Tag Archives: birds

One of the less well publicised jobs at BBC Television – The man with the gun

Imagine the size of the big studio doors

BBC Television Centre in London. Big studio doors. Big airborne problems.

Yesterday, someone asked me if working as a researcher on BBC TV News’ early teletext service CEEFAX was my first job at a TV company.

No. It was my third.

My first was working as a Services Clerk in Central Services at BBC Television Centre.

They looked after the physical maintenance of the building and things like furniture and carpets. Not glamorous.

If people had problems with their radiators or lights or paintwork or phones, desks, windows or rats & mice and much more… In fact, if you had any problem with any of the fabric of the building or the stuff in your office… the central department you contacted was Central Services where two clerks answered the phones and four other people farmed out the problems to the actual people who could sort them out.

I was one of the two clerks who answered the phones.

I think maybe it was no coincidence that Terry Gilliam – who was one of the Monty Python team based at Television Centre at the time – called the rather bureaucratic plumbing/electrical maintenance organisation in his film Brazil Central Services.

I worked in Central Services for one year during which the BBC carpenters, electricians and general maintenance people were (from memory) about 30% understaffed (and they were – possibly not unconnected – about 30% underpaid too). During my time, there was a three-day week and there was an infestation of mice on the third floor. How the little bastards got up there, I don’t know. And I don’t mean the people who phoned in to complain.

It was very busy.

After that first non-programme-making job at the BBC, the high pressure deadlines of programme making were a dawdle in comparison.

People tended to shout at you a lot because things didn’t get done quickly.

I remember justly-famed BBC producer Dennis Main Wilson (Till Death Us Do Part apart many other shows) throwing a fairly-justified strop in the office one day, flouncing out and attempting to slam the door behind him but it had a Briton spring and so closed in slow motion with no noise. At least that one door worked in the building.

One of the things which had to be sorted out was the occasional problem of pigeons and other birds in studios.

The studios at Television Centre had big scene dock doors – like a film studio. They often had to be left open. Birds occasionally got in. Not often, but sometimes. Usually pigeons.

If you had a TV show in the studio, you did not want a bird squawking or flying around or shitting on the performers and set during the recording or – even worse – during a live show.

Studios are big. They have high roofs. It is virtually impossible to get a bird out quickly, if at all.

So what do you do? What did we do?

The answer is we phoned Rentokil, who sent a man round sharpish with a rifle and he shot the bird. He had to be a skilled marksman. Because the roofs of TV studios are covered with tens, perhaps hundreds of lights and there are electric cables everywhere.

For the sake of the nation’s entertainment, many a bird has been shot.

It is, perhaps, one of the less well publicised, yet vital, jobs in television.

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How not to repel pigeons with a can of illegal CS gas and some chilli powder

Ultimate anti-pigeon spray: Lady CS gas

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a friend in South East London with pigeon problems on her balcony. There must be a lot of it about. I have another friend in North London with a similar problem. She told me yesterday she intends to take direct action.

In my previous blog, I also mentioned someone who had caught a rat with sticky paper and had ended the rodent’s life with a sharp knife attached to the end of a broom handle. Life can be violent in South East London.

“I think I saw an article in the Evening Standard,” my North London friend told me yesterday afternoon. “it mentioned a paste that would get on pigeons’ feet. It sounded like a new thing they’d just discovered that was going to be pretty well 100% effective. I imagined it to be something like a glue and it was in chillies.”

“Well,” I said, “for a long time, they’ve put stuff on the stone window sills in London buildings that burns pigeons’ toes off.”

“I know! I know!” my friend said. “I used to think they were just pigeons which had gone too near to a car.”

“After a certain age, pigeons in Central London have no toes,” I said. “They just have little stumpy legs like Long John Silver.”

“I know. I know,” my friend said. “Don’t remind me.”

“… but without parrots on their shoulders,” I added.

She did not laugh. In my experience, people seldom do when I say things.

