Archives for July 2012

The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World

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Dr George McGavin Dr George McGavin | 06:18 UK time, Friday, 27 July 2012

Human senses are not well adapted for life in the dark so it's not surprising that we are not familiar with what goes on when the sun goes down.

The opportunity to be a presenter on a TV expedition to South America is one that few biologists would pass up. But The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World would be even more challenging, as most of the filming would be done at night.

Recent advances in thermal and infrared imaging make it possible to get a real idea of what nocturnal creatures are doing without altering their behaviour.

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Headlamp beetles: Scientists think they use their lights to attract a mate

The most taxing aspect for the team was that we had to work all night on location and try to sleep during the day.

The heat and humidity made sleeping difficult and sometimes impossible.

As darkness falls, the danger of working in wild places such as jungles increases considerably. Without daylight it it's much easier to get lost as you tend to focus your attention in a much narrower field of view.

Venomous species such as snakes become very hard to spot.

During the filming I encountered a fer-de-lance on a path in the Peruvian Amazon.

This extremely dangerous snake is responsible for more human fatalities in South America than any other species.

It was curled up under dry palm frond just by the side of a track and as I tried to get a better look I realised that the snake was well over more a metre long - much longer than the stick I used to lift the frond up.

These snakes are very aggressive and do not react well to bright lights. There have been very few times in my life when I have been in mortal danger - this was one of them.

I backed away very slowly and lowered the frond. I still consider myself very lucky not to have been bitten.

My real passion is insects and spiders, and for me one of the highlights was finding and filming headlamp beetles.

After dark but only for about an hour or so, these strange click beetles with two luminous green spots on their thorax fly through the forest.

Collect enough in a jar and you read a book by their eerie glow. Stranger still is the orange light on the underside of the abdomen that illuminates briefly at they take to the air.

Another highlight were trapdoor spiders.

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Trapdoor spiders only risk coming out for a fraction of a second after dark

Normally they are very hard to spot as the silk-hinged lids to their burrows are so neat and tight fitting but when they are hungry they raise the lid just a fraction.

These ambush hunters seize passing insects and drag them below.

To shoot footage for episode two, we visited a Venezuelan tepui, or table top mountain.

Living for several days deep inside a cave in the heart of the tepui was quite testing.

I was alone in the dark for several hours as the rest of the team went off to rig some climbing kit and I turned off my headtorch to conserve the battery.

The interior of the three-mile cave has never seen the sun in all the millions of years it has existed and the darkness is absolute.

The stream that flows through the passages makes splashing and gurgling sounds as it goes and these are amplified and distorted as they echo through the cave system.

It was not long before my brain, struggling to make order out of the acoustic chaos, began to play tricks on me.

I was sure I could hear voices calling - and laughter, changing imperceptibly into gentle sobbing. If you got lost down here for any length of time you could go mad.

Dr George McGavin is a biologist with a particular expertise in insects.

The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World begins on Sunday, 29 July at 9pm on BBC Two. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Bert & Dickie: Writing an Olympic drama

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William Ivory William Ivory | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 24 July 2012

I'd never been near any boat smaller than a pleasure cruiser on the Norfolk Broads when I started work on the script for Bert & Dickie. That was part of the attraction for me.

I'm sport mad and was intrigued to investigate sculling - a sport which for me was completely alien.

(For those who'd like to know, scullers use both oars. A rower uses one.)

Thanks to watching Sir Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave as they powered to many Olympic victories I at least knew what was the most elemental aspect of their sport: pain.

And then still more pain!

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Dickie (Sam Hoare) and Bert (Matt Smith) have an unsuccessful first meeting

In the first Olympic Games to follow World War II, Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell won gold in the double sculls.

It was five weeks after meeting for the first time and at first the match between Bert and Dickie was far from made in heaven.

I'd become aware of their story having read Hampton's magnificent book about the 1948 Games in London, The Austerity Olympics.

Then I was fortunate enough to talk to Bert Bushnell at his home near Henley shortly before he died.

In fact the 1948 Games was stuffed full of potential film ideas, not least because it happened at such a peculiar time in history.

In the aftermath of carnage and chaos there seemed to be a particular determination to let sport act as a glue to piece nations and people back together again, which led to many stirring narratives I could have explored.

But having met Bert, having had a run out on the river courtesy of the local university eight (let's just say seven of them weren't sick) and having realised the unique potential which Bert and Dickie's story had to draw out all that was wonderful about the British stiff upper lip 'make do and mend' approach to life and to demonstrate the iniquities of a country which was still perfectly happy to countenance terrible class bigotry and social exclusion, I knew that there could only really be one place for me to focus my attention.

Clearly much of the drama came from the fact that Bert and Dickie were so different socially.

One Eton and Oxford-educated, Captain of Boats and a University Blue, the other a grammar school boy from Wargrave of much more modest upbringing.

