Posts Tagged ‘TT Talking’

Spills and chills

Posted: May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

One day in the mid-1990s I was filming with my BBC TV crew outside the Creg Ny Baa hotel. We were crouching down at the top of the escape road alongside a medic who knew everything there was to know about the TT. You could tell he knew everything because he spoke in a cool drawl like James Stewart and he wore an Aussie-style hat. “You can always tell if a rider’s gonna make the corner,” he informed us. “It’s not the speed, it’s the line.”  We nodded and carried out setting up the camera. “Look at this chap now,” he went on. “He’s got it. You can always tell. His line’s spot on.” At that moment there was that horrible sound of metal scraping on tarmac, a shout went up from the crowd, and our new best mate was grabbing his medical bag and running off to patch up the rider whose line, unfortunately, had landed him in the chicken wire outside the Creg’s saloon.

Talking of horrible sounds, one that I’ll never forget came in my first year as Manx Radio commentator. I was staying at the Hilton, although it might have been called the Palace then, or maybe the Stakis….. My room overlooked the car park at the back. I was working away on my preparation, head down, when there was the sound of metal splintering and the most horrendous howl-cum-scream that I’ve ever heard. I rushed to the window and there was a car which had obviously reversed into a baby buggy, with the baby in it. There was more shouting and screaming and it emerged that dad had backed up the car, not realising that the buggy was parked right behind the rear bumper. The mum was distraught, hotel staff raced out, an ambulance came, and the babe was rushed off for treatment. I heard later that he, or she, can’t remember which now, was ok. But it was a terrible incident which could have been absolutely tragic.

Another episode which chills the blood, looking back, was when I was in a car being driven by a cameraman to the airport. Somewhere after the Mount Murray a biker pulled right out in front of us at 90 degrees. We smashed  into him, he flew up over the windscreen and the roof, and my instant thought was that he had to be seriously injured, if not dead. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see him picking himself up. Incredibly, he was unhurt and was full of apologies.

It’s an extreme place, the Isle of Man, especially at TT time. As the precinct lootenant used to say in that brilliant series Hill Street Blues, “be careful out there”.


It’s usually dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the NW200 about likely outcomes at the TT. Alastair Seeley’s dominance at the Causeway Coast is one reason. Seeley consistently mops up at the North West but doesn’t do the TT. Despite that, there are maybe some pointers to be found.

I don’t want to go any further though without saying that the most important thing is the wellbeing of the woman who was seriously injured in Saturday’s three-bike incident. I felt too many people were too quick to ‘move on’ from this desperate accident. ‘The helicopter got away, how soon can we get back to the racing?’ No, that’s not the right way to go. As I write, over 24 hours has passed and the woman is still on the critical list in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. I sincerely hope she makes a good recovery. The same thoughts go to Stephen Thompson, also rated critical having been involved in the same incident.

We can’t tip Seeley for success at the TT, but we can say that his Tyco/TAS team have got the BMW working well. If that level of preparation carries through to the team’s BMWs on the island, then their TT experts William Dunlop and Guy Martin should prosper. William has the edge on Guy at the moment and Guy will have to be properly focused on the island. His ‘boring boring’ rant was out of order and also out of character, more a sign of frustration than anything else. I’d love Guy to win in what he says will be his last TT – although he hinted in a BBC NI interview that he might have second thoughts. At the moment, I have to say I think he’ll do well to get on the podium, never mind win.

Michael Dunlop’s switch to Shaun Muir’s Yamaha team makes forecasting even more difficult. Much the same as Hutchy’s switch to Shaun’s outfit after his five-out-of-five on Clive Padgett’s Hondas, before injury intervened. Michael has done it all on Honda and BMW bikes – but Yamaha? Well, if I’ve learnt one thing, it is never to bet against M.Dunlop. He will be a major contender. So will John McGuinness and Conor Cummins on the Hondas. The North West confirmed Lee Johnston as a big player, winner of the Superstock on Saturday. And Hutchy looked pretty good too, thank goodness, third in the Superstock and second in the Superbike, both on Paul Bird’s Kawasakis. The weekend also reminded us that Bruce Anstey is very much in the frame.

