Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Respect to Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont

I never knew Ghislaine Dupont but from the tributes flowing from all quarters, she was a top reporter.

However I did know Claude. To use Jamie Redknapp's vernacular, he was a top, top, top sound technician.

It seems apt to employ an ex-footballer's flourish as Claude helped me out during my first foreign assignment for RFI in Germany during the 2006 world cup.

He explained the joys of obtaining sound bites from all extremities of the country by sliding them from one central pod to my personal cache on my computer.

It worked a treat. But then so did many other things that he turned his hand to. There have been far more heroic stories of Claude's ingenuity, like how he set up satellite links on the top of a house in Pakistan or how he built a studio out of bits and bobs brought in by a mate from across a distant African border.

His experience and exploits went before him and informed the young generation to give of their best. Debutant sound technicians at the Africa Cup of Nations toiled tirelessly because they knew what legendary standards they had to rival.

Claude was a whirl of a man with dreamy, faraway eyes that belied an intense professionalism. I was never with him in the combat zones, we only trod the milder pastures of insulated press centres where the communications are more or less assured.

But even in such sanitized conditions, he found adventure. Barely arrived in Beijing in 2008 to cover the Olympics for the English service, I was still acquainting myself with the ice station zebra that doubled as the International Broadcast Centre. I was about to head out from the RFI press room to go and get some coffee. As there were only a few people around I asked if anyone else fancied a cup.

Claude piped up but said he had a tip to show me. I followed thinking he knew a short cut. Instead I was swept along into a labyrinth. The cafe certainly didn't seem to be getting any nearer and when I asked about the detour. The response? 'The Italians.'

We arrived at the Latin quarter and - to inhabit a cliche - it was buzzing. Actually it was brewing.

The coffee machines had arrived from back home and the mirth was tangible. Claude in his travels across the continents had learned that there was one thing Italian journalists would not forswear in their pursuit of a tale.

And a foreigner who could commune with this was treated like a local. We took our espressos and I took note.

We didn't take a coffee together in London during the last Olympics as he didn't cover them and though it seems somewhat counterintuitive should I get the Olympic assignment in Brazil - I will seek out the Italians in the Rio press centre to salute such a generous colleague.

A few days into the blog I was writing for RFI from Beijing, the website editor said a picture was needed, Claude offered to take the snap. He came and found me on the terrace of the press centre cafe having a cup of tea.

I struck a pose or two or three and by the time I returned to the RFI office, a dozen or so suggestions were awaiting my approval on the computer.

There was doubtless an array of self-preening quips to parry a flurry of jibes but we both knew I looked good in all of them. It was the photographer. Claude chose the picture. It was the one of me with the faraway eyes. It's been on my Facebook page ever since. I guess only old age will see it removed.