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Harry's Television Debut

by Sheenah Large, London, England UK


Reading Helen's experiences of working with the BBC brought back memories of the day when a cat called Harry and I were filmed for television.

The opportunity arose as a result of Cats Protection, a UK-based rescue organisation, securing the "Appeal for a Home" slot in a weekly programme called "Pet Rescue". I was fostering Harry at the time.

Harry was a neutered ginger tom who had lived for almost seven years in a quiet cul-de-sac with a middle aged couple whose lives he ruled. When he came into care, he weighed a massive 11 kgs. Harry's family gave him up because they could no longer afford to feed him everyday what he liked: large quantities of fresh prawns, smoked salmon and the most expensive cat food. They had also grown tired of being bitten by him when they did not do what he wanted.

Harry was the ideal subject for a television appeal; he was photogenic, was not shy of strangers, had an interesting background and all other efforts to find him a home had failed.

Getting ready for the afternoon's filming was easy. All I had to do was prepare notes about Harry for the production team, find photographs of him before he had been put on a diet, choose a suitable outfit, ensure that the house and garden were looking their very best and forewarn the neighbours so that none of them would interrupt filming by mowing their lawns.

The film crew consisted of a director (Lesley), a cameraman (Will) and a soundman (Robin). They duly arrived at 2.30 pm on a gloriously hot, virtually windless, day. While Will and Robin prepared themselves, Lesley took detailed notes about Harry, discussed with me the plans for the afternoon and asked me to sign film and photograph release forms. With these formalities completed, it was time to get Harry and start the filming. Now, it began to get difficult for all of us.

At first, Harry showed great interest in the crew but he quickly tired of their attention once he realised that they had no food for him. Fortunately, I had anticipated this and had a box of cat biscuits to hand. Having bribed Harry to stay, we managed to film the opening sequence which showed him sitting on my lap while I explained who he was. Following this, we needed some action shots.

Lesley had hoped to show Harry playing but after numerous unsuccessful attempts at getting the shots required, I ran out of biscuits and Harry started to get annoyed. It was then agreed that Harry should decide what he wanted to do. We hoped that he might do something worth filming. Will patiently followed him around the garden with his camera and got some superb footage of Harry strolling across the lawn and resting in the shrubbery.

Filming was interrupted on several occasions; once, while I went to ask a neighbour to stop hoovering the inside of her car and once while an aircraft passed overhead. Also, when Harry showed signs of irritation, he had to be allowed a short rest. As the afternoon wore on, he required more frequent rests.

While Harry calmed down "off-camera", we filmed continuity and cut-away shots and a "wild track". This is a soundtrack that is produced if, during filming, the background noise level changes. Filming does not take place while it is being made. The "wild track" is used when the film is being edited to make it appear as though the noise level remained constant during filming.

The shoot was completed once Harry had been filmed entering our house and being fed in the kitchen. Harry thoroughly enjoyed this final sequence and would have been happy to do retakes. Unfortunately for him, none were necessary.

Lesley, Will and Robin spent almost three hours at our house during which time they produced approximately two hours of film. This was cut and edited to produce the three-minute-long feature that appeared on "Pet Rescue".

Harry and I recall the afternoon's filming entirely differently. I found it stimulating and entertaining. Harry was bored.

When the programme was shown ten days later, seventy-five people from across the country responded to our appeal. Seven of them lived within our area and one appeared ideally suitable. When I visited the home, I could not have been more pleased and when the family came to see Harry, they declared he was exactly what they wanted and took him home.


Editor's note:

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