Camera confidential: My new book has been published

My book packed with advice about working as a cameraman and video journalist is finally out and available to buy via the Rory Peck Trust website. All proceeds are going to them to help freelancers with training in sub-saharan Africa.

I’ve written Camera confidential to help people who shoot. It’s the book I wish somebody had handed me as a fresh faced twenty five year old jumping on a plane for my first foreign assignment. Sections include: Breaking into the industry, how to pack your kit, fill out customs paperwork, what to carry in a warzone, how to operate in extreme weather, how to shoot interviews and pieces to camera and advice on writing scripts and story-telling. It’s the accumulated knowledge of my years on the road as well as the product of numerous interviews with the likes of four times Royal Television Society cameraman of the year Darren “DC” Conway, well known filmmaker Phillip Bloom, numerous freelance cameramen from around the world, experienced reporters and security advisors.

The cover of my new book Camera confidential

The cover of my new book Camera confidential

For those who don’t know, my own background is as a cameraman, editor and video-journalist for the BBC. I started out as a trainee at ITN news and then joined the Beeb twelve years ago. I’ve covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Libya, DRC and Gaza. I spent four years with the BBC Africa bureau and have been lucky enough to work with some of the best correspondents and producers in the world.

I wanted this book to do some good. I never set out to make any money from it and so I jumped at the chance to publish it in partnership with the Rory Peck trust. I am full time staff with the BBC and often see freelancers producing amazing work, but also taking massive risks. Therefore I think it is more important than ever for the Rory Peck Trust to be able to help with training bursaries and to offer grants and support to freelancers in crisis or who have been injured. All proceeds of this book will be going to the trust.

Follow this link to purchase your copy for £4.99

Normandy revisited: Returning to the beaches for the 70th anniversary

June 6th 2014 marked 70 years since the allied landings in Normandy. It’s a campaign about which I know very little, therefore you can imagine my excitement when I was called upon to be one of the cameramen covering the event for BBC News.

with Tony Colgan of the 9th  DLI

with Tony Colgan of the 9th DLI

I was tasked with making a number of films with veterans recalling their experiences and revealing their emotions about returning. The news films that I made were short, too short. Two minutes isn’t enough time for a piece to really capture the stories and feelings that these ageing warriors had. Therefore I decided to make longer versions of the films utilising unused footage and lots of extra interview clips. I’ve posted them below and I hope you think that they were worth the extra effort.

Tony Colgan was with the 9th Durham Light Infantry and drove a Bren gun carrier ashore with the second wave on D-Day. He’s now ninety years old but still sharp and good company. He was accompanied to the commemorations by his grandson and the two shared some wonderful stories.

After filming with Tony, my team and I crossed the channel and joined up with two more veterans making the journey across to the beaches on HMS Bulwark, the flagship of the British navy. They were Admiral O’Brien and Bill Bryant of the Royal Marines who had been a Coxswain on a landing craft ferrying men and material to the beaches.

Having joined the Royal Marines in 1943, he underwent his seamanship training in Wales before joining Landing Craft Mechanised Flotilla 609 in 1944.

Turkey’s hidden truths

Towards the end of last year I was lucky enough to work on a documentary about the state of press freedom in Turkey. It was a fascinating shoot that took me around Turkey and gave me a real glimpse of the problems faced by Journalists in that country. I wanted to post the film for you to have a look at. Before you watch it you may wish to get more context from this online piece by the reporter, Selin Girit.

The battle of Nimy, August 1914

Men of the 4th Royal Fusileers in the town of Mons the day before the battle

Men of the 4th Royal Fusileers in the town of Mons the day before the battle (Source- Wikipedia)

The august sun began to rise, slowly burning off the early morning mist and drizzle that had had plagued the British troops. The 4th Battalion Royal Fusileers had spent most of the night trying to dig in, scraping shallow trenches along the banks of the Conde Canal, outside the small Belgium village of Nimy. It was the 23rd August 1914 and the British Expeditionary Force was about to fight it’s first major engagement of the First World War.

The 4th RF (9th Brigade, 3rd Division) were commanded by Lt. Colonel McMahon and consisted of twenty-six officers and nine hundred and eighty three other ranks, of these seven hundred and thirty four were reservists, recalled from civilian life in the last few weeks. These were the “Old contemptibles”who despite their small numbers had a level of training and cohesion that other armies envied. There motto was, “We’ll do it, what is it?”

They had been given a tough assignment. The battalion was to defend the “loop” position which is where the canal curved northwards and then back again, creating a salient that would make life difficult for the defenders. There were two bridges in their sector, a road bridge (which was a swing bridge) and a metal railway bridge to it’s left, that dominated the battlefield. The canal was sixty foot wide, covered in black slime and reeking of chemicals. Smoking black slag heaps dotted the landscape, too hot and dangerous to use as observation posts.

Map showing disposition of troops at the battle of Mons. Approximate scale 2 miles to an inch. (Source: THE FIRST SEVEN DIVISIONS - McCLELLAND, GOODCHILD & STEWART, Ltd.)

