Eddy Says

Eddy Says: Not quite the break I was looking for (or How my neck was fractured on live television)

By | Published on Monday 26 September 2011

EddyTM - Up For It

Live TV is an unpredictable thing. Sure, you can plan things to an extent, but once the camera is rolling no one really knows what might occur to knock things off course. Though, actually, this is not a tale of a live TV broadcast going wrong, as such. The broadcast itself went off without any obvious hitches. It’s just that two minutes from the end, the presenter, a Mr Eddy Temple-Morris, quietly broke his neck.

Whenever I’m tired, stressed, or hold my neck still for any length of time, I can hear it crunch when I move my head. It’s horrible, off-putting, and really annoying – calcium rubbing against calcium – but how it happened is so bizarre, it sounds like it was written for a sitcom.

The year was 1998, and Alton Towers had approached MTV with an idea to broadcast my show, ‘Up For It’, live from the park, in celebration of its latest, greatest ride, Oblivion. They wanted me to be the first person to ride this thrilling new rollercoaster, and to do it live on the telly. It sounded like fun to me; I relished the change in normal routine, and have always been a fan of outside broadcasts in general.

After Zane Lowe (my sidekick in those days), producer Paul and I had gone through how we planned to tackle this ride televisually, and how we were going to fill two hours of live TV with, essentially, a two minute ride, I found a quiet spot to work on the script.

We’d decided to build the whole show up to the ride, and to have us all, the whole team, get on Oblivion for the last shot of the show. The Production Manager at the time approached me holding a bright orange beanie hat with the Oblivion logo front and centre. He said that the Alton Towers’ people wanted me to wear this hat on the ride, at the end of the programme. I was busy writing, so didn’t give it much thought and just said “yeah, OK”, and when it came time for the ride, I put it on, as requested.

Now would be a good time to explain, for those who’ve never been on it, how Oblivion works: Your seat is winched up high, over 100 feet above the ground, then you are pivoted forward, so you face downwards, looking at a big tunnel below you, then you are dropped. The almost freefall rollercoaster accelerates very quickly to around 70mph, hurtles into the tunnel, then banks up and to the left, as I recall from my one and only ride.

I loved rollercoasters, I still do, so I was properly excited and happy to be going on this ride. Zane and I did our job of building the excitement up to a crescendo at the tail of the show. When the time came we all rushed up excitedly to the embarkation point, cameras following us all the while, for our thrilling ride and the climax of the show. I’d put the promotional beanie hat on, and I was ready to roll.

We sat down. We were lashed down. Then it began. I was wild eyed with excitement and the smile I wore threatened to rupture my cheeks. Somewhere, somebody pushed a button and we were released over the Staffordshire countryside.

The couple of seconds of almost freefalling were breathtaking. Then, as we hurtled towards the massive hole in the ground and the coaster reached its terminal velocity, the inevitable happened: My hat blew off. No, not my hat, the hat they suggested I wear. Of course it did. I was face first at 70mph. Only superglue or a chin-strap would keep a hat on anyone at 70mph.

So, I did what anybody would do in the split second after realising their hat had blown off. Imagine it. I thought ‘fuck!’ and looked up, involuntarily. At that precise moment the rollercaster bottomed out and banked sharply. The G-force at this moment was stupendous as the carriage suddenly whipped upward, transferring all that energy to my neck.

It was all over so quickly. The show was still live and as we pulled into the terminus the cameras were still rolling for the goodbye link, a very quick one, which I did ably, still buzzing on the double adrenal rush of both live TV and a joyfully exciting rollercoaster ride.

As soon as the red light went off on the camera, I stood up and started to feel really strange. I remember Huse, one of the team, and Zane, saying: “Come on Eddy, let’s go again!” Their smiles were broad and their eyes were on fire.

Before we’d gone on the ride, I couldn’t wait, and was totally up for going as many times as I could get away with, but at that precise moment, as the boys asked me that normally rhetorical question “go again?”, I remember feeling puzzled, really bizarre, and distracted. I said “No…” in an oddly distant way, and let the crew hoop off back onto the ride.

I walked away, in a kind of trance, handed my microphone back to the sound guy and just walked away, all I knew was that I had to get home. That was my only thought. Later I would discover that at this point I was in shock, but at the time all I knew was I wanted the safety of home as soon as I could get there. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone, I just left, stunned, dazed and a little confused. I drove silently down the motorway, keeping my head and neck very still, and got home. In those days I would have smoked a spliff and then gone to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t move. I was, literally, paralysed. This was now becoming very scary. My legs worked fine but the whole top half of my body was petrified. I somehow got out of bed, into a cab and off to St Marys Paddington A&E, where they gave me an X-ray and, after a quick look, said my neck was not actually broken but that I had horrible whiplash. They gave me some drugs to make me feel better. They didn’t make me feel bette. So I ended up going to a private spine specialist to get a second opinion.

He took four X-rays, one from each quadrant, and examined them closely. One shot, taken from the side, revealed what had happened. The whiplash was so bad that the ‘fin’ at the rear of my spine, at the point they call C7, had smashed into the one next to it, and the tip had broken off. So my neck was broken, just not all the way through, thankfully. It took a long time to get functioning properly again, years even, and to this day, it’s still not really better, and never will be – that crunching sound when I move my neck comes and goes depending on how I use it.

I spent over £5,000 on physical therapy at the time to get back to a level of normality. It was a lot of money, and the specialist treating me suggested I sue MTV to get my money back, on the grounds that their Production Manager had been negligent in making me wear that hat without any thought for the consequences. So that’s what I did, with a recommended law firm, comically named Reid Minty.

As it happened the lawyers’ name was rather apt, as the whole situation became a little bit ridiculous. In this scenario, in America let’s say, I would have expected a six or even seven figure sum. Unfortunately for me, the way the British system works is loaded in favour of the corporate defendants, in this case MTV and Alton Towers, who teamed up to fight me. Because I had gone home straight away, and not reported my accident to anyone on site, they argued that I must have left Alton Towers fit and well and then broken my neck at home, or perhaps, they said, on the way home in an unreported car accident!

The fact that neither MTV nor Alton Towers had ever made me aware of any health and safety person, or office, to report my injuries too was irrelevant. It was astonishing, but my lawyer advised me that I could actually LOSE the case and should therefore settle out of court. I was gobsmacked at how hideously unfair it was looking.

There were two possible settlements. One of a more substantial sum, with my not being able to say anything to anyone about the case, or a payment of around £30,000 but with no gagging order. They took the second option. My legal costs were £25,000 and my medical costs were a little over £5000, so I came out with less than nothing in the end. Just this painful and expensive story, and the legal right to be able to tell it to whomever I choose.

In retrospect I should have gone to court, I think. We never made it there, but I’ve been to court six times since, facing the same scenario, ie where my opponents were lying to the judge and I just wanted the truth to come out. I’ve found all the courts and judges I’ve faced to be exactly how they should be, great at getting the truth out. And all six times I’ve won.

The last two times I even represented myself, because my solicitors had already taken all my savings with their fees. Which is possibly the conclusion to all this, and pretty much every story that involves the legal profession and having your day in court: Whatever you fight over, there is only one winner. The lawyer.

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