“I smuggle national news films out in my pants” – says former Ampthill news producer

Helen Armitage of Ampthill has had an illustrious television and news career for over 40 years, 12 of them at Channel 4 News.

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

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

Helene Armitage

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

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

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

She said: “We got dramatic footage of the violent crackdown on these protests and had to leave the country quickly when the police picked us up from the hotel.

Helen Armitage with Dyson and Dougal

“We fled by train to Vienna and I hid the little boxes of film in my pants because we knew our luggage would be searched. The soldiers didn’t think to look there.”

After leaving Channel 4, Helen worked for a German public service broadcaster in London.

Living in a suitcase has been replaced by a very different and demanding office job and long, unsociable hours; so when it came to retirement, Helen was ready to come back to life at a smoother pace.

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

Helen said: “People think it’s a retirement home. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a community of like-minded people of a certain age.

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

She explains: “I lived in a lovely 17th century cottage – my dream house. But as you can imagine with such a property the maintenance and upkeep started to take its toll and it got quite expensive.

“I knew I wanted to move on to something more manageable while I was still healthy, but I couldn’t bear to think about leaving the area. I love Ampthill and am totally engrossed in many activities in the city. . “

Helen later stumbled upon Clemens Place. It was just a stone’s throw from where she currently lived on the adjacent street, and coincidentally, it was also the site of the old police station where Helen was volunteering.

She added: “When I saw the police station being demolished and Clemens Place being built brick by brick, I just felt my name was on it.”

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