Raw Recruits: Behind the Camera

Date: Wednesday March 13, 2019 at 1:01pm
The Raw Recruits Squaddies at 16.
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The 6-part series, which followed the journey of a squad of teenage civilians through their transition to become trained soldiers, proved to be a hit with its Channel 5 audience, primarily because it exposed the viewers to the successes and failures of some great characters and perhaps debunked some of the myths that still prevail around the Army’s training system.

Lt Col Rich Hall MBE, Commanding Officer of the College – “We decided right from the start that this should be an authentic, gritty and inspiring portrayal of basic training.  But we wanted the documentary team to believe in the mission of transforming these men and women as much as we did.  We thought that the risk of selective editing to focus on the negative would be negated if we brought the team into our world as much as possible, to trust them, give them access and to be real.  I think it worked.  They certainly greatly appreciated being made to feel at home and, after a short period of adjustment, everyone forgot they were there – including the recutis.”

The detailed planning and execution of the project fell to Major John Cartwright-Terry (universally known as Major C-T).  For him, his life as a Company Commander at the Army Foundation College took a distinctly unexpected turn and he became to interlocutor between the strategic interest in the progress of the filming and the day-to-day detail of what could and should be filmed.  For Major C-T, by his own admission, he felt distinctly out of his depth… “Without any media training, and only a vague understanding of how a film crew worked, I discovered I was to facilitate and feature in a documentary.  We all instantly recognised the strategic importance of getting the documentary right and I worried about the public’s perception of every single action and phrase.  What if one of the training team swore on camera?  What if a Junior Soldier got injured?  What if one failed a drugs test?  Getting anything wrong could have spelled disaster us and provided sensationalist mana from heaven for the production company. 

The filming of Cambrai Company began on 4th March 2018 with 45 impressionable teenagers followed from a cohort of 180 new arrivals.  And, despite the initial reservations, it quickly what became obvious that both the military and the TV crew were both after very similar outcomes.  Major C-T “I wanted to turn teenagers into soldiers whilst ensuring that the very best aspects of the Army Foundation College, such as the amazing facilities, the high quality of military instruction, the incredible education provided, were on display to the British public.  Channel 5 wanted to capture exciting and inspirational stories about the developmental journey of the Junior Soldiers.  These aims were not mutually exclusive.”

For the Junior Soldiers, it could have been easy to lose focus in the excitement of the media spotlight.  However, that shared goal of graduating from the Army Foundation College as trained soldiers, complete with educational and leadership qualifications, was kept at the forefront of everything they did and routinely reinforced.  Very quickly the shared experiences of training and being filmed built the bonds of comradeship and teamwork – The Cambrai Company team of instructors simply had to facilitate the training and ensure that the film crew fully captured it all.

For all his worry, no major disasters ensued.  Major C-T credits the close relationship built between his dedicated and capable staff and the empathetic film crew for keeping all but the most serious issues managed.  “I trusted in the team of teams, and in turn, they trusted in my judgement.  My main concern became fluffing my own lines to the camera!”

Originally broadcast over six episodes in January 2019, it is apparent how much growing up both physically and emotionally takes place over their time at the Army Foundation College.  From the tearful goodbyes to parents on day one through to the tearful parents at their graduation, their transformation from teenager to soldier is inspirational.  For Major C-T it is a personal triumph, “having now watched the show, I’m so proud of how much the Junior Soldiers achieved in short a short space of time.  The producers have really captured the essence of the Army Foundation College – “Forging Soldiers, Developing Leaders””.

And on the experience of being filmed?  “I personally reflect that this foray into TV is my Andy Warhol fifteen minutes and that although may forever be known as that ‘very senior officer’ following one particular scene for which I have been ribbed remorselessly.  I feel confident that the annals of Channel 5 Catch Up and YouTube will reflect a great job by the team, and we should be justifiably proud of what we achieved”.