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An unreliable and wholly unofficial history

of BBC Television Centre...

...with grateful thanks to several current and ex BBC staffers who have passed some fascinating documents and other information to me.

 

photo thanks to Peter Sumpter

 

contents of this web page...

overview

early plans

stage 1 (scenery block)

stage 2 (restaurant block and TC9)

stage 3 (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5)

videotape and telerecording

presentation area

puppet studio/video effects workshop

opening TC1, TC7, TC6

(a potted history of early colour cameras)

stage 4 (the spur including TC8, TC10, TC11)

the television rehearsal rooms

stage 5 (including TC0 and TC12)

stage 6 (including the studio that never was)

programmes

studio summary

the final few years

the future

the costs

opinions on the closure

 

 

An Overview

An early plan for TVC dated around 1960.  TC8 was the only one of the planned three studios along the spur that was eventually constructed.

TVC under construction.  The White City stadium is in the background.  This was used for the London Olympics in 1908.

 

Firstly, TC or TVC?  From Television Centre's earliest days it was known throughout the BBC as 'TC'.  Hence the studio numbers - TC1, TC2 etc.  At some time it became TVC - not officially, not through some managerial decree but certainly by the turn of the century it was widely referred to by the initials 'TVC'.  I was a member of staff from the mid '70s and worked mostly in the building until I went freelance in 2002.  I can't remember when the change occurred but certainly now I feel more comfortable calling it TVC so apologies to those senior to me who find that strange.

Now let's get on with the history...

 

 

Of all the TV studio centres in the UK, Television Centre was by far the largest.  With eight medium to large production studios, four small ones and a further number of news and weather studios it dominated the industry from the 1960s right up to its closure in 2013.  The building itself was huge - only seven stories high, apart from the East Tower, but the area it covered was considerable.  As well as the studios, scenery block and restaurant block there were countless hundreds of offices.  When they ran out of space in the 1980s they built even more offices on the roof of the scenery runway that encircled the main block.  Thousands of people worked there every day - most not having a clue what everyone else did.  There was a  waitress service restaurant, two cafeterias and many snack bars, coffee bars, delis and tea bars all over the building, not to mention the BBC Club.  The Centre contained a travel agent, a hairdresser, a dry cleaner, a florist (called 'Auntie's Blooms') and even a branch of WH Smith.

Its statistics are pretty extraordinary.  The main block was 500 feet in diameter and at basement level covered three and a half acres.  In the studios nearest the railway line (TC1 - TC3) the walls are 2ft 3ins thick to provide sound insulation.  When opened, the building contained 85 dressing rooms, sufficient for 613 artists.  There were originally 43 lifts plus 2 escalators to the basement level.  The ventilation system was the largest non-industrial system in Europe with 19 air-conditioning plants, 22 ventilating plants, 8 extract plants and 2 'absorbtion refrigerating machines'.  Gosh.

The heat and vent control - somewhere in the bowels of the building.  This was where temperatures were adjusted when the TM2 phoned someone up to say that the studio was a bit too cold.  I do hope this wonderful old panel has been saved by someone.  Note that TC6 is divided into two - it was going to be two studios until shortly before it opened but they changed their minds.  Clearly, nobody thought to inform the heat and vent man.  I expect he was called  'H.Tel. H&V'.  Everything and everyone in the BBC used to be referred to by initials.  Apparently, the actual adjustments were carried out elsewhere in the latter years of the Centre but this panel was left connected as nobody knew exactly  what it did and they could hear relays clicking inside it so it was thought best to leave it well alone.

 

 

It was originally supplied with 2 separate feeds from the national grid, in case one went down.  Later, one of these was withdrawn by the electricity supplier when Battersea Power Station was closed and the one remaining feed did indeed fail on at least three occasions to my knowledge.  To cope with this, emergency generators were installed and the power plant that originally only heated the water was during the 1980s replaced with two gas turbines that could generate electricity as well as providing hot water and cooled air as a by-product.  This system is known as 'combined heat and power' or CHP.  (Their rumoured history of unreliability, however, is probably the subject of another website or book to be told elsewhere!)  On this very subject I have been contacted by Andrew Prince...

