John Myall reports on our visit to the tunnel opening.
After a very late, but welcome contact from the Press Office of the Highways Authority, Terry Patrick alerted Steve, Jed and I and we valiantly took time off our otherwise hectic activities (well, Jed, anyway) to load up the Circle 8 location shooting kit and present ourselves at Hindhead for the Tunnel Opening Ceremony on 27 July. It came as a surprise to be invited at all and we’re sure it was the legacy of Mike Orford’s valiant efforts to get us a preview of the tunnel under construction last September. We were obviously still on their list. Unfortunately Mike wasn’t around for this noteworthy event but we thank him for preparing the way.
Steve and I travelled down together, leaving early to ensure we arrived as requested at 8:45 sharp. For some reason the traffic was light and we got there about an hour early and we weren’t the first. We assembled in a hastily arranged Press Office at the tunnel works compound at the north end, where we met Jed and the press people for all the local and national media.
Most of the press were looking for interviews with the VIPs involved, including two Secretarys of State, Local MPs and the Mayor of Waverley, plus the CEO of Balfour Beatty, the main contractor. What we wanted was just pictures of the action to add to the section of Tales of the Portsmouth Road that will feature the Tunnel.
We were given a press briefing and I gave Jed a quick run through of the controls on Terry’s HD camera, which Jed was to use for the first time. I had armed myself with sound equipment and my little still/video camera and Steve had his reporter’s grade DSLR camera to take the main stills. We were taken by coach along the old Punchbowl curve of the A3 for the very last time, as this piece of road would be closed forever whilst we were at the ceremony – and on through the Hindhead traffic lights. We continued down the old A3 and turned onto the new road at Hazel Grove, going north to the southern portal of the tunnel by Miss James’ Bridge, where the opening ceremony was to take place. Here we were all let loose on the carriageways to take our preliminary pictures.
The VIP’s started out from the northern end of the tunnel and were driven through the tunnel itself, before processing out of the southern end at Hazel Grove, where we were waiting for a press-exclusive presentation. Meanwhile a tidy crowd of locals were watching us from Miss James’ Bridge, perhaps wishing they were closer to the action they had been observing for the last four years, as the road and tunnels were constructed.
There were several speeches, thankfully not too long, which I won’t bore you with but I do have transcripts if you are interested. The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond MP, rounded it off and then proceeded with his entourage to the southbound tunnel portal, where a ribbon had been run across the road for the ceremonial cutting.
I was able to get pole position (well, nearly) for this with my little camera, whilst Jed was at the side getting the shots from a different angle. He got some lovely candid material of the MP asking if anyone had brought any scissors, which were eventually produced. With this shot and the actual ribbon cutting, we have the iconic images that might well end up in the finished film.
The contractors then removed some of the barriers they had used for the ceremony, away from the southbound carriageway, to clear the road for the oncoming traffic. The staff at this end then radioed the north end to let the police clear the cones and escort the first vehicles through. The previous silence in the valley at Tyndall’s Wood came to an end, as a roar was heard in the tunnel getting louder until the two police cars drove out, followed closely by a Vespa scooter*, motorbikes and cars, all hooting, waving and generally taking in the euphoric moment, while the locals on Miss James Bridge gladly waved them on their way, marking an end to any more congestion at Hindhead.
After a few more traffic shots, we all packed up our gear and boarded the coach, as some of the press people had deadlines to meet and had to get away. We then had an exclusive drive through the – as yet – unopened northbound tunnel back to the site compound.
Now back to work, or at least to spend time collating and compiling all this new material for possible future use.
* on a tunnel web log, ‘Scooter Paul’ had vowed to be the first through and he achieved that, so he announced soon afterwards.