A Scimitar and the Cornish Flu
‘Are you filming Poldark?’ asked the police officer. ‘Perhaps you could introduce me to Angharad Rees. Her’s a bit of all right, her is.’ It was a Thursday afternoon in February 1976 and we were standing in the village of Ashton just to the west of Helston, Cornwall at the junction of Higher Lane and the A394. The weather was appalling. A sou’wester was blowing and the accompanying drizzle soaked everything in minutes.
We had left BBC Bristol in convoy that morning to drive almost 200 miles to the tip of Cornwall to cover Redruth Rugby for Grandstand on BBC1. Our destination was Tregonning Hill where a radio link midpoint would be set up to provide an OB vision circuit from Redruth to the BT Satellite Earth Station at Goonhilly Downs. From there the OB pictures were routed via a BT protection circuit to London.
A typical BBC Communications midpoint at that time comprised an engineer, technical assistant and rigger driver. The latter drove the radio links van containing the microwave equipment, test and monitoring kit. We used ST&C microwave links which were mains powered and therefore two diesel generators were also towed to the site, one by the van and the other by a BBC Landrover driven by the technical assistant.
Around mid-afternoon we finally arrived in Helston and made our way west towards Ashton. I had previously arranged with the rigger driver that I would lead the way in my car so as to show him to site with the Landrover in between us. I turned right into Higher Lane with the landrover and generator behind me. Suddenly a blaring horn and screeching tyres caused me to glance in my rear view mirror just in time to see a car skid past the rear of the links van’s generator which was only just clearing the main road.
We all pulled up and went back to see what had happened. A Scimitar travelling from Penzance to Helston had rounded the slight bend on the A394 but failed to appreciate that there was a generator being towed behind it until too late. Applying its brakes it skidded past on the wrong side of the road and picked an argument with a dry stone Cornish wall. The latter won convincingly. Out jumped a young man with what can only be described as road rage. He started ranting at our rigger driver and demanded that the police were called. His attractive girlfriend stayed quietly in the passenger seat.
A patrol car with two police officers soon arrived on the scene. The young man was incandescent. He demanded an investigation as he wanted the BBC driver charged with dangerous driving. The police called for their investigation officer who arrived in a nice Rover. The A394 was closed for tests to carried out.
Meanwhile I was having difficulty calming down our rigger driver. Jack was a tall, well-built fellow who had been a stand-up comedian after leaving the army. He was a thoroughly pleasant fellow, and spending an evening in a pub with him whilst away on an outside broadcast was most entertaining. But he was not happy and wanted the police and everyone else in the village who happened to be listening to know it. He had checked there was no on-coming traffic before commencing to turn right. The problem was that he had a lumbering diesel van full of equipment with a 1-ton generator behind. If you wanted the van to start away from rest it was best to send it a postcard to warn it that you would appreciate it if it would start rolling when you put your foot hard down. Thus it was that this combination crept across the road junction with the van just entering the Lane as our young man came motoring along the main road.
I was afraid that at any moment a fisty-cuffs would break out so ordered Jack aside so that I could speak to him. By then my assessment was that the Scimitar driver was not in a good position, and I therefore strongly advised (ordered) Jack to pipe down and say nothing. It was at that point that a police officer sauntered up to me and enquired about Angharad Rees. Having informed him of the purpose for our visit, I asked what conclusions the police were coming to. The Investigation Car was doing skid tests. It backed down the road a distance then accelerated towards us, slamming on the brakes and causing skid marks on the road. It did this 3 times. The Officer informed me that he could not officially comment but the speed limit in the village was 40mph and the police car skid marks were made at 40, 50 and 60mph. He invited me to consider which of these skid marks was the same length as those of the Scimitar. I thought it was the latter. The young man was taken into the police car and interviewed. His girlfriend wandered across to us. ‘He was taking me out for a spin’, she said. ‘He only bought this car last week.’
I was suffering from a bad cold and thought that standing out in this gale all this time was not helping. Not to worry however, my technical assistant had booked us into some good digs that evening.
At this point I should explain that my TA was a good beer connoisseur and a massive supporter of CAMRA. When asked for directions anywhere, he would only reply by quoting pubs. “Carry on down the road until you see the Royal Oak on your right. After a hundred yards turn right. One mile later you may notice the Frog and Firkin on the left.” And so on.
He had offered to book me into some nice digs he knew. I should have known better, but it was in the main street of Helston so I was sure it would be OK. It just so happened that our digs turned out to be right opposite the Blue Anchor pub, and this pub just happened to brew its own beer and was listed in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
We booked into the digs and I went to my room. The walls were running with condensation and the bedding felt damp. There were no bath/shower facilities so I tried to make use of the washbasin in the room. Running the hot tap for ages failed to deliver anything warmer than slightly tepid.
I woke up early the next morning with a temperature and aching all over. We went to site and set up the link, by which time I was dreaming of my warm bed at home. I left them there and went home for the night, returning dosed up in time for the transmission next day.
You live and learn.