Fifty Years of BBC News

Only just got round to sorting out the images and putting finger to um, key, but last Tuesday spent a wonderful morning over at TVC attending a talk chaired by George Alagiah on photography and filming ‘The News’. The panel comprised three BBC camera persons from throughout the ages. Including Eric Thirer, a BBC cameraman who worked in the far east in the 60s and 70s. Amongst other things he shot the ‘fall of Saigon with Brian Barron. Here’s Barron’s memories of it: The Fall of Saigon

To accompany the series of events there was a small temporary exhibition. Full Gallery here This included Eric Thirer’s actual camera that he bought in California in 1972 and used to record that iconic image of the last US chopper leaving Saigon. I asked him if he’d changed it throughout the years, but he insisted that it was the original body, magazine and lens. . amazing. If you watched BBC news in the 70s, you probably saw footage shot with this very camera. Strung underneath was the ‘onion sack’. A hesian sack in which the news reels where put to be flown back to London. Eric talked about how in those days you never really knew what you got in the can, and certainly never saw it broadcast. Also he’d often receive work via telegram, a Vietnamese boy would arrive on a bicycle and deliver his instructions, often in the form of one sentence, “go here and meet so and so”, and from there he’d just have to wing it until he got what he thought was the story.

Another interesting item on show was Vaughan Smith’s mobile phone. Smith, a freelance from London’s Frontline News Agency was working with a BBCer in Kosovo. Smith was shot at as he was crawling through a Serbian militia cordon to film the destruction of village of Prekaz. One of the bullets hit him in a pouch that carried around his waist. It went through his pack of Marlboro, through a tightly wrapped wad of 6000 Dutchmarks and lodged in his mobile phone [PIC]…. He escaped with a large bruise. Full story here.

Also there was the Hajib (a dress worn by women) that John Simpson wore when he was smuggled into Afghanistan. The event was much parodied in the press, as in this cartoon from the Guardian The accompanying text talked of whether a fatwa should be declared against SImpson for impersonating a woman, in the end the Tribal Council ruled he was ‘doing his job’. Wonder what their stance is on Danny la Rue?

There was also George Alagiah’s ‘lucky bag’ which he took everywhere while a roving reporter, it saved his life once when he went back to fetch it and a mortar landed where he’d just been stood. Full story here.

A lot of these items were lent by the reporters themselves, and as the event was in TVC, there was no public access. Chatting to George afterward we agreed that this sort of stuff should perhaps be put on show somewhere. Maybe when the new frontage of Broadcasting House opens they’ll be a public exhibition space? As far as I know the BBC has a ‘content archive’ but no real ‘object archive’. . Perhaps we need a curator for BBC assets?

Anyway, there’s still plenty of other stuff to see news wise on the BBC News Tour thingy..

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
July 2004

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