'Problem was they tried to be too clever and tried to extract the heat from either the main or the reserve generator.  Point of interest, I was tasked with testing them once overnight.  We advised the occupants of TVC that we were doing this and they should switch off PCs etc overnight just in case.  Come the night we powered the CHP up, disconnected TVC from the mains and tried to load the generator up.  I went around all the studios and put on all the studio lights we could and surprise  -  we could not create the load we wanted.  Just goes to show what power is wasted overnight by things being left on. 

Footnote, when it came to re connect TVC to the national grid, the breaker would not go in.  It took several attempts before it held.  Phew, there were a few white faced people there that night.'

 

 

Despite best intentions, not all the original design choices were good ones.  The official 1960 BBC book about the building proudly states that the roofs of the studios were covered in asbestos tiles and that the trusses supporting the studio grids were 'fire-proofed, their members being covered with sprayed-on asbestos fibre.'  Guess what.  In 1988 asbestos was unexpectedly 'discovered' in TVC's studios and they were all shut down for examination.  Perhaps the BBC managers should have read the BBC's own 1960 book and they would have known some time before.  Anyway - each studio was closed for detailed examination and after a few weeks depending on the seriousness of the risk was brought back into service.  In the case of some, the asbestos was removed and with others it was encapsulated, with an intention to remove it at some later time.  

The removal or containment programmes for each studio lasted for many months or in the case of TC1 - years. 

Almost inevitably, this problem re-emerged in 2006.  It was then announced that further work would be necessary on three of the studios - TC2, TC3 and TC5.  This was subsequently carried out, one studio at a time, beginning with TC2 from late summer 2006.  The studio reopened after a very expensive process of removal early in 2007 when work on TC5 began.  This was complete by the summer of 2007 and TC3 was closed, reopening early in 2008.  Seven of the main studios had their original soundproofing stripped to the brick walls and new panels installed - making them look like new studios.  Only TC8 remained as it was originally built since no asbestos was used in its construction.  Following this process, all eight of the main studios remained free of asbestos - or any that was left was well encapsulated.

Rumours persisted to the end however that the building was still contaminated.  How much truth there was in this is hard to determine.  Certainly, huge amounts of work were done in the studios at vast expense over the years and they were constantly monitored for any trace of contamination.  My guess is that the three remaining studios are probably now amongst the 'cleanest' in the country.

It's hard to say for certain how many other studios and film stages in London have been affected.  Any built before the late '60s are likely to have asbestos somewhere in their walls or insulation.  Within the TV industry, the BBC certainly took this issue seriously - they spent literally millions of pounds removing or encapsulating the asbestos in this building.

 

Construction and alterations never ceased since building commenced in 1951.  The sound of distant drilling  disturbed countless transmissions and recordings over the decades.  In fact, it was such an extraordinary building that there literally can't be a person alive that has been in every part of it.  I was based there for 26 years and often worked there as a freelancer over another 11 years right up to its closure but only ever saw a fraction of the building.  Its unique circular design meant that many people, myself included, often exited a door onto a corridor and had to pause for a second to work out the best route to where they were going.  Many is the time I said cheerio to someone as we went off in different directions only to meet them again a minute or two later, slightly embarrassed as we bumped into each other - having taken completely different routes to arrive at the same place.  It happened so often that people barely remarked on it.  Or perhaps it was just me.

I wrote at the beginning of this project that TV studios were factories.  That rather trite description probably applied to this building even more than most.  (Indeed, the then head of BBC Television described it as such on the day it opened.)  The sheer scale of its operation made this inevitable.  However, it was also a corporate headquarters and a news centre and anyone entering the reception area that faced Wood Lane would be hard pushed to get any sense that this building contained television studios.  Compare it with the reception area in ITV's headquarters on the south bank, or Teddington or Fountain or Pinewood TV.  It's almost as though from the 1990s the BBC's senior management was slightly embarrassed at the fact that inside this building were studios actually still making television.  You could certainly tell who was director general when that part of the Centre was designed. 

