Shooter by Bob Dut - HTML preview
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When we arrived, the village was deserted and we were now in the heat of the day. Up on a tall hill the villagers had gathered with their chief to await our arrival.
Lord Pierce headed this expedition himself, he must have been about 70 years old by then but there wasn’t an inch of spare flesh on him and the sparse Lord strode out briskly up the hill followed by us overweight sweating journalists and camera crews, My television camera and tripod weighed a ton and my soundman was burdened down by his recorder, spare film magazines, microphones and all the paraphernalia of so called
“portable” news recording.
Out came the magnetic fields and cows, an interested large crowd watched amused at the antics of their visitors as Lord Pierce struggled with the blackboards and set them up and went into his act.
The clear icy upper class syllables cut through the hot tropical air as we waited for the crowd’s inevitable “No’s” and waving banners.
There were mutterings among the crowd, clearly they were getting as bored as we were and I made out the odd word in English, for a second I thought I’d heard “elephant’ but that didn’t make much sense, Lord pierce was as thin as a snake. The mutterings grew louder, now it was definite, the word “elephant” was loud, clear and distinct.
The old Lord fought valiantly on, he’d come to do a job for his county and was determined to do it.
In the best traditions of the British Empire, he droned on and on.
Finally the muttering got so loud, Lord Pierce stopped and looked around, a faint puzzled look creasing his aristocratic features, he paused for a few moments and then carried on valiantly, in spite of the growing noise. Finally it got so loud, it began to drown his words and he turned to the chief for an explanation. The chief ignored him for a moment, he seemed sunk deep in thought, in a world of his own. Suddenly he came to life
He brushed aside the services of his interpreter.
‘What about the elephant?’
The clipped vowels of the English lord faltered for a moment and then ignoring the interruption he went on.
‘Do you see, Old chap?... if you have two cows, ‘
He stopped, intrigued as the chief’s words percolated.
The chief was a large scowling man but his face changed and broke into a beautiful smile, at last he was getting somewhere with these stupid white people.
He got up ponderously from his ceremonial chair, advanced and poked the gallant lord in his thin flat noble stomach.
‘There’s this elephant who keeps coming round and knocking down our huts.’
He looked earnestly at our noble English Lord.
‘What are you going to do about him?’
‘I say, don’t you see old chap, we’re talking about you chappies getting more votes.’
The chief refused to be dissuaded and we could see he had the mood of the crowd with him.
His tribesmen took up the chant, “Elephant!’ “Elephant!’ “Elephant!’
it didn’t matter how much Lord Pierce tried to explain about the cows and the fields and the world watching, all the chief cared about was this wandering rogue elephant who bothered his people and tore down their huts.
The blackboards were packed up sadly and the magnetic cows put away for the last time,......... try as he could, Lord Piece’s heart wasn’t in it anymore and the commission finally closed and went back to England without achieving anything..
As usual the politicians had forgotten that simple people care about simple things and to the fishing chief and his villagers, the pressing problem was the elephant, not how many votes they’d be allowed in a white run government.
We stayed a week longer after the commission and their magnetic blackboards left, we were still hoping to get an interview with Ian Smith at the opening of a new game reserve near the Victoria Falls.
We flew down to Wankie where they’d built a wonderful new hotel to house visitors in the middle of the reserve.
Ian Smith remained unapproachable at the opening, he just wasn’t talking to the press and we reluctantly gave up on him and enjoyed the party given by the owners to celebrate the opening of the hotel.
We felt lazy and relaxed, there was nothing more to film, we couriered our film to the airport, there was another party tonight and tomorrow we’d go back to Salisbury and then on to London, The party went on till the early hours of the morning, enlivened by a wonderful swimming pool and the presence of some lovely French airline stewardesses from UTA, the French run internal African airline.
Finally we all went to bed and the noise of our carousing fell silent and the night noises of the Rhodesian jungle took over.
About four am I heard a loud knocking and angry raised voices, then there was a thunderous hammering at my door.
‘Is my cameraman in there?’
The questioner was an obnoxious reporter we’d spent all evening avoiding.
He was very drunk now and had gone around banging on all the doors trying to locate his crew to get some dawn shots of the reserve.
He didn’t apologize for waking me and it was obvious by the angry mutterings of the other journalists and stewardesses he’d woken, he hadn’t apologized to them either.
I’d covered mobs plenty of times but their anger was nothing to the collective fury of the partygoers woken from their hangovers.
‘Let’s get the Bastard!’
Within seconds the man was flying through the air and landed with a loud splash in the hotel’s pool.
We all looked at each other smiling, it was a classic example of press co-operation and we went back to our beds with the knowledge of a job well done.
The Shah of Iran
The Shah of Iran had seceded to celebrate the 2500 Anniversary of The Pahlavi dynasty and Iranian monarchy with a fantastic parade next to the ancient ruins of Persepolis and we decided to go and cover it.
. It didn’t matter that he was only connected to the old ancient Persian family very remotely and he’d been propped up on the throne by the British and American’ anxious to thwart the Prime Minister Dr. Mosaddegh whose ambition was to free Iran of the hold of the oil companies and the Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize the oil industry – thus shutting out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which was a pillar of Britain's economy and provided it political clout in the region.
A British and American coup failed to depose the firebrand Prime Minister and the Shah fled to Baghdad but later Rome. A 2nd coup succeeded and after a trial Mosaddegh was sentenced to 3 years of solitary confinement followed by life house arrest. The Shah was finally brought back from Rome and with a million US dollars resumed his rule and became despotic with a much feared secret police. The “Savak”
Now he had decided to spend $100 million dollars on a celebration and had invited 90 heads of state to come to stay in his “Tent City” with it’s 3 Royal tents and 59 smaller ones.
French chef’s from maxims of Paris were brought to cook for the guests, high ranking army officers cruised around on motorized carts to deliver the champagne with crystal glasses and the massive opulent tents were decorated by the same firm that Jackie Kennedy had used to redecorate the White House.
The Shah was arrogant and his people feared him and his Savak secret police.
With good cause!
A friend of mine Greg Dobbs (of abc news) went into one of his prisons after the Shah was finally deposed and fled and saw a large pool of water that could be heated to boiling point and had hooks above it to lower his opponents into it to be slowly boiled to death.
But now he was on top of the world and wanted to show it.
We’d arrived in Teheran and wandered around all the time escorted by a supposed “school teacher”
Our “school teacher” however had an
ominous bulge under his armpit and was from Savak and was desperate to keep us together and not let us film anything unpleasant.
We had fun with him, I’d go in one direction with my soundman and our correspondent would go off in another in spite of our escorts frantic appeals for us to stay together.
He wasn’t the brightest even though he was a secret policeman and had no sense of humor and I loved to tease him.
Iran had one of the largest collection of Crown Jewel and the famous Peacock throne and it’s famous crowns.
