My tech: The camera that writes my diary

Jennifer Rodger talks to Tony Benn about his favourite gadget, a Sony DVC video camera
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The Independent Culture
I am a diarist, and have been since I was a child. Recently, I upgraded to do my diary with videos. It is an interesting instrument. It does, in effect, offer a new dimension to the diaries.

My one is very small, not much bigger than a Walkman, and can almost fit in my pocket. It has broadcast quality and a very small mike, but you get a good sound. What is handy is that it doesn't require lights, complicated batteries or tripods and is self-focusing. You just put the recorder on the table; people can see you are recording and you don't bug anyone. Most people find it intriguing.

I am interested in filming the people I meet, not myself. I do it when I go to meetings, and transfer it on to VHS at the end of the day. I switch on the camera when there are any good questions. I also use it at committees, and at some of my surgeries in Chester. It is a good record. Last Friday at my surgery I filmed a single mother who told me she wanted to go to college and talked about the problems she faces. And there was a man with learning difficulties who told me about problems with local authorities.

Most of my political ideas come from hearing and recording these experiences: what I see with my eyes and what they tell me. At the moment I am doing a programme about the first 18 months under New Labour which ITN are interested in showing as a "behind closed doors" type of thing. It will put a different light on that period from the normal, official view.

I did something like this before, which was a programme called Westminster Behind Closed Doors. I went to Big Ben and filmed the person who winds the clock up, those who do the cleaning or arrange flowers, the engineers and the tea room ladies. It is very nice to make what is like a home movie about where you work. And it was a popular programme, in fact it turned out to be the most popular programme on television that week.

I do the filming, but before you broadcast it has to be edited. The editorial control is always mine; it is down to me to decide what goes in and what doesn't, but the facilities for the technical editing are complex. I had some experience of this when I did a programme for Channel 4 News during the Gulf War. I filmed in my garden, then had to rush the tape to Channel 4 and they got to work on it. At the last Labour Party conference I did something for Newsnight, which I helped edit.

Twenty years ago they would have said, put it away. I have learnt that people now go: "How interesting; by all means go ahead." Nevertheless, I am meticulous about asking. The most interesting person I filmed recently was Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England. I had never met him before, but he didn't mind at all. I think that I got a much better account of what he said and what happened then you would ever get on ITN.

With the video recorder, you get a completely different view of what goes on in the world. The media report on the rich and powerful, but this machine and the Internet give the opportunity to anyone for getting ideas across. Although it is expensive, at pounds 1,500, this is not out of reach for schools or colleges. The number of people using them is increasing. For years it was only the police who had cameras. Now we can film ourselves.

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