Reporting the York Minster fire
By David Miller
Once the fire service had begun to tackle the Minster fire, control notified the media. David Miller was News Editor of BBC Radio York and he remembers that early morning call from the fire service.
It was, I think, about 2.45 in the morning when the phone went, although after more than two decades details cease to be important.
"North Yorkshire Fire service here, Mr Miller. I thought you'd like to know we're dealing with a fire at York Minster.
"It seems to be quite serious although we haven't been there very long."
I thank the man in Northallerton and tell my bed partner the news.
"Are you sure?" was her response. She was right to be cautious. Hoaxes do happen.
So, dialling from memory, I rang the fire service control room number. The same voice I had spoken to a few seconds earlier answered.
Yes, he did mean the big church in the centre of York and a rather impressive number of fire engines were already there.
All these conversations were taking place in a small cottage in Westow, 15 miles from the BBC Radio York studios.
So a certain amount of organisation needed doing before I left the house. First call was to the BBC in London. Then to Radio York reporter Sandy Barton who lived in the centre of York.
Next it was my turn to dash to York.
Well, that's not really true.
The Millers' sole means of transport at that time was a Morris Minor Traveller, a car meant more for pottering that chasing news stories. I should really have gone straight to the studios in Bootham Row.
But journalists, despite what people think, rarely see history in the making.
So I spent ten minutes or so outside the south end of the Minster, which was getting rather crowded with sightseers, noting down details and watching the flames in the transept roof.
Then to the newsroom and more calls to sleeping staff.
As well as special bulletins for Radio York, I can remember doing a piece for the World Service about fire hoses "snagging through the ancient heart of this city in the north of England."
Sandy and the rest of the crew worked wonderfully.
Fortunately, the BBC's then religious affairs correspondent Rosemary Harthill was in York for the Church of England synod.
Soon after my call to Broadcasting House she was mobilised to provide material for the BBC's national networks.
Meanwhile, I found myself being asked to appear on a variety of radio stations at home and abroad. Some offered to pay, none ever did.
The story which seemed to be going around the world was that York Minster had been burned the ground so a certain amount of putting facts right was needed.
Later in the morning some of us from the newsroom went back to see exactly what the damage was.
Inside the nave, there was some water and yards of fire hoses.
But it was obvious that, thanks to luck and the skill of the fire crews, it could have been much, much worse.
The clergy knew this was a difficulty not a disaster and they saw that the damage could be repaired, given money and craftsmanship.
Every morning they say matins. They did that morning, although they had to move next door to St Michael le Belfrey.
And I was grateful for that early morning phone call.
last updated: 26/06/2009 at 12:36