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Actors Matt Smith and Sam Hoare discuss their characters

Though Bert's mother had been an opera singer (a theme explored sub-textually in the music I chose for many of the later scenes) nevertheless, these differences were very real at the time.

However, the British are (rather magnificently in my opinion) terribly good at seeing the other point of view and as they both started to appreciate the potential which lay on the 'other side of the fence' they made a terrific team.

It was not just their characters, nor the fractured social panoply which they demonstrated that intrigued me about this story, but the wider world beyond rowing.

The ability of the country to stage the Games was staggering.

It was done with no government financial support, with few resources and with a populous still reeling from war.

And yet the Games happened. Magnificently so, because of some remarkable individuals like Lord Burghley and Lord Aberdare who feature in the film and because of the nation's ability to dust itself down and get on with it.

Bert (Matt Smith) and Dickie (Sam Hoare)

Bert and Dickie

Even when presented with Olympic etching and Olympic poetry (which were on the first Olympics list and revived in London because they were cheap!) the country flocked to support the events.

And this was the thing for me: the spirit of the Games.

What I have tried to demonstrate in Bert & Dickie is that the people of 1948 really understood that the Olympics was all about an attitude of mind: a desire to come forward and to be involved, to compete and to watch, to strive and to enjoy.

And as long as that effort was made in a heartfelt way then money did not have to be showered upon the event for it to be a success.

And as we prepare to stage a Games now, amidst dreadful unemployment, social deprivation and fiscal meltdown, it would do us all good to remember that spirit.

William Ivory is the writer of Bert & Dickie.

Bert & Dickie is on Wednesday, 25 July at 8.30pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Babies In The Office: Taking my baby to work

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Shellon Beckford Shellon Beckford | 13:00 UK time, Tuesday, 17 July 2012

I was on maternity leave when I first heard about the Babies In The Office scheme.

My employer, the minicab firm Addison Lee, was planning on trialling a groundbreaking initiative that allowed parents to bring babies up to the age of three into work on a daily basis - not in a crèche but by their side at their desks.

It meant that employees on maternity leave could come back early.

A memo detailing the scheme was included in my payslip asking if I would like to take part. I'd never heard of the idea before and I was so excited; I think I was the first person to sign up!

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Watch how Shellon and her fellow parents get on with their babies at work

Mahdka, my daughter, was just five months old when I returned to work three days a week. I was excited at the prospect of having her with me every day and as a result didn't feel any of the anxiety many new mums feel when they go back.

Although there were initially a few sceptics in the office on the whole my colleagues were supportive of the idea of bringing babies to work.

I also promised myself I would work extra hard to prove the sceptics wrong - and I succeeded.

As far as concentration went I soon realised that you have to be able to multi-task.

Both baby's routine as well as scheduling your day can be adjusted so that you get the bulk of your work done while they are napping.

I started taking my break when it was Mahdka's lunch time and ensured I had all the basics and toys close to hand at all times.

Most importantly it is key to remember that it is your baby, therefore your responsibility, although each parent did have a buddy that took the baby if you're in a meeting or baby's really upset while you are on a call.

There were a few initial teething problems and during the trial period Mahdka was doing just that, teething!

She was uncharacteristically restless and it meant that I did spend a little more time soothing her in the baby change room than I would have liked to.

Shellon Beckford with Mahdka wearing a phone headset

Shellon Beckford with Mahdka

However I have to say that the positives definitely outweighed the negatives.

Having Mahdka with me in the office meant that I saved £943 a month on childcare and even more valuably I was with her every day watching her grow and develop, something I would definitely have missed out on if she was at the nursery every day.

The Babies in the Office scheme also helped Mahdka with her own personal development. She was interacting with so many different people on a daily basis, something she may not have had the benefit of in childcare.

An extra and unexpected bonus of the scheme is the boost to morale in the office: I have made great friends with colleagues in departments that I had never even spoken to before!

You'll see in the programme that by the end of the month-long trial those colleagues who had said it would never work had changed their minds and realised that it was possible to continue to work with minimal disruption.

It was agreed that babies under the age of one would continue to be allowed at workers' desks and children any older would be placed in the on-site nursery.

I am now waiting for the nursery to be completed so I can continue to bring Mahdka into the office with me every day.

Shellon Beckford features in Babies In The Office.

Babies In The Office is on Tuesday, 17 July at on 7pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Is Football Racist? My Dad's story

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Clarke Carlisle Clarke Carlisle | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 16 July 2012

It's not an exaggeration! Here I am, 32 years of age, I've been a professional footballer for half of my life yet I've never talked to my Dad about his days within the game.

The truth is I'm kind of glad that I hadn't.

My dad left school with the dream of being a footballer but only managed to play at semi-professional level at his peak, despite his widely acknowledged ability.

