BBC presenter Neil OliverNCI Worms Head and BBC Coast

NCI Worms Head and BBC Wales have an association that dates back to when we invited them to our opening day bash in June 2007 and this was followed later when Jamie Owen and Derek Brockway presented a BBC Wales News programme from the Worms Head Look Out. 

It was no real surprise therefore when BBC Wales contacted Alan Richards to tell him that they had started to film the fifth series of the popular Coast programme and wanted to do a feature on Worms Head itself, rather than the life in various Causeway rock pools that had featured in an earlier Coast series.  BBC Wales had originally thought of involving NCI Worms Head directly, but had now decided against this idea and instead asked Alan if he knew of an NCI member would be prepared to accompany the film crew and act as a guide and general safety man.  Alan replied that he did have such a man in Bill Bradley. Who, of course, jumped at the chance.  After various phone calls to and from Cardiff, plans were set in place.

Accordingly, at 0700 hours on the morning of 19 May 2009 Alan and Bill met the BBC Crew at the Worms Head Hotel in Rhossili where they had stayed overnight.  The film crew consisted of Neil Oliver the Presenter, Director Mark, Cameraman Rob, Sound man Mark and Researcher Emily.  The film crew plus Bill and Alan journeyed to the Look Out where Alan opened up and stayed to maintain an early watch and the rest of them unloaded a pile of filming equipment from the BBC van and stowed it in rucksacks for the expedition across the causeway. 

Shortly after they started across it started to rain which got heavier when they reached in inside end of the Inner Head.  The Causeway had opened at 0600 hours and it was now 0800 hours, so two of the five hours of open Causeway time had gone before they had even got to where they wanted to start filming.  They got around to the Low Neck between the Inner and Middle Head at 0830, i.e. low water, hoping to be able to take the low route across the rocks to Devils Bridge and avoid the Low Neck itself which is almost hands and knees stuff in the best of conditions.  This was not to be, however, because a combination of neap tides and days of south westerly winds piling the water up had made the expanse of flat rock joining the Inner and Outer Heads completely impassable.  There was nothing else for it but to cross the Low Neck.  In torrential rain on slippery rock, carrying heavy, fragile film gear, this was not fun.  There are three very difficult parts of the Low Neck, or Lava Field as it is sometimes known, over which Rob the Cameraman, Emily and Bill were forced to anchor their feet as best they could and pass the 20 kg camera from hand to hand whilst the first and second carriers had to scramble around to take over as fourth and fifth carriers to get the camera on to slightly less adventurous terrain. It was described in quite polite terms as daisy chaining or grown up pass-the-parcel.  At last the Devils Bridge was reached and reviving flasks of coffee helped stave off a serious morale failure.

The crew then started filming Neil standing on and walking across Devils Bridge in the pouring rain with his trademark long hair and haversack getting very wet indeed.  This was finished at about 0930 and the team needed to be making tacks back to the mainland if they did want to be rescued by the RNLI, or more likely in those conditions, by an RAF Sea King.  There was no alternative to re-crossing the dreaded Low Neck again because the flat rocks were still covered.  This was even more fun than the outward trip, but at least the team were more practiced.  When they reached the outer part of the Inner Head there was another bout of filming whilst Neil did “a piece to camera” with a backdrop of the Middle and Outer Heads. Worms Head bluebells were also filmed in close up.  Each shot had to be repeated about four or five times until both the cameraman and the director were completely satisfied.  Bill's comment that they were merely making outtakes for Denis Norden went down like the proverbial lead balloon.  Though to be fair, Neil did not utter a single blooper all morning and was endlessly patient.  By now the weather had relented and the rain had finally stopped, giving way to pleasant sunshine with the odd cloudy bit.

Time was moving on, it was now 1010 and the nominal Causeway closing time of 1100 approaching fast.  The team then made rapid progress to the inner end of the Inner Head where the director wanted to do shots of the famous Worms Head long grass.  After Bill had consulted his colleagues in the Look Out about the state of the Causeway, this went ahead, after which they beat a very hasty retreat across the rapidly closing Causeway.  Once back on the mainland the crew settled down to do a long “piece to camera” using the Causeway and the Head itself as a background. The scene involved Neil Oliver reading a long passage from a Dylan Thomas book, which referred to Worms Head.  Neil confessed that this was the longest “piece to camera” that he had ever done and Bill had to report that Neil's strong Scottish accent did little to detract from the beauty of Thomas' words.

The crew then flogged back up the cliff to the look out from where they did more shots using the full length of the Worm as a background followed by the final session near the old Coastguard rocket launch site near the Hotel.  After reviving coffee and biscuits at the Hotel the film crew exited stage left, rather later than planned, to Pembrey where they were going to film a sequence about the Luftwaffe pilot who accidentally landed a Focke Wolf 190 on the old RAF airfield in World War II.

The BBC Coast programmes are first shown during the summer.  The series to be shown in the summer of 2009 is series four, but the programme about the Worm is the second one in series five and will be shown in the summer of 2010.

(Footnote from Alan Richards)

When, in 2010, you see the programme about Rhossili and the Worm you might care to remember that the producer said to me at the finish that “they could not possibly have completed all that they wanted to do without the help of Bill

Sherpa Bradley of NCI Worms Head to the rescue!