When I heard about the impending loss of BBC3 last year I felt I had to write something. The first thing that came to my mind was my recollection of working on a show that would be broadcast on the station, and the reminder of having worked with a colleague I’d not seen since then (when she visited my place of employment last month) sparked off the chance to share that story with you now.
In 2011, shortly after moving to North Tyneside (about 10 miles East of Newcastle City), I got an email from a woman named Beth (I think) in BBC London asking me if I was available to work on a TV production in my area. There was nothing particularly special about the day on which the email came – it was a Tuesday as I recall – and I’d almost given up on the hope that anybody from the BBC would ever get in contact with me about anything. But sure enough here was an offer of work. And on television too.
Prior to that point I’d only ever worked on Radio productions, either at high end commercial stations or low end community projects, never really giving any thought to the idea of actually getting involved in TV production. To this day I’m still completely clueless as to how this woman got my email, and at first I was so convinced it was a hoax, I didn’t respond and actually sent it to trash.
A few minutes later – after realising the only thing I was doing that day was posting comments about Guns N’ Roses on the Here Today Gone To Hell website (a great fan forum by the way) I reconsidered, dragged the email out and responded in the positive.
I heard nothing for about two days and convinced my then girlfriend that I was either the victim of a cruel April Fools (it was February) or I was slowly going insane and imagining that somebody was sending me phantom emails when really I was just spending too much time listening to ‘Chinese Democracy’ and talking with the cat. The response came quick and fast with a telephone number and an affirmative for my services, so I was quickly pencilled in after a short telephone conversation and began my expected period of absolute joy and delight that I’d landed a job with the BBC!
‘Geordie Finishing School For Girls’ (to give the show it’s full title) was originally broadcast on BBC3 in the Autumn schedule of 2011. It was filmed between March and April 2011 on location in Newcastle Upon Tyne and it was (without doubt) the biggest wake up call I’d ever been given. From what I remember the initial schedule involved me attending some introductory meetings at the production’s base in Walker and basically discussing various practicalities of both working on this production and general health and safety of a BBC production. We were then asked to speak about ourselves and give a brief introduction to some of the bigger production officials about who we were and what we were doing there.
Shortly thereafter we were arranged into teams (generally speaking either “day team” or “night team”) and were told about the immense amount of filming that would be done to bring this show to the screen. Four girls, all from affluent backgrounds, would be invited to come and live in a Council house in Walker for two weeks and experience life in an area of the country which had vast economic/social living conditions to what they’d experienced. To help them along they’d be “coached” by four Geordie girls who would act as their “sisters” along various quests – such as visiting social housing projects, doing charity work and going out for a Newcastle night.
What followed was perhaps the most incredible introduction to TV production I’d ever been given. I had personally been somewhat or a social hermit in the past year or so (especially after undergoing a heart operation in March 2010) so living 10 miles away from the City Centre of Newcastle was enough to keep me from ever visiting it – especially when Silverlink and Metro Centre were within easy and commutable distance by car. But this program opened me up fully to places of Newcastle I’d just never been – and these weren’t even places filmed on the show!
I remember one particular morning at the Production office when myself and (I won’t mention his name just in case) a fellow Production Assistant were called over to the HQ and told that the girls would be doing some work renovating a house and that we would have to go and source the supplies from B&Q…basically given a shopping list and told to get whatever was needed…after this we were sent into the City Centre itself, to collect materials from Fenwick’s and Grainger Market that the girls were able to use for Bunting and Cake Making in order to hold a party for some of those they were helping.
Another interesting task involved going around department stores seeking soft furnishings for dressing the house in which the girls lived. I can remember that we were standing around cleaning and preparing the house when the first of the four London girls were arriving on the train into Newcastle. When we did the clean up day, and helped take down the beds and materials needed to convert the house back to regular Council use, I found several lottery tickets underneath each girls pillow. Unbeknownst to the crew they’d been using their small allowance every day to purchase raffle tickets attempting to get more money. It was a sobering moment which I regret not seeing captured.
My experiences on this show were so positive and so rewarding that you’d reach the end of your shift (on the “day team”) and not want to go home! It was the kind of work that you’d gladly do for free because you enjoyed the whole process – especially for someone like me who’d gone from Internet forums and starring at the cat one week to filming a major BBC3 reality show the next!
Even after the show wrapped up filming the money I earned allowed me to actually achieve one of my all time dreams and travel to Holmfirth to see a performance from Joe Elliot’s solo project the Down n Outz – I was able to witness the frontman of Def Leppard in this tiny village in the English countryside and just enjoy the spoils of knowing I had earned the money working in something I loved. Added to that the night we did the Speed dating event in the Cluny was one of the funniest things and most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Something that stays with me even now.
When I heard about BBC3’s programming coming to an end so suddenly I felt saddened and disheartened. The service appealed to a certain demographic who I personally don’t feel will be able to obtain the right information from a similar service. I think it was increasingly obvious that the same young people who watch BBC3 will not watch BBC2 and see it as a simple switchover. BBC3 had a niche, and a need, that made it ideal.
But most of all I feel for the productions that will be lost – the chances and the inspiration that won’t be given. Geordie Finishing School wasn’t a massive ratings hit and attracted a lot of (unfair) comparisons with Geordie Shore when it was released, but the fact remained that it gave me a Golden Opportunity that I will never EVER forget.