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The making of Tournament 5: From Cheapside to Soho House

Updated Sunday 1st April 2007

Saul visits Cheapside, London, and then flies to New York as he works on a programme about medieval tournaments.

Monday 26 March

RV (rendezvous/meet) at St Mary Le Bow Church on Cheapside (the site of the famous Bow Bells) at 7.30 (so up at 5.45). We've come here because Cheapside was a popular site for tournaments in the 14th Century, by which time they'd transformed from the melee to simple jousts. After establishers, I'm filmed chatting to Dr Juliet Barker, the author of a book on the medieval tournament, on the church balcony.

Dom asks Juliet to stand very close to me during our chat (it looks better on camera, he insists) and poor Juliet tries not to look too awkward. She's also suffering from the cold, and once again I'm glad I've worn my thermals.

I'm wrapped at 10.30 a.m. and head back into town while Dom and the crew film a talking head interview with Juliet, extracts of which will appear throughout the programme.

We reconvene at 3 p.m. to film the missing pieces-to-camera (PTCs) on the Millennium Bridge. It's a little quieter than the day before, but busy nonetheless. I've filmed on the bridge once before, and the same old issues rear their ugly heads: interruptions by squeaky suitcase wheels, helicopters, boats and Bolshie teenagers shouting "Hello Mum" as you try, for the umpteenth time, to deliver your PTC.

We eventually get it done and head for our final location at the nearby College of Arms. I'm filmed chatting to the Richmond Herald, Patrick Dickinson, who explains how the tournament was largely responsible for the development of heraldry. He shows me some earlier 13th and 14th Century examples of heraldic arms, one of which, by coincidence, is that of the Count of Flanders, a noted tourneyer in William Marshal's day. We wrap at 6.30 and I head straight for Paddington to catch a train home. It's my birthday on the 27th and Dom, bless his heart, has given me the day off.

Friday 30 March

Dom and I fly to New York, arriving at four in the afternoon after a seven hour flight. We're staying at the painfully hip Hudson Hotel on West 58th Street and have dinner in Soho with Dom's sister and various friends (some of whom, apparently, are famous New York models). Jetlagged, and with an early start, we make our excuses and head back to the hotel. In bed by midnight (5 a.m. British time).

Saturday 31 March

After a leisurely breakfast, we RV with the American crew – Mark (camera) and Greg (sound) Molesworth at 9.15 – and drive to Medieval Times in New Jersey where they hold regular dinner jousts for paying guests (1,300 at a time).

The point of going there is to underline what we think of as a tournament today: gleaming knights, splintered lances and well-dressed ladies; the triumph of good over evil, the ritual displays of arms at a joust.

En route we pass the time chatting about military history (as you do), and Greg tells me he fought with Custer's mob in Vietnam (he was lieutenant with the 7th Cavalry and served during the Tet Offensive in '68). I'm interested but wary. Vietnam vets have issues, to say the least, and laugh in the face of political correctness. Greg's no different, and tells me the solution to the British hostage crisis in Iran is to go in hard!

Medieval Times sign [Image: Tom Simpson under CC-BY-NC-ND licence] Creative commons image Icon Tom Simpson under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license
Medieval Times sign

Suddenly we come across the turrets and battlements of a medieval castle in the middle of a New Jersey mall. We've arrived at Medieval Times, but it's far less hammy than we expect, and very professionally run.

Ricardo Salazar, the Marketing Manager, shows us round, and says he'll do his best to get his knights to cooperate with our filming requirements, but they're like a cross between 'film stars and sporting celebrities'. He's not wrong. We were told they would be available to film close-ups of the joust at 11 a.m., but they don't appear until 2 p.m., which hardly gives us any time as the first performance begins at four.

But Dom and the crew make the best of it and we film the afternoon performance with two cameras from the back of the auditorium.

At seven our extras arrive: Tiffany, who did work experience at the BBC the year before, and four of her friends from NYU. Dom wants them to sit on either side of me during the evening performance, so we won't have to disturb the real a punters. We're filmed being served 'medieval' food and drink (chicken, spare ribs and no cutlery) by a host of serving wenches. One asks me which channel we're working for. When I tell her the BBC she says she's never heard of it!

All goes well until I have to deliver my PTCs. The music's so loud I can hardly hear myself speak, and we do numerous takes. But Greg is happy, and assures us the sound will be okay.

We finally wrap (wrap up/finish) at 11 and, having had a drink or two with the 'stars' of the show, head back into New York. Unperturbed by the time – the locals assure us the city really does 'never sleep' – we head out for a drink or two (including one in Soho House, still as hip as ever) and return in the early hours.

Sunday 1 April

A day off, thank God, so I stay in bed until 10.30. Then a run in Central Park, some shopping at Bloomingdales, and a quiet dinner with Dom in Soho. Bed by 12.

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