Only a TUBE crew! A guest post by Michael Metcalf


Working on the TUBE was not always about filming in glamorous locations and meeting world famous rock stars!

Because the show wanted to bring all kinds of music and culture to the UK  audience one of our more memorable trips was the opportunity to go and film in East Berlin!

We flew from Heathrow to West Berlin, this was before the days of strict airport security and so I was delighted to be asked up to the flight deck for the approach into West Berlin.

It is hard to remember now that West Berlin was surrounded by East Germany which was at that time a Communist country and that West and East Berlin were divided by the Berlin Wall, thereby separating families who happened to be on either side of the wall.

Sitting up in the cockpit of the aeroplane as we were arriving in West Berlin, the pilot pointed out the lack of lights below us and said to watch for the change.  Suddenly the ground seemed to light up below us and he explained that we were now flying over West Berlin and would be landing shortly.

Obviously being the TUBE we were not going to let the chance of filming in both West and East Berlin to pass us by.

On the agreed day, myself as Production Assistant, Producer and Director had to travel via Check Point Charlie (the entry point for cars and pedestrians going into East Berlin).

Having seen reconstructions of Checkpoint Charlie in movies, did not really prepare us for the experience.  You had to enter from West Berlin and walk through a series of wooden huts to have you paper work checked and passports stamped.  There was an uneasy atmosphere as you were doing this as East German/Russian guards with rifles were watching your every move.

We had gone in as pedestrians but were told that if we had been driving, we must not get out of the vehicles under any circumstances.

At this time, people were still being shot for trying to escape from East Berlin and cross the Wall.

Eventually we were through and met by our official East Berlin representative who would take us to a meeting to finalise the filming.

This meeting took place in a large building and we were put into a large room with one round table and chairs whist we thrashed out what it was we wanted to do.

We quickly realised that we would be strictly governed and watched as to where we went and what we filmed.

Eventually after agreeing things, we made our way back to Check Point Charlie to return to West Berlin and meet the crew.

Finally the day of our move to East Berlin was here and we set off to Check Point Charlie once again.  I reminded the crew about not getting out of the vehicle under any circumstances as we pedestrians started our journey.

You would think a simple reminder would have been enough but as we existed one of the wooden huts to walk to the next, we came out to find ‘the crew’ out of the vehicle and surrounded by soldiers with rifles poised.  Apparently the crew need to go to the loo was more pressing than staying in the truck!

Eventually we all arrived safely through into East Berlin.

We were met by our official guide who escorted us to our hotel.  Checking in we all obviously had seen too many James Bond movies, so it was not until we met up later that we found out that we had all gone and checked our rooms for microphones and cameras!

It is interesting to state at this point that the hotel was one of the most luxurious hotels we had stayed in during the time on the TUBE but then realised it was especially for Western visitors and had a gift shop on the bottom floor with everything you could imagine for sale.

When we eventually met one of the bands we were going to film, it became apparent that their lives were so different from our own.  Chatting to them (they spoke much better English than we did German) they asked us what Champagne was and could we explain what a banana was, as they had never seen them?  We did film one band that was not recognised by the state and found that although they were allowed to perform, the state would not give them guitar strings (which we had to give them).

Although we would normally find the locations to film in, we were made to film in a Sports Centre that at that time would have put most sports centres in this country to shame.  It was such high specification and obviously something the authorities were very proud of, hence, their wish that we film there.

Our official guide/helper turned out to be a really nice guy although I have to say a little jumpy (he realised that he was being watched all the time by the authorities).  I did ask him if there was anything we could get for him as a way of saying thank you.  I asked if it was possible he would like some BEATLES albums.  The shop in the hotel had a huge selection of albums available, so I purchased a few albums for him.  He got very spooked when I tried to hand them to him in the street and asked if I could just leave them in the car when we got out.

Eventually our time in East Germany came to an end and we had to travel back once again through Check Point Charlie.

This time, I impressed upon the crew to go to the loo before the journey and not to get out of the vehicle.

Setting off again, we snaked our way through the wooden huts getting various stamps on our documents (the return journey was no less frightening).

Could you believe it, we came out of yet another hut and once again the crew were out of the vehicle.

This time, the hired vehicle had a flat tire.  Being hired, there was no jack in the car.  The Guards decided to then stop all the cars following until they found a jack that could be used and proceeded to change the tire for the TUBE Crew on the vehicle!  Amazing!

Michael worked in television for over 30 years as a Director and Producer and was involved with The TUBE from the very beginning as a Production Assistant during filming and then subsequently directing part of series 4.

He is now retired from television and heavily involved in charity work. As well as being on the committee for the Make A Wish Foundation, he is an Ambassador and mentor for Northumbria Coalition Against Crime, Chairman of Newcastle East Sea Cadets and Junior Vice President of Ponteland Rotary.

Michael became involved with Discovery Museum when he joined three ex colleagues from Tyne Tees Television who also worked on the TUBE when they visited the museum to see the TUBE neon logo that was in storage. From that visit, the idea of the TUBE exhibition came into being.

An exhibition of items relating to the Tube, including the neon Tube sign, is on show at Discovery Museum until 30 June. More details. 

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