'I smuggled news film out of the country in my knickers' - say former news producer from Ampthill

She's now enjoying a slower pace of life in her retirement

Friday, 26th November 2021, 1:26 pm
Updated Friday, 26th November 2021, 5:38 pm

Helen Armitage from Ampthill has enjoyed an illustrious career in television and television news for over 40 years - 12 of which were spent at Channel 4 News.

She worked there as a European producer from 1984 to 1992, and her job took her all over world, including covering the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

But for Helen - now 75 - an earlier memory will forever be etched in her mind in Czechoslovakia.

Helen Armitage

She was there undercover in 1969 with a reporter to capture scenes from the protests on the anniversary of the 1968 Soviet invasion.

The Czech leader Alexander Dubcek had tried to introduce some limited democratic reforms in 1968 which had alarmed the Kremlin, which sent in Soviet tanks to suppress those freedoms.

A young student Jan Palach had protested against the occupying forces by setting fire to himself in Wenceslas Square.

She said: “We got some dramatic footage of the violent clampdown on those protests, and had to leave the country quickly when police came looking for us at the hotel.

Helen Armitage with Dyson and Dougal

"We escaped by train to Vienna and I hid the small film cans in my knickers as we knew our luggage would be searched. The soldiers didn’t think to look there.”

After leaving Channel 4, Helen went on to work for a German public service broadcaster in London.

Living out of a suitcase was replaced by a very different and demanding desk job and long, unsociable hours; so when it came to retiring Helen was ready to take life at a gentler pace again.

Earlier this year Helen moved to the new McCarthy Stone Retirement Living development in Ampthill, Clemens Place – a development of 30 apartments designed for the over-60s, where she rents a two bedroom apartment with her two dogs, Dyson and Dougal.

Helen said: “People think it’s an old person’s home. It’s quite the contrary. It’s a community of like-minded people who happen to be of a certain age.”

It was the perfect solution for Helen as it allowed her to stay in her beloved Ampthill where she has lived for 20 years.

She explains: “I used to live in a lovely 17th century thatched cottage – my dream home. But as you can imagine with such a property the maintenance and upkeep started to take its toll and it became rather expensive.

"I knew I wanted to move to something more manageable while I still had my health, but I couldn’t bear thinking about leaving the area. I love Ampthill and I’m totally wrapped up in lots of town activities.”

Helen later came across Clemens Place. It was just a stone’s throw from where she currently lived in the adjacent street, and coincidentally it was also the site of the former police station where Helen used to volunteer.

She added: “When I saw the police station being pulled down and Clemens Place being built brick by brick, I just felt that it had my name on it."