This marvellous cutaway drawing was sent to me by Bernie Davis.  The original print was found in a skip by John Rossetti who had it scanned.  It had crease marks and stains but thanks to Bernie spending a few hours in Photoshop it is now here for us all to enjoy - and wonder at.

It reminds me of those drawings that the Eagle used to print of classic British inventions like the Spitfire or the Forth Bridge.  And quite right too.  This drawing truly indicates what an astonishing feat of design and architecture the Centre is.  There is no other building like it anywhere in the UK - and probably in the world.  If you were ever in any doubt that it should be listed and preserved (as a working studio centre) then just take a close look at this.

The plan is dated 23rd July 1958 and it shows how the building was expected to look when it was completed.  In fact there were several small changes.  There is no East Tower on the foreground 'works block'.  That was built in 1964 as something of an afterthought.  Studios 8, 9 and 10 are indicated running down the spur, but only TC8 was actually built.   TC1 has the tank in its floor - complete with ladder, enabling people to climb in and out (for a swim?).  The roof alongside the two presentation studios was apparently intended to be used as an outdoor studio area.  There are several other little interesting features too within the building - like a papier mache workshop - but what does strike one is how little actually changed from this drawing to how the building was eventually used.  The basic design was spot on and enabled the studios to be operated highly efficiently right up to 2013.

Click on the plan to view it in all its glory.

 

 

Of course, some things did change in its later years and many aspects of the Centre became nothing like it was when I began to work there in the late 1970s.  In those days the offices in the main circular block were taken up with the various departments of make-up, wardrobe, cameras, sound and lighting.  Above them were the production offices of the drama department and the light entertainment department.  The design department occupied the upper floors of the scenery block at the back of the building and dozens of designers and assistants had their offices there.  All production was in-house - nothing was made by independent companies or freelancers so these departments were considerable and employed many of the top people in the country in their respective fields.

Now of course, around a half the BBC's output is made by independent companies.  Even its own in-house production teams use freelance crews.  The BBC no longer has its own make-up, wardrobe or design departments.  All were made redundant in the mid nineties and these people and their successors are now freelance.  Around that time the camera, sound, electrical and lighting departments became staffed to a minimal level and began to employ freelancers on a daily basis.  Following a round of voluntary redundancies in 2009, there were even fewer staffers on the books.  By 2011 almost all the technical staff had gone.  From the 1990s, some shows were crewed entirely by freelancers whilst most had a mix of staffers and freelancers on the camera and sound crews. 

Many independent production companies booked studios at TV Centre to make their programmes for the BBC.  Also, some companies used TV Centre to make shows for other channels - in particular Channel 4.

 

From the beginning of the 1990s - and this became the most significant difference to the nature of the building - the kind of programmes made in television studios began to change.  In the '60s, '70s and well into the '80s the studios were full of drama: series, serials and single plays.  Entertainment was variety-based with big showbiz music and comedy spectaculars occupying studios on a regular basis. 

So - for its final three decades what was made here?  Well - sitcoms like Miranda, Ab Fab and Not Going Out; sketch shows like The Fast Show, Armstrong and Miller and Little Britain;  gameshows like Pointless, In It To Win It, Eggheads and Who Dares Wins although some of these had to move in 2009 to Glasgow for political reasons;  panel shows like Mock The Week, Shooting Stars, Buzzcocks and 8 Out of 10 Cats;  chat shows like Parkinson and Jonathan Ross, features programmes like Watchdog and Crimewatch; cookery shows like Britain's Best Dish and The Hairy Bikers' Cook Off;  news, weather, kids shows like Live and Kicking, Dick and Dom and Blue Peter, music shows like Later With Jools and Top of the Pops, entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing, So You Think You Can Dance, Harry Hill's TV Burp, Genius, Room 101, Chris Moyles' Quiz Night etc and... well, you get the idea.