It was his experiences as a black player in the Preston and District leagues that alarmed me.

When BBC Three approached me to present Is Football Racist? I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to gain a real understanding about this very emotive issue, one that I regularly speak about in my capacity at the Professional Footballers' Association.

Footballer Clarke Carlisle

Clarke Carlisle

I expected to hear some differing experiences to my own but not really anything to challenge my personal beliefs around the issue.

In making the documentary I asked my Dad for the first time about his experience of football culture in the 70s and 80s.

The emotions it brought up on camera took us both by surprise.

"Kicked, punched, head-butted, stamped on", and that was ON the pitch. My Dad could barely bring himself to recall the details of events OFF the pitch.

He kept going back every week, to the terraces and to the pitch, because he loves football, but I'm not sure I would've been the same.

Maybe it's because of the different eras. Dad was used to the abuse and prejudice in daily life so it wasn't unusual for him. Why should it be any different at the football?

Despite our shared passion for football Dad decided never to take me to a game when I was a kid. He didn't want me to be in that atmosphere in the stands.

I've grown up in a different time and if I encountered now any of what he experienced then I'd be horrified.

I often wonder if I'd love the game as much if I had known Dad's story. The truth is that I probably would.

Once the conversation got going we went on to talk about how much he wanted to be a footballer, what it would've meant. Of how Viv Anderson playing for England was a real "wow" moment, not just for him but for the black man in England.

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Clarke talks to his dad about his experiences of racism on the pitch

So when we reflected on what it meant to us for me to pull on an England shirt we both broke down! The realisation of a dream for father and son.

Dad consciously sheltered me from what he knew was out there, he'd experienced it first-hand. I appreciate him doing that because it gave me the freedom to pursue goals without pre-conceived fears of 'potential' barriers.

I will do the same for my kids too. I don't want to burden them with what 'might' be a problem in life. I want to empower them. I want them to believe that they can achieve anything if they work hard enough, not program them to see barriers.

Making this film has helped me to see football's problem: it's made up of humans.

Football is no different to society. It's comprised of young men from local estates up and down the country.

Football is not the elixir to cure society's ills, if things need to change then we all have to change them.

Football can, however, lead the way by setting an example that is watched by hundreds of millions of people across all ages, faiths and cultures on a weekly basis.

Its influence is unparalleled.

Clarke Carlisle is the presenter of Is Football Racist?

Is Football Racist? is on Monday, 16 July at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The making of The Riots: In Their Own Words

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Nicola Cutcher Nicola Cutcher | 14:11 UK time, Friday, 13 July 2012

The riots across England in August 2011 should need no introduction. Following the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a peaceful protest in Tottenham developed into explosive violent disorder.

Over five days trouble spread across the country with people looting, setting fire to property and attacking the police.

Actor Youssef Beruain playing a rioter

Actor Youssef Beruain playing a rioter

Five people died and over 2,500 shops and businesses were damaged. To date 1,290 rioters have been sent to jail.

After those shocking days the media erupted with politicians and commentators discussing what had happened and why.

But nobody was hearing from the people directly involved in the disorder to find out what they had to say about their behaviour. Why had they acted like they did? Were they sorry or would they do it again?

One reason for this silence is that those who had been caught were mainly in custody. Those who hadn't been caught didn't want to appear on camera for fear of public judgement, reprisals or arrest.

There was no government inquiry into the causes and consequences of the unrest. Into this void stepped Reading The Riots.

Conducted by the London School of Economics and The Guardian, this social research project interviewed 270 people who were involved in the disorder.

The interviews were conducted anonymously to allow those involved to speak more freely.

The BBC didn't get involved until after the interviews were completed, so the production team played no role in the decision to grant anonymity to those the researchers spoke to.

As a TV production team, we were faced with the decision whether to use this important and illuminating piece of work, even though it granted anonymity to criminals.

In our view it was justified because of the insights it provides into why and how the riots had happened. Even we, the programme makers, were never to know the true identities of the people featured in the research and subsequently, The Riots: In Their Own Words.

As the assistant producer I worked with my colleagues to think about how the research could be brought to life on television and accessed by a wider audience.

The original interviews had been recorded as audio files and this led us to approach the dramatist Alecky Blythe.

Actor Youssef Beruain and Acky Blythe

Youssef and Alecky Blythe

Alecky creates plays from real interviews - mixing journalism with drama to create what is called verbatim theatre.

She uses a performance style called recorded delivery, requiring actors to wear earphones.

The cast don't learn any lines. Instead they listen to the recording and talk a few seconds behind, mimicking the tone and pace of delivery so that they capture the essence of the person and the intention of the words as they were first spoken.

The result is a very naturalistic and believable performance.

We were excited about the potential of this delivery for television because we felt it would give veracity to our dramatisation.