It’s impossible this year to come up with a single overwhelming favourite so it looks like we’re set for a massively exciting TT with the victories being shared around a bit more than in recent years.

I hope Guy turns up with his mojo in good working order. And I do hope Michael doesn’t go for a repeat of a silly little stunt at the start of proceedings on Saturday when he seemed to be goading the excellent BBC reporter Stephen Watson into giving a gratuitous plug to Michael’s sponsors. Stephen dealt with it well, but come on Michael. If Stephen had fallen for your little trick he’d have been in big trouble with his bosses. If anyone had tried to make me do something which is a disciplinary offence, if not a sackable one, when I was at the BBC I’d have thought long and hard before giving him any live TV exposure again.

Update: BBC TV interview with NW200 Race Director Mervyn Whyte, May 18th 2015








One question always pops up in my mind when the NW200 comes around – given that the NW has been shown live on BBC TV for several years now,  how long till the TT is also televised LIVE? It’s something I’ve been discussing with the man in charge of the TV operation at the TT, North One’s Neil Duncanson.

The NW200, coverage produced by Greenlight for BBC NI,  is always compelling viewing. Admittedly, sometimes that’s because the pictures go down and we can enjoy the commentators squirming! That of course is one reason why we are still some way from seeing the same live output at the TT. Reliability issues have to be solved. But having said that, the races are shown live and that puts the NW some way ahead of the TT.

NW200The Greenlight team place several fixed cameras on the ground around the start/finish section from Metropole to York Corner. These generate dramatic shots but for most of the 9-mile lap the bikes are out of vision, so the key is the helicopter. The chopper allows live shots to be seen the whole way round the course, and (most of the time) the signal back from the chopper to the OB trucks is reliable enough.

At the TT, they’d need to do the same – but it isn’t so easy. Choppers may struggle to keep pace with the leading bikes across the mountain, and producers would have to think about deploying more than one chopper because at the TT, unlike the NW, the leader of the race could be back in sixth or seventh position on the road. There used to be an argument that a TV helicopter was unrealistic because it wouldn’t be allowed to fly in poor visibility. But these days, races don’t go ahead in poor visibility because the emergency choppers have to be able to operate. So that objection has gone away – but there are still a lot of hurdles to clear.

I’ve had a fascinating conversation with Neil Duncanson, who shed a lot of light on exactly where we are with this debate.  North One is the company which produces all the coverage of the TT for ITV4 and other outlets. Neil told me that this whole question of live TV coverage is very high on the agenda, especially as plans for a TT World Series continue.

Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 Kirkmicheal

Michael Dunlop 2013. photo: Alan Knight

He told me: “Ask any major broadcaster of sport and they will tell you that only live coverage is important, whether it’s football, rugby, the Olympic Games or Formula 1. In these days of modern media saturation and digestion, the world wants its events served up live and will pay handsomely for the privilege. There is no doubt that the TT would be an amazing live TV product and the reason it hasn’t happened yet is simply a combination of technology and money. Unlike the NW200 or Ulster or indeed any circuit race, the TT is 37+ miles of twisting public roads that roll through towns, villages, countryside and over mountains. The cost of planting enough course cameras, flying enough helicopters and creating the tech to beam live on-board images from the bikes is extremely prohibitive cost-wise and for a single event it has proven the main barrier to progress. But as time has moved on the tech is improving and getting cheaper. however, it’s still not cheap enough just yet and the issue of getting on-board pictures live from the bikes (which motorsport fans are so used to now) is still a costly stretch, but it simply needs a catalyst to help get things moving.”

That’s a terrific insight into the thought-processes going on at the moment. As Neil says, it isn’t just a matter of getting pictures out. It’s the style and quality of pictures that people want and Neil’s clear feeling is that the wider audience won’t settle for anything less. Viewers of sport are now accustomed to live shots from the helmets of horse-racing jcokeys, from F1 cars and even from cricket stumps. The business of sports TV has leapt forward from being simple information to becoming rich entertainment, and if the TT is going to make an impression in that market, it has to get it right from the start.

