My Early Start
Bernard explains what inspired him to become a filmmaker.
When I was about four years of age, Kellogg’s Cornflakes offered a camera that you could make from their packaging. It was a pinhole camera and all you had to do was to cut the cornflake box into a cube, with one side open, so you could put translucent greaseproof paper over it, and then, on the opposite side, you made a small pinhole. When you pointed the pinhole at something, preferably something light like a window, you could see an up-side-down picture on the paper. That experience had a profound impact on me. It was magical and I saw how you can see the world in a new light. I also realised how simple a camera worked!
Then, when I was 7, our primary school went to the newly formed Telefis Eireann, Irish National Television, in Dublin to take part in a children’s programme called School Round the Corner. It was a live magazine show for children and I was amazed at how television worked. It seemed such good fun and again the technology was amazing. I loved how there were so many people doing their own jobs: sound, lighting, vision mixing, make-up and many more - just to make that one show.
By then I was hooked on the art of photography. I have to credit my mother as she always took pictures of our family as we grew up so I was constantly exposed to how photography captured the moment, but there was more to that - I sat with my mother as we looked at our family albums, some going back 50 years or more and what I loved then was that pictures told stories, giving the viewer a emotional connection to the subject.
It was only when I was a teenager that I start taking photos, not very good ones, but I loved it. I joined the school’s photographic society and learned about developing shots. I enjoyed going to the cinema and watching TV especially wildlife and adventure films. In the school library, there was a section that had leaflets on careers, and there were several pamphlets on TV production made by RTE. It was then that I realised that I wanted a career in film. But how was that going to happen?
When my secondary school planned to move from the centre of Dublin to a southern suburb, I joined a hand picked group to make a film about the old school. It was the day in the life of its pupils and staff. See picture on right. It was so exciting as it was telling a story through a series of moving images. The challenge was to tell the story without any commentary. To me, this was a turning point as now I was doing something I really enjoyed and I was at last learning the craft.
When my career advisor at school asked me what I'd like to do, I said, of course, I wanted to go into television and film production. He then just looked at me and shook his head and said that was very unlikely as it was very, very tough career to get into. The best course, he advised, was to go to university. So fortunately I did a degree in zoology, as this was another subject very close to my heart. I loved wildlife, I loved nature, and I loved exploring the outdoors. I had done that from a very early age living in the wonderful semi-rural and coastal headland of Howth, near Dublin.
I joined Trinity College in Dublin and stayed there for extraordinary eight years. First doing a primary degree in Zoology and then, to my own surprise and others, a PhD; largely because the opportunity was there and there were little prospects of going in to TV at that time. I took what I had on offer: a PhD which established that the wood mouse went into torpor to save energy. As it turned out I really enjoyed doing it.
During those eight years, I was making amateur films and I got involved in the Dublin Cine Club, running it for two years as its president and gaining more experience in film production. During that time, we won a grant from the newly formed Irish Film Board to make a short drama. It was a great triumph and wonderful opportunity to direct a drama. Although a challenge, it strengthened my belief that this is what I wanted to do. This prepared me for the next step - to apply for television production jobs, and in 1983 I was lucky enough to join the BBC as a Television Production Trainee. At last, I was where I wanted to be.
To be fair it was down to a lot of luck but also my determination and love for making films.
Bernard (on left) filming with his school, High School Dublin when Jack Lynch, the Irish Prime Minister, opened the new school.
Filming with Sir David Attenborough Wildlife On One Beetles. Bernard is in the black t-shirt left of David.
Bernard (with sunglasses) in the boat filming lemurs in Madgascar for the hugely successful BBC ONE series "Cousins" on primates with Charlotte Uhlenbroek.