 

At one end of the building was TC1, which still is a very large studio.  In the early years it was used for major dramas like I Claudius, The BBC Shakespeares, various operas and big variety shows like Morcambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies.  It was ideally suited in the later years not only to Saturday night spectaculars Like Strictly Come Dancing or The Voice but also the big one-off events such as Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief and of course every four or five years - the general election.  It's worth pointing out that in the final decade, six of the main production studios were busy for most of the year making programmes that were not sport, news or children's programmes so were unaffected by the disappearance of those departments to Salford and W1.

 

Despite the relentless misinformation put out by senior BBC managers (who had never actually made a TV programme there themselves) about the Centre being 'ill-equipped for the digital age' it remained very busy right up to the end.  Its studios were not only the best designed in the country but were refurbished and refitted for HD between 2006 and 2011.  They were very efficient to run, not the most expensive to hire and were popular with many independent programme makers as well as the BBC's own production departments.

TVC also of course had a unique place in the culture and shared memory of almost every adult living in the UK.  The building itself was as easily recognised as Buckingham Palace and somehow felt like home to millions of viewers who had never even been there.  It was destroyed by people with no personal experience of the process of making television who relied upon consultants for advice - but they of course were not directly involved in the television industry either.  By the time everyone woke up and realised what a calamitous decision had been taken it was too late.  Those responsible moved on from the BBC to well-paid jobs in other industries and indeed in other countries in some cases.

 

Of course, when it was first being planned nobody could possibly have imagined that a future Director General would one day decide to sell it off to raise a few million pounds.  In those days, decisions were taken based on well-researched fact and direct programme-making experience.

 

Early Plans

As soon as the war was over the BBC knew they would need to build a 'television centre'.  They acquired Lime Grove Studios and shortly afterwards the Shepherds Bush Empire (Television Theatre) and Riverside Studios but these were stop-gaps and the intention was to move all television production into this new purpose built centre.  A site of 13 acres, previously occupied by part of the Franco-British Exhibition was bought shortly after the war.  This 140 acre exhibition had consisted of several highly ornate pavilions all faced in white which came to give this area of London just north of Shepherds Bush the name 'White City.'

Following the original exhibition and - let us not forget! - the 1908 Olympic Games, the buildings hosted several other exhibitions and expositions.  (What's the difference?)  The last time the site was employed for its original purpose was for the British Industries Fair in 1929 although some areas were used for 'textile fairs' until 1937.   During the war some of the buildings were commandeered for the manufacture of parachutes.  In 1936 much of the site was taken over by Hammersmith council who built the South Africa Estate of flats surrounding the stadium. 

(Incidentally, the only remaining buildings dating from the exhibition were demolished as recently as 2004, when the site on the other side of Wood Lane was cleared prior to construction of Westfield.)

By 1949 the remainder of the site was derelict and the BBC purchased 13 acres originally occupied by the 'court of honour' - although several councillors objected strongly and thought that the land should have been used for housing.  The only thing that remains of this extraordinary, spectacular exhibition site is a 2m square of terracotta tiles on the ground outside TC1.

The original White City.  Part of the 'Court of Honour' in the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.   This picture shows a fraction of this extraordinary development of palaces and pavilions.  It's hard to believe that Television Centre later occupied this land.  Or rather, this water.

The whole White City site, possibly a few years after the photo above as the lake appears now to be dry. The two big sheds in the lower quarter might help to establish where things are.  They still exist (one was used as a location for the last scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) but they are now the bus garage next to Westfield.  Westfield was built over the sidings and tube train sheds at the bottom - they are still there beneath the shops.  The main entrance to the exhibition was under the railway arches - where the entrance to TV Centre used to be from the multi-storey car park.  (It does seem strange, writing this in the past tense.)  The size of the exhibition can be seen to be vast and only a quarter of its area was later occupied by TVC.  The BBC's White City Media Village later occupied the area where the 1908 Olympic stadium can be seen.  The rest became the South Africa estate, including Hammersmith Park and QPR's stadium.