Working with Alecky, we selected 11 interviews to recreate extracts of. Hopefully viewers would experience the original interviews in a manner as true-to-life as possible, while we could maintain the anonymity of the interviewees.

The dialogue is startlingly candid and confiding because neither the interviewer or interviewee are presenting themselves to the public, but engaging in a conversation protected by anonymity for the purposes of social research.

Whilst we are able to listen in to these accounts to garner fresh insights, viewers may feel frustrated or even angry because the tone of the interviews is very different to what we might expect from BBC TV: as journalists we challenge our interviewees and ask them to justify their words, but we can't here.

Similarly we can't elucidate what our characters say or ask them to explain references that they make.

Some speak in a street vernacular that is likely to be unfamiliar to many BBC Two viewers and some of the nuances and context of what they talk about are in danger of being lost.

To balance viewpoints over the two-part series, episode two features testimony from police officers who were on the frontline during the riots and offers a very different perspective upon what happened on those nights.

Alecky's method presented a new challenge to us in translating this technique from stage to screen.

Actor Calum Callaghan wearing an earpiece

Actor Calum Callaghan wearing an earpiece

On stage the headphones can be visible and accepted as a stylistic device. On screen we wanted naturalism so camera, sound and make up all worked together to ensure the earpieces were invisible at all times.

Each actor was given one tiny earpiece that could be disguised by hair and make up and one larger earpiece that would be hidden by the camera angle.

Many of the actors thrived using the technique and if anything, the challenge will be reminding the audience that they are watching actors and not documentary footage.

The actor Calum Callaghan said to me: "It felt fresh and was such an electric way of working. It's also surprising how informative someone's voice is - I could imagine how he would sit and what he'd be doing with his hands. You just let go and trust what you hear".

Nicola Cutcher is the assistant producer of The Riots: In Their Own Words.

The Riots: In Their Own Words was originally scheduled for Monday, 16 July but was postponed after a judge overseeing a riot-related trial in Birmingham issued a court order preventing it from being broadcast.

The trial has ended and the first programme will now be shown on Monday, 13 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Faster, Higher, Stronger: The history of the 1500m

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Francis Welch Francis Welch | 09:30 UK time, Tuesday, 10 July 2012

As a schoolchild I was one of millions who gathered around television sets to watch Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram battle each other to win the 1500m in two epic Olympic finals: Moscow in 1980 and LA in 1984.

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Sebastian Coe makes Olympic history at the 1984 Games

Thirty years ago Brits were the undisputed kings of middle distance running, so I was really excited when I was asked to produce a documentary about the history of this great race for the new BBC Two series Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Kenyan athletics legend Kipchoge Keino is so right when he says in the film that the 1500m is about more than just a test of supreme fitness.

Over three and three quarter laps of the track, this race requires the most demanding combination of talents - the stamina of a marathon runner, the explosive pace of a sprinter, the mentality to win and the tactical acumen to outwit your opponents.

That's why the 'metric mile' has been described as the Blue Riband event since the modern Games began in 1896.

Although the 1500m provided British athletics with a golden era, what surprised me while making this film was that for over 80 years it had attracted the most innovative and exceptional runners from unexpected corners of the world.

Inspired by the natural landscapes in which they trained, a small number of elite champions from different historical eras had transformed this extraordinary race.

I wanted this story to be told by the people who made it so my first challenge was to track down these athletes.

And what I quickly found was that I was making a film not about racing around a track but about the varied and rugged terrains these great Olympians pounded to plot their victories.

Olympic 1500m winner Paavo Nurmi

In the lake district of Finland I found 1972 Olympic champion Pekka Vasala, who told me about the first great 1500m runner, a Finnish athlete named Paavo Nurmi.

He devised the first systematic training regime in the 1920s. It was Nurmi who paved the way for today's champions by 'interval training' in the hills and forests that surrounded him.

In order to bring Nurmi's story to life I set about planning a reconstruction of his training methods.

Pekka introduced me to a young Finnish athlete Riku Marttinen (who plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics) and I sourced some period clothes in Helsinki.

I then showed Marttinen Nurmi's distinctive running style from old film reels and obtained an authentic 1920s stopwatch for him to carry, just as Nurmi had done in order to improve his running times.

I also brought my own running kit and attached a camera to my head to film Nurmi's perspective as he ran through the woods.

The shocking part of filming for me was in Kenya when I ran with the headcam at high altitude. Although I thought I was relatively fit it felt like my heart would explode.

The cameraman (who was filming from a jeep) found it very funny when a group of local schoolchildren first ran after me and then easily overtook me!

You'll see in the film Kipchoge Keino (who won Gold at the 1968 Olympics) discuss how training at high altitude improves endurance.

His hometown of Eldoret in the Rift Valley is situated over 7,000ft above sea level and has produced more Olympic champions than any other place in the world.

