Village Hall Talks at Wootton-By-Woodstock
 
Tim Willcox

It is so easy to sit at home, watching television coverage of historic events like the rescue of the Chilean miners, and not give much thought to the effort which goes into bringing back pictures and commnentary from such remote desert areas. But Wootton's own BBC TV foreign correspondent, Tim Willcox, gave a magisterial Christmas talk on December 13th about the rescue and the logistics of getting 48 pieces of luggage, including satellite dishes and cameras, to the heart of the action.

Tim gave a wonderful insight into the operation, using both broadcast footage and photographs to show how the story unfolded and the temporary "media village" developed as crews from around the world descended on the barren landscape of northern Chile. There were powerful and moving descriptions of familes of the 33 trapped miners praying as they waited patiently during the 69-day ordeal and how they offered broadcasters food and tea in their make-shift camp sites, despite their anxiety and being far from wealthy.

Amazingly, the early desperate days turned to euphoria after a shaft was bored through the terrain and a module, specially commissioned for the rescue, slowly brought all the men to the surface - to be met by ecstatic family and friends. Without doubt, one of the most touching images was of a young boy seeing his father in the tiny module, barely 26 inches wide, and rushing towards him in tears. Ironically, none of the men seemed haggard and Tim pointed out they were probably in better shape than before they become trapped, because they were not allowed any alcohol and limited cigaerettes, instead of the entire packets they would normally consume daily.

Tim's exclusive questioning of the Chilean president,Sebastian Pinera, pulled no punches and - after an initial congratulatory exchange - pressed him on the unsafe nature of such desert mines in Chile and how the government would respond to claims for compensation. And he also quizzed him on the ownership of the historic letter which the leader of the trapped miners had sent to the surface, following the break-through, to tell the world they were still alive.

Tim and his colleagues had to supply reports to many of the BBC's television and radio outlets on a constant treadmill and this meant the team often worked for 15 hours at a stretch, with only a couple of hours sleep before the next wave of demands came through. However, sheer adrenaline saw them through to cover the successful outcome, with the rescue helping rebrand Chile's international image after the dark days of the Pinochet military dictatorship.

Coincidentally, 26 of the rescued miners were the guests of Manchester United at Old Trafford as they played Arsenal and the kick-off took place at the same time that Tim began his talk in Wootton. Eighty-three people came to the hall and takings were 498, plus 92 from the sale of mulled wine and other drinks made specially for this Christmas event. After deductions, the final profit was 540, giving a total from both talks in December of 956 - and a grand total of 12,879 at the end of 2010.

 "I had been transfixed by Tim Willcox's reports on the BBC during the rescue of the Chilean miners, but this talk provided an even deeper insight into the triumph of bringing them back from their tomb 300 metres underground. Seeing the footage on a large screen made the impact of the rescue even more profound, but previously unseen photos also offered a remarkable insight into the logistics of how a television crew covers a major international story - and the pressures under which they operate. Another terrific evening - Ivor Carpenter - Charlbury.

 

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John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

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