Map showing disposition of troops at the battle of Mons. Approximate scale 2 miles to an inch. (Source: THE FIRST SEVEN DIVISIONS – McCLELLAND, GOODCHILD & STEWART, Ltd.)

At nine am the first German shells began to land amongst the British defenders. They pounded the canal for an hour with no reply from the british artillery which had handicapped itself with a poor choice of firing position. As the bombardment ceased the grey clad ranks of six German infantry battalions emerged from cover (lead by the 84th Regt.), advancing slowly. The British used their Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle’s and their excellent marksmanship and rapid firing ability to decimate the German ranks, forcing them to fall back. At the time the German’s believed that the British defenders had many Machine-gun’s, in fact they had just two water-cooled Vickers, which were dug in around the Railway bridge under the command of Lieutenant Maurice James Dease.

As the morning wore on the incoming artillery and machine-gun fire from the German’s began to take a terrible toll amongst the defenders. The civilian villagers who had stayed behind in Nimy now began to run for their lives, escaping with the few possessions they could carry. It was clearly only a matter of time before the thin British line was broken.

By 13.00 the 4th RF were in a desperate situation. C (also known as Y) Company had suffered almost eighty casualties and both machine-guns had ceased firing. Lt. Dease, who had already been wounded twice (including a round in the neck) crawled forward to discover nobody alive to operate the right hand Vickers. In spite of his severe injuries he began to fire the weapon himself keeping the German’s at bay. He quickly attracted a murderous amount of gunfire until eventually he was hit again. Lieutenant Steele ran forward and carried him back to the rear but he died from his wounds around 15.30 (he was subsequently awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the first of the war). Dease lies in St Symphorien cemetery outside Mons, along with many men of his comrades.

The sun was now high and blisteringly hot. At 13.40 Lt.Colonel McMahon received the order to withdraw his battalion. Utilising years of training and parade ground discipline the troops began to retire as best they could.

Sidney Godley VC, source: Wikipedia

Sidney Godley VC, source: Wikipedia

On the Railways bridge Private Sidney Frank Godley took over the Machine-gun that Dease had been firing. He was also wounded but managed to single-handedly keep the German’s at bay for two hours while the rest of the battalion got away. Eventually, after running out of ammunition he dismantled the Vickers and tossed the pieces into the canal. Struggling to walk, he crawled back to the main road and was helped to hospital by two Belgian civilians. Soon after he arrived it was taken over by the German’s and he was taken prisoner. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross and received the good news from the senior German Officer at his POW camp at Doberitz.

The battle of Nimy was over but it marked the start of a gruelling retreat that saw the Old contemptibles battered and virtually wiped out over the following weeks. The British had suffered a defeat, but had inflicted a bloody nose on the Germans and done themselves proud against a vast, determined and well trained foe.

For a concise overview of the battle of Mons then you may wish to follow this link

If you have enjoyed this article then you may also enjoy a short story I wrote about the battle featuring Harry Blake and the fictional Royal North Leicestershire Regiment – click here to read.


VCs of the First World War: 1914
by Gerald Gliddon (Budding Books)

1914 : The Days of Hope
by Lyn Macdonald (Penguin)

Mons: 1914
by Jack Horsfall and Nigel Cave (Leo Cooper)

The Guns of August
by Barbara Tuchman (Dell)

Maginot Line: Villy La Ferte, some great photos

A battered cupola at Villy La Ferte (Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

A battered cupola at Villy La Ferte (Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

Villy la Ferte is a small fort on the Maginot Line where heavy fighting took place between German and French troops in May 1940. It is the westernmost position in its sector and was comparatively weakly armed and in an exposed position that left it vulnerable to isolation and attack.

The fighting at La Ferté was the heaviest of any position in the Maginot Line. It was attacked from the air and by the German 71st infantry division backed up with heavy artillery. The position, although heavily damaged, defended itself well for a number of days refusing to surrender.

Eventually after the Fort fell silent a German patrol made a full survey of the ouvrage, finding “the most difficult conditions imaginable,” and discovering the corpses of the garrison, apparently suffocated, most wearing gas masks. It seems that the garrison died of carbon monoxide poisoning after the fume extractor fans had been damaged.

The entire garrison was posthumously awarded the Ordre de l’Armée. On the German side, Oberleutnant Germer, who led the assault, was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

The battle is still studied today by NATO Officers as they learn about the German blitzkrieg. That is how my friend, army photographer Mike O’Neill, came to visit the spot recently. I saw his excellent photos on Facebook and asked permission to repost.

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

(Image is MOD Crown Copyright)

Live the story: Some of my recent films

As some of you may be aware I have recently been working as a Video Journalist for BBC World news, producing, shooting and editing my own films. I’ve also been appearing in front of the camera from time to time for a web series called “live the story”. It’s been a bizarre but enjoyable experience and one that I’d be keen to do more of in the future. The films are trying to look beyond the news agenda and explore what it takes to deliver the news, as well as small quirky stories that I find along the way. I’ve posted a few below, feel free to comment.

Saint Pierre Han: The institute of creative minds take me on a tour of their offices in Istanbul. . .Shot on a Canon S110 from Christian Parkinson on Vimeo.