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Thursday, 27th January 2011

Former BBC Newcastle staff cameraman Keith Partridge has well and truly flown the nest.

(By Roger Burgess)

Keith always liked wildlife work, and left the BBC staff early in 1990 to combine his love of mountaineering with his love of camerawork, teaming up with producer Richard Else on a number of climbing programmes for BBC Scotland.

Now Keith has achieved Hollywood heights as Climbing Cameraman on TOUCHING THE VOID, a British film made by Darlow Smithson Productions. It won 'Best British Film' at the London Film Awards and Outstanding British Film at BAFTA.

Keith attended the screening of the movie at the Tyneside Cinema in April to speak entertainingly from the stage about his climbing exploits with a camera.

It’s all about safety really. For shots where the camera appears to be shooting vertically down a cliff face from mid-air, Keith is really strapped into ‘Bigfoot’ W a huge triangular aluminium frame like a hang-glider, safe as houses.

BBC North East and Cumbria’s Chris Jackson chaired the Question and Answer session from the cinema audience after the film had been screened.

Full of admiration for the skills involved in this true and gripping story, your reviewer remains cynical about men who risk their lives against mountains, selfish and self-indulgent surely, when their feats can never be shared with others.

Touching The Void

But TOUCHING THE VOID is undoubtedly a magnificent movie. It re-creates climber Joe Simpson's successful conquest of the remote west face of the remote Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985, only to confront a terrifying series of disasters on the descent. Battling with pain and despair to escape death as he breaks his leg on the descent, Joe then falls into a crevasse as his climbing partner above, Simon Yates, cuts the rope...

TOUCHING THE VOID mixes recently shot to-camera interviews with Simpson, Yates and Richard Hawking (who remained in a base camp) with dramatic reconstructions. The film, said Keith, was shot entirely on location in Peru, Switzerland, Italy and France W even the dramatic scenes where Joe falls into a deep crevasse the size of the dome of St Paul's: the local guides simply found a few likely crevasses for the director, Kevin Macdonald, DoP Mike Eley, Keith and actors to be dropped into with the cameras to begin shooting. The lighting was done by digging holes in the crevasse roof to allow daylight in.

Instead of using as narration passages from the book which Simpson and Yates published, the film draws on fresh interview material with them both to provide a running commentary and some sense of Simpson's and Yates' states of mind. Simpson must have told this story thousands of times, but the matter-of-fact description of events as he shatters his leg on the mountain and Yates attempts to lower him is even more powerful for its British under-statement. But when he reveals that he has broken his leg, both men know this is likely to be a death sentence. The question is whether it need be for both of them.


Keith, with his feet firmly on the ground, pointed out that he still loves shooting the more usual kind of documentary and feature film-making, and generously quoted TRAILERS editor Roger Burgess who (as a BBC staff produce), "gave me my first stab at shooting at the BBC in Newcastle back in the 1980's. I certainly still look back on NORTH COUNTRY, TOWNSCAPE and LIVING IN THE BORDER HILLS as great experiences. Also great to see Tom Kilgour [presenter of BBC NORTH COUNTRY] at the show."

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