We got taken to the National Museum where all these fantastic treasures were kept as the Iranian currency was based on these jewels.
I filmed them through glass cases with difficulty, the lights kept getting reflected in then glass and spoiling the shot.
“Any chance of getting the glass cases removed while we film?’ I said pointing to an enormous case full of trays of the biggest, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.
I was finding the sight of all these precious stones amazing!
On large trays lay hundreds of the emeralds, rubies and diamonds, just laying loose covering the tray in their hundreds.
To our surprised after a hurried consultation the glass covers were lifted off, the alarms on the trays disarmed and I filmed away happily while our Savak escort looked on unhappily.
I thought it was time to tease him and pointed to the tray of emeralds, the stones were about an inch big and splendid looking as their green luster gleamed in our lights.
I would imagine that each of the emeralds was worth about $30,000
“Can you get me one of those as a souvenir?’ I whispered in his ear trying not to grin.
He took me seriously. Ì can’t!’ he said and looked around quickly hoping no one had heard.
He looked even more shocked as I whispered.
`Go on, there’s so many nobody would miss one.’ I looked at him trying to hide a grin.
He hurriedly motioned for the glass to be put back on, casting worried and suspicious glances as we packed up our equipment and quickly escorted us out of the building .
Poor man! We were a trial to him and he obviously wasn’t relishing being assigned to escort us around.
We finally got invited to the Shah’s Royal Palace and drank coffee with gold spoons, the Shah probably had no other kind.
We drank wine from Gold rimmed crystal glasses and were finally allowed to attend a press conference where the Shah lorded over us.
Greatly daring, the correspondent I was with ( Michael Maclear of CTV) asked him if he felt justified in spending all those millions when his people were near starvation.
The Shah looked down from his diamond studded chair.
“What kind of question is that?’ He said contemptuously.
“What kind of mind can ask a question like that?’
He looked down at the worlds press scornfully.
“What do I care what you people think as long as my people love me?’
We were uncrushed however and the revolt and his rapid departure in 1979 finally showed what his people thought of him and his “Royal”
Now it was time for us to leave Teheran and go to the desert and the ruins of Persepolis where the Tented city had been built and the parade was to take place in front of the ancient pillars.
We stayed at the nearby University and had to stand up to eat our meals from paper plates..
We were only journalists, unlike the guests in the tented city who ate off Limoges plates and drank from Baccarat crystal.
We found to our dismay that the press weren’t to be allowed to go into the Tented city!
A call to Ottawa however got our telephone conversation patched through to the “Tented city” and the tent of Canada’s Governor general Roland Mitchner.
We’d flown from Lahr, the Canadian Airforce base in Germany with Roland Mitchner the Canadian Governor General in his Royal plane and found him very pleasant and approachable.
Àny chance of you inviting us to your tent and we doing an interview with you in the Tented city?’
Our correspondent asked and Roland happily agreed and we were in!
Some of the only journalists in the world who managed to break the embargo on press being allowed into the tented city.
We sneaked out of the press compound, not wanting our colleagues to find out were we were going.
Halfway there my soundman (Dick Hunt) suddenly said. Ì haven’t got my pass.”
We all looked horrified.
When we’d arrived in Iran, they’d ran strict security checks on us, with 90 heads of state and several Royal’s the passes we were finally issued were like gold and never to leave our possession.
Dick had put his down when he was taking a shower and forgot it and now we were just a few miles from entering the fabulous and closely guarded tented city.
There was no time for recriminations and we desperately tried to think of a solution.
“I’ve got a Texas driving pass with me” I said thoughtfully, `maybe we can get you by with that?’
Dick looked doubtful. He was fat and had a full beard and looked nothing like me and the Texas driving pass had a brown background and my photo on it and the Royal Iranian passes had a blue background as well as the photo of it’s owner.
Ìt’s worth a try though, what can we lose?’
We pulled up to the gate of the Tented city and armed guards with machine guns surrounded us.
“Passes’ they said sternly as they doubtfully surveyed the Governor Generals official request for us to be allowed in.
Maclear showed his and made a lot of supposed fuss about how it was a bad picture of him and he’d been photographed form the wrong side.
Then it was my turn and I took a long time showing the pass, first taking out a wrong one and then showing mine upside down and the wrong way round until the guards were losing their patience with us crazy foreigners.
Dick brushed my hand away impatiently and smiled at them and pulled up my driving licenses . He’d gaffer taped it to a chain he wore around his neck and flashed it briefly with his thumb partially covering my photo and they waved us through.
We were in! So much for security!
We made for Roland Mitchner’s tent and did the interview with him.
We knew we only had permission to do the one interview and only visit his tent and then we were supposed to leave but we took a chance.
“There’s King Constantine of Greece.” and we dashed over and filmed him.
“There’s Spiro Agnew and we did the same thing.
Nobody seemed to be bothering us as we filmed madly.
Grace Kelly was here and we got a shot of her and then saw President Nicholae Ceausescu of Romania.
We walked up to the open entrance of his tent and asked if we could interview him and he was a despot but toady he was in a good mood and he graciously agreed.
(A note on President Ceausescu)
He’d had concentration camps for his enemies, ruled his people with an iron fist, built an absurd magnificent palace for himself that cost millions with 24 karat gold plated furnishings and magnificent balconies and was the 2nd largest building in all of Europe He got deposed years later and he and his wife were caught as they tried to run away and both of them got summarily executed by a firing squad outside his wonderful palace.
The day of the parade arrived and we took up our positions early as the sun came up over the pillars of Ancient Persepolis, White robed priests in flowing traditional gown shouldered long golden trumpets greeted the dawning sun and the eerier sounds seemed to take us back to the days of Cyrus the Great and Darius the Persian general who defeated Alexander the Great and stopped his march to conquer the world at Persepolis.
Then the parade started!
It was the most wonderful parade I’d ever seen!
Horses, chariots, wooden forts pulled by teams of chariots and horses and marching army all clad in the uniforms of ancient Persia passed by the 90 heads of state and the assembled press.
The were no spectators from his ordinary subjects to watch the splendor.
This splendid parade that cost millions was reserved for the dignitaries and the press cameras.
His people had to be content to watch it on television 53
. Charlie Mingus (jazz musician)
We were filming a documentary special in New York on Charlie Mingus, the double bass jazz musician. At that time Charlie was on a diet to get his considerable weight down. I don’t know what diet it was but it consisted of red meat and garlic. Every morning we’d meet Charlie to film him and he’d offer us a cold unappetizing garlic soaked steaks from the brown paper bag he carried. To me they looked particularly awful and I managed to avoid them, this didn’t faze Charlie, he tucked in ravenously and soon demolished the bagful.
