Monday, 10 February 2014

Betwixt Madness And The TV Newsroom.

I had a chilling feeling when I accepted the job from my news producer to film at Broadmoor. For those readers who don't know or have not heard the name, follow this link.

Secure Broadmoor... Welcoming.

Basically, Broadmoor is a Category 1 secure prison hospital for the criminally insane, to use layman's terms, and very few people like me, much less a member of the press, get to wander around inside the high walls... With the inmates, sorry... 'patients' still inside.

"Would you like to film inside..?" Asked my producer...

"Can I take a shotgun, knife and my favourite chain mail outfit..?" I replied. "Oh, and an industrial strength military tazer..?"

Sorry to be so glib, I understand there are many levels of mental illness and criminality within Broadmoor, but a lot of the patients within these walls are mostly free to go about their business as instructed and supervised by the staff, so there was a distinct possibility of either bumping into a gentleman thief with treatable mental health issues, or on the other hand, someone of 'unsavoury' provenance, with a well documented history of ripping innocent victims to pieces on the direct orders of Satan himself, using only a blunt butter knife and a piece of string. I wanted to be on my guard... In fact, I wanted a guard. A big one.

So it was that my reporter and I found ourselves and my TV kit being examined, x-rayed and searched before being photographed and fingerprinted by the watchful security team.

I wondered just how tight the security here is... I had visions of being quietly taken aside and internally examined by a grey haired old Doctor, only for him to be the recently escaped Mad Pete 'The Puppeteer' McGhinty, a man sentenced in 1978 to 10 life terms for wearing his victims as organic glove puppets during a gruesome one man rendition of a Punch and Judy show, in his bedsit in Wathamstow.

You see, I had researched who was in there and why they were there. There were going to be some seriously infamous, yet unstable men occupying the same space as me. There was also a lot of history within the old Victorian buildings, treatment rooms and small locked cells that were soon to be demolished.

Whilst filming the old buildings, which will be replaced with modern, up to date and more suitable hospital wards, I got to looking into the old cells and dark corridors. The staff panic buttons, heavy double door locks and a wall poster proclaiming that shaving razors are strictly issued and monitored at all times... A wise move I thought. I imagined the now infamous men of the past and present who may have sat on the very benches I was sitting on. It was seriously unsettling.

Growing up, I watched the news and read the papers about the serial killers, rapists and murderers of the 60's 70's and 80's, the delusional rippers and slashers and body mutilators of the 90's and the present day. It made my blood run cold that many of them occupied this very building I was now in... A fair few of whom are still here...

I thought about this fact. They could be just upstairs, or around the next corner in the courtyard, or waiting... waiting for their chance to... (Stop it, stop it now.)

The truth was that it was a fascinating and informative days filming, one of those days where you get to go where very few others do and learn a little into the bargain. I am grateful to the staff who were with us.

When the old buildings go, and with them the history and memories of those within them, both patients and staff, I will at least be able to tell others that I had been here, where the fine line between so called 'normal' and the many levels of 'madness' meet. The unseen world of the unstable mind...

On the other hand, just walk into any TV news room around the world... You will see what I mean.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.