 

 

The story of how architect Graham Dawbarn came up with the design is well documented but I'll repeat it anyway.  Given a fifty-page brief he is said to have retreated to a pub for inspiration and with a plan of the oddly-shaped site in his head he pondered on the problem.  How to fit eight to ten studios in this area - giving easy access to scenery and separately to artists, crew and audiences.  Gazing at it for a few seconds he doodled a question mark on an envelope and the penny dropped.  The shape was perfect.

This is the story that all visitors to TV Centre were told over its lifetime.  However, Arthur Hayes has written to me casting some doubt on this.  He worked with Dawbarn for seven years from 1956 so came to know him well.  He says that this would have been most uncharacteristic of the way he used to work.  The timing isn't right either.  These are the points that Arthur doesn't think fit the story...

1

Sir William Haley wrote to Graham Dawbarn (GRD)on 14th November 1949 inviting him to act as Architect in association with M T Tudsbery (MTT).

2

Dawbarn replied on the 16th November accepting the commission and offering to commence work before a formal Agreement was signed.  

3

It is believed that a meeting between Dawbarn and Tudsbery took place at the Athenaeum, probably on the 23rd.

4

The envelope is date stamped 1st December 1949 and is addressed to Dawbarn at the Westminster Bank, Charing Cross, WC.   The earliest that the letter could have been received by him is the 2nd of December but, being addressed to his Bank, the 3rd or later is much more likely.   The only certainty is that Dawbarn could NOT have doodled on it before the 1st - and it could have been very much later!

5

A site plan showing the layout of all the building elements (very much as they are today) was produced by Dawbarn and dated (in his hand) 10th December 1949.   This drawing is bound into the joint report produced by Dawbarn/Tudsbery in 1951 when work ceased temporarily.

Arthur Hayes continues - 'So far I have found no documentary evidence as to when the Brief was handed to GRD but it must have been before the end of November and, quite likely, was at the meeting between GRD and MTT.   It is evident that, whenever the handover took place, GRD worked rapidly and decisively in order to produce a definitive layout by the 10th December.   I think it was a phenomenal feat, one that could only be achieved by first absorbing the contents of the voluminous brief.  But that, I believe, was very much in his character.   Equally impressive is the fact that a full design scheme and a model was produced for approval by the Board of Governors on the 30th March 1950.'

 

In other words, Dawbarn is more likely to have already been working on his ideas for the project during the ten days before Dec 3rd (or later), when the back-of-an-envelope sketch was drawn.  Only a week after that he presented a detailed design scheme to the BBC which surely would have been beyond the powers of even the fastest working genius. 

So - sorry to spoil a really good story but it is more likely that the sketch was simply made when Dawbarn was explaining to someone in the pub what was already in his head, rather than a doodle that gave him inspiration.  On the other hand - maybe just maybe those first ten days left him with no workable ideas at all, the BBC had omitted to mention to him that they had been thinking of a circular design for the Centre for several years (see below) and the final inspiration did actually come to him over that pint in the pub - and he really was able to work that fast.  In any case, it was a brilliant scheme and still succeeded as the most efficiently designed studio centre in the UK - possibly the world.  No other building has come close.

In 1946 a short film was produced to celebrate the return of television following the war.  This graphic from the film indicates what the new BBC Television Centre might look like when eventually built.  It was spookily accurate and judging by the skyline, they were even thinking it would be somewhere on the outskirts of Central London like White City.  This of course was four years before Graham Dawbarn was appointed.  He was a brilliant architect but unless it's a huge coincidence and he was kept in the dark about what the BBC had been hoping he would build for them - the ring of studios idea was not his.

