Archives for October 2012

Operation Iceberg: Balancing risks

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Andrew Thompson Andrew Thompson | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 29 October 2012

It's safe to say that making Operation Iceberg was not easy. And because of the scale of the expedition if things went awry... they could really go awry.

Operation Iceberg is a two part series on - you've guessed it - icebergs.

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Helicoptering in to plant a GPS tracker on a huge ice pinnacle

It's an interesting mixture of science and adventure with Chris Packham and Helen Czerski as the two lead presenters, ably assisted by Andy Torbet and Chris van Tulleken.

For each programme we had a gaggle of ice scientists who were willing to invest their time and expertise. We also had two film crews and a small production team - including me, the series producer.

Programme one is all about the birth of icebergs and based at a glacier in Greenland.

You'll see we had a little sailing boat right in front of the massive Store Glacier when huge tower block chunks of ice began falling off into the sea.

You can also watch a scientist leaping out of a hovering helicopter to plant a GPS at the very top of a 100m ice pinnacle.

The second episode is about an iceberg's life and death out at sea and was filmed on a huge tabular iceberg off the coast of Canada.

On the iceberg itself we had more polar bears than you could shake a stick at.

And at one point we were all on the iceberg when a large crack started to form across its surface and chunks of ice began breaking away just metres from where we were standing.

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A wall of ice splits from a glacier: the birth of a new iceberg

There was a real risk that this newly created chunk of ice would flip over taking the ship with it.

Quite frankly, there were many times during the expedition when I wished that someone else was making the series.

Not surprisingly we also had a sizeable safety team who were kept very busy. One of the most interesting things I discovered was how intelligent, rational people can have such differing attitudes to safety.

Take the polar bears. I had never seen one in the wild before and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life to see one swimming by our ship.

And then we saw another. And another. And another.

It was soon very clear that the presence of all these polar bears would severely limit what we could do. They are the largest land predator on earth and have been known to attack and kill people.

Whenever we ventured onto the ice the bears would come to take a peep at us.

Chris Packham and Doug Allan, who have had considerable experience of them, were largely unperturbed.

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In the space of just half an hour the team see three polar bears - it's beartastic

They felt they could interpret the bears' behaviour and would have let them come quite close before retreating. Other people on the team were very frightened of them. And for good reason.

So one of my main jobs was persuading Chris and Doug that although in the past they'd been right next to bears, because we were now such a large team we had to be more cautious.

Simultaneously I was trying to persuade other people to actually leave the ship and go out on the ice at all.

So my job was really to try to reach a sensible middle line whereby we could still film what we needed and all come back in one piece.

After all these incidents and drama, the grand total of injuries consisted merely of a large number of mosquito bites and a small cut to the forehead.

Not bad given the things that could have happened. And now the expedition is all over I'm extremely glad I did do it. One of the most exciting adventures of my life.

Andrew Thompson is the series producer on Operation Iceberg.

Operation Iceberg starts on Tuesday, 30 October at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Operation Iceberg
Read the crew's production diaries.
See the team's photos on Flickr.
BBC News: Iceberg breaks off from Greenland's Petermann glacier.
BBC News: Who, What, Why: How do you track an iceberg?
Read the British Antarctic Survey blog about making the series.

Andrew's byline photo is courtesy of Chris Packham.

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

Stacey Dooley in the USA: Girls Behind Bars

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Xavier Alford Xavier Alford | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 22 October 2012

America is the world leader in locking people up. Today in the land of the free there are more prisoners per head than anywhere else in the world.

So back in July our TV development team thought that if we could get access, a women's prison could be a fascinating place for Stacey Dooley's next documentary for BBC Three, Girls Behind Bars.

We decided to focus our cameras in one unique institution: Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility in New York State.

It's the only prison boot camp for women in America. It offers women with less than three years to serve for non-violent crimes the chance to get out in just six months.

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Prisoners at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility get just three minutes to shower

But there's a catch. The prisoners have to endure extreme levels of military style discipline where they are put into platoons, have to shave their heads and get punished for the smallest deviation from the strict rules.


It's called doing Shock. It's tough and above all, it felt very American.

Other than anything that could breach security nothing was off limits to our cameras.

Our crew of four (including Stacey and me the director) were with the inmates from the moment they were woken up before sunrise to the time they went to bed at 9.30pm.

We were able to film all of their gruelling daily routine from the two hours of exercise before dawn to the timed three-minute showers and regimented discipline in the canteen where they are given eight minutes to eat. Without talking and no 'eye-balling' the male inmates.

Initially while we were filming aspects of the regime did feel harsh. Many of the women who had suffered years of abuse were being shouted at by male drill instructors and pushed until they sobbed.

The 56 women at Lakeview are encouraged to share their life stories with their platoon.