“When looking for the wood lice thing,” my friend continued, “I did notice and thought of getting a thing that would keep cats and foxes and…”

“Catnip?” I asked.

“… and pigeons away,” she continued. “But I think it might also have repelled all birds, so that’s why I didn’t get it.”

“Tabasco?” I suggested.

“It was a peppery thing,” she said, “that was actually in chilli. So I was thinking I could use chilli powder. Surely. Maybe. I’ve sprinkled it on the floor of my balcony. I dunno where to get the paste stuff from. I wish I could find the article. Whether I should mix it into a paste or some sticky substance…”

“You’ve sprinkled chilli powder on the floor of your balcony?” I asked.

“I’ve sprinkled it on sticky paper,” she replied, “because I haven’t actually made a paste. I haven’t figured how I’m supposed to… I was going to think of something… Not honey, because that would be crazy. That would attract ants or something would go very wrong. But something sticky.”

“It would attract ants?”

“Honey. Wouldn’t it? But I’m going to try CS gas, too.”

“CS gas?” I asked.

“I have a can of mace which I usually carry in my handbag.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But this is London in 2012. You were telling me yesterday that story about your tour guide in North Korea who got hit on the back of the head with a baseball bat in Bristol…. I don’t know… Do you think spraying CS gas would deter pigeons?”

“It would probably surprise them,” I agreed.

“The mace spray, if it’s working, would repel them immediately,” my friend said. “But the can may not be working any more. It’s quite old. Does CS gas deteriorate over time?”

“Not my area of expertise,” I replied. “I can tell you about comedians and Charlie Chuck’s ducks.”

“They wouldn’t be able to hang out in the area,” my friend continued. “It stings your eyes and it stings your feet.”

“It stings your feet?” I asked. “I haven’t seen street demonstrators leaping in the air when the police use CS gas.”

“Pigeons have bare feet,” my friend explained. “It’s quite a widely-known fact. Pigeons don’t wear shoes. Not even flip-flops. No animals like CS gas. It’s not just humans.”

“Giraffes are above such things,” I suggested.

“It depends on the wind,” my friend said.

“I had an email from Mr Methane today,” I said. “He said he’s recorded a…”

“Look,” my friend said. “There is a pigeon problem on my balcony and, if I can make them not like where they’re landing or think Fucking hell! My toes sting!, then I… Of course, a lot of the chilli blows away. I poured the powder on the floor of my balcony and some of it blew away. That’s why I stuck it on sticky tape, but the sticky tape isn’t exactly sticking for some reason.”

“Will the pigeons not stand on the sticky tape and fly away with the sticky tape on their afore-mentioned bare feet?” I asked.

“Well,” my friend said, “that might make them think twice about staying as well. That’s a terrible vision: coming back and finding a load of pigeons stuck to the floor and to each other, half-dead.”

“This is like the rat story, isn’t it?” I suggested. “Where the rat has to be killed by a broom handle with a sharp knife on the end.”

“Yes. I wish I could get the same sticky stuff that the rats had. That would do it, wouldn’t it? And it would stick.”

“You think the anti-rat fly-paper would work?” I asked.

“I had a newly cleaned and painted balcony,” my friend said. “Nice and bright and spotless. The pigeons shit on it. I don’t want to have to clean the balcony if people pop by.”

“But you would have to clear the sticky tape and chilli powder anyway,” I pointed out. “And the people might go barefoot and go Ooh Oooh Ooh with the CS gas.”

“You mustn’t touch things like bird shit, pigeon shit,” my friend said, “because they have all those illnesses that are very bad for you and kill you.”

“Illnesses?” I asked.

“Oh I don’t know,” she said. “E-coli or something. Something really bad, anyway. People could be dropping dead. You could be blinded or something. There are things that can blind you, like dog shit can blind you.”

“Well it can,” I agreed, “thrown with the right momentum.”

“No, no,” she said, “the bugs that are in things like shit. The bacteria can get into your body and cause all sorts of ailments.”

“Dog shit can send you barking mad?”

