This picture was taken in 1979 by the Navy when we covered a parachute drop for Pebble Mill at One, what else.
I may look cool, calm and collected but I was actually shitting bricks. It wasn’t helped by a very tight throat mike that made me want to up-chuck, or ‘burst’ in Navy parlance. It was only my social responsibility of not wanting to return some of the licence fee to the good people of Selly Oak in the form of fragments of canteen breakfast that held me back.
I needn’t have worried because these guys were among the heroes that saved so many lives in the Fastnet Race disaster of that year. Their stories were incredible and a wonderful example of teamwork. Funnily enough, on the Fastnet rescue, the man who did the ‘least’ work was the pilot. His job was to keep the helicopter in the same orientation and to take orders from the other two crew members. The co-pilot called the waves so the plane would rise and fall with the swell. The winchman then asked for up or down feet and the pilot did the sums to keep the poor man in the same place in space, usually on the deck of a boat. Amazing.
The pilot asked me what I wanted to do when the parachutists came out of the Wessex we were tracking. My well thought out idea was that the sun was very fetching and we’d have a great shot if we could descend with them, keeping them in silhouette. He suggested a rehearsal and promptly dropped the Sea King out of the sky. ‘Excuse me, old chap, but what was that about’, or slightly similar words, came ‘frog like’ from my stupid mike. Obviously, they drop like stones before opening their ‘chutes, so we’d have to do the same. That idea was quickly abandoned to be replaced by a shot looking up at the Wessex and the kamakasi crew dropping ‘through’ the sun. Nice.
The Navy were brilliant and the pilot did everything I asked as the parachutists dropped onto the front lawn. Well, most of them did. Some landed in the trees, which was embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the poor man who, having wrapped up his parachute, had to walk from Cannon Hill Park, find his way across the Pershore Road and make a dignified entrance to the building as best he could.
Before we landed, I wanted to do a shot of the ‘The Mill’ that was a little different and, after describing it to the pilot, we had a go. It was rubbish, mainly because we were at 2000ft and he did it head-on, forgetting that I was poking out the side and couldn’t see anything apart from my house in the distance.
He announced that we only have five minutes of flying time, and should land. I croaked that we need to do this shot again, sideways, at zero feet, very fast and NOW.
So, off we went beyond the Bristol Road, turned, and came bombing in sideways just above the trees. Halfway down Pebble Mill road the pilot calmly asked ‘What next?’ I shouted ‘Stand by to turn right and hover’.
By the time I’d finished the sentence we were there, so I screamed ‘Turn, turn, turn’, which he did on full lock. This meant the Sea King was on its side, I was dangling, face down, from my safety cable and the camera was looking up through the blades, but we got the shot and it was used in the titles for months.
I should also add that, after we landed behind the new club building, we still weren’t finished and I had to run to the front lawn while the Sea King popped over to the rear car park to pick up the parachutists for one more shot. As I ran from the club grounds, director screaming down my ear, Ikegami on shoulder with large BBC sticker, onto Pebble Mill Road, turning left onto the front lawn, I was stopped by security who wanted to see my ID!! I’m sorry to say that I used a bad phrase that obviously upset the sensitive nature of that particular uniform wearing zealot and he reported me to his boss.
So, as I was sitting on the pavement, in front of Studio A, camera in lap, taking a ‘moment’ after the tribulations of the morning, I was tapped on the shoulder by none other than head of security. He was a little upset at my suggestion of remote intercourse to one of his staff and was going to report me to Sidey. I told him to arrange a meeting at 3:30 because I was going to the bar. Suitably tanked up, I staggered into Sidey’s office and gave my version of the story. HoS was duly told to perform the same distant relationship and, after a Sidey sized gin and tonic, I managed to find my way back to the club for more incredible rescue stories.
The following comments were posted on the Pebble Mill Facebook Group:
Pete Simpkin: ‘Absolutely cracking story! Well done and well told Keith. Phil Sidey, now there’s a name to conjure with!’
Keith Brook: ‘Thanks Pete. Yes, Sidey had a lot to answer for, making us have so much fun.’
Mike Skipper: ‘Wonderful story !! Looks like the camera you were using was an Ikegami HL-79D (I can just about remember those being used back in the 1980s at Television Centre).
Your story about Security certainly rang a bell – even at TV Centre you can sometimes take ‘pot luck’ with whoever happens to be on the gate when you need to get through. I can recall Jim Davidson referring to some of the more “jobsworth” types as belonging to the Zaire Border Patrol, back in the days when we were recording Big Break…’
Keith Brook: ‘Thanks for the comment Mike. In fact it was a 79A. We had set up a single camera unit way before TC and Acton and because it operated out of a car, it was easy to shove into a helicopter. The fun we had in the early single camera days might be the subject of another missive!!’