HELLO, THIS IS THE BBC. Were making a programme called Oceans and well be diving all over the world. Would you like to be involved
Every divers dream I think so.
I have spent the past year with a BBC International Access All Areas golden ticket, offering me entry to the best, strangest and most remote dives sites
I have been lucky enough to experience.
Oceans set out to envelop the viewer into the underwater world, encompassing marine exploration, biology, archaeology and conservation, all delivered through people who have dedicated their lives to understanding our seas.
Paul Rose, a natural-born explorer, led the expeditions. He was accompanied by myself, dealing with the biological elements; Dr Lucy Blue, a maritime archaeologist; and Philippe Cousteau, a conservationist whose lineage requires no explanation.
Along with a film crew consisting of the top underwater camera and soundmen, BBC production staff and dive safety team, we set off in June 2007 in an attempt to provide the best coverage of the worlds oceans possible.
We travelled to 10 different countries and dived in three seas (Mediterranean,
Red and Cortez) and four oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic), covering a wealth of environments, depths, conditions, egos and calibre of boat crew.
Whereas the results of our endeavours are there for all to see on the small screen, the cogs of the televisual machine are hidden in the slick, edited versions transmitted. So this is a taste of what it takes to produce a diving programme.
We all know that getting a dive team of more than two people into the water requires time and effort. Someone forgets a fin, breaks a mask-strap or an O-ring blows.
Now envisage, if you can, attempting to get two presenters, at least one high-definition camera, underwater communications and the thing you are actually there to film in the same place, at the same time, with a time limit of about half an hour in which to come up with a piece of movie magic, and the giant hurdles of film-making become
a little clearer.
THE MOST NOTICEABLE piece of equipment used in the whole series was the full-face blue mask the presenters wore under water. These Japanese masks, imaginatively named as they were made in Japan, were chosen because they made it possible to see the whole of the presenters face under water (questionable logic when you consider our ugly mugs).
They enabled the camera to record every nuance of facial expression that the experiences provided. Practically, they required four divers with a combined total of more than 80 years of diving to tweak their standard diving modus operandi.
Because of the high volume of the mask, the wearer was in danger of CO2 build-up, leading to fugginess and a stinking headache, with the effect worsening every metre down. To overcome the issue required constant purging via a flushing valve on the side of the mask.
Opening the valve instantaneously transported the mask-wearer into a chilled wind-tunnel, accompanied by icicles when diving in sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Ocean, and a divine oxygen hit like a caffeine injection to the heart.
The command Flush! was issued from the safety crew if they noticed any of us getting a little carried away with the diving action; not difficult when youre viewing a fever of manta rays passing majestically overhead in Mozambique, or hunting in winding kelp fronds for the highly camouflaged weedy seadragon in Tasmania.
The constant purging of the masks meant that even the most air-frugal diver on the planet sucked a tank of air dry in half an hour. And youd be surprised at what hard work talking under water is; following a particularly verbose dive, your lungs feel as if theyve been for a hard session at the gym.
Its not a competition, but having spent years priding myself on being one of the last ones up from a dive, to be the first was an assault to the ego. But its a small price to pay, and I came up grinning from ear to ear after every dive!
Talking under water also took some getting used to. Ive used Aga masks often before, but the communication required was short and sharp.
Oceans required the delivery of scientific knowledge and, not being known for my ability to self-edit my stream of consciousness, it required quite a few takes to get my thoughts into palatable broadcastable form.
From my experiences as a diving instructor, Ive noticed that peoples thought processes, mine included, slow under water. During Oceans, the ability to think, and therefore string a sentence together, evaded me completely under water (and frequently on dry land as well), which is not ideal when trying to explain the complex interactions of a sub-ice Arctic community of small crustaceans in -1C water.
IM AFRAID I STILL HAVENT worked out the differences between all the different types of producers. At the last count, there were five kinds on any one episode, always busy, always incredibly efficient, and always multi-tasking with phone in one hand, notepad in the other while simultaneously cajoling unwilling boat staff into actually being helpful; herding presenters into the right place at the right time; and sorting out food for the constantly consuming masses.
The film crew were an international patchwork of various award-winning cameramen, whose credits included The Blue Planet, Springwatch, the US drama Lost and any other water-related series you can recall.
Underwater sequences are filmed using the same cameras as are used for filming above water, protected in a giant watertight housing with a myriad of technical-looking buttons.
The things weigh a ton, and the year was interspersed with attempting to manhandle these beasts from one small, unstable boat to another, not dropping them overboard and losing thousands of pounds worth of equipment, or damaging your back, an equally valuable commodity.
The cry of Activate core stability! accompanied every lift of the rig, as well as a lot of unnecessary flexing of muscles from male camera assistants should any females happen to be in the vicinity.
Recording sound under water proved one of the more complicated aspects of the shoot. Mikes inside the presenter masks were wired to recorders in waterproof containers worn tucked into any available space on your BC.
Waterproof appears to be as much of an aim as a definition, and various dives needed repeating due to flooded equipment. On a tight schedule, this ups the heart rate of the producers no end but, unfortunately, until someone can design something akin to skin to protect delicate electronics, this issue has to be factored into a schedule.
The unsung heroes were the dive safety crew. Terrible to admit, I know, but, just occasionally, you got so involved in the action unfolding in front of you that a gentle nudge from the safety diver to remind you of an air check was required. At other times, just the knowledge that someone was watching your back was enough.
I remember my first open-water dive, as an 18-year-old off a beach in Thailand, and how much I adored the sensation of being under water.
If youd have told me then that 14 years later I would have the same feelings beneath ice in the Arctic chill, in stormy waters off Tasmania, scraping through a dark cave entrance somewhere under Majorca and playing with sea-lions in the Sea of Cortez, I would have laughed.
Oceans to me represents everything thats great about diving, the opportunity to peacefully invade a realm where Im not meant to be, and observe without intruding some of natures most spectacular wonders. You never know where diving may take you.
After enjoying Oceans on BBC2 at 8 on Wednesday nights through to the end of the year, we can look forward to another blockbuster nature series with a strong undersea element starting in mid-2009.
Its about the ocean that contains 25,000 islands and half the worlds water - from January, DIVER brings you Ellen Husains monthly diary, following the making of Pacific