Series producer Will Henshaw tells how he abandoned fashion and learned not to drown.

Police Interceptors: Special Edition

Raw Cut TV
Series producer: Will Henshaw
The challenge: To train in the techniques needed to survive while filming the marine unit at sea in rough conditions, and to film the training at the same time

Filming with Essex Police's marine intercept unit for Police Interceptors: Special Edition brought a number of challenges. The first thing marine unit sergeant Andy Ford said was: “You don't really want to film with us in the winter.” Heedlessly, we said we did. It turned out we had a lot to learn before we could even step on board a boat and start shooting.

The crew, along with presenter Natalie Pinkham, had to undergo a three-day training course. Much of this focused on how to stay alive by keeping warm and dry in the extreme cold and how to react should you or someone else fall in. It was encouraging that the marine unit wanted us to survive.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, we filmed as we trained. First, we threw our media fashion sense to the wind to learn how to dress for action. We stepped into the same kit as the marine unit officers: Weezle fleece suit (engineered for Antarctic and deep-sea diving environments), dry suit, life preserver, helmet, goggles, boots and dry suit gloves.

Next was a classroom session with Andy Ford and a specialist doctor on the physical effects of cold-water immersion and how to prevent yourself drowning.

We were shown various handy techniques, including how to position your legs before you hit the water in order to avoid serious groin injury. Then, at Chelmsford swimming pool, we practised jumping from the 5m diving board while wearing a self-inflating life preserver, putting the survival techniques into practice.

Days two and three were open water familiarisation in the North Sea by day and night, involving high-speed manoeuvres between boats without falling in and yet continuing to film, followed by a 100m swim from boat to boat in full safety equipment.

To film it all, we used waterproof bulletcams rigged to the stern frame on the police launches, as well as Digibeta and Z1 cameras in splashbags. The Z1s were operated from the boats, standing rodeo-style with feet in restraining straps, under the guidance of the marine unit officers.

Finally, having passed with flying colours, we progressed to the hostile environment of a seagoing container ship's engine room for a medical exercise that culminated in the RAF search and rescue force winching the casualty - Natalie (wearing a helmetcam rig) - to safety.

Police Interceptors: Special Edition on the marine unit aired on 10 April at 8pm on Five.