My friend gave a big sigh.

“Look, I am trying to sort out this pigeon thing,” she said, “and I would like to get this sticky paper for the rats. I don’t know where to get it from. But I swear something came to my mind. Gela… something. Gelatinous?”

“Gelegnite?” I suggested.

“Gelatinous.”

“Gelegnite would do it, too.”

“Only if you had the bloody pigeon to hand at the time. I mean gelatinous stuff you could mix in with the chilli stuff and it would stay there as a blob. Then I have to take into consideration things like the wind which is going to blow some of the chilli powder away – or rain, which is going to wash it away. But I could mix it into a little watery paste. I just need to have it so it will stick there in a little mound of something that irritates them and they think Oh! this isn’t very nice. I’m off!

“What about putting a little pile of dog shit on the floor of the balcony?” I suggested. “That might blind them.”

“Yes, but it would also blind me, wouldn’t it,” my friend replied. “Chilli is not going to blind me.”

“Dog shit won’t blind you either,” I said, “unless you roll in the dog shit. Just put it down so it…”

“Birds would be highly sensitive to chilli,” my friend interrupted. “As would you, if it was rubbed on the sensitive parts of your body.”

“People pay good money for that in Soho,” I said.

“The sticky tape isn’t sticking,” my friend continued. “The chill isn’t sticking either.”

“The next time you come home,” I said, “you’re going to find six pigeons stuck together on sticky paper, unable to fly.”

“It would be awful, wouldn’t it?” my friend said, “But the sticky tape isn’t sticking.”

“Mmmm…” I mused.

“Of course,” my friend said, “when they get stuck or trapped or in one place, they just shit and…”

“It would be counter-productive,” I said.

“Exactly,” my friend said.

“It is a problem,” I agreed.

“Yes it is,” my friend agreed.

We sat down and ate spaghetti.

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When Bernard Manning took Charlie Chuck backstage at James Whale’s show

Yesterday afternoon, I had a tea-room crawl around London’s West End with comedian Charlie Chuck. He had come down for a meeting in Soho about appearing in a TV ad.

He told me his girlfriend now has 21 ducks and a Buddha statue in her back garden. To celebrate, we went down to see the ducks in St James’s Park which is a fine example of ornithological multi-culturalism where any number of imaginable and unimaginable breeds intermingle, mostly politely, and occasional light grey pigeons wander randomly about, looking slightly stunned at the surrounding plumage, like drab, grey-suited City gents who have accidentally wandered into the VIP hospitality tent behind the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury.

Dave (Charlie Chuck’s real name) told me more about his unbilled second show at the upcoming Edinburgh FringeDave Kear’s Guide to the Universe – which I blogged about last week and which he will perform in theSpaces@SurgeonsHall for six days. He has plans to develop this year’s show into an hour-long play called Mister Nobody at the 2012 Fringe and has been discussing with a 1960s ‘celebrity vicar’ what that might involve.

Sitting in St James’s Park, watching a three-mallard duck-fight on the water, Dave suddenly remembered that, when he was a 20-year-old drummer with innocent hopes of a hit parade career ahead of him, he had slept overnight on a deckchair in this very park, the night before an early morning meeting with a record producer in what was then Tin Pan Alley.

He also regaled me with tales of touring Britain for a year in the 1970s as drummer with The Missouri Breaks – backing band for 1950s British rock ‘n’ roll legend Wee Willie Harris. Support acts for Wee Willie Harris on that tour were comedians Bernard Manning and Duncan ‘chase me chase me’ Norvelle.

That sounds to me like one hell of an eclectic tour.

Manning’s act involved going on stage with two large, fearsome-looking bouncers who stood on either side of him while he insulted the audience and the other acts. Seeing the size of the bouncers, no-one ever objected to the insults.

“I met Bernard again on James Whale‘s 40th Birthday Party show,” Dave told me, “and he asked me into his dressing room and told me You’re doing a great job. That’s a great character. I were chuffed. It were very nice of him.”

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