Thursday, 28 February 2008

Me as a tv journalist

In the long list of TIHDIT (Things I Have Done In Television), being an undercover tv journalist has to be the most unlikely. Consider the facts:-
  • I have no training in anything even remotely journalistic;
  • I'm a great big scaredy cat;
  • I've worked on many shows that had a factual side but to say they had a lot of sound journalistic content would be pushing things

I went undercover a couple of times. Once, inbetween series of the video game show, my boss kept me on over the summer. A few of the other researchers and producers remained, to 'develop' the next series. This involved lots of trips to the pub, a few meetings and ideas being generated, some more journeys to the pub, playing Championship Manager and going out to meet our video game contacts. In the pub.

But occasionally we had to do some work, and mine was to find out about pirated games. The boss was astonished that her son had bought pirated games from a market. I was astonished too. Why the fuck did he actually buy a game? His mum owned a company making shows about games. We got 'em for free. And then there was the fact that his mum was also loaded. Why was he at a market when he could send the butler down to Harrods to pick some up?

Anyhow, the boss's wheeze involved a trip up North to see my family. I'd mentioned I used to see my own games on sale in pirated form at markets, back when I writ games for a living. She said I must've been furious. I said I was, but the massive no-teeth-dog-on-string-tattooed stall holders probably wouldn't have given a hoot if I'd said anything.

But, no, I was to be a Journalist. I bought a crappy boxy shoulder bag, cut a hole in it for our little camcorder and gaffer-taped it in there. A bit of dark-coloured translucent plastic on the hole, and voila a sort-of hidden camera. The remote I worked in one hand, the wire up one arm and down the other, and stuck it under my watchstrap. The other wrist had a tiny mike taped to it, with wires running to the camera. It kinda worked if I waved my arm in the general direction of the person talking. I practised in the office much to my mates' hilarity. I practised down the pub, much to my mates' concern - what if the boss saw it?

Off I went up North (at least the company was paying my bus ticket... yes, bus ticket, we weren't made of money*). I went out to the blowy dodgy market in Seaton Sluice (lovely name), next to Whitley Bay. And there were rip-off copies of games. And, yes, there were big hard men with big hard dogs. Ulp.

I put on the bag, clicked record and went to it. "Why's this Nintendo game only a fiver?" I asked, in fearless journalistic stylee, pointing my arm at a squat twitching skinhead with many more tattoos than teeth. I could see why. I hope the camera could too. The box was a VHS sleeve with a photocopy of the actual game box on it. No, that was untrue. It was a photocopy of an ad for the game. Inside it was a ROM-board, not even a proper cartridge.

"Eh?", said the market trader, another tooth falling out. Probably.

"This isn't even a proper cartridge!", I stated indignantly, holding it oddly in front of my bag, "It's pirated!". Roger Cook had nowt on me.

"Yeh... and?", said the small businessman, scratching his pants.

"Um.. erm.. well, that's not, er, legal", I stammered.


"Sell lots of these?"



"Wannit hinny then?"

I then made my excuses and left, as The News of the Screws would say. I walked around and filmed many people doing this, including one stall that had games way before their release. The camera battery eventually failed and I had an hour's worth of material.

Back I went to London, not so much in triumph as folded up in a tiny seat next to a sweating fat lady.

But there were two problems. Firstly, the camera had fallen over in my shabbily-made camera bag. So there was a tiny semi-circle of picture at the top of the lens. It was enough to see some things, but not much. The microphone worked a bit, every other word was made out, but I was incredibly loud and the hardly-saying-much enormous brutes I was confronting were quiet and faint. It made me sound dictatorial and them sound effeminate, not exactly a crusading journalist, more a shouting lunatic.

And the stall with the pre-realised games? Well, they looked a lot like the ones we got sent at the show. As in exactly like them - I didn't realise but my mates did. Turned out one of the researchers who had left at the end of the series had been floggin' them off. We couldn't show this at all, we'd be in trouble with the games companies.

I put my camera bag in the bin and went back to working out what we'd call the new researchers-dressed-up-like-Gladiators-but-for-video-games for our thrice-weekly game show. My mate and me came up with a female character called Victoria Station, No Relation. Made no sense but made us larf.

*OK, they gave me the £75 for a rail ticket but I spent £25 on a bus one and spent the rest on a big shop at Kwiksave to stock my bare food cupboards. I was poor then.

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