After filming sportspeople in Finland, Kenya, Morocco, Australia and the USA I came back to the UK.

Director Francis Welch with Seb Coe

Producer/director Francis Welch with Sebastian Coe

Here I got to speak to Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee (Locog) and two-time Olympic champion.

We talked about the far-flung places I had visited and he explained how the environment around his hometown of Sheffield had inspired him.

It was in the Peak District that he followed an arduous regime of speed endurance under the guidance of his father and coach Peter Coe.

As we talked I was struck by his in-depth knowledge about the tradition of this race.

He explained how each of the great champions I had filmed with had, in their own unique way, raised the level of performance through history and why he feels that come the London Olympics this summer the 1500m will again be the event to watch.

Francis Welch is the producer and director of Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Faster, Higher, Stronger starts on Monday, 9 July at 7pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Roger Mosey, the BBC's director of London 2012, has written about Olympics programmes on his blog: BBC's sport programmes move to the fore.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Volcano Live: Why I changed my day job for volcanology

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Lorraine Field Lorraine Field | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2012

So, what makes a middle-aged office worker up-sticks, give up seven years of her life to return to university as a mouldy-oldie student, travel half-way across the world to go and see volcanoes in the middle of nowhere and pursue a career trying to fathom out how the rocks of this planet formed?

I used to be a contracts manager in a telecoms infrastructure company - a good job but not one which really got me fired up.

If someone had told me then that 10 years in the future I would be working at the British Geological Survey as a mineralogist and petrologist (ie I look at crystals and minerals in rocks and determine their origin and history), that I would be involved with the BBC's Volcano Live series and that I would have witnessed first-hand an amazing eruption... I would never have believed them.

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Lorraine witnesses a nighttime eruption at Nyiragongo

In my early thirties I travelled to Antarctica where I met the late Jon Stephenson who had been the geologist in the 1957 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His passion for his subject made a lasting impression.

Following redundancy I was accepted at Durham University to study geology full-time (a brilliant experience!).

I fell in love with all things volcanic - particularly igneous rocks under a microscope.
Igneous rocks are those which have formed from magma (molten rock). They can form from lava flows such as basalt or can crystallise and cool before they reach the surface such as granites (intrusive).

I found that tiny crystals in the rocks hide a myriad of secrets - some can tell you what the pre-eruptive temperature of the magma was, whether there have been changes in the magma chamber during their lifetime or how long they have existed before being erupted.

I learned about different types of volcanoes and eruptions while nurturing a dream that one day I would see an eruption for myself.

After my PhD at Bristol University on the magmatic history of a volcano in Afar, Ethiopia, I decided to visit the largest lava lake in the world, Nyiragongo, in the Congo.
This is a unique volcano, one of only a few in the world which has a long-lived lake of molten lava in its crater.

Nyiragongo is also special as it has a very low silica content which makes its lava very runny. I hoped to bring back samples of historical lava flows.

Going to these remote places is not possible for everyone and so the BBC asked me to film this trip for Volcano Live.

Lorraine Field at Nyiragongo volcano

Filming was exciting but I was also a little apprehensive as I didn't know what we were going to see - this was new territory for me.

I really wanted to get some good footage to be able to share the experience.

The Congo unfortunately has had a difficult recent history and can be a tricky place to visit, although the Virunga Park Rangers do a tremendous job in trying to make the area safe for both humans and wildlife.

Common sense planning means checking for updates on the safety situation before travelling, taking the minimum of stuff with you and preparing as much as possible.

The easiest way to get into the Congo is to go as part of a travel group. I went with a diverse German-speaking group who had one thing in common: they were all regular travellers with a passion for volcanoes, and were very understanding about my complete lack of German!

We knew that Nyiragongo's sister volcano Nyamuragira had begun erupting a couple of months before our visit but had no idea what the current state of play was.

A few days before we left for the Congo Nasa published a satellite image suggesting there was still some activity.

We took a chance and trekked to the eruption site through the rain forest. That first view of the active volcano, after emerging from the dense rain-forest was magical!

Seeing a volcano in full-eruptive state is an assault on the senses which is impossible to describe. The noise is incredible. We could feel the heat, despite being around 550m away. And the blood red lava shooting 200m into the air was mesmerising.

All the textbook theory was coming to life and we knew we were watching something very special: a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I collected some great samples!

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Kate Humble sees Eyjafjallajökull from above

When I've told people that I was studying volcanoes they have often pointed out that there are no active volcanoes in the UK. This is true. But we have had: our granite tors are a legacy left by our volcanic past.

We can also be affected by active volcanoes in other countries as we were in 2010 when Eyjafjallajӧkull erupted - 'THAT Icelandic volcano'.

We need to study volcanoes, both active and extinct, in order to work out what makes them tick.

