Travel: Passport - Roger Cook: 'I think I passed my brain going the other way'

HE'S THE man on TV notorious for his toe-in-the-door and camera- whacking style of investigative journalism. His recording equipment, disguised as a bread tin, has been brought out of semi-retirement to film some Cook Report specials.

Roger Cook was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. His Antipodean roots go a long way towards explaining that fearless style of crook-busting - a popular genre of TV back home. He left Australia after training with the ABC, the Australian version of the Beeb, and in 1968 joined the exodus of young journalists coming to England for jobs.

"We worked hard and didn't mind what we did. If you came from the training background that I did, in some of the more remote radio stations your job could include everything, including climbing the mast and turning it on in the mornings."

In 1985 he started filming the Cook Report for Central Television. "Once, while filming seven programmes for a new series, I flew for a total of 320 hours." This manic travelling included a day trip to Australia to interview the Attorney General of New South Wales.

"I was on the ground for less than eight hours; I think I passed my brain going the other way at some stage. That is one of the reasons why I am not doing the series anymore - so I can relax and spend more time with my family."

Roger has plenty of horror stories about flying. "Once I was flying between islands in Indonesia on a regional airline and we hit some heavy turbulence. Some of the passengers were on their way to market and their animal-laden crates were upset. Suddenly the cockpit was filled with feathers and chicken shit. Those who had never flown before had to be forcibly restrained from lighting stoves in the aisles to cook their dinner."

Surely you'd expect first-class seats for a top television reporter? "That does happen more these days, but back then we were putting all the money into making the films. In the end it became a false economy because you'd get off the plane completely knackered."

Travelling doesn't have a great deal of charm for him now because he'd rather do it at his own pace. "I used to get home after a long series and the family would say 'Okay Dad, where are we flying now for our holiday?'. And that was the last thing I wanted to do, I wanted to stay home.

"I've got two passports, Australian and British, which is useful. God bless the 64-page passport, as it's probably easier to write a list of the places that I haven't been to."

The only time he has been back to Australia was on that day trip. "I had a virgin Australian passport and the guy at immigration said: 'Have you never been back to Australia?' I said no and he shouted at the top of his voice across the crowded customs hall: 'This silly **** was born in Godzone and has never been back.' They couldn't believe it."

It is a long time to be away, which may explain his almost undetectable "strine" accent. "You know what Australians are like, they are always travelling. Half of them seem to live here - in my sitting-room!" It must be a pleasant change for Roger to have others turn up on his doorstep.

DIANA PEPPER

'A Cook Report Special: The Antiques Rogue Show', 8pm, 19 August, ITV.

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