The famous back-of-an envelope doodle that the story goes is what started it all.  Note the date on the postmark.

He planned to build most of the studios around a circular hub containing video recorders in the basement - so cable lengths to each studio were minimized.  Around that would be dressing rooms in the basement and on ground floor level.  The studios would be spread outside a circular corridor on the ground floor in a large/small alternate pattern, enabling crush bars or 'assembly areas' to occupy some of the space next to the smaller studios.  On first floor level above the dressing rooms and assembly areas would be the studio control rooms and apparatus rooms - all with easy access to each other. 

The fan of studios would create wedges between them where other areas could be fitted - camera stores, prop stores, dimmer rooms and even a small puppet studio.  A larger wedge between two of the studios would contain a wide access route between the front and back of the studios on the ground floor whilst above this would be the transmission suites, presentation studios, telecine areas and central apparatus room.  Outside the studios would be a covered road or 'runway' enabling scenery to move between studios and to and from the scenery block - a large construction connecting the main block at the rear of the building.  Outside the scenery runway would be a road enabling vehicles to move easily round the site.  The circle of studios would extend along a spur that could be built in phases with more studios as and when required over the years.  The spur would connect with the scenery runway at the back and the artists' corridor at the front.

A concept plan was drawn up, a model made, and in 1951 construction began on the first building - the scenery block.  However, the foundation stone for the main block was not in fact laid until 1956.  There was a pause of a few years before building could commence on the studios.  The government was going through financially straitened times following the war and they could not afford the huge capital investment that was required to be borrowed.  As it transpired, the delay was to the good as the plans could be further developed and refined.

The original plans had some of the studios rather different from the way they ended up.  TC2, 5 and 7 were eventually built as originally conceived.  However, TC1 and 6 were going to be the same size as each other - a very long and relatively narrow 75 x 120ft wall to wall with a grid height of 45ft.  More interestingly, TC3 and TC4 were initially both planned to be a similar 75 ft wide and 120 ft long but the end 40ft was to have a grid height of 60ft enabling scenery to be flown as in a theatre.  (These dimensions are taken from a magazine article dated 27th May 1950.)  The enforced pause before building commenced brought about a squaring-off of the studios, a new idea to make TC6 divisible into two and a realisation that TC1 could lengthen to occupy the scenery runway space and widen by 25ft without ruining the concept of the whole building.

The model of the original concept.  Note that it indicates that 10 production studios were originally planned and that TC6 was going to be the same way round as the other studios.  TC3 and TC4 both have scenery fly towers in this model.  Note also how much of the site is occupied by the scenery building.  The part of the scenery block on the far right did not end up this shape and in fact this area became occupied by the paint frame and later the 'EBX' building and offices. 

Of course, other differences include the absence of the East Tower, which was constructed in 1964 on top of the 'works' building shown just above the scenery block here, and the multistorey car park which was built in the 1980s on the other side of the Hammersmith and City railway viaduct.  On the lower left is the restaurant block.  The interesting construction that occupies the far left of the garden was never built but the single storey one at the right hand end of the garden became TC9 - from the mid '90s for a decade this was the CBBC continuity studio.

 

The building was intended to be constructed in phases or 'stages'.  This highly confusing term remained in use at TVC to the end.  Thus you would see signs indicating 'Stage 5' or 'Stage 6.'  Most people in the industry would naturally assume these to direct the observer to a studio, given the nature of the building.  But no.  Stages 5 and 6 were construction  phases and came to refer to parts of the building.

Another BBC term that is often taken for granted is the naming of studios.  To avoid confusion every BBC studio in the country was given a unique name with prefix letters relating to its building.  Thus 'TC1' is Television Centre studio 1.  The newly appointed head of BBC Resources in 2001 however decided that this was misleading as visitors might think that TC1 was a telecine suite, not a studio.  Really?  Thus all the hundreds of signs around the building were changed to read 'studio x'.  Nevertheless, everyone in the industry still referred to them as 'TC whatever' so I shall here.  Apparently, it would appear that he did not think that signs directing people to 'stage 5' or 'stage 6' were confusing at all.

