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Fings don’t always seem what they are, or used ter be …

Having briefly worked in television I’m broadly aware of the ‘tricks of the trade’ – real or imagined – because, of course, in broadcasting (as in every aspect of life) very little is actually what it seems. Or perhaps that should read ‘necessarily what it seems’.

Whether it’s a wronged celebrity wife who shrugs off an unfaithful husband’s latest amorous adventure by just happening to don her glad rags and appear serene and glamorous at a red carpet film premiere – or perhaps feature in a revealing outfit in a supposedly unguarded paparazzi shot – to ‘show him what he’s missing’, or perhaps an intense two-handed movie scene in which the camera flits between the participants’ different ‘points of view’ which in fact is shot laboriously over the course of a morning, or even a week, with the ‘reverse shots’ later stitched together in the editing suite, it occurs all the time.

And never mind the outtakes, or those clips that subsequently appear in shows like It’ll Be All Right On The Night, cock-ups and instances of human error or random chance – for example, movie history is littered with instances when, after eight or ten takes of the same minute or so of scripted dialogue, to alleviate the boredom of the process one or more of the actors begins improvising and the results are sufficiently ‘brilliant’ that they end up being included in the finished product – occur far more often than is generally known or admitted.

As it happens I’ve noticed several recently when doing nothing more investigative than idly watching television.

About a week ago a BBC News bulletin anchored by Sophie Raworth – I think it was a 6 O’Clock one but at my age I could have got that wrong and it might easily have been a 1 O’ Clock lunchtime version – there was a short item on an initiative at the museum at the Biggin Hill airfield established to celebrate the WW2 Battle of Britain RAF fighter pilots in which some contemporary footage of Spitfires and Hurricanes taking off from the grass runway to do battle with the Luftwaffe over the skies of Kent was featured.

Later in the bulletin Raworth began reading an item about Brexit and Prime Minister Mrs May setting off to attend some sort of EU summit meeting in Brussels to try and sell her latest initiative on the UK’s departure deal.

Inadvertently but hilariously, somebody in the BBC’s studio master control had simultaneously pressed the wrong button with the result that Raworth’s words were accompanied on screen by a re-broadcast of the above-mentioned 1940 footage of RAF aeroplanes taking off to intercept the foe.

I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person in Britain who immediately burst out laughing at the BBC’s apparent characterisation of Mrs May’s flying visit to EU headquarters as the equivalent of ‘our boys’ taking to the skies to do battle with the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler or indeed ‘Johnny Foreigner’ generally.

I can say that because, before too long, the BBC news editor responsible for the bulletin was tweeting an apology/explanation about “our slight technical hitch” to the world and the next day the story of the juxtaposition was doing the rounds on the newspaper websites.

Two other examples happened yesterday.

I spent much of the afternoon watching ITV’s live coverage of England’s Six Nations victory over France at Twickenham.

Not long afterwards, having switched to BBC1 in order to catch the latest news bulletin broadcast at about 5.30pm, I saw the anchor presenter ‘throw’ to the BBC sports reporter then stationed pitchside inside the ground for a report on the match.

He reported deadpan on the result from an apparently still-packed stadium by saying something like “… After a brilliant and dominating start in which Johnny May scored a try within two minutes … the issue in the second half was whether France could make any sort of comeback in response, or whether England would press on to complete a rout”.

All perfectly straightforward, one might think. But then I noticed something.

The stand behind the reporter, who was apparently reporting live into the news bulletin, was full of buzzing spectators, even though this was nearly half an hour after the match was over. More than that, in the background a group of England squad players in tracksuits could be seen running up and down across the pitch in the dead ball area beyond the try line.

Dear Rusters, this sequence of the reporter supposedly speaking ‘live’ into this BBC1 early evening news bulletin wasn’t ‘live’ at all.

By previous arrangement, at half-time during the match, he had almost certainly recorded two or more possible links that would be used in the bulletin. By half-time, of course, England had already notched 30 points and were virtually out of sight as far as the result was concerned.

Hence his apparently live piece to camera about ‘the issue in the second half was whether France would stage a comeback …”. He then probably recorded another one in which he ‘allowed’ for the fact that France had indeed made a bit of a comeback.

How do I ‘know’ he did this? Because, the moment a Twickenham international ends, the crowd always immediately streams out of the stadium on their way home and the post-match interviews etc. are record in front of empty stands.

Yet in his piece going into the evening news, the reporter was standing in front of what was obviously a half-time crowd – this is supported by the fact the England bench was warming up in the background.

Having recorded ‘bits’ that could be used either in a situation where England had gone on to score 100 points without further reply, or alternatively the French team had staged a magnificent comeback, by the time the bulletin was broadcast not only could (1) the newsroom editors back at HQ could use whichever piece was more appropriate, but (2) our intrepid pitch-side reporter could already have been on a train two-thirds of the way to Waterloo on his way home!

Secondly, and to cap it all, I somehow managed to stay awake long enough to watch the opening half hour of BBC1’s (apparently live) coverage of last night’s BAFTA Awards hosted by Joanna Lumley.

After the “Best Supporting Actress” award and with Lumley’s rather poor ‘jokey’ script barely raising a titter, I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer to find out whether Olivia Coleman won “Best Actress” for The Favourite and/or which movie won “Best Film” and dragged myself upstairs to bed.

As I sank gratefully beneath the duvet and switched on the beside radio – my ever-faithful accompaniment to sleep – I heard Radio Five Live anchor Peter Allen ‘throw’ to Colin Pattison, the BBC’s entertainment reporter, who excitedly reviewed all the awards that had been given out during the evening.

Clearly the BBC1 television show – as I said “apparently live” – was in fact noting of the sort. It was actually a recording of the evening, played out to BBC1 viewers as if it had been live.

Its’ a funny old world, isn’t it?


About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts