BBC Breakfast moved from Salford Quays to Chester Racecourse on Wednesday, May 6 to celebrate the final day of the 2015 General Election campaign and the start of the Chester Races season.
Chronicle reporter CARMELLA DE LUCIA went along to see presenters Louise Minchin and Bill Turnbull in action
“I hope you feel OK about getting up at 5am tomorrow, Carmella, because we want you to spend the morning behind the scenes of the BBC Breakfast Show for their live broadcast from Chester Racecourse, ” my editor told me on Tuesday evening.
To be brutally honest, no, I didn’t feel all that OK about tearing myself out of bed at such an ungodly hour but Wednesday, May 6, was not to be a day like any other. This was a special day.
Not only did it mark the start of racing season, it was also the day before one of the closest general elections in recent years, and as one of the country’s key marginal seats, Chester was one of the places that everybody suddenly seemed to be interested in.
So, buoyed with coffee and enthusiasm, I arrived at the makeshift ‘backstage’ area at Restaurant 1539 just before 6am ready for a bird’s-eye glimpse into how the world of breakfast television works.
The famous red sofa was primed and ready on the outdoor deck, against a stunning backdrop of Chester and the racecourse as presenters Louise Minchin and Bill Turnbull took a few minutes to get used to their new surroundings.
Because the pair make their job look so seamless, it’s easy to forget how much actual effort and how many people are involved behind the scenes in making sure everything runs like clockwork.
I sat near a team of producers who are in constant contact with their colleagues back in Salford whose job is to control the dozens of VTs and links, and there are all sorts of last minute checks during the countdown to going live, including the frantic confirmation of the correct pronunciation of ‘Ruthin’, since that’s where one of the reporters will be this morning.
Behind the scenes
And of course, transmitting live throws up all kinds of little challenges that need to be sorted out as soon as possible, including a temperamental autocue (“If it’s not on the autocue I can’t read it,” Bill says firmly), and the last-minute discovery that one of today’s guests is in a wheelchair, so there’s a scramble to find a ramp in the nick of time.
There was also a momentary problem with Louise not being able to hear everything that was being said to her, and if the presenters think a word on the autocue doesn’t sound quite right, it’s whipped out quicker than you can say ‘action’.
One thing that can’t be controlled, however, is the weather – and despite a promising sunrise, it didn’t take long for the skies over Chester to turn overcast, with poor old Louise and Bill having to shiver through virtually the entire broadcast, huddling under a blanket between takes.
But despite the cold, Chester resident Louise later told The Chronicle that she thought the city was the place to be this week.
“Believe it or not, it wasn’t my choice to film in Chester! It’s obviously a key marginal seat, it’s close and could go either way which is very interesting,” she said.
“We’ve taken it in turns to go to different places during the election campaign; everywhere we’ve been has been different. Everyone I see seems to be engaged with the election and even though they have done a lot of research, many still don’t know who to vote for.
“That’s what has struck me, it’s an undecided knife edge. People have said to us that they won’t actually decide who they are going to vote for until they’re in the poll booth,” she adds.
Bill agrees: “Chester has been a bell weather constituency since 1997 – so as Chester votes, so does the nation.”
Louise confirmed she will be going to the races at some point this week, and also spoke of her excitement about racing season.
“I’ve loved being here at the racecourse, I just love the races, it’s always a fantastic atmosphere and the racecourse is really beautiful,” she said. “It’s always amazing how close you can get to the horses, it’s just great. I feel like Chester is my adopted city, it’s lovely here.”