The back of the scenery block in 1954.  This all looked very different in later years.  The protruding section of the building is the scenic artists' studio or 'paint frame'.  This was later completely hidden by - you guessed it - offices, and satellite dishes occupied much of this area.  Note the wonderful old cars!  You certainly weren't able to park there after about 1965.

 

 

Stage 1 was the construction of the scenery block (officially called the design block) which was completed in 1953.  At the back of the building a scenic artists studio was constructed enabling backcloths to be painted.  This extraordinary construction was 65ft from basement floor to roof beams.  A platform half way up the room enabled the artists to paint massive cloths 30ft high and to reach all the parts of the cloth simply by raising or lowering the canvasses which passed through a slot between the platform and the wall.  When finished, the cloth could be rolled up and stored in the basement or slid through a slot in the wall into the ground floor area.

This space still remained during the final two decades, hidden behind a locked door, and was occasionally rented out.  There was a small dirty window between a staircase and the platform area which I discovered early in 2006.  A few small flats were leaning against the wall but there was no sign of any cloths having been painted recently.  Large flexible tubes hung from the roof - one assumes to improve the ventilation and draw the paint fumes out.

The paint frame.  This elevation drawing taken from the 'Architect and Building News' shows the scale of the building.  As you can see, canvasses could be painted on all sides of the platform as they slid up or down at the touch of a button.  The control panel for the hoist motors in the centre of the platform was affectionately known as the 'Dalek.'  Below is the Dalek, photographed by me in 2012.  The switches still worked by the way.

Below is the paint frame as I found it in October 2012.  It looked as though some rather untidy painters had just gone off for a cup of tea - but the opened tins of paint were rock hard.  A touch Marie Celeste, don't you think?  This was all tidied up for the section of the Farewell to TV Centre programme in March 2013 when Alan Yentob demonstrated the workings of the paint frame.

 

On the ground floor was an area originally used to manufacture and store scenery.  A carpentry and machine shop created the sets which were then assembled in the setting space before being disassembled and stacked on trucks to be towed round the scenery runway to the studio.  The scenery would then be brought back and taken down in a huge lift to be stored in the basement or repainted and adapted for use in another programme.  In another part of the basement was a large prop store where items for dressing sets were kept.

Props were later stored in the area on the ground floor of the East Tower building.  The old prop store in the basement of the Design Building was rebuilt as a climate-controlled secure storeroom for what looked like orchestral scores (not that I went snooping about or anything) - for the last years of the Centre the rest of the basement was used for general storage - although during the early 2000s a kids gameshow used this area to build a huge set.

Geoff Posner (for it is he) recalls that the curiously named 'Movement Control' used to be on the ground floor of the Design Block.  He also recalls that the prop store in the basement...

'...had thirteen artificial legs in the Artificial Legs section, not to say M******t Q***t.  Now M******t's job was simply to book the musical instruments needed for all the shows in TC.  Nothing else.  Needless to say she went home at 3.30 most days.'

I probably ought to make it clear that such practices ended many, many years ago!  I have protected the lady's name to avoid any possible embarrassment.  No doubt her manager was fully aware what time she went home.  I'm sure the 1970s camera managers in my department were equally aware that when a six-man camera crew was scheduled to a studio with only four cameras, one or two of us usually went home after the morning rig.  I can imagine how this reads to most people who thought that this was the sort of thing confined to British Leyland - yes I am now just as appalled as you are at what went on in those days but I wonder how many other British companies turned a blind eye to similar practices.

 

During the 1980s a large open-sided shelter running around the outside of the ring road surrounding the main building was constructed to store scenery in trucks.  From the early 1990s all scenery was made by private companies and nothing was manufactured here any longer.  The only scenery stored on site was for shows whilst they had a regular booking in a studio.  Sets were destroyed when they were no longer needed, whereas before