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17th June 2013

‚ÄčI love Newcastle and especially staying near the station. For so much of the Hairy Bikers, the North Eastern home was the County Thistle, which has the best possibilities for top shots showing the city and skyline much as it  was in Victorian times, and the most obliging House Engineer to get you up amongst the chimney pots.

ironically, no view of the station
ironically, no view of the station

Last night came up with Producer Helen Shearer for BBC Dental School pilot and now we're in the other railway hotel, the Royal Station. What this one now has is a newly created old plush dining room with vast red velvet seats from which to observe, while getting outside a Full English, a horrendous traffic disaster visible above the cold collation, the result of the council's decision to close the station entrance to taxis. I note that the UK's best and most peculiar piece of street furniture, a model of the city rendered in brass which for at least two decades I have, on passing, given a rub for luck, is now lost behind a barrier. Shocking.

Newcastle has a bad rep on the town planning front. This is an improvement
Newcastle has a bad rep on the town planning front. This is an improvement

Helen is the sort of tough Producer a job like this requires - gritty, funny, professional and when the fan is about to get splattered, able to keep a traffic warden talking or punch a pap who's pestering the Turn. She's got a lot of what Gina Rowlands had in Gloria.

It's a short and very sunny cab ride out to the Dental School, our home for the next week. We've got five days to capture the sort of scenes that will convince the BBC that the niceties of cavity and root canal are going to put a few million bums on sofas. Within minutes it's clear that the nation is going to be open-mouthed.

none of them do that comedy chattering thing
none of them do that comedy chattering thing

Trainee dentists have to learn somewhere. A good place to acquire the rudiments is the mouths of people in extreme distress. Dental A&E has less blood and I think more pain than the ordinary variety. The first shooting is in reception,  on the long end of the lens, shots of patients clutching their heads, rolling about on the floor and generally filling the Sennheisers with effects similar to those that so inspired Florence Nightingale at Scutari.

I believe one sign of good access in an observational shoot is the speed with which people are taking their clothes off. In this case however, it's me, into chic green scrubs and some white clogs pre-owned by Abba.

D&G AW2014 not
D&G AW2014 not

First subject is Douglas, a sweet, quiet, posh boy who the Sergeant-Major nurses clearly love but fear for. Will Eton have prepared him for the Newcastle's broad socio-economic spectrum and lamentable oral hygiene? His first patient is a young woman with raging toothache who has to come to the dental phobia clinic because of her (quite rational, I think) fear of needles, despite evidently having tried to get over it by frequent visits to the tattooist.

Her boyfriend is a gift, explaining, on camera, that dentists are better than doctors, because they can't tell you you're dying. Douglas approaches his victim, all a-tremble, and tells her it won't hurt at all, while I get the most fabulous cutaway of a truncheon-sized steel syringe straight out of Tom and Jerry behind his back.

It is at this time that the patient stops Douglas in his tracks by revealing that she keeps her teeth white by scrubbing them with toilet bleach.

More outrages occur across the day, but the best sequence of all is top consultant Jimmy Steele performing a very fiddly root canal procedure on a fellow clinician. Her subject tooth sticking up like a tombstone in a field of surgical green, clamped in place by a mighty head brace, the unseen victim giggles, high as kite, as Jimmy wiggled poisoned brushes deep into her skull.

Tomorrow it's phobic children too scared to visit a dentist, having fillings under gas. Great.