Half a dozen old passports packed with visa and entry stamps from all over the world bear testament to Barry Jones’ jet set lifestyle. But Barry has not just trotted the globe as a tourist. Virtually every one of his trips has been a special mission, whether it has been to the United States, Africa the old Soviet Union, Europe or elsewhere.
Barry, 76, has been a film cameraman for more than 50 years, not only covering worldwide events for film and television companies, but taking on special assignments – even propaganda film making for the former Uganda President and tyrant Idi Amin.
While filming in far flung places, he was also asked to keep an eye out for ‘anything unusual’ and pass it on to contacts who had befriended him – real cloak and dagger stuff, but obviously details that cannot be fully revealed.
From the tranquillity of the home he lives in at Cowes, Barry reflected on a life that has seen him work for the BBC, ITV, ITN, and leading new agencies, covering major events, and filming excerpts from a variety of popular TV programmes, including Coronation Street, The Bill and The Onedin Line, as well as countless adverts.
Born in Bournemouth, he has always lived on the south coast, moving to the Island some 20 years ago. He recalls: “I started off as a projectionist in 1950 and then joined the Army, and was in the Royal Artillery making training films on guns and other equipment in Scotland.” After leaving the Army he re-entered the cinema as a trainee manager at the Plaza in Southampton. The cinema closed in 1957, and when the building re-opened a year later as the new Southern Television studios he was employed as a cameraman.
Barry worked on many southern-based documentary programmes, and as his reputation grew so his workload increased. He recalls how he captured The Beatles on film several times early in their careers. He said: “I filmed them first in Bournemouth. While I was filming them the camera motor stopped, so I had to hand wind it – with plenty of sarcastic comments from them.
“I also filmed them on Salisbury Plain, and in London, and they were nice lads. Once I persuaded them to sign the autobiography of their manager Brian Epstein. He signed it as well, but I lent it to someone – and never saw it again.”
He also spent a week in France filming Petula Clarke, and he remembers that all he and the crew got for their efforts was a can of Coca Cola each on the final day.
The TV adverts on Barry’s work schedule included one for a chocolate bar called Buttersnap, featuring Peter Sallis, one of the former stars of Last of the Summer Wine. Barry smiled: “They came down with loads of this Buttersnap in a lorry, and didn’t want it back after we finished filming, so for the next few months we were giving everyone boxes of the stuff.”
But undoubtedly the most infamous character he ever filmed was Idi Amin, the military leader and President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, and a man reckoned to have been responsible for killing up to 500,000 people before his own death in 1993.
Barry said: “Whenever Amin got married, which was every few weeks, he wanted it filmed, and I was commissioned by their Ministry of Information, but in fact I was working for Amin. I was there filming all the time – when he opened night clubs or did anything else.
“I never saw anyone killed, although obviously it did happen. I lived in hotels in Uganda, and stayed there about eight months. Later I was sent back to film him a couple more times but he was getting fed up with me, so he put me under house arrest. I was put in a hotel, and couldn’t leave until he said so.
“Generally he was all right with me, but of course he expelled thousands of Asians from Uganda during his time in charge. I never really feared for my life – I was just getting on with my job, and didn’t really think about things like that.”
While employed by a news agency, Barry worked in many other African countries, and recalls how one journalist he worked with often disappeared into a Government building in South Africa, explaining he was ‘just looking out for things and reporting back’. He admitted: “I suppose if he had been caught neither of us would have made it out.”
After returning to England Barry worked for Granada TV on news, current affairs, Jewel in the Crown, Tomorrow’s World and inevitably Coronation Street. He smiled: “While I worked there I lived in the car park in a motor home.”
Barry also filmed in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, but he feels his scariest moment was filming in a cargo plane that landed on US aircraft carrier Nimitz. “That was quite frightening, coming into land on a ship and being stopped by ‘an elastic band’ stretched across the deck,” he said. “But I still have the certificate that proved I did it.”
He also lived and worked in Russia during the Cold War of the early 1960s. “Strangely they were trying to promote the country, but had a poor process of filming in colour. So they got the company I worked for to film in Eastman Colour all over the USSR.”
Having travelled the world covering many horrific and memorable events, including plane crashes, murder inquiries and riots, Barry still does work on the Island for Meridian TV and with Vectis Television colleague Alan Philpott, and says Cowes Week is now one of his biggest assignments.
But 10 years ago filming the famous regatta nearly ended in disaster. While covering the sailing he collapsed and fell headfirst over the rocks and suffered head injuries that required hospital treatment and 38 stitches. Undeterred, he discharged himself to continue his assignment – and for once found himself in front of the camera, on the local news.
“I still enjoy what I am doing. It is in my veins, and I don’t know anything else,” he concluded.