The result of his diet was of course that he smelt violently of garlic, I love garlic myself but like most people I didn’t like the smell on other people but he was a great musician and a sweet man to work with and our ‘star’
and we put up with it.
We had some nervous moments when we unloaded our camera’s from the cab in the center of New York’s Harlem, white people were not popular there and as soon as they saw the camera and recorder we were quickly surrounded by an ugly menacing mob. Charlie heaved his ponderous girth out of the cab, grinned at everyone and smiled.
‘These boys are with me folks, their making a film about me for TV.’
The crowd’s mood changed instantly, the smiles broke out once more. Charlie Mingus was a local hero and we had the stamp of his approval, so things suddenly were OK.
We’d been trying to get a moment to stop and have lunch with Charlie but every day seemed to be busy and most days we spent our lunchtime dashing back to the hotel, checking with the network about what they wanted shot, reloading film magazines and picking up new batteries that had been charging overnight.
Finally Charlie became exasperated.
“You guys are going to eat with me today! No excuses it’s all arranged.”
We had visions of a meal of dreadful “Soul food” in a sleazy Harlem restaurant and looked at each other, wincing a little, to give up our choice of New York’s wonderful restaurants was awful.
Charlie mumbled an address we couldn’t hear to the cab driver and about ten minutes later we pulled up at a very impressive Park Avenue apartment complete with uniformed doorman.
‘The top floor Mr. Mingus?’
The penthouse apartment looked more like a Chateau, Persian rugs, Monet’s Picasso’s and Utrillo’s hung on the walls, a beautiful Steinway grand piano gleamed and graced a corner and everything reeked of wealth, lots of wealth!
A very pretty young woman appeared and Charlie introduced us,
‘These guys are from TV. P........’
The woman smiled and said.
‘I’ve put some wine and cheese and things in the kitchen, why don’t you boys get started while I change for the filming.’
The situation was a little delicate, Charlie wanted to be filmed with his girl friend in Central Park and only yesterday we’d been filming his wife and family.
‘Are you sure Charlie, your wife will probably see this film.?’ I asked him hesitantly.
He brushed our tactful questions aside.
‘No problem, guys, lets go and see what there is to eat.’
Well it was his business not mine.
The kitchen was larger than an average house. Laid out in front of us for our choice were cheeses from all around the world, Camembert, Brie, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Tete du Monde, Boursault, the list went on, German sausages and French Saucissons English roast beef, Swiss hams and a mountain of French bread.
Both Pat my soundman and I prided ourselves on our love of wine and we looked around entranced, Montrachet, Mersault, Gevais Chambertan, Pouilly Fume, La Tache, Moet et Chandon, were there and ready for us to sample. I looked at Pat with a grin, this was going to be great!
Charlie looked at them disparagingly.
‘Lot of Crap!’ He grinned.
‘Let’s see what else she has got.’
We cursed him as he rummaged below the table.
‘This looks OK, let’s try these.’
Mingus pulled out a case containing four dusty dirty bottles of red wine with a label I didn’t recognize.
Pat and looked regretfully at all the wonderful wines on the table as Charlie poured the wine into our glasses but we were his guests and we felt had to go along with his choice however dreadful it could be, maybe we could sneak a taste of some of the others later.
I suddenly beamed, my veins glowed and my taste buds jumped up and sang “Hosanna”. I’d never tasted wine like it, smooth soft and beautiful, one intriguing flavor after another swirled and chased around our mouths, rippling on our tongues as we quickly followed the first bottle with a second till all four had gone. We looked back at the table, the wines there we knew and had loved seemed tame after this one.
Charlie’s girl friend came in, she’d changed into an outdoor outfit, even to my untrained eye it looked designer classic and expensive.
‘Good you’ve started, is everything all right?’
The rich girl’s eyes fell on the empty four bottles.
‘Oh you drank that wine.’
She sounded a little sad.
We looked at her gratefully.
‘Yes it was wonderful, why?’
‘just that those were the bottles I was saving for dinner tonight, Jackie and Jack are coming over.’
We found it difficult to meet her eyes but Mingus didn’t seem to care as he tucked in happily.
We filmed Charlie and her in Central Park that summer afternoon, trying to make the shots particularly beautiful, misty and romantic so that she’d forgive us.
Later that day, the woman showed us what a nice lady she was.
We were filming that evening in a converted garage that Charlie’s musicians used to hold practice sessions in.
Through the throbbing beat of the jazz we heard a knock at the door and a uniformed New York delivery service man brought in three cases of wine, Montrachet, Mersault and Gevray Chambertin. We opened the engraved envelope that came with them, knowing that they could only come from one source and read the note.
‘I hope I didn’t offend you about the wine.’ P........
We were stunned, we’d drunk the girl’s rare wine, ruined her meal with the President and his wife and here she was, apologizing to us!
The music session heated up, the room got warmer, the wines got lower, the jazz got hotter and things were really swinging until were became aware of a loud banging and hammering at the door.
Two New York police officers were standing outside when we opened the door, wondering what was going on. When they saw our cameras they decided to stay.
One burly friendly cop pushed back his cap and looked around.
‘Hey is that wine? I’ve never drunk wine, maybe I should try some.’
Two of New York’s finest sat sipping $50.00 a bottle wines and decided they liked it.‘Hey that’s not bad, Tom. I think I’ll get some of that wine stuff for the weekend.’
He pushed his plastic cup towards us, smiling as we refilled it.
Pat and I were wondering what they’d feel like after they drunk the usual supermarket gallon jugs of plonk and not $50 dollar bottles of wine.
My dad, one of London’s top restaurant managers, grinned when I told him this story and the name of the wine we’d drunk at Migus’s girl friend’s apartment.
‘That wine Petrus” costs between $500-600 a bottle, there’s only a few bottles left in the world and you drank four of them?’
‘No wonder she looked sad.’
I’ve never drunk wine like it again but I’m still hoping.
Most television documentaries made now are the result of careful planning but it wasn’t always like that.
I sat in a Toronto bar with Don Cameron, “Newsmagazine’s”
Outside the Canadian winter was at its worst, snow falling heavily and deeply, the streets getting clogged and icy. I’d already decided to make this my last drink and get home before the gloomy streets became impassable.
Don looked out of the window unhappily and shuddered at the sight.
‘We’ve got to get out of this Bob, where the hell can we go?’
He flipped through the pages of “Time” and “Newsweek” and brightened.
It sounded great. I didn’t inquire what story he planned to do there, Don was a master of invention on the spot.
Unfortunately we ran into snags. The Indonesians had just finished fighting a rebel group who’d had support from the UK government and they didn’t like my British passport one little bit. The network called Ottawa and solved that problem.
The man from External Affairs met me at the Ottawa airport, beamed and said,
‘Welcome to Canada!’
