‘Twas back in December that I received a phone call from Andrew, a researcher with BBC Countryfile.
My ears were pricked. With around 6-8 million viewers, I was acutely aware that Countryfile is the most watched factual programme on any UK television channel.
The team were putting together a programme on the life of coastal towns during the down-season and Clovelly would be the focus of their story.
Andrew told me that a quick web search had brought to his attention the photographs I made in June last year. They wanted to invite me along for a day’s filming, tying my work in with that of the RNLI.
This would be the Project’s first exposure to a national television audience and the charity’s work would be highlighted too. Brilliant.
The drive from Newcastle to Clovelly is around 400 miles. That’s a long old journey in Neena. We needed to be fresh for our day’s filming on Friday 8th January, so we left on 6th.
Breaking the journey with a friend overnight in Shropshire, we arrived in Clovelly on the Thursday afternoon. It was good to be back.
On the Friday morning, it felt rather surreal breakfasting with the crew and presenter, Ellie Harrison. Nevertheless, it was all very relaxed and felt like a fun day lay in store.
Filming began in and around the picturesque harbour. I stood watching the two film crews setting out their stall for the day. I was impressed at how discretely they moved around the village, keeping themselves very tidy and working compactly in their units.
Very considerate and respectful, I thought.
In those quiet moments of contemplation and anticipation, I heard a familiar voice firing up a conversation. Matt Baker, the famous telly presenter, had appeared beside me out of nowhere.
Matt knew all about the Project and was asking me more questions about it. He seemed genuinely interested and intrigued. Unassuming, pleasant company and knew his stuff.
Who’d have imagined that I’d be standing on the Clovelly harbour wall chatting to Matt Baker within a year of starting the Project? It’s certainly starting to make waves.
I HOPE IT WORKS
Then it was my turn. High levels of concentration were required to make sure we achieved everything in the short winter’s day.
Ellie and I did our little bit of filming together, which went pretty smoothly. We repeated a few of the spoken pieces from different camera angles, along with some actions and gestures, so that it could all be edited into a workable sequence.
“Right, you can go and make your plate now…” said Emma, the Director.
A thought sprung to mind (which I kept to myself): “Hmmm…I hope it works!”
The crew weren’t interested in filming any of the process. A bit of a shame, as it’s so magical and the nation would love to have seen it. However, it simply didn’t fit into the storyline, so that was that.
I noticed Ellie was at a loose end for a moment, so I asked if she’d like to see the plate being made. She gladly accepted and came along to Neena to see the photograph appear on glass before her eyes.
The process worked a treat. It was a moment that proved really useful, as Ellie was later able to react on-camera with informed enthusiasm as I appeared next to the lifeboat with the finished plate.
Before we knew it, that was it. The filming was done and it was time for the media machine to roll out of town. The day’s work was done. Duncan and I were soon reflecting over a pint or two in the Red Lion.
If you missed it, or would like to see it again, the six minute piece is on the iPlayer for another couple of weeks or so.
Click the image below and fast forward to the 14 minute mark:
When you see Martel talking to Ellie on the slipway, bear in mind that we were standing inside the lifeboat station on the right, just out of shot.
I was chuckling, trying not to be picked up by the soundman, as Martel had to repeat several times how wonderful it was to have her photograph made by me!
Thank you for all the compliments, Martel — again and again!
ONE MORE DAY
Duncan and I stayed for one more day to photograph the four helmsman, Neil, Rob, Luke and Sam.
The weather didn’t look promising. Dark. Wet. Dreich.
Wet Plate Collodion is a very slow process, you see. In this context, slow means that it is relatively insensitive to light — the gloomier the weather, the longer the exposure times required.
We found the perfect setting on the beach — the crew sat on the gunwale of a traditional Clovelly herring boat known as a Picarooner.
The first plate didn’t look good. It was far too dark, underexposed by around three stops. We were all soaking wet. To my mind, there was only one thing to do: overcome the awful conditions and go for a two minute exposure.
So that’s what we did. I gave the crew a little extra instruction on how to sit still for so long (not as simple as it sounds) and it all came together nicely, resulting in yet another striking piece in this giant jigsaw…
WANT TO HELP?
As the Project enters its second year, your support is as vital as ever to help it succeed.
Although the RNLI are supporting me logistically, I’m currently raising the funding under my own steam — in essence, my own form of crowdfunding.
50 LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
50 Limited Edition Prints from each of the Clovelly plates are now available to buy.
Remember, the prints are all made by me and limited to just 50. A unique record of this historical piece of RNLI history.
I’d like to thank the crew and staff at Clovelly RNLI, with special thanks to Tom Wiersma, Martel Fursdon, Neil Wonnacott, Luke Gist, Sam Gist, and Rob Weare.
My thanks also to Jo Quinn from the RNLI and to the very slick BBC Countryfile crew, not least Ellie Harrison (Presenter), Emma Burman (Director) and Andrew Taylor (Researcher).
Of course, Dapper Duncan needs a special thank you too — let’s see if he reads this far!
Thank you for such a lyrical description of the Countryfile weekend in Clovelly. A time etched in my mind that I will always remember. Hoping the project continues to go from strength to strength.
Me too, Tom…on all counts! very best wishes, Jack