I walked over to the reptile house where we were about to film a short piece for "the six oclock show" to feature Danny Baker in an aligator enclosure (yes they wanted him to enter the "cage" with the aligator) and report back to the studio. I spotted the Butty wagon (as you do ) and headed to the lamps and general melee associated with a TV crew I met with the producer,the camera man, and sound lady (girl) and the star himself (a nice but twitchy guy, who wouldn`t be under the circumstances our alligator at the time was 3 plus metres nose to tail and had featured in a James bond film with his actual owner, we were just looking after him for a while) the head Keeper was waiting by the entrance to the enclosure armed with a short broom handle and we made our approach towards him I requested that the crew "made it in one" as I doubted that a second chance would be forthcoming, they shook hands with the head Keeper recieving their safety brief and I entered the humid and well light enclosure which consisted of four walls decorated to look like a swamp area, a deep but smallish pool, four walls which consisted of a large area of glass for public viewing and a ceiling that produced UV light and fine water sprays as we wished it.
The aligator was settled in to the bottom of the pool unaware as yet as to what was going on and facing away away from the 750mm X 1 metre high door which lead to a narrow walkway around the pool terminating in a basking area under UV and heat Lamps at the farthest end of the enclosure. This area was where the camera man, myself and the sound recordist were to carry out the filming from, Danny Baker was due to squat in the corner to the rear left of the Aligator and made his report. the contents of which I don`t fully remember as on our entry, I had been given the short broom handle by the head Keeper to control the aligator "in the event that he made a challenge upon us ?" ( and why wouldn`t he as they are reknowned for their territorial nature), I went to my predetermined station and assisted the camera man and sound recordist to their positions alongside of me ( the camera man and recordest were to my left hand side. I was marginally between the aligator and them)
The camera man took aim and the recordist emptied her carry bag and put togeather the "mike stick"plugging it into her recording gismo firmly strapped acros her body and lowered the Fluffy gerbil like mike over the water pionting it toward Danny baker. I noticed that she was shaking uncontrollably and that the length of the support boom exagerated this so that the fluffy gerbil (mike ) on the end was swaying about and shaking furiously. They announced that they were ready and Danny baker started his report with something like "Hi folks guess where I am "(yea right nearest the door sprung to mind remembering also that the aligator was between us and the miniscule door) "I`m in" (pan back) the Aligator cage at ????????. at this moment the aligator ( lets call him reg for the purposes of this post ) decided that it was time to float to the surface to have "a shufty" at what was going on, which he did. Danny Baker having suddenly taken in the true size of him, stopped mid sentance visibly shaken the fluffy gerbil now only being supported by one of the recordist hand, as the other one was positioned firmly into mine holding on as tight as if she was in child berth. The camera man a seasoned guy with many war theatre scenarios to his credit just carried on filming oblivious of any threat and why wouldn`t he after what he had been through.
The sound recordist turned towards me and asked if we were OK in a very shaky voice to which I replied sure he just likes the look of your Gerbil ( which incidently you should try to control) and anyway I`ve got this, and shewed her the broom handle. stating that he wouldn`t come anywhere near us all the time I have this. My hand was now white and all feeling had gone from it.
Danny Baker believeing that I had it all under control carried on. I took the oportunity to look around for the head Keeper only to find that he had made his way to the front of the public viewing area and was watching through the glass ( afterwards he told me that it was important that he could acess Reg`s mood at all times and the front of the viewing area was the best vantage point (yes like the time he shut me in with a stunned sun bear because it had suddenly sat up and started to convulse, he said later that he didn`t want it to escape, what about me? I was deep in the den behind the bear and had just removed the anesthetic dart and was in the middle of applying Tetramycin spray to the unfortunate bears arse, I think I probably would have sat up too! I will remember forever the look on the faces of the other keepers as one at a time they peered in at me through the small barred ( prison type) viewing window to see if the bear had savaged me and if it was possible to get the remains out? I told them not to be so silly and let me out. My legs did feel a bit weak later on I have to say)
Anyway I digress, More power to his elbow Danny Baker duly finished his report the camera man duly stopped filming and it was time to remove ourselves from the enclosure. the gerbil had kept Reg occupied as he slowly opened and closed his vast mouth, working out speed, distance and velocity for his mighty leap to devour it (he was a slow thinker bless him) and having done that, it all of a sudden dissapeared into a carry bag and was now out of sight. He started towards the place he had last seen it (the recordist carry bag) at this time Danny baker was being helped out of the enclosure by the head keeper and I had moved to the other side of the couple with me so I was the last out, the sound recordist having briskly walked down the narrow pond side was nearing the door when Reg decided to turn around (not easy in a pool a little larger that you are but try he did and he startled the camerman who I believed banged his head on the top of the low door as he evacuated at a newly found speed. now it was my turn after all I was the "safety man" .
I started my walk I thought quite nonchalently, around the narrow path along side the pool and as Reg finally made his turn half in and half out of the water , I was approaching the door, at any moment I expected to feel his teeth in my calf or backside. he crashed back into the water and nothing happened except I got a little wet, Reg was by now a bit confused ( not dificult if you are an aligator living in a human world and treated as a pet) but hey! OK! nobody was hurt and the show got its footage. we shook hands, Danny Baker duly signed autographs, I went off to the main gate to refuse entry to some gypsy types who wanted to fight me (another story) and off the film crew went rejoicing. It went out that night and only Danny baker and Reg ( obviously) were seen, and due to a very good professional camera angle showing him almost sitting on Reg`s back. even though it was only a three minute spot it looked great! The things I have done in the name of profit :o))