Volcanoes are like people: each has its own unique personality.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to change careers and fulfil a dream. It was hard work, but worth it. My advice to anyone considering doing the same is to believe in yourself and go do it!

Lorraine Field is a volcanologist on Volcano Live.

Volcano Live starts on Monday, 9 July at 8pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Share your images and send your questions for the presenters and experts on Volcano Live. You can read the executive producer's story on the About The BBC blog on the making of the series.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Henning Mankell's Wallander: I'm the screenwriter

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Peter Harness Peter Harness | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

By total coincidence, I live in Southern Sweden, about half an hour down the road from Ystad, the small coastal town where Wallander is filmed and set.

I'm one of those jammy sods who managed to entice a Swedish girl into marriage and then paid the price by being made to emigrate to a well-maintained, socially progressive, sensible-thinking paradise. With sunny summers.

I was already considering myself ridiculously lucky when I was rung up in 2009 and asked whether I'd consider taking over writing duties on the series.

I was overjoyed, in a very non-Wallander kind of way: and I can safely say that I've relished every moment of this job, working on my own doorstep with an unbeatable team, and adapting a series of books that I've loved since my Swedish father-in-law gave me Before The Frost (film number three in the new series) 10 years ago.

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Watch the trailer for series three

For those of you coming to it afresh, Wallander is about a middle-aged Swedish detective working the badlands of Skåne county - which lies just over the sea bridge from Denmark and the rest of Europe - and dealing with often horrific crimes that seem to belie the social democratic paradise that I mentioned above, belief in which is a key part of Swedish national identity.

I suppose the series is known for a certain melancholy of tone; for its striking - and I think, exquisitely beautiful - visuals; and, perhaps most of all, for a towering central performance from Kenneth Branagh (now, of course, Sir Ken) in the role of Kurt Wallander.

It's also the series that seemed to kick off the craze for what's now called Nordic noir in the UK: a genre which encompasses the novels of Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø and Camilla Läckberg (amongst many others); the Millennium films; and the gripping TV shows, The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge.

I don't think it's hard to see what appeals to British audiences about Scandinavian crime fiction.

It tends to be very well written, tightly plotted and characterised, and extremely exciting.

It also tends to be about something: some social issue, some questioning of why these terrible things happen, which, without overpowering the stories, gives them a depth and meaning often lacking in other crime genres.

But, perhaps most importantly, it has a very particular atmosphere: of wide open, beautiful but bleak landscapes; of deep snow and long winters; of contemplation and (that word again) melancholy.

An enjoyable kind of sadness that supposedly permeates the Scandinavian mentality.

When I sat down to write the new series, one of the things I wanted to do was to give Kurt a bit of an easier time, to move away a little from the sadness that seemed to be inherent in the tone of the series.

Previously, Wallander has invariably been hurt and disappointed by his personal life and disturbed and damaged by the things he saw in his professional life.

I thought it was about time to give him a break, to make him happy; and I'm pleased to report that this happens in the first of the new series, An Event In Autumn.

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An Event In Autumn: 'You know you're dreaming... you've got nothing'

It happens for about 10 minutes. Then Fate, despite all my best intentions, unleashes a proverbial bucketful on him.

In fact, although I tried hard to reinvent Wallander as Mr Cheerful, An Event in Autumn is probably the bleakest Wallander yet.

Happiness in Wallander is like Winter sun, greatly appreciated but essentially fleeting: Kenneth Branagh would write REMEMBER TO SMILE in large letters on the script of episode one on those few occasions when the story allowed him to do so.

Perhaps Henning Mankell is to blame.

After all, he's the wise and wonderful man who came up with the character of Wallander and wrote the short story upon which An Event in Autumn is based. He's the godfather of this genre.

However, he's such a kind and warm person and has been such a tremendous inspiration and joy to collaborate with that I can't find it in my heart to blame him for anything.

I guess I've come to realise that the melancholy, the disappointment and the difficulty are part of what make Kurt Wallander who he is, whoever is writing him: he can't help but be affected by the things he sees in his working life, and he can't help but take them home with him.

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) stands alone in the bleak landscape

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) stands alone in the bleak landscape

During that first episode, he protests that he's basically a cheerful person, but also realises that he can't do what he does, he can't see the things he sees, and not end up the way he is.

I think that's probably true of a lot of real-life detectives.

However, I don't want to give a misleading impression: it's not all rain.

An Event in Autumn is just one of three films, and as we've seen, there are smiles and even a couple of jokes in it.

Although my favourite joke, which involved the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, had to be cut for reasons of him being found.

Anyway, the new series takes place over a long time. We begin in winter, move to summer (and to Riga) for episode two, and pick Kurt up again in late autumn.

And although his new beginning goes wrong for him, Kurt's already on a journey out of depression and drink; he's much more resilient and emotionally open than once he was; essentially, he's grown up a bit.