We became an extension of the group therapy sessions which could be intense.

The inmates quickly became used to talking about their lives in public and openly shared their experiences with us on camera and off.

It was hard to watch and film some times. Seeing a woman revealing publicly something that has been secret and incredibly painful for so long in front of a group can be tough.

Stacey Dooley at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility in New York

Stacey Dooley with inmates at Lakeview

All of us had tears in our eyes when inmate Shameek Brown talked about her experience of sexual abuse and so did half the room of inmates.

One correctional officer even admitted he sometimes has to walk out of the room during therapy sessions because he cannot allow the inmates to see him crying.

The subject matter revealed in the session was so sensitive and deeply personal we had to be absolutely sure that Brown was comfortable that we had filmed it - and was fully aware that she was sharing her story not just with the inmates and staff, but the TV audience.

Stacey spoke to her on her own in the dormitory afterwards and for the first time since we'd been filming her she seemed relaxed, relieved even.

She told Stacey she was glad it was out in the open and she was genuinely touched by the support she'd felt around her.

And that seemed to be the point of these sessions in Lakeview. They give these inmates a chance to address issues while they are locked away from the issues that got them in prison in the first place.

And for some inmates it seemed that this was why they are terrified of leaving the facility at the end of their sentence.

As we spent more time in Lakeview we realised that the officers who initially appeared to be bullies in fact cared about these women.

Shock Incarceration is something they believe in and they have stats to back up its effectiveness. They didn't want the women to quit no matter what.

Many of the women said they were tempted to quit Shock and spend their full sentence in a regular prison.

They craved the relative freedom, the chance to get out of bed and shower when they want, the chance to fight people who annoyed them.

We needed to visit a regular prison and ended up filming in Bayview, slap bang in the middle of Manhattan.

The contrast with Lakeview was startling.

Here we were with more serious offenders: murderers, women who had spent most of their lives behind bars, women who had killed their own children and repeat offenders who couldn't break the cycle of offending.

It was a claustrophobic environment made worse by the oppressive New York summer heat.

We had no idea who would be willing to talk. But it is easy to underestimate the break from the norm a BBC film crew provided the inmates with.

Many women agreed to be filmed almost out of curiosity.

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Inmate Offley gets angry with Stacey's questions

Inmate Tyffane Offley, who tells Stacey she will never understand prison unless she commits a crime and does some time, was drawn to us on our first day on the recreation area on the roof.

She seemed to take pleasure in teasing, almost flirting with Stacey and making her uneasy before telling her that she had done time for beating up a prison officer.

The sergeant of security explained that for many inmates control is the one thing they crave, whether its control over when they eat, when they sleep, what they do and Offley was letting Stacey know that she was the one who was in control here.

Xavier Alford is the director of Stacey Dooley In The USA: Girls Behind Bars.

Stacey Dooley In The USA: Girls Behind Bars is on Monday 22 October 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.

Tails You Win: The Science Of Chance

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David Spiegelhalter David Spiegelhalter | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Chance, risk, uncertainty, luck - call it what you will - affects every part of our lives.

And so when BBC Four commissioned our programme Tails You Win: The Science Of Chance there was a huge range of possible themes to explore, from gambling to natural disasters, extreme sports to collapsing economies, coincidences to lotteries.

We ended up touching on all of these since they all, at least to some extent, can be handled using numbers.

Of course people's feelings about chance and risk are vital, as my guts told me when I was waiting to do a skydive.

David Spiegelhalter in Tails You Win: The Science of Chance

David Spiegelhalter in Tails You Win: The Science of Chance

But I am a statistician in the Faculty of Mathematics in Cambridge and so I think numbers are cool and when someone says something is 'risky', I immediately ask 'how risky?'

The programme shows how we try and answer that question, although the producers would not let me use all the equations. Meanies.

But they did let me talk about the fundamental ideas of chance itself. Does it exist as part of the external world? Or is it just a way of saying we don't know - our personal ignorance?

These are wonderfully tricky questions that a seven-year-old can ask and the biggest brains can't agree on.

My personal tendency is towards the 'ignorance' interpretation and I certainly believe that any probabilities we put on future events are a product of our judgment and don't really exist 'out there'.

But in the end all these fancy ideas don't make much difference, we still need to decide whether to spend our pension lump-sum on a huge motorbike or save it for our old age, go for a jog or slump on the sofa, buy a premium bond or a lottery ticket.

As the programme shows I love trying to compare the risks of different choices and so, for example, the theory of gambling fascinates me.

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What affects our chances of living to 100?

But in practice I don't get a huge thrill from actually risking my money and I know I would lose in the long run, and so my online betting account is kept for academic demonstrations only (honest).

