The legendary and very popular ‘Cook Report’ tempted me back into the freelance world with the offer to become their first principle Lighting Cameraman. The ‘Cook Report’ is remembered as the leading investigative documentary series of its time with regular viewing figures in excess of 12million, something quite rare now for factual television. My role was to film without direction and provide technical and creative coverage 24/7 and to ensure all filmed sequences supported the journalistic narrative which often meant filming covertly or in hostile and dangerous environments. Back then, this ‘no holds barred’ form of investigative journalism together with the financial support of a major television network, was fundamental to the success of the ‘Cook Report’. Chasing criminals around the world and making 22 ‘prime-time’ documentaries with Roger Cook was not only hugely demanding but also meant filming by the seat of your pants sometimes. Whilst this tended to be very exciting it didn’t come without a few snags along the way.
The Cook Report was notorious for going the extra mile and during one investigation I actually came close to putting my own freedom on the line. I had flown into Bangkok along with the rest of the world’s journalists on the trail of two young British girls who had been caught attempting to smuggle 26 kilos of heroin worth £4 million out of Thailand, which at the time was the Thai’s largest ever haul. Much later, our investigations led us to risk crossing the border into Burma illegally and on into the mountainous and notorious ‘Golden Triangle’ to seek out the drug war lord Khun Sa, who back then it was estimated controlled some 70% of the worlds heroin. This was only possible by leaving secretly at dawn on the back of a mule and involved lying low when necessary to avoid armed Thai and Burmese border patrols - which happened frequently. It took 24 hours to reach Khun Sa’s hideout. Meanwhile, we had a tip off that one of the girls was held in a Bangkok city jail and we desperately needed footage of her whilst incarcerated before going to trial. Trouble was, the jail was permanently guarded and was out of bounds to everyone - especially journalists. We had a production meeting and it was decided the only way remotely possible to achieve this would be if I made an attempt to slip in alone with my camera at around 3am when fatigue is at its highest point, steal passed the guards in the main entrance, find and film the girl. Well, that all sounds well and good whilst drinking a cool beer in an hotel bar planning it, the consequences of anything going wrong and getting caught in the act - would be dire for me. We had already done a recce in the notorious ‘Bangkok Hilton’ posing as business men, so I had seen the many Europeans that were ‘banged up’ without hope there and joining them was definitely not part of the plan. 3am came and went, one of the guards was still prowling about, after a while he disappeared and with sweat streaming into my eyes and not just from the heat of the night, my heart pounding in my brain I approached the main entrance. As luck would have it, I could see that the main guard had indeed succumbed and had his head buried in his arms and was asleep at his desk, the other guard that I had spotted prowling earlier was nowhere to be seen. There were two thoughts in my head as I approached the point of no return, it’s ‘now or never’ and ‘what the hell am I doing’, or words to that effect. I then slipped silently passed the sleeping guard and entered the jail. I followed a stone stairway downwards and found myself in a large open area with one enormous central caged cell with at least 50 male and female prisoners together asleep in various positions on the cell floor. The humid stale air was quite overpowering and I was forced to control my breathing to a minimum but soon spotted our girl and filmed her as quickly and as silently as I could, desperate not to wake anyone in the process and finally got the hell out of there. The consequences of being caught in the act didn’t bare thinking about, the Thai authorities would not have tolerated such transgressions - but I got away with it, a dangerous but calculated risk that went in my favour. Pushing the boundaries was part of the DNA of the ‘Cook Report’ for everyone that worked on it and I guess sucking up the adrenalin was all part of it too.
‘Instrument of War’ is a two part documentary; ‘Ladies from Hell’ and ‘Call to the Blood’ that I co-directed and filmed for the History Channel and CBS and is based on the only musical instrument in human history to be declared a ‘Weapon of War’. The Great Highland Bagpipe or the ‘Great War Pipe of the North’ as it is sometimes known, was declared a weapon of war by the English courts after the crush of the Jacobite Rebellion on 16th April 1746 at the ‘Battle of Culloden’, pipers were hung drawn and quartered. The two part documentary, narrated by Tom Conti, Hannah Gordon and Charlton Heston with contributions by HRH Prince Charles, Sir Jackie Stewart and rock star Phil Collins, celebrates this amazing instrument and why it has such an infamous history and its love/hate relationship with the public. This film won a silver award at the Chicago Film Festival and was nominated at the New York Film festival. These two films were hugely satisfying to make; my Co-Producer Patrick King and I were given unprecedented access to many institutions and historical artefacts including Royalty and places of historical importance.