So I'm pleased to report that he does end on an optimistic note, with the chance of happiness coming from a place he didn't expect.

Series Four, however, might well be a different matter...

Peter Harness is the screen writer on series three of Wallander. Peter worked closely with Henning Mankell, author of the original Wallander novels, on these three feature-length films.

The first is An Event In Autumn, which is on Sunday, 8 July at 9pm on BBC One. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Henry IV and Henry V: Q&A with the costume designer

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Eliza Kessler Eliza Kessler | 12:31 UK time, Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Hollow Crown is a series of four adaptations of Shakespeare's History Plays on BBC Two starting with Richard II. Annie Symons is the costume designer on the three continuing films: Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. Annie talked to me about the creative and practical process of clothing the cast.

How do you research the costumes for these three films?

I started seven or eight weeks before filming. Normally it's shorter but this needed a lot of prep.

Paintings are critical for research. It's not just a literal view of what people wore. I look for other information - feel, colour, sense, something that will unlock the ideas.

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Henry V (Tom Hiddleston) declares no surrender ahead of The Battle of Agincourt

In this case there are relatively few paintings from the early 15th Century so I looked at artefacts, I went to buildings, I tried to understand what it was like to live in those days.

We looked at war films and thought about what it was like to be a soldier. We wanted to appeal to a war film audience, to contemporise it and strip out all the pageantry and pare things down.

I looked at football hooligans, the way they move and wear colours. We thought about war as sport which it definitively was in the age of chivalry.

We decided they were football teams and Alan MacDonald and I chose dark congealed bloods for England and beautiful blues, whites and golds for France. It's very subtle and I think the way it is graded looks incredibly beautiful. It is perceptible but it's not in your face.

How much creative freedom do you get?

Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock are theatre directors so they are used to working in a way which is different to TV. Conceptually you build things together. It's a much slower development and I love that. I'm interested in colours and concepts and literally the big picture and how it all fits together. So I was in heaven really.

There is a lot of fighting in armour, how do you accommodate this?

Flexibility is critical as it's basically an action film. Tom Hiddleston is an action hero and the fights are extreme physical endurance, we honed those costumes like building a second skin.

Tom Hiddleston covered in mud as Prince Hal in Henry IV part 1

Tom as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1

We made his armour out of rubber and he was sewn into things at times. It was precisely fitted so he could move and look sexy because he's got an amazing physique. It's like working with a finely tuned instrument and you work very hard to get it right.

The French had to look particularly shiny and scary and mannered but for the English we stripped the armour away for some characters and just put little bits on so you got a sense of metal.

Do the actors have input?

Yes, that's part of the process. It was a big journey for Tom, from playing Prince Hal to Henry V. Doing Agincourt felt like we were going to climb Everest. We had lots of fittings and chucked things around.

Some actors are quite happy to put on what you give them, but it can inform their performance and certainly what they say informs you as the designer.

Jeremy Irons is extraordinary in costume and that was a very interesting journey. The first thing he said was "I want this to be real."

We chose clothes that looked like they belonged to him, very old things. He had to look frail yet majestic, so he wears this enormous overwhelming fur coat and this sort of bobble hat with no bobble.

He told me they invented bobble hats to keep the helmets up because they were incredibly uncomfortable. Also old men cover their heads because they get cold. All these elements grew out of fittings.

Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is crowned King Henry V in Henry IV Part 1

The transformation: Henry V is crowned

It's a huge cast, how did you clothe them all?

We ran! It was a huge physical and logistical feat.

I chose a look and we stuck to it, particularly in Henry IV. Richard wanted the whole of Westminster to look like men in suits so we put nearly everybody in black and all you see is the face.

Also we very deliberately put everybody in leather trousers. Because they are in the rain we could wipe them clean so they only needed one pair. It gave them a masculinity and a sexuality and a warrior-likeness. Even for the older men - it changes their performance making them virile and vital.

We shot Henry V first. So we re-dyed the armies in-between Henry V and Henry IV from pale blue into dark bluey green.

There is a lot of mud, how did you cope?

The mud is an entity in itself. It's very heavy and it wrecks clothes so in between shooting days we had to hose things down to try and preserve them.

We worked in tents with blow dryers going and as a lot of the costumes are hired we spent a month cleaning and restoring them.

The Earl of Worcester (David Hayman) and Sir Richard Vernon (Mark Tandy) covered in mud in Henry IV part 1

The Mud! Battle scene in Henry IV Part 1

What got you into costume design?

I think it's been hardwired in me since I was tiny. I started making costumes for my dolls from watching BBC dramas. I remember watching Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R and being completely amazed.

Then I started making clothes for school plays and working in the local theatre. I couldn't quite believe that if you drew something it could then become three-dimensional and real.

