Slug takes the BEEB down Lancaster Hole


I was loitering down at the CRO depot one Wednesday night as I often do when I was summoned to the phone being told it was Andy Ives who was desperate to get hold of me. Often wary in these situations it appears that he had tried all the other certified caving instructors and none of them were available so as a last ditch attempt he decided to see if I Slug-Meister , as a certified caving instructor, was free to do a simple caving job for the BBC. Thinking it was to be done to raise some funds for CRO I reluctantly agreed and asked Andy for more details. He told me to meet the producer in Bernies on the following Saturday and all would be explained. He, Andy, would be now be leaving the country for a few weeks and would be returning just in time to help on the day of the proposed caving trip.


The BBC producer was doing a program for “Country File” which usually went out on Sunday evening just after the “Antiques Roadshow” which is the only reason I knew about it.  He explained that they were doing a special edition about conservation issues in the Yorkshire Dales. One bit was about wild flowers and the other was about Karst scenery and he was being directed by Andy Hinde of Natural England on where to look for inspiration. Andy knew of the cave conservation work being done around the Dales as he had been directing plenty of jobs on the surface but told the director about the cleaning up jobs that Ray Duffy had been doing with Sam Leiberman on the Colonnades in Lancaster Hole. The director wanted to get down there and do some filming of Ray and Sam in action but not having any caving experience they needed a guide to get him and his film crew down there and back out safely and because it was the BBC they needed someone “professional “ which is where I came in.

The most difficult thing was not getting the kit together or a assembling a team or getting Andy Ives to say what his role was but filling out a lengthy risk assessment for the BEEB’s legal department. It was a very interesting exercise and gave me a new respect for people who arrange the BBC Films for extreme activities. I can only marvel at the people who have to do risk assessments for films such as “Swimming with Crocodiles” or “Inviting Polar Bears for Dinner”.  I can just imagine some poor jungle guide ripping up his risk assessment when David Attenborough went up to that gorilla and gave him a kiss.


The day arrived when I met the film crew to brief them on what was going to happen. I chose the CRO Depot as a PR exercise for the CRO and there is a simple SRT wall there which I could use to get the crew’s SRT rigs set up and show them how to abseil and climb back out. Only the cameraman had any clue but I explained the hauling system I would use and tried to instil some confidence in them that I knew what I was doing. They then started filming and got some footage that they could use. I explained that I would lower them down a 100 foot shaft and then pull them back out and they didn’t bat an eyelid and say how you are going to do that. I know I would have done if it was the other way round!


The next day word had got round that some filming was being done and lots of CRO members turned up in Bernies and upset the Grumpies. I had already selected and briefed my team and upset a few people by telling them they weren’t wanted.  A bit mean of me but I wanted a small party to reduce the time spent getting back up the entrance. Having reassembled at the entrance to Lancaster Hole they renewed their filming and started asking me daft questions about what was down the hole. I tried to get them to speak to Andy as he had now reappeared but they kept zooming in on me. Perhaps it was my BBC accent. As they filmed me and James Wong the presenter preparing to go down I discovered that James was very gullible and he admitted to being naive so I thought I would see what I could get him to believe.


 I had staged various members of my team at different  ledges down the hole to sort out any problems the film crew might have as I lowered them down and to give them confidence. I had told them they were abseiling but as I had a second rope on them they were effectively lowered which was a safer option as they had not really ever abseiled before.  They had a very good, bright lighting system and the cameraman was confident enough to stop halfway down and film James as he descended. They actually got some very nice shots of the shaft and him as he went down.


Once off the ropes I cautiously led them all across to the climb up to the Colonnades. They stopped at several places so that James could explain how caves were formed and other things. We all stood back and used the opportunity of having Bridge Hall lit up to gaze up at the roof and comment on the passages we could see that hadn’t been climbed into. One looked very promising and I subsequently went back and bolted up into it (at the time of writing I have gained the top but not yet finished exploring). 




At this point James involved me in his explanation of cave development to the viewing audience asking me about the lump of calcite on the floor of the chamber. I told him it was flowstone and had broken off the large curtains that could be seen on the walls higher up. I told him it hadn’t been there the week before. He completely accepted this bollocks and looked shocked. It was included in the final film whether by accident or design on the part of the editor I don’t know but a lot of the subsequent lies I told James didn’t get in but they were getting more and more outrageous the more bored I got.

Despite getting bored I was being ultra-cautious all the time with the film crew as they were mainly concentrating on filming and not always paying attention to moving carefully around the cave. The soundman had lots of bottles of water and was noticeably bickering with the cameraman. We decide afterwards that he was possibly very hung-over.  I roped them all up into the Collonnades Chamber where I felt we were in a safer area and we all relaxed a bit more but they were all very professional and as soon as the director said action they all swung into movie mode. James had his major scene where he had to express amazement at first seeing the columns. He pontificated about how he had never seen anything as marvellous or splendid or awe inspiring as the columns. I said to him “You don’t get out much do you. “ Unfortunately that comment got cut.

Then came Ray’s moment of glory as they filmed James and me going round to look at the crystal floor and lo and behold there was Ray with a toothbrush cleaning away 50 years of mud. “Here is the worst example of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder you’ll ever see “I told him, again cut.  Ray started with very intelligent comments about cave conservation but then went into a rant about photographers feeling they were entitled to step over the tape because they were special not realising that was exactly what the cameraman  had done just a few minutes previously to get a good shot of Ray lying there. Ray finished his diatribe with a grisly fart, also cut.


Filming having finished we carefully trooped back to Lancaster Hole to prepare to get out. I staged myself at the three quarters ledges where I had set up my hauling rig and Andy stayed at the bottom to make sure the film crew put on their SRT rigs correctly and to encourage them to climb. It was soon evident that they weren’t going to get up under their own power and I ended up hauling all of them except the cameraman who I was thankful climbed up speedily. The surface party took over from me and hauled them through the squeeze onto the surface and I finally emerged myself I was pleased to see everyone grinning happily. It was an excellent and different day out for all concerned.

The film was aired a few weeks later to international commendation. I.e. we were all in France when it was on but family at home said it was good. Actually it also appeared on the best of “Country File” so the BEEB must have also thought it was good. I put in an invoice to the BEEB for large amount reasoning that all the film crew were freelancers and would probably being paid a whack but the producer quibbled with me and I ended up accepting a much smaller sum which by the time I had divided it out amongst the team didn’t amount to much and CRO got even less.  Apologies to Andy for stealing his limelight, I think he didn’t appear once in the film, sorry.






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