Thursday, 3 September 2015


Bizarre Adventures of a Cameraman – The Riots I have Known

Along with most of the world I have been watching the riots that took place in London last weekend and on until Wednesday.
Quite apart from being appalled by what appeared to be inept Police action which allowed severe looting, arson and murder to take place, the images made me cast my mind back over civil disturbances I have been involved in and how the various Police forces handled them.
Probably the first riot I was involved in, purely from a spectator viewpoint, was in Paris in 1968.
At least I was a spectator at the outset but when the Gendarmes and riot police appeared and seemed determined to hit everyone in sight I too fled along with thousands of students..
I was in Paris to film a medical documentary, finished up staying in a Chateau outside of the city with some of the riot leaders.
The Police seemed to be very effective and no-one showed them their bare buttocks as I witnessed on a newsreel last week from London, they might have received a hot round just where they didn’t want one.
The UK Miners strike, which paralyzed the country for months, had some hairy moments too, it is difficult to get out of the way of a rampaging crowd when you have a massive camera slung over one shoulder, however I did manage it.
You seem to develop a sense of where not to stand.
A Polo match in India turned really sour when one of the competitors knocked the puck into the crowd causing some injury to a little boy..
From being a supporting cheering group of several thousand fans they turned within seconds into a bloodthirsty mob and were coming towards me.
I was actually filming the match and was just to one side of the VIP stand. The stand seemed to be the main target for the mob and they were coming fast.
Then the Police just seemed to appear from nowhere, hundreds of them, all armed with weighted bamboo canes. Very effective weapon against a crowd.
After a moment or two of nervous stand off the commander ordered his men to charge. They didn’t move, but the mob did…back to their seats in the stand..The game re-commenced.
Another incident in India was at the fish harbour in Mumbai. I was filming the processing of mountains of freshly caught prawns. The work was mainly carried out by very elegantly clad ladies in colourful saris, and it was this contrast that I wanted to capture on film, except the ladies took exception to me getting too close to them and started to pelt me with prawns, then stones, then knives and anything they could lay their hands on..
Sometimes I think I could have made it into an Olympic sprint team, this was one of those occasions. You realise that you are not going to win a verbal debate with the mob and that you might get seriously damaged, so like all heroes, I ran.
There is a suggestion from the Prime Minister of the UK that a policeman from the USA should pop over and give us the benefit of his experiences in dealing with gangs in LA and NY.
We certainly need some advice and this man seems to have some of the good stuff.
I was on a patrol with two female Police officers in a tough part of LA when we passed a crowd of youths on a street corner, as we drove by we got some verbal abuse and lots of finger signals. The patrol car circled the block and we went back for a visit.
I am five feet eight inches tall and both of the policewomen were shorter than me. The shortest fella in the gang was about six three.
I had barely gotten my camera out of the car when there were three of the gang, handcuffed, on the floor, another one was on his way down and the rest were heading for Olympic sprint  glory.
It took seconds. No consideration of Health and Safety there.
Another patrol took me to an apartment block in NY where a domestic violence was taking place, the man involved was reported to be armed with a shotgun.
Being high on adrenalin and naturally stupid, I raced up the stairs with the two patrolmen to the apartment and filmed them banging on the door, they both stood to one side and I stood in the middle..
Stupid eh, this guy had a shotgun, the first thing he would see if he opened the door was a man pointing what could be mistaken for a weapon at him.
The door burst open and there he was, the arch villain, a little Italian man, in his shorts and vest, holding the gun, pointing down. It must have taken two seconds for two of NY’s finest to have him on the floor, disarmed and cuffed.
Which in a rather disjointed way brings me back to the riots in London and what should one do if you get caught up in it..
My motto is..If you see an angry, looting crowd, move off in the opposite direction as fast as you can…


Yesterday morning, Mary Lou, who runs ReelshowInt, and I went for a long walk . From the small village in Northern Italy where we presently live, we made our way through some vineyards and began to climb up the hill through a large olive grove.We watched some hunters with dogs shooting hares and looking for truffles amongst the olive trees.
Eventually we arrived at the top of the steep hill and began our descent, down a different path. It was very gravelly and walking was a little tricky. I slid a couple of times on the loose gravel and Lou suggested I buy a new pair of boots as the grip on my old ones was not doing its job. The grip is was just a little tricky underfoot and getting rid of these boots would be like putting my granny in the waste is why..
In the Summer of 1968 I was sharing a holiday chalet, my former wife and young daughter, with another young couple and child.
The position was idyllic, perched on a steep cherry tree filled hillside in Switzerland overlooking Lake Lausanne.
We had been in the place for about ten days and were preparing for the drive back to the UK when we got a phone call, at least the other man did, he was a freelance cameraman as was I.
The call was from a Producer with a well known TV company in England ,and he asked us to go to Grindlewald in Switzerland to meet up with a group of climbers who were going to attempt a summer ascent of the North Face of the Eiger.
The climbers were driving out from England and had a van full of camera equipment, they needed to know how to use it.
We both said we would meet them and off we went…families as was going to be a paid for extension of our holiday.
After meeting the climbers and going over the equipment with them we were then asked to film the ascent from the edges of the massive granite face (5-6,000 ft) of the most feared and awesome mountain in Europe.
I had gone on a holiday in a I needed some boots that would do the job.
Needless to say that there are lots of boots to choose from in Grindlewald and after mulling over styles, fit, colour, grip, comfort I eventually settled on a pair.
SCARPA Asolo (TV)… ..That is the name stamped on the side of the boots.
They have since travelled the world with me. Apart from trudging over/through peat bogs, marshes, some canny rock climbs in my native Cumbrian fells. The Peak District and crags in Scotland and Wales they are still going strong, after 43 years.
They were packed for every trip I have ever made over-seas and have been in swamps, jungles, deserts, beaches, war zones and one or two posh hotels.
They have never worn, are still comfortable and have the original laces.
Not a bad buy for about six pounds.
Recently I was filming a drama on some sea cliffs down in Cornwall. As I dangled over the sea on a rope, one of the climbing rope wranglers noticed the boots. He was amazed. He had been in the Scarpa Boot company in Switzerland as a boy and helped to design this very same model.
Small world… and as I said to Lou, these boots go in the bin when I do and by the look of them that might be some reasonable time in the future..I hope..