King Khaled State Visit to London, Paris & Madrid 1981
In June 1981, King Khaled made a State Visit to London. I, as Head Of Commercial Productions at UPITN, was asked to produce a documentary film on the visit as well as providing daily video coverage for satellite transmission to Riyadh.
The itinerary was such that I had to find nine cine cameramen and nine video cameramen.
The King came into London by train and he was greeted by The Queen on the platform. My son Mark was working as a stills photographer as part of our project. We had two cameramen inside the station, one elevated while the other was mobile and on ground level. They were alongside two video cameramen.
The other cameramen were deployed outside and along the route to Buckingham Palace, where we had been given permission to film, inside, the Royal party leaving their carriages. In fact, we were obliged to seek permission to place every single cameraman used on the route.
We even had cameramen on the roof of the Palace to shoot the Royal entourage making its way down Pall Mall.
Each night, a half-hour programmes was edited and broadcast directly to Riyadh for immediate transmission locally. Majid Sirhan did the commentary.
The film, which would run an hour, was edited and completed later. Wherever the King went, we were with him. He visited a Stables at Newmarket where he stayed quite a while admiring the bloodstock.
It was an exhausting few days, but it was not over yet. As a result of the success of the London visit, we were asked to do the same in Paris and Madrid, the State Visits of which immediately followed London.
The Paris visit was much less ambitious than London. We used the three cameramen from the Paris office shooting film only, as well as two video crews from London, including Ali Cameron. Their material was edited at TF1 each evening and transmitted to Riyadh. TF1 was the main French broadcaster at the time.
There were two things noteworthy about the production. First, we were booked into a Japanese hotel that seemed to have been designed by a minimalist. The beds were short and narrow and we guessed that they were designed for use by the Japanese. It was Henri Brzoska, head of the Paris Bureau, who had booked us in saying that there was nothing else available in Paris.
Each day, we were working until late in the evening only to return to the hotel to find that the restaurant was closing. We went over to the hotel where the Saudis were staying and told them we were hungry. They invited us into their suite where they ordered Club Sandwiches and wine.
The other mishap was that when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I picked up my baggage only to find on arrival at the hotel that I had got someone else’s bag . I lodged a claim with British Airways. The problem was that the bag I picked up was identical to mine.
We were in Paris for three days and it was not until I returned to the Airport that I could exchange bags. In the meanwhile, BA had given me a toilet set, while I had to buy extra clothing.
We only had one day back in London before we had to fly off to Madrid. I took Tony Mander and a freelance from London to shoot film, while Ali Cameron came with another two video crews for the daily coverage.
Yasar Durra and Rosie Bunting came as production staff. Rosie Bunting had been seconded to my department upon the departure of Derek Shepherd. She had previously been working on Roving Report and wanted to get involved in documentary production. She was good at research and writing and made a serious contribution to our production activities.
Waiting in the arrival lounge to collect our baggage and gear, Tony Mander told the story of a unit from Thames Television who had flown into Madrid some years earlier. Each member of the crew were asked in turn, to say what they had come to Madrid for. The soundman, who else, answered “We’ve come to shoot Franco”. They were expelled on the next flight out.
We were all put up at the Regent Hotel, close to the Spanish Parliament and the Prada Museum. I think that most of the London based press were in the hotel.
For the next few days we were to be spread out all over Madrid with crews in a variety of locations from the Royal Palace to the Prada Museum. Khaled was accompanied on his tours by King Juan Carlos and a huge entourage.
We spent a lot of time driving around Madrid from location to location. Usually we were in a taxi. Every time we had to stop at an intersection, the driver would stop and then roll back about a yard. After experiencing this manoeuvre several times, in different places, I wondered why the driver did not roll back into another car.
The next time it happened, I looked out the back of the car only to find that all the cars behind also ran back about a yard. It must be a Spanish thing.
We found out that, at that time, there was not a single Mosque in Spain. There were however a number of buildings that had been built as mosques and had been converted into synagogues after the Moors left in 1492. I did not think that the Saudis would have been impressed by that.
We were all down at Madrid Airport to film the departure of the King and his entourage, which was considerable.
That evening, some of us went for a mooch into the Plaza Mayor. This ancient square had been build by Philip II and it had been used for selling bread and vegetables, the execution of heretics and the beatification of the holy.
There were nine of us in the group that descended upon a restaurant in the square.
We went upstairs. It was a very old building with beams showing and the look of the 17th century. The food was exceptionally good and we had a wonderful time relaxing after two weeks of intensive work which sometimes had us in action for fifteen and more hours a day.
The evening was finished off by a band of strolling players, all in mediaeval dress, who wandered in and out of the tables collecting their financial rewards.
We were all glad to get back home after a period of little sleep and plenty of activity.
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