I’d lived there for the last twelve years and never got around to applying for citizenship but I thanked him as he handed me my Canadian certificate of citizenship, put my photo on a brand new Canadian passport, stamped it and I got back on the return flight to Toronto.
Even then the Indonesians seemed loathe to issue us visas. It was getting desperate now. The snow was falling even deeper and we were well within the grips of a bad cold winter.
‘To hell with waiting any longer, we’ll go to Bangkok and get the visas re-directed there! We can do a story there while we’re waiting.
Cameron was fed up with the cold, Don hated winter, we were off...
Pan American had two flights around the world. One going across the Pacific, the other through London. Don had a girlfriend in London so of course we went that way. He took a taxi from the hotel there and went to see her and I went to Earls Court to see my Dad. I’d only been there for an hour or two when the phone rang.
‘Get back, Bob, we’re leaving tonight.’
‘I thought we were staying overnight and going tomorrow.’ I protested weakly. I was tired after the eight hour transatlantic flight and was looking forward to a comfortable bed.
‘No, let’s get out of here. We can stop somewhere else and have a days rest.’
It was obvious Don had a row with his girlfriend and London had lost it’s charms.
The flight droned on, Don turned down Istanbul and Teheran as stop overs.
‘Let’s stay in Beirut.’ He beamed.
It sounded good to Dick France, the soundman and myself. Beirut was a beautiful place with fantastic beaches and the war hadn’t started there yet. We had managed to get First class tickets out of the CBC and the drinks had been flowing freely all through the long flight. Even so I was sick of sitting on a plane and I was looking forward to getting off and having a swim on the warm Lebanese beaches.
Don had another bright idea, his face lit up, mine fell, I knew what was coming.
‘Why don’t we go straight through without stopping anywhere and then take three or four days off when we get there and really relax!’
I looked at Dick and he shrugged, once Cameron had the bit between his teeth it wasn’t worth arguing.
‘OK, Don.’ Cameron grinned and ordered another bottle of free champagne as a reward for us.
The pretty Pan-American stewardess smiled maliciously at us as we took off across the long sweeping golden beaches of Beirut.
‘Next stop New Delhi, fourteen hours.’ We groaned.
We staggered off the plane in Bangkok. I never thought a flight could last that long, we’d been flying for three days now.
The friendly manager at the Hilton suggested a nearby massage parlour to relax us. At that time they were just that and hadn’t acquired the unsavory reputation they have now.
The manager had been right, we all felt refreshed after the soothing hands of the pretty Thai girls.
We’d also added a new member to our staff. Don had fallen in love once again and his tall attractive masseuse was added to the CBC’s payroll as an interpreter.
Cameron looked indignant at our wide grins.
‘What’s the matter, none of you guys speak Thai!’
He had a point.
We phoned the CBC’s Far Eastern correspondent in Hongkong. Tom Gould was in the middle of his holiday, moving house and a new marriage and we couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. He argued and Don got a reluctant promise from him that he’d join us as soon as he could straighten things out at home.
‘What shall we do till Tom gets here?’
The previous year the world had enjoyed ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai.’ The film had been made on location in Ceylon, not Thailand and a replica bridge built there for the filming but here we were, not to far from the real bridge.
‘We’ll go up there and do a story on it.’ Don became enthusiastic again now we had something to film.
The temperature was well over a hundred, hot and humid. The road we travelled on was called the “Freedom Highway”.
The word “Highway’ seemed a Far Eastern joke, deeply rutted, its red clay surface broke up and sent clouds of dust that quickly covered our sweating bodies. If you opened a car window, you got covered in dust, if you kept them closed, you stifled. Nobody had heard of air-conditioned cars in Thailand.
Our driver was fast, Chinese and slightly insane. He’d already swept through a small village at top speed without stopping, overturning a stall in the market, scattering it’s fruit wildly across the crowded street, not stopping as the furious villagers pursued our receding car in its billowing cloud of red dust.
We had to stop finally. A tire had burst and we waited while a roadside repairer sat cross legged, sticking on a large rubber tire patch. I was boiling even after I got out of our car and saw some Passion fruit hanging over a fence. They looked cool and delicious and I went over to pick one.
‘Hey!’ I jumped back, the owner of the fruit had come out.
All he wanted, was to offer me a riper fruit to cool my thirst and we walked through the long elephant grass as he looked for a good one for me.
It was nearly night when we reached Katchurburi. We all went to our rooms to shower the clinging dust off and cool down.
Something appeared different with me. Now looking down I saw my right leg was black from the knee down. It didn’t hurt, just black.
‘What’s this Chang?’ I rolled up my trouser leg to show him as we all sat sipping cold beers in the hotel bar.
‘A snakebite?’ I asked anxiously.
Chang laughed contemptuously,
‘No not a snakebite, something else, Bob,’
‘With a snakebite, you go ...Aaaahhhhhh!’
Our driver gave an excellent impersonation of a man rolling over and clutching his throat, his feet kicking wildly and finally expiring.
I was reassured. At that time I didn’t know there were more poisonous snakes per mile in that area than any other part of the world.
Katchurburi had been part of the infamous Burma-Thailand Railroad.
There, sadistic Japanese guards had forced their despised Allied prisoners to hack and build a railway out of the thick jungle. Thousands of Australian, British, Canadian and Dutch prisoners died in the appalling tropical conditions they were forced to work in and now their bodies lay under the gleaming rows of white crosses in the beautifully kept, nearby cemetery.
We filmed their “Book of remembrance” In it, a US soldier on leave from Vietnam had written.
“They also fought to keep freedom alive.”
There was no sign of the pain and suffering that had created the small decrepit bridge across the River Kwai so long ago. Now all that was left of the poor dead Allied prisoners efforts, was a shabby old bridge in a bad state of disrepair and the nearby white crosses.
I walked across the old rickety wartime bridge, stopping on the small side platform rolling my camera as a train chugged its way high above the muddy Kwai river. Below me in a small boat was the producer, Don Cameron and my soundman, Dick France.
When I got back on the bridge after the train had gone by and started to cross again, one of it’s rotted planks gave way beneath my foot as I stepped on it, leaving a gleaming wide watery gap as it floated down on it’s long way to the river below.
I looked uncomfortably down at the long fall. I’d always hated heights.
Cameron and France were enjoying themselves, safe far below they yelled.
‘Watch it, Dutru, your going to fall!’
There’s nothing like the warm comradeship you get between a film crew!
We got a small magazine item out of our visit to the bridge but not enough to make a complete show and when we were finished we hunted around for another story to make the cost of the trip worthwhile.
The next few days in Bangkok, Don sat in his room gloomily studying a map of Thailand, looking for something else for us to film, our Indonesian visas still hadn’t arrived so I went to Bangkok General hospital to see about my black leg.
A gruff Scottish doctor examined it’s dark length with interest.