So where will the catalyst come from? Neil says: “Clearly the IoM government and tax payers do not have the money to invest in such things, so it will be up to broadcasters, producers and possibly future promoters to foot the bill. If a World Series was to become a reality the cost of this coverage could be amortised over a number of global events and over a number of years. I believe this is the most likely end game, but ultimately the IoM government will decide at the end of the year whether they want to proceed with it. Until then quality live coverage of the TT is still just out of reach. Of course elements of live coverage could be produced now – ie pieces of the course, some hele tele and no on boards – but our view has always been that the event is too important and precious to waste poor coverage on it. As the old cliche goes, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. I dearly hope we will get that opportunity in the near future and if it happens, boy will it be something special”.

That sounds exciting, but it’s significant that Neil says the ball is in the court of the IoM Government.

Another factor is the ever-increasing spread of the smartphone. 4G has arrived on the island within the last month (not sure why it took so long when 3G has been there for several years) and these speeds would allow TT fans to access live TV pictures and commentary around the course. That of course would be a new rival for Manx Radio – but we’re not there yet. The smartphone audience on the island will be important, but the real numbers are those to be found worldwide. As Neil adds: ‘The real factor is an increasing demand for high quality live Motorsport coverage and the ability for specialist sport networks to pay high rights fees for it in an ever increasingly competitive world. The TT has an enviable brand and pedigree and in recent years has seen something of a renaissance in terms of the racing and global awareness. The quality of the riders, the closeness of the racing and the increase in teams and manufacturers (all part of this upward TT curve) have made our job at North One a lot easier in terms of making the TV look good.”

It’s all a long way from the days when I would film short segments of a race, record a voiceover at the end of the tape, then rush the tapes to Ronaldsway to be placed in a Manxpack and flown on Manx Airlines back to the BBC in Manchester, then for a VT editor to match my voiceover with the correct pictures and scramble it onto air in the nick of time before 7pm!

So where does that leave the notion of live TV from the TT? Waiting on the IoM Govt’s decision on a World Series, in Neil’s view. So that’s one to lookmout for with even more anticipation towards the end of the year.

charlie lambert 2015                                                                       Copyright_symbol_2


TT Talking books

Delighted to report that ‘TT Talking’ is now officially published and is available in bookshops and also by post from the publishers   It retails at £14.99. The publishers have a number of personally signed copies so if you’d like one of those please give them a call on 01305 260068 or email them at There are also signed copies available at the Lexicon and Waterstones in Strand Street, Douglas. The book is also available at Please post a review at Amazon!



Watch it here



Hear my interview with Talk Radio Europe on 22/4/14 here


TT Talking celebration

Celebrating the launch of ‘TT Talking’ with photographers Dorothy Lambert and Alan Knight and Al’s partner Jackie














I’d like to say a few thank-yous because a lot of people have helped me bring this book to fruition. John McGuinness has written a very generous foreword, somehow finding the time in a busy schedule. To have THE top rider willing to put his name to my book is a huge compliment. Phil Wain and Chris Kinley read the manuscript and came up with some great comments and suggestions, especially Phil who was absolutely brilliant and steered me away from a few high-sides. Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 KirkmichealAlan Knight has provided most of the pictures. It was hard to know which to leave out. For example this one, of Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael is one that isn’t included. My wife Dorothy captured a lot of behind-the-scenes moments over the years and the book includes a number of her photos.  I also want to thank the guys at Veloce, specialists in publishing motor sport books – Rod Grainger, Kevin Quinn and Kevin Atkins, for their professionalism in editing, designing and producing the finished product.

Of course none of this would have been possible without the raw material generated by the most exciting road races of them all and the terrific buzz that is part of the live broadcasting operation. I hope ‘TT Talking’ does something to reflect the spirit of the races, perhaps in a way that hasn’t quite been done before, while at the same time lifting the lid on the fun and the stress of being at the sharp end of the radio broadcasts.


Leading the funeral of Paul Dobbs was the most emotional event

Leading the funeral of Paul Dobbs was the most emotional event

I've never known anything like the day when Crowe and Cox crashed near Ballaugh

I’ve never known anything like the day when Crowe and Cox crashed near Ballaugh

Paul Owen's truck gets a mention all of its own!

Paul Owen’s truck gets a mention all of its own!

There's no script for times like this! You just have to find something else to talk about.

There’s no script for times like this! You just have to find something else to talk about.