For forty years British cameraman Duncan Richmond has been behind the lens capturing sports events, drama, outside broadcasts and light entertainment. His memories of which are in his book ‘Duncan through the Looking Glass’.
I was so grateful he accepted my interview request here for The Mighty Dragon to share that experience and talk cameras and memories. He recollects significant moments such as filming Princess Diana’s funeral, Jonah Lomu at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and so much more…
By the way Duncan, I hope you have destroyed that footage of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, I was there causing havoc in 1996 🙂
Vikki: How did you get into the industry?
Duncan: I did an interview at ITN and did possibly the worst interview known to man. Out of bad comes good because I bucked up my ideas, got my act together and performed well enough to be offered a trainee job at London Weekend Television where I started in 1980. LWT was then one of the “Big 5” ITV regional companies and a fabulous place to work with top talent in every department and you learnt almost by osmosis.
Vikki: What changes over the years have you seen with getting into camerawork?
Duncan: Lightweight cameras are a little lighter and big cameras are bigger and heavier. Viewfinders are now colour, but only in the last few years. I do not miss G101 cable which was huge and heavy.
Vikki: As a camera operator for forty years which location has been your favourite to film?
Duncan: I have never been a camera operator only a cameraman. Sorry to be pedantic. I have been lucky enough to work everywhere from Shetland on “Up Heely Aa” to the Hong Kong Sevens and many places in between. I think the most enjoyable jobs I have done are “Witness to History “ jobs, Royal Weddings and funerals. D-Day plus 50 at Omaha Beach was a privilege. “Playing Shakespeare” that we made at LWT was an education that I remember fondly. All the Cup Finals, rugby and football were memorable.
Vikki: What are the differences preparing for a sports broadcast to drama?
Duncan: I have been lucky enough to work on sport and drama, as well as other Outside Broadcasts and Light Entertainment. Sadly some of my colleagues look down on the skills required to cover a snooker match. For example, take two actors and provide them with space and some props. Tell them to improvise two hours of gripping drama that will pull in an audience of many millions. Now provide a crew that can handle this drama and not miss a shot. That describes most of the modern snooker matches I cover with a fabulous crew that have to out-think and anticipate every shot and be in position on a ped, and stationary before the player goes down on the colleagues’ shot. Yet, we are told it is “dead booooring”, and nothing happens. I am not saying Dramas are easy, I still remember some shots to this day, but give us a little respect for our skills. On the rugby field, a player does something and the director needs a close up NOW. Could you pick out the player from 30, frame and focus in seconds? No, not many can but we are still referred to as “machine minders”. Have you ever watched “Spin Cam “ on the cricket and not admired the skills involved? Drama is, nowadays, usually recorded and take two is always possible and done to the very highest standards that we are justly proud of. These are the skills that we take to Outside Broadcasts, music and sport.
Vikki: I assume patience is at the top of most camera operator attributes, what else would you say is essential?
Duncan: Patience is, indeed, a virtue and the ability to remain cool, calm and collected while the world around you is going bananas. It often amazes me that people cannot listen to what is being asked for, so I suppose concentration is another skill.
Vikki: Did going freelance offer you more opportunities to work in areas that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise?
Duncan: Sadly, I did not go freelance voluntarily. In 1992 Television South lost its franchise and we were all made redundant. I was way too old to start another career and waaaaaaay too young to retire so my only option was to embrace the freelance life. I have found over the years that instead of opening up opportunities freelancers are more and more pigeonholed and our work is less diverse. I would love to do drama again and I sorely miss music coverage.
Vikki: Who has been your favourite person on the other end of the lens?
Duncan: There are very few people on the other side of the lens that I have not enjoyed working with. When I was very junior and worked on “A Fine Romance” with Judi Dench and Susan Penhaligon I was star struck and learned a lot. Bobby Davro and Matthew Kelly were wonderful to work with. Fred Dinage and Fern Britton at TVS were consummate professionals as was Bruce Forsyth. I apologise if I have not mentioned anyone else who I worked with rather than “despite”.
Vikki: What has been the most effective camerawork you have seen on film?
Duncan: The best camerawork is the camerawork no one notices, but I still love THE Jaws shot (you know the one), most of The Third Man and the tracking shots on Das Boot.
Vikki: You wrote the book, “Duncan Through The Looking Glass” detailing your experiences on the other side of the camera, what’s been your favourite ‘moment’ so far?
Duncan: I had great fun writing Duncan Through The Looking Glass. Every time I remembered a story or was reminded me of a story, it would remind me of another story but mostly the people I had worked with, the places I have been and the history I have been witness to.
It is difficult to think of a single moment but two shamble gently into my mind.
Firstly, the silence in London on the day of Diana’s funeral. London does not do silent.
The second was on D-Day +50 when I was on Omaha beach providing live “Pool” shots of President Bill Clinton, and an engineer came over talk back and told me I had a probable audience of over 900 million, which concentrates your mind beautifully.
Vikki: I read that you worked in my old home, Hong Kong, what did you work on there?
Duncan: Hong Kong was fabulous and I really enjoyed it. It had a vibrancy that was an assault on the senses. It feels like yesterday but was March ’96. We were covering the Hong Kong Sevens and the atmosphere was fabulous. The days were long, hot and sweaty but life was lived at a million miles an hour. The place was magical. The food was wonderful and we were made most welcome wherever we went. I even met a young rugby player who was causing ructions, Jonah Lomu. Sadly taken too early.