‘What is it Doctor?’ he laughed.
‘You were lucky, Laddie,!’ He said jovially ‘See those fang marks, you’ve been bitten by a krait.’
I looked down, the two white puncture marks stood out clearly.
‘What’s a krait? Are they dangerous?’ He smiled gently.
‘Are they! A banded krait is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world and fatal to man.’
He said cheerfully
‘It must have just killed something and used all it’s venom up before it struck you’.
What you’ve got there Laddie, is the residue that was left around it’s two fangs, if it hadn’t killed just before it struck you, you’d have lasted less than 3 hours.’
‘Cameron seemed uninterested in my leg. He said excitedly.
‘They’ve got white elephants in Chaing Mai Bob!’
I was a little miffed, they didn’t seem half as important as my recent brush with death.
Don Cameron grinned.
‘Lets go up to Chaing Mai and do a story on elephants.’
We joined the other passengers on an old Thai Airways Dakota .
We had a goat wandering up and down the aisle, sniffing suspiciously at out metal camera cases until he finally settled on a nearby sack of rice and began to chew it’s corner contentedly
We passengers sat where we could as the old reliable DC3 wartime plane squeaked and groaned and took off.
DC 3’s always sounded as if they were about to fall apart but they’d been sounding like that ever since the end of the second world war. since then they’d became the standard aircraft for local flights around the world.
The flight droned on and Don Cameron spent the time studying the battered map he’d liberated from the back of the seat.
‘Bob do you know we stop at Nakhom Phanom ?’ The name meant nothing to me.
‘It’s right on the border between Laos and Thailand, near the Laotian capital Vientiane.’ I began to get interested. The International Control Commission, of which Canada was a member, came through Vientiane once a week, stopping there on their way to the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
I grinned at Don.
‘Are you thinking of trying to talk our way onto the I.C.C. plane and getting them to take us to Hanoi?’ Don always came up with daring ideas like this, (His nickname was “Craze” but a surprising number of Craze’s flights of fancy materialized into good TV programs.
We broke the flight at Nakhom Phanom, handing out our camera cases through the planes door and ended up sitting on them in an empty field, watching the plane make its creaky takeoff on it’s way to Chaing Mai and our white elephants.
We sat there in the field and the hot sun for almost an hour. The place the DC3 had landed us on seemed miles away from anywhere and there was no one there except us and the hordes of insects that seemed intent on eating us and then starting on our 15 metal camera cases.
Finally a rattley Volkswagen bus pulled up, we threw the cases into the back and persuaded him to take us to the border. The border was the Mekong river, normally massive it was shrunken to a quarter of it’s width at this time of the year.
We rounded up a bunch of porters, hired a boat to take us across the Mekong into Laos but before we left Thailand, there were the usual customs and immigration formalities to go through.
Our helpful Thai Airways bus driver was a man of many parts. He took a battered Customs hat out of the glove compartment and cleared our bags. Then he reached inside once again, replaced his hat with a passport officer’s one, licked a large rubber stamp, banged our passports with a flourish, now officially we’d left Thailand.
I went down to the riverside to pay off our army of porters after they’d loaded the boat with my camera cases, but they happily waved our “Bahts”
away. They were coming across to Laos with us.
On the other side, watching the porters unload our cases were four villainous looking Laotians with scowling faces and their four battered taxis.
We set to bargaining in my schoolboy French.
‘How much for all cars to take us into Vientiane?’
We needed all of them, the taxis were small and the camera cases large.
They looked at each other and smiled.
‘Four hundred dollars!’ It seemed a bit steep, the capital was less than four miles away.
I shook my head vigorously as I got into the cab and locked the door, leaving the others outside as I rolled down the window.
There was a furious altercation outside my taxi as the drivers surrounded Don Cameron and began shouting at him. Don didn’t speak a word of French but he had a beautiful smile and he beamed happily at the Laotians as they screamed and waved their hands at him.
Finally they gave in and accepted eight dollars, smiling happily as they took the US dollars. It was about ten times their usual fare..
At that time, we TV camera crews carried cash in the thousands.
Generally where we filmed there were no banks to cash travelers checks.
We didn’t know it at the time, we’d been lucky in bargaining with them.
Where we crossed the Mekong river was a heavily brigand infested area, run by a renegade general called Kong Lee, If the bandit taxi drivers had any idea of the eight or nine thousand US
we were carrying we’d have been lucky to escape with our lives.
We checked into Vientiane’s biggest hotel. It was named something that sounded like the “Auld Lang Syne” to our western ears.
Its real name in Laotian was unpronounceable and it’s food was uneatable!
The hotel dining room was vast, dark and cavernous. We could smell the awful odour of the soup as the tiny waiter padded towards us across the large room. One taste was enough, we crumbled the stale French bread, paid our bill and went out into the main street to find a decent restaurant.
Outside a sidewalk cafe, a pretty girl was waving to us.
‘Are you guys Americans?’
‘Canadians,’ She didn’t seem impressed.
‘Join me anyway, the foods not bad here.’
The girl had a small Laotian boy sitting beside her and she was feeding him slices of fruit.
We sat down gratefully, we were starving.
Cameron’s food came first. I looked at it hungrily, the omelet “Fin Herb”
he’d ordered looked delicious and I couldn’t wait for mine to come. Don got up suddenly, his face had taken on an ashen hue as he stumbled out of his seat and raced for the sidewalk and threw up.
‘You get used to it.’
The girl seemed unconcerned as I toyed with my food. I’d lost my appetite when I’d seen Don’s reaction and mine tasted dreadful.
She went on to explain what she was doing there in this remote part of S.E.Asia.
‘I string for “Time” magazine.’
At that time the former French Indo-Chinese colonies were filled with eager young hopeful “would be” journalists, unattached to any paper or network. They’d scraped together the fare to get out there and eked out a precarious living for themselves sending back small items to the local paper or TV station hoping for a scoop one day that would catapult them into a job on a large paper or network.
She was one of them but she had chosen Laos.
Some of these young journalists became quite famous for their daring and were asked to join a big paper or a network, others like Sean Flynn, the film’s star’s son, tried a little too hard, took one to many chances in Vietnam and disappeared without trace.
‘Hey that’s great!’
The girl was beaming as Dick France dangled the little boy on his knee, showing him our expensive Swiss tape recorder and let him play with the dials and gave him some of his food.
Dick smiled at her, he like kids.
‘No, I mean it really is great! So many people are frightened of catching leprosy especially when it’s in the early contagious stage, like Tommy’s, that they shun lepers and won’t have anything to do with them and the poor devils live a dreadful, lonely life.’
My soundman went pale and hurriedly put the child down.
That night we scrubbed his Nagra tape recorder with Dettol and when he came down to dinner it was obvious he’d covered himself in the disinfectant.