I just thought that it was magic, and I still do which is just as well when you're working 18 hour days in the mud! I'm thrilled to bits to be doing it and I think that's what gets me up at four in the morning!

Annie Symons is the costume designer for Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V.

Eliza Kessler is the researcher on the BBC TV blog.

Henry IV Part 1 was originally scheduled for Saturday, 7 July at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. Due to extended Wimbledon coverage it was actually broadcast at the later time of 10pm, and was repeated on BBC Four on Sunday 8 July at 9pm.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

The films are part of Shakespeare Unlocked and the 2012 Festival.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

When I Get Older: My time with Ivy

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Gloria Hunniford Gloria Hunniford | 12:45 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My main reflection after making When I Get Older is that it was a privilege to stay with Ivy in her home.

Ivy is a pensioner whose housing benefit doesn't cover her rent and she's in debt.

I found it challenging and humbling to live with her for four days and see how she had to analyse the £3 disposable income in her purse every day for food, clothing, toothpaste, toilet rolls, cleaning materials... you cannot do it.

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Gloria and Ivy go shopping

I will never shop in the same way again.

I don't have to analyse every crumb that I buy and Ivy absolutely did. For four days primarily we ate bread.

I said to her one morning, can I have an egg, and she said no, because egg and chips makes a dinner.

Also the point about Ivy that we didn't see in the programme is that she is illiterate. A lot of her bills she is not able to read and so her management of her debt was very bad.

At the same time, she was very honourable in meeting the payments but going further into debt.

It was the combination of that plus her considerable health problems that she was so worn down. She'd given up in attitude so that she didn't ask for help although the help was there.

Maybe like a lot of people she didn't know how to ask.

As a mum - and we all do this as parents - she was trying to shield her children from how bad things were for her.

I took her out for a meal once, my treat. She said to me afterwards, "Do you mind me asking how much that was?"

I said it was £48 and she went "Oh my goodness, that would have fed me for a month."

So there was a big intake of breath every so often.

Gloria Hunniford and Ivy laughing

Gloria and Ivy

Even though she knew her privately rented house was eating up all her money Ivy had never asked her local authority for help. She felt that there was no point because it was going to be a four or five year waiting list.

Everything I suggested, her answer was negative, negative, negative.

And it wasn't that I'm involved in TV, it's that somebody tweaked her life that bit and showed her that if you go to your local council they can help with your debt management, if you ask the housing association you might just get an apartment that's cheaper.

I believe that attitude towards ageing is crucial. No matter how near you are to your third life, as I call it, it's the attitude of keeping your brain stimulated and yourself busy.

It's getting up, keeping your friends, and doing stuff for yourself.

I do accept of course that someone like Ivy has health problems but she is quite strong and there are lots of things she can do for herself.

It didn't make the final cut but when we took her to literacy lessons she was top of the class - she realised she knew more than she thought she did.

Since the stimulation of being in the programme, Ivy now has a new life. She has a lovely, cosy apartment which is far more efficient and affordable. She hardly needs to turn the heating on because the heat rises from the flats below - another saving which helps.

It's close to her daughter and she's got that inbuilt family help back. For Ivy now there's a feel-good factor every day instead of sitting alone indoors.

Since we finished filming, she'll ring me up occasionally and she'll go "Gloria, I bought fresh meat today and fresh fruit!" - because I used to say to her, you can't only eat toast.

Ivy taught me probably far more than I showed her.

I was moved by all the contributors in different ways.

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Malcolm and Pat on how their marriage has changed since she became his carer

You could see how Philip, who lost his wife, had gone down that black hole of grief and I do understand that from my experience of losing my daughter. It's a mindset, you have to do a lot to help yourself get back out.

I felt very emotional watching Pat, the carer, and her husband Malcolm because you could see (and she was honest about it) her life had been stripped away.

And with John I was amused that there's Peggy, this lady who's cantankerous and on her own but she's quite fit and happy to lead her own life. And I thought, well if that's what you want in your older age, why not? It suits her and that's it.

I hope that by highlighting aspects of old age that we collectively look at the culture of respecting the elderly in the UK.

In countries like France and Italy often you get four generations all living together. Older people have dignity. Their opinion is asked for and people listen to them. I think that many older people feel invisible in this country.

Maybe through some of the issues raised by When I Get Older we could all do a little bit extra in our community.

After all, we all individually know an Ivy, a grandparent or a neighbour where we might be able to bring something to their lives, if only to have a cup of tea and listen to them.

Gloria Hunniford gave this interview at a press screening for When I Get Older.

When I Get Older begins at 9pm on BBC One on Wednesday, 5 July. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

If you would like further information about the issues raised in When I Get Older, please visit the information and support page.

The series is part of the When I'm 65 season - a selection of programmes about issues facing the elderly. The season includes The Town That Never Retired, How To Live Beyond 100 and June Brown: Respect Your Elders.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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