The programme is not intended to make people more cautious or more risk-taking, but maybe to ask 'what are the chances?' and try to get an answer.

David Spiegelhalter is the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University and presenter of Tails You Win: The Science of Chance.

Tails You Win: The Science of Chance is on Thursday, 18 October at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

More on Tails You Win: The Science of Chance
Professor David Spiegelhalter's articles on The Guardian.
Read David's lecture If you can calculate risk you can make better judgments.
More on David's website Understanding Uncertainty.

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

Me And Mrs Jones: Do I go for Tom or Billy?

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Gemma Jones Gemma Jones | 17:08 UK time, Thursday, 11 October 2012

Tom asked me out at school today, and no, we're not 10 we're 40 (ish) which makes the whole asking me out in the playground awkward. Everyone looking.

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Tom asks Gemma out for a drink/dinner thingy: AWKWARD

Fran said I should be thrilled about a date with the school's do-able Dad. I mean, the last date I went on was... well it was with... it can't be... God, it was with my ex-husband!

Wait, did I even go on a proper date with Jason? Does him not charging me for a coffee class as a date?

It seemed to go from Jason giving me a free coffee to "Do you take this man to be your..." to ex-husband to "No Gemma, I can't have the kids this weekend because my bonkers Swedish girlfriend is waxing my toes"!

Forget Jason, Fran says I must prepare emotionally and physically for my date with Tom. She is a good friend but I don't know what she's talking about... and I can't get my brain off Billy - which I need to because he's my son's friend and half my age with eyes that make me.... stop it Gemma!

Billy (Robert Sheehan) and Gemma Jones (Sarah Alexander)

Billy (Robert Sheehan) - lovely eyes, and Gemma

Fran says if you're interested in more than one man then the way to decide is to have them strip to the waist and wrestle.

I'm not sure Tom and Billy would agree to that, although I'm sure I could sell tickets and make a lot of money out of that as an event.... that's not the point. The point is...

Wait! I know! A MAN LIST, good, yes a list, I'm more of a list woman than a wrestling woman.

I'm not against men wrestling - or women wrestling for that matter but.... enough! Think lists.

Reasons to date Tom
- He has luxurious hair, good yes, strong hair = strong man. Tom has the hair of a matinee idol, and he's admired - by other women - from afar - and up close.
- He's kind to animals and small children... At least I think he is, his daughter's hamster is six which is a record I think! He says he feeds it warm milk and honey when it 'sniffles'. Do hamsters sniffle?

Reasons not to date Tom
- He says 'sniffles'.

Reasons to date Billy
- His voice. Is that a reason to date a man - his voice? Yes, because... I mean... it's certainly a reason not to date a man eg Orville - vocally off-putting -although technically Orville's not a man, he's a bird, but he's voiced by a man and....
- Eyes! Billy has nice eyes, two of them. Lovely eyes in fact - for a fact in fact.

Reasons not to date Billy
- He's young, not really young but youngER - than me.
- He's also Alfie's friend. Which means the list leads me back to Tom.

This list thing isn't working.

Gemma Jones is the lead character and Fay Rusling and Oriane Messina are the writers of Me And Mrs Jones.

Me And Mrs Jones begins on Friday, 12 October at 9.30pm on BBC One and BBC One 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.

Hunted: Our fascination with spies

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Frank Spotnitz Frank Spotnitz | 10:00 UK time, Thursday, 4 October 2012

My career has been most closely associated with science fiction, which is no surprise given the years I spent writing and producing The X-Files TV series and feature films.

But for Hunted, the new series I created for the BBC, I've moved away from science fiction to the spy genre, which is my favourite in all of film and television.

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Hunted trailer: 'Think about the chaos you've unleashed'

There are some obvious reasons for this.

Spy stories provide plenty of opportunities for action and suspense - things motion pictures can deliver with unique effectiveness.

But I think the real appeal of the spy genre is much deeper.

By definition spies are duplicitous. They appear to be one type of person when they are actually someone else altogether.

They pursue one agenda while pretending to serve another. A spy simply cannot be trusted.

To varying degrees the same can be said of all of us, spies or not.

We all present a face to the world that is not exactly the person we are inside. Because part of us always remains hidden, none of us is truly knowable - not our parents, siblings, spouse or friends.

It's not surprising we all yearn to be surrounded by people we can trust. And fear betrayal.

Sam Hunter (Melissa George) on the set

Melissa George as Sam Hunter during filming

That for me is what spy stories do so well. Spies live in a world of deceit and distrust. Their stories externalise our deepest fears.

By design Hunted plays on these fears in the most intimate way I could imagine.

Sam Hunter suspects that she has been betrayed by the man she loves. She must expose herself to mortal danger, knowing she can't trust him or anyone else.

