Blog: Behind the scenes at the Ri Christmas Lectures

My name is Malc Dugdale and I’m a senior technician in the Department of Architecture at the University of Nottingham. I've been at the university for 8 years.

In 2019, I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. This was a very exciting opportunity for me as I watched the lectures growing up and they have become as synonymous with Christmas as the turkey dinner.

Emma (the other placement Technician) and I were welcomed enthusiastically by everyone at the Ri. The Demo team were extremely appreciative not just for the extra pairs of hands but for the knowledge, experience and skill we brought with us as technicians. It very quickly felt like I was part of the team and not just a helper.

The first few days involved a combination of building props and testing out the practical demos.

“Making sure you don’t drop a heavy bag of gunge on the presenter’s head from six meters up is pretty crucial, it turns out!”

After this my days were split between acting as a runner for the demos during the rehearsals and filming – and more building. Most of what we were building was designed to entertain and inspire as much as it was to educate. This made it really good fun to build and no matter how hard we were working it never felt like a hard day’s work. This was probably helped by the fact that it was a short-term arrangement so I have immense respect for the full-time Ri team.

Being a runner for the programme is a strange experience. You have to 1. Be constantly aware of what’s happening on the camera floor 2. Be perpetually ready for the next item needed 3. Know where you need to be 4.  Persistently look ahead to upcoming items. This is interspersed with a lot of waiting, which makes it very easy to mentally drift away and potentially miss your cues (something I avoided during filming, but managed a couple of times in rehearsal!)

It was fascinating to see the TV industry from an insider’s perspective. The level of professionalism from everyone involved was fantastic – from the presenters and directors, all the way down to the guys and girls that spent their days coiling and uncoiling the cables behind the camera operators.

All in all, I would highly recommend not just a placement at the Ri but placements in general as a means of learning new skills and to change your perspective on your existing roll. I am especially grateful to the Technician Commitment and the Gatsby Foundation for making it possible, to University of Nottingham for allowing me to go and especially to Dom and Fran at the Ri for the opportunity.

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