping one university summer holiday for Sir David Brown, he of the tractor fortune). Clive and Clyde were pilots employed by Baron Enrico di Portanova to fly him between his various luxury homes in London, Rome, Houston in Texas, and Acapulco. The Baron referred to his Learjet, named ‘The Barefoot Baroness’ as his ‘taxi’. At each location my friends the pilots had their own accommodation – in Acapulco this consisted of two apartments with sea views and their own pool, all bills paid for by the Baron. Nice job if you can get it! (The apartments were just a few steps from the building site of the Baron’s spectacular new villa, Arabesque, later used in the Bond film, ‘License to Kill’).
The Baron had lots of money and some interesting friends including diplomat Henry Kissinger. This would no doubt explain the Baron’s interest (and dislike) of communism.
Clive had recently bought the latest video camera.
Somewhere along the line it was decided we would make a documentary about the rise of communism since the end of the Second World War – with the domestic video camera, in the spare room of the apartment in Houston. Although Clive was the instigator of this project I seem to remember doing everything. He may remember it differently. I was presenter, researcher, graphics, archive, script. Clive operated the camera and fixed the lights. The lights being a couple of domestic light bulbs artfully tied to something – maybe broom handles – and pointed towards the presenter (me) sat behind a desk, a map of the world on the wall behind.
There were no editing facilities of any kind so we shot and ‘edited’ as we went along following the chronology of the ‘documentary’. I would memorise the script, read it to camera (in a somewhat dull and monotone voice, something I figured made it sound like news), stop when we wanted to play in footage (recorded from relevant television news programmes) or record a graphic (usually maps or captions drawn by myself), and then return to the next piece of memorised script. Not an ideal way of making a programme.
Each time we stopped the lighting would somehow have altered or the shot failed to match the previous ‘studio’ set up. Worse still as we shot over several days, not only the shot and lighting changed but also my hair or make up – as the programme progressed my hair started to do strange things, my face got shinier; the presenter started to look wilder and wilder.
Why were we doing this? I have no idea. Possibly Clive was keen to impress the Baron with his political sensitivities and maybe the Baron was keen to impress Henry Kissinger at the next international jet set party.
Around this time the civil war in Salvador was escalating and featured heavily in the news. Clive decided, given Salvador was just down the road, that we should go and get some brand new footage for our documentary – just us and that domestic video camera in a sea of civil unrest. Brilliant idea! Naturally I agreed. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your sense of adventure) it never happened. Can’t quite remember why but maybe the Baron called on his pilot’s services in the nick of time.
So eventually between copious bottles of lager and wine, long days devising home-made graphics, interminable script writing (over-writing was my forte), taking care of Clive’s young son (I was meant to be nannying for Clive’s wife, not making videos) and the odd sun-bathing break this mammoth, amateur project was finished. Clive booked an appointment to show our epic to the Baron. It was the first and last time I was to meet this flamboyant jet set multi-millionaire.
The Baron was very polite and commended our efforts. What happened to the video after that? I have no idea – probably thrown in the bin as soon as we left. I wanted a copy for posterity (who knew I’d one day be writing a blog about it!) but there were problems with different formats, the video being on NTSC and me needing it on PAL. So I played the video on the American TV and recorded the screen on a PAL video camera! You can just imagine what the quality of that tape is like. It’s somewhere in the loft….
The lesson from this chapter? Not entirely sure. I never showed that video to any prospective employers and not sure I even admitted its existence so it was of no practical value to my progress in the media. However, it was valuable experience. I certainly learnt how not to make home-made documentary! But like the Keele radio show I was digging out information (researcher), sourcing suitable footage and stills (archive), presenting the information (presenter) and sticking it all together Producer and director). If that isn’t good practise for a job in television, I don’t know what is. These days with digital cameras, editing software on your laptop and Google images for your archive, there is no excuse for not practising on your own home-made TV shows!
But what of the Walkman, the World Service and wandering through Africa? Well this little episode has taken up a whole post so I’ll save that for the next chapter….