Of course Sam is more than an embodiment of our collective fears. Brilliantly realised by Melissa George, she is a unique, complex, contradictory character with a dark and troubled past.

I am neither a spy nor a woman and yet I find it very easy to identify with Sam. I suspect many audiences will too.

Complicating Sam's situation is the brave new world in which she we now live.

Over the past few decades espionage has become increasingly privatised. Sam doesn't work for MI5 or MI6 - she works for Byzantium, a private security firm dedicated not to defence of the realm but to serving the interests of its clients.

These clients' identities are not revealed to operatives like Sam which makes identifying who might want her dead - and why - even more difficult.

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Sam runs for her life through the alleyways of Tangier

Researching this world proved less difficult than you might imagine.

Business is booming - there are now thousands of private security firms operating all over the globe.

And while they keep secret their client lists they were very happy to talk (with names withheld) about the work they do.

I collaborated with a team of talented writers for six months on the stories for Hunted.

We devised a complicated web of deception with lots of action, suspense, and plot twists and turns.

But at the heart of it all we tried to never lose sight of the character of Sam, who anchors this dangerous world in a deeper emotional truth.

Frank Spotnitz is the executive producer and lead writer of Hunted.

Hunted begins on Thursday, 4 October at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Hunted
Watch Frank Spotnitz talk to BBC Writersroom and BBC Media Centre.
Melissa George and Adam Rayner interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

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

The Story Of Wales: Realising the team's ambition

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Llinos Griffin-Williams Llinos Griffin-Williams | 09:30 UK time, Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Story Of Wales was over a year in production. And what an ambitious project it was to tell the story of a nation.

'Epic' was the name of the game.

As the production manager, my challenge was to facilitate the team's ambition - co-ordinating aerial shoots over some of Wales' most stunning landscapes, arranging over 140 locations and facilitating the creation of some exhilarating computer-generated reconstructions of Wales' most fascinating sites.

Being Welsh myself I felt a tremendous sense of pride being entrusted with such a responsibility.

Wales has deep stores of rich and emotional stories, stories of courageous heroes and ancient enemies, of entrepreneurs and fascinating facts.

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Creating computer reconstructions of an open-air Roman arena near Newport

Who knew that north east Wales had riches to rival the pharaohs at a time when the pyramids were being built? I certainly didn't.

As a history graduate, learning about my heritage was one of the perks of the job.

History is full of facts and figures, dates and statistics. Here's a few more we created along the way:

• 5,900 = the number of miles covered filming around Wales
• 140 = the number of locations featured
• 31 = the number of contributors in the series
• 50 = the number of academics consulted
• 23 = the number of CGI sequences
• 30,000 = the number of years we go back to the beginning of The Story Of Wales

The highlight of the project for me was the arranging the aerial shoot across the country.

Filming on one of very few glorious sunny days with Huw and the team down at Rhossili, Gower was quite a thrill.

Even though I spent most of the day hiding behind a bush with a walkie-talkie co-ordinating the helicopter hovering above with our aerial cameraman inside!

Before a bad weather front came in we had a tight window of two days to capture majestic shots of the whole of Wales and complete the grand opening sequence with our presenter Huw Edwards on top of the Paviland Cave where it all started.

Twice the high winds threw the helicopter off course and they overshot Huw. On the third try we got it.

But that wasn't the only time we were up against it. Filming with the BBC's top news presenter during a summer of high profile world news events caused some exciting challenges.

The story of the News Of The World closing down broke at 3pm whilst we were filming the inspiring story of the birth of industrial Wales in Parys Mountain at the very tip of Anglesey.

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Huw Edwards presents from the top of Parys Mountain in Anglesey

By 3.30pm Huw was on his way to Chester and by the time the 10 O'Clock News started the crew were sat in the Bangor hotel watching Huw deliver the programme!

Mr Edwards has an incredible work ethic.

The production involved meeting some inspiring individuals.

Llew, the Soar Chapel caretaker, evoked such a reaction from the crew singing a local hymn during an off-camera discussion that he made it into the main series - and brought me to tears in the cutting room.

The Story Of Wales is just that, the story of Wales made by the people of Wales.

We could not have completed this marathon task without the tremendous support and warm welcome we received at each and every location as well as the expert input of the national institutions, the crew and their extreme dedication and of course the eloquent and engaging delivery by Huw of a truly remarkable story.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labour...

Llinos Griffin-Williams is the production manager of The Story Of Wales.

The Story Of Wales begins on BBC Two on Tuesday, 2 October at 7pm. The series was previously shown on BBC One Wales.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on The Story Of Wales
Free podcast, booklet and further Welsh history on The Open University.
Read what presenter Huw Edwards thought about making the series on the BBC Wales History blog.

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

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