Lights, cameras and all action

David Lees is a special cameras engineer with BBC Outside Broadcasts, part of BBC Resources Ltd. He designs and operates the miniature TV cameras used to film sports events worldwide.

Why do you love your job?

It's like being Q out of James Bond. We have to dream up practical solutions to turn an idea into a moving picture. I feel I'm really lucky to have a job doing what I'm sure I would have done anyway as a hobby - fiddling with electronics and photography. Some of my friends outside work call me Inspector Gadget.

What sort of things do you have to do?

I work with a team of nine specialist engineers, custom-designing miniature TV cameras. When we're not making tiny cameras, we're out in the field fitting them in dartboards, cricket stumps, snooker pockets, racing cars and aircraft of all kinds. We've got a "Plunge Cam" to film competitive swimming, which runs down a vertical track like a rollercoaster, and another that runs along the bottom of the pool. For the current Six Nations, we've built a radio-operated camera that clamps on to a rugby goalpost. We also make hidden cameras to hide in reporters' clothing for secret filming.

What advice would you give to someone who likes the sound of your job?

It may sound glamorous fitting cameras to sports cars, but it isn't really. Anyone who wants to do the job should be able to withstand long hours, and cold, mud, rain, and sunburn when out in the field. You always have to think about safety, and make sure the cameras don't interfere with the sport. You'll need a thorough knowledge of electronics, a keen interest in photography, and an inquiring mind.

What skills should a good special camera engineer have?

As well as having engineering skills, you have to be able to think in three dimensions, imagining where a camera would fit and what the view from it would be like. You need to have an eye for what looks right, as well as having practical knowledge and technical ability. A lot of the job is talking to producers and figuring out how to do what they want, so you need to be diplomatic. Some problems are insurmountable. We've had people say they want a camera inside a football, or a juggling club. We have to tell them gently, "That's not going to work."

How's the salary and career progression?

I started as a trainee engineer with the BBC a long time ago, before miniature cameras were invented. In terms of salary, you are never going to get the six figure salaries of the City, but we love what we do. A graduate trainee can expect to start at about £25,000.

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