Later that night we got introduced to a German-American professor and his tall gorgeous stunningly blonde wife The man worked with the US Government organization, USAID, .
The professor turned out to be an avid amateur photographer and was fascinated with our professional camera and recording equipment. He offered to take us out to nearby village so that we could film the cultivation of silkworms and the silk making.
Dick, the professor and I went to the small village, leaving Cameron behind to work on the script, as he said.
The professor’s pretty wife stayed in town as well.
Cameron had fallen in love once again, the wife was bored and looked all ready for an affair.
Things to film at the silk village were limited and although we spun out the filming as long as possible, we’d finished easily in one day.
Cameron wasn’t happy to see us on our return. He looked at us earnestly.
‘Maybe you guys should go out again tomorrow and get some more shots, it’ll make a good item.’
The professor was surprised when I told him we’d like to go back to get some more film the next day but he humored us and came with us, leaving Don to work on the “script” once more.
I took as many different angles as I could, taking infinite pains with each shot till my imagination and patience was exhausted, there was nothing more I could possibly film.
We dug in our heels when Don suggested another trip out there for the following day.
‘Christ, Don,’ I said firmly.
‘I’ve already got over an hours film on those bloody worms.’
That night we were invited to dinner at the small Canadian Embassy and I got into conversation with a man sitting next to me, he looked around carefully, leaned forward and said quietly.
‘Listen, you know your producer is screwing that professor’s wife. He’d better watch himself.’ I protested vigorously.
‘Your wrong, Don knows a lot of her friends in Germany and loves to talk about his time there.’ I said hurriedly and looked to see who was listening.
The man cut me short.
‘Don’t give me that bull! The reason I’m mentioning this, is that we suspect he’s already had a couple of guys knocked off for playing around with his wife, leastwise they’ve disappeared and nobody’s heard of them since.’ He laughed mirthlessly.
‘You can get somebody killed in Laos for about $20.00 and as USAID is a CIA front organization, there won’t be too many questions asked if your producer suddenly goes missing. They’ll just put it down to the Pathet Lao or Kong Lee’s brigands.’
The next day we filmed the white ICC. plane landing at Vientiane’s small airport. However much we argued and pleaded, the group wouldn’t take us into Hanoi with them So we had to be content with an interview with the Canadian representative on the delegation, then film the plane’s doors close behind him and watch him disappear into the sky towards North Vietnam and yet another good story went down the drain!
Cameron had seemed a little nervous, I’d told him of my conversation at the Embassy.
‘Why don’t you guys go and get your bags at the “Auld Lang Syne”
and settle your bills and we’ll get out of here?
We looked at him as he said.
‘I already paid mine this morning.’
It was only then we saw he’d taken all his luggage to the airport instead of just an overnight bag to go to Hanoi if we’d succeeded.
We grinned as he said earnestly.
‘I’ll stay here at the airport till you get back. There’s nothing more we can film around here and there is a plane we can get going to Bangkok in a couple of hours time.’
‘We looked at him and laughed
‘Aren’t you coming back to town to say good-bye to the professor and his wife?’
Don gave a shame-faced grin.
‘No, I’ll stay here and fix up our tickets while you get your bags.’
We burst out laughing.
(By the way)Our Indonesian visas arrived at the Embassy in Bangkok, six weeks later, they were there, we weren’t. We’d gone back to Canada and by then we were off on our way to another assignment and we never got to Bali.
20th Century Fox arranged a “Junket” for all the film columnists in the US and Canada to cover the making of their 3 new big films. “The Sound of Music”,” The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” and “the Agony & the Ecstasy”
Their junket was thrown in real Hollywood style!
20th century had hired a complete floor of Kennedy airport to give us an extravagant send off party and we had our own Boeing 727 jet to take us to the 3 countries the films were being made in.
The party was wild, food, drinks and gifts flowed, everyone was enjoying themselves looking forward to a great weeks holiday with good copy for their columns for weeks ahead.
The only trouble was, I was the only one there working.
I’d been hired to cover the junket for a TV show and between drinks I worked furiously. trying to get good pictures and be tactful with the shots I took of my colleagues of the press.
The party at JFK went on for hours until we all trooped on the 727 to go to Heathrow, much the worse for food and drink .
The next few days were a blur, we never stopped at night for more than six hours and my batteries took twelve to charge.
We went to England for the “Flying Machines, Salzburg for the “Sound of Music” and then finally Rome, filming the making of the ‘Agony & the Ecstasy’ which starred Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julios.
The film publicity people took us to a fancy Rome restaurant called ‘Papa Julio’s. named after the Pope in the film that Harrison played. We’d finished our meal and were drinking wine, filming and chatting with the other journalists and the cast and stars of the film when Rex Harrison got up to go.
‘Any chance of a short interview with you Mr. Harrison?’
He smiled resignedly at me and looked at his watch.
‘Well, it will have to be quick, I’ve got my wife waiting outside for me.’
I quickly decided to do the interview at the front of the restaurant to save time putting up lights and started filming, watched by an impatient Rachel Roberts sitting at the wheel of a white Rolls Royce.
The interview was great, Rex Harrison was a charming, intelligent, urbane man and film reminiscences rolled of his tongue like quicksilver, all delivered in that wonderful gentle voice of his.
Finally Rex glanced at his watched regretfully, he’d been enjoying telling his stories as much as we enjoyed listening to them.
‘Is that alright, Chaps?’
It had been marvelous and we thanked him for giving us his time. He strolled away gracefully towards the Rolls. I looked down casually at our Swiss Nagra recorder and saw it was set on “Test” not “Record” “
‘Have you changed that since we filmed?’ I asked desperately.
‘No why?’ The soundman was inexperienced and a last moment’s choice.
‘Because we haven’t got a dammed thing on sound!’ I said in horror.
I dashed over, Rex Harrison was just getting languidly into the Rolls and there was nothing else to do except throw myself on his mercy.
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Harrison, we screwed it up and we didn’t get anything.’ I looked at him imploringly.
‘Is there any chance we could do a couple of lines to save something?’
He grinned in that elegant casual upper crust English way of his and smiled at his wife.
‘We can’t let these chaps down, can we Rachel?’
His charm even overcame her impatience.
‘Sure why not?’
We went back to the front of the restaurant and did the whole interview over again, this time it was even better, Rex had remembered some more anecdotes and it took even longer. Finally he stopped.
‘How about that, will it do Chaps?’
‘Wonderful.’ I said fervently. He’d saved my bacon.
I’d always admired him in films now I loved him.
Rex Harrison died a few years ago, his passing much regretted by his fans, friends and one very grateful cameraman.
Filming in Prisons.
You have to remember that your often talking to people who don’t know what you did.
I remember several times getting very strange looks when I said casually.
‘The last time I was in Prison.’
And I had to say quickly. ‘I was filming there.’
You also can forget where you are when you get immersed in filming.
I went to a large prison with Carol Taylor, an ex “Miss Canada” who was the host of the show I was working for.
We were in the exercise yard and I thought it would make a good shot of the convicts filing back to their cells and walked across the yard leaving Carolyn and got down by the exit
I was filming the 4 of 5 hundred convicts going back to their cells avoiding the odd angry kick at my camera as I knelt down getting a shot of their legs coming towards me.
Suddenly a warden rushed over and said,
‘For Christ’s sake you’ve left the girl all alone with all these men around her.
What exactly he expected me to do if they decided to rape her I didn’t know but I went back manfully and stood by her.
Carol was unfazed by the whole experience.
Another time I was making a film on murderer’s.
We interviewed several, some were pathetic and who’d murdered their wives or lovers in a sudden explosion of rage that not only killed them but ruined both lives.
Others like an extremely good looking one who was cocky about his chances of parole.
He’d killed a cellmate before when he was a teenager and in prison, and got the murder charge reduced when he pleaded the man had attempted to rape him.
Now he was in jail for a double murder, this time of 2 American tourists.
The story was chilling, he and his accomplish were robbing the tourist’s van when the owners came out and attempted to stop them.
They killed both of the tourist with axes and chopped them to death ruthlessly and continued their robbery.
He sat in his cell being interviewed by our presenter Isobel Basset boasting about studying the prison law books and his chance of getting an early patrol and enjoying being interviewed and we could see he felt we were idiots..
Isobel listened quietly and then said,
‘Didn’t the judge say you were one of the most vicious criminals he’s ever sentenced? How do you expert to get parole?’
‘He was a silly old fool,’ he said contemptuously, ‘No one will take any notice of what he said.’
Then Isobel stopped and looked at him.
‘Didn’t you tell the detective who’d caught you and testified against you that you knew he had a baby daughter and when you got out you’d cut off her head and mail it to him?’
He was outraged,
‘Who told you that? I was speaking to the detective and it wasn’t meant to be heard by anyone else.’
It was a long while ago when I filmed him and no doubt he’s out now and on the street which is a frightening thought.
It was an interesting experience and another time, in Kingston Penitentiary we filmed sex offenders and child molesters .
Every morning Carol Taylor and I would pass the cells and the inmates would make faces at us.
I said to Carol. ‘One of those men is a real “nutter”, you should see the faces he makes at me when I go by with my camera.
She grinned. ‘I won’t tell you what he does when I walk by.’
I thought it better not to ask!
They were trying out there a thing called “Aversion therapy”
Which I thought was rather like the film “Clockwork Orange”
What happened was that they put an electrode on a child molester’s penis and then showed slides of half and naked women.
If he reacted normally and an erection grew that was alright.
Then they’d switch to pictures of young children.
If the man got an erection then they would give his penis a mild shock.
The idea being was to cure them of being attracted to children.
I don’t know if it worked or if they still doing it but it was a delicate thing to film and not show the penis and I had a heck of a job filming in the small cell and was glad to finish the job.
This story was told me by a soundman that I worked with...
They were in Paraguay doing a story on Nazi’s and their world war Two escape organization “Odessa”.
They had run into the usual government obstacles. President Stroessner, a great Hitler admirer had no intention of making it easy for television crews to expose his admiration of the ill-fated “Third Reich”.
Everywhere they went, they ran into a blank wall and official hostility, if Dr Mengles and Borman were still alive and living here in Asuncion, it was obvious they weren’t going to be allowed to meet them.
Desperate they searched around for a story to make the cost of their trip worthwhile. Their driver, Carlos sat toying with the sixth expensive brandy we’d bought him, he was just as anxious as them to prolong our stay.
‘Would you like a story on a top class government Brothel?
We were intrigued, visions of expensive satin clad beautiful ladies filled our minds and we were already lighting the scenes.
The straight-laced correspondent was outraged at the idea and refused to come with us but the producer and my cameraman went ahead anyway.
The reality was better than our wildest fantasies. The large imposing house was situated in a upper class district, The Madame was elegant, a Parisian hostess, sporting a long cigar and twinkling with diamonds and her girls were lissome and beautiful.
We sat there after they’d finished, filming, sipping vintage champagne with her, surrounded by gorgeous young woman. She smiled teasingly as she asked us, ‘
‘Is there anything else I can offer you?’
They gulped and went scarlet.
The next day their producer, a very wicked man, disappeared for a couple of hours, leaving the cameraman and soundman both nursing hangovers, the cigars and champagne from last night were taking their revenge and we were glad of the respite from filming.
The producer came back, a pleased expression on his face, smiling smugly and spent the rest of the day arguing with the correspondent.
They’d heard patches of their conversation.
‘I don’t care what you say, we need you to introduce the piece and then you can go.’
Sulkily our reporter agreed, he didn’t approve of the story but he was a professional and a story was a story.
They rolled up to the “House” that night in style. Their producer was determined to milk the elegant surroundings of the high class brothel to the full and he’d hired a couple of vintage Bentleys with uniformed chauffeurs to drive them there.
The camera was quickly set up and they filmed Rolls Royce’s and Mercedes arriving and disgorging their be-medaled and evening dressed bejeweled contents
They’d sent our Bentley around the circular driveway to come back again so that we could film our correspondent arriving.
“John” came out sulkily, his evening dress made him look elegant and suave but he still didn’t approve of doing this story and only our ribald comments made him go into the house.
Quickly they moved the camera and lights inside, their hostess was greeting their correspondent graciously.
They could see his reserve and disapproval melting as she showed him around and introduced him to one beautiful woman after another.
Suddenly the lovely sounds of the Strauss waltz ended. The most beautiful Paraguayan girl we’d ever seen, was gliding down the long circular staircase, her gleaming ivory silk shoulders shown off to perfection by a long flowing, deep blue gown.
They all stopped talking, cynical newsmen though they were, they were enthralled by her beauty.
The girl’s face became transformed with a glowing light as she looked at the correspondent.
“John, you’ve come back!”
She screamed happily and raced down the stairs and fell into their correspondent’s unwilling arms.
It didn’t do John any good, his protestations that he’d never met her before fell on deaf ears and they teased him mercilessly for the rest of the trip.
For years after, the shout of....
“John, you’ve come back!’ was enough to make him beat a hurried retreat.
He never forgave the producer for setting him up.
New York and Robert Moses.
We were in New York City making several films, one of them that we’d lined up was an interview with the famous Robert Moses who’d revolutionized the parkways and it’s New York’s bridges.
As head of various state authorities he controlled millions in State income and was a power unto himself. At one time, one quarter of Federal construction dollars were being spent in New York, and Moses had 80,000
people working under him.
The sun was shining, the normally erasable Moses was in a good mood and we had the pretty Carol Taylor as our interviewer.
And Moses controlled the bridges.
What’s a good time for us to do an interview on the Triborough Bridge Mr.
Moses?’ I said hopefully.
We’d hired 2 convertibles and radio mikes and my idea was to be in one car filming and have Robert Moses and Carol in the other doing the interview as I drove along beside them filming them.
The problem with an idea like that was traffic.
‘When does it get light?’ I asked. ‘Perhaps if we did it early enough the bridge wouldn’t be too busy and we wouldn’t hold up traffic having two cars go alongside each other?.’
It was a vain hope I knew, the Triborough bridge connected the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens and was always packed..
Robert Moses smiled. ‘We’ll do it when you like, I’ll close the bridge and you can have it all to yourself.’
I looked shocked and then I saw he meant it.
‘It’s my bridge.’ He said calmly.
I didn’t believe he meant it but he did and it was!
He really had the power to do it.
We did out interview with the bridge closed and it looked beautiful but not enough to have caused millions of New Yorkers to sit in traffic jams and take alternate routes.
In the paper next day they put the closure down to temporary repairs and nothing about a TV crew causing it ever came out.
Now that’s power for you!
Mexico City Earthquake
I covered the big Mexican earthquake for ABC’s “Nightline”
Every major country in the world sent specialized teams to help, The English sent a Fireman’s unit they keep for major disasters.
The French and the Swiss sent a special dog team to help find survivors.
Their Alsatians would point and stay still if there was a body buried beneath the rubble. if the person was still alive the dog would wag his tail but if the buried person was a child the dog’s tail would wag frantically and he’d start barking, children obviously have a different smell. Unfortunately the dogs were useless after three days, the smell of death was everywhere and was then so strong that it overpowered all the scents.
I was amazed and impressed by the Mexicans. Without phones, electricity and safe running water, everyone joined in and helped, cars, trucks, taxis all marked with a white handkerchief to distinguish them, carried the wounded to hospitals and worked as emergency bus services.
Very impressive and I kept wondering if any other country would be as innovative.
There was an engineer we filmed, who had been playing with his son a week before the earthquake, They’d been using a cheap microphone and a curved parabolic dish he’d made out of cardboard to listen to each others heartbeats.
The engineer borrowed a neck mike from Mexican TV and a satellite dish from a cable company, hung it from a borrowed crane over the tragically collapsed Juarez Hospital and managed to convince all the workers and journalists to keep quiet while he listened.
Suddenly he tore the headphones off and pointed downwards, everyone dug still wondering if it was a waste of time but then to our amazement when they dug, they found two babies still alive, 20 feet below.
One of the most dramatic scenes I ever filmed was this dish at midnight, lit by a floodlight, hovering around the dark site listening for small sounds of life.
Every time they thought they heard something, they’d yell
And then quietness would fall and peoples hopes were raised..
We’d all stopped moving, hoping against hope.
If the mike picked up any cries beneath the dish, the digging would start.
That man and his idea and simple homemade contraption saved over 20
They’d build a lot of the new buildings in Mexico City, with the elevator in the center of the building to form a steel core like the rods in re-enforced concrete and also strengthened one corner of the building. This is supposed to make them earthquake proof and probably helped but to everyone’s amazement, the really earthquake proof buildings were the old Spanish buildings built during the time of the conquistadors .
They stood the worst shocks and emerged undamaged.
A lot of wonderful American doctors were helping the relief workers but I ran into a greedy one.
We’d been filming without much sleep for three days and I’d grabbed a moment to take a brief shower when a second after-shock occurred, it threw me down onto the edge of the bath and broke a couple of my ribs.
As a freelancer you only get paid when you work, so I didn’t want to leave and go back home, so I struggled on but to check and make sure, I asked a young American doctor. to see that the broken ribs weren’t near my lungs and could puncture them.
I’d got friendly with him and filmed him working on the collapsed hospital site and taken a lot of shots of him and even got the editor to make a copy of the tape to give him with shots of him on it.
The young doctor gave me a perfunctory 20 second check by feeling my ribs and told me it was OK to keep on working. He then asked for a hundred dollar fee,
I thought he was kidding at first but he pestered me every day after that until I told him my daily rate for filming was $500.
So I said I’d prepare a bill for a cameraman’s day rate and charge him for my day and the tape and after he’d pay me, I’d pay him, never heard another word from him but I bet he’s a millionaire now!
Every cameraman and soundman in London was working. It was like the “Royal Wedding all over again. England had declared war on Argentine and film crews were in great demand. ABC hired me and my equipment and I spent day after day in Downing Street filming the constant flow of politicians, advisors and military that raced through the door of “Number 10”
During the Falkland conflicts, ABC NEWS had hired a company using a gleaming fleet of 17, Jaguar “Sovereign’s to ferry us around on our assignments “ I arranged with their manager to have one of the drivers and the large luxurious car pick me up every morning from my home to save me trying to find a parking spot in Central London.
All my neighbors were extremely impressed when the driver, in full chauffeur’s regalia, pulled up each morning at my flat, got out, saluted and held the door open for me to get in the back of the Jaguar. (We’d arranged this before, the salute and all)
Downing Street is one of the coldest streets in London, even in June the watery London sun never reaches all the way down the narrow street and the International camera crews shivered and shifted from foot to foot as the cold river winds swept through us on their way to the open spaces of Green Park.
We left our cameras standing there all through the night under tarpaulin’s hoping they’d stand up to the drenching rain. In the early 6am, cold London mornings we joined them to be drenched as well.
I have one vivid recollection of reaching into my pocket one cold morning and scooping out a handful of wet dirty water, my socks were soaked, I was cold and clammy, this was an English summer at it’s best.
We waited for the redoubtable Mrs. Thatcher to make an announcement. Actually the only announcement she made while I was there during that rainy London summer was to send her husband Denis Thatcher out late one evening to tell us that,
“Margaret says you might as well go home boys, we’re going to curl up and watch TV so there will be nothing more tonight.”
We were grateful and soaked, we’d been standing there outside
“Number 10” in the torrential rain for the last fourteen hours.
I finally talked my way into a change of assignment across Whitehall to the Ministry of Defense. Outside the building, the networks had set up cameras transmission lines and remote control huts to feed the satellites.
We even had a catering van visit us every day serving hot meals and a choice of white or red wine
Inside the Ministry the scene was repeated, cameras were left set up day and night for the duration of the war, connected to their network offices for immediate transmission by satellite.
Occasionally, a heavily horn-rimmed British civil servant would come out shyly, blinking in the drenching blaze of the TV lights as they were switched on him. He’d shuffle his papers, look all around and after asking if we were all ready, he’d give our cameras the official British handout. I think his name was McGregor or something like that. He appeared on TV all around the globe giving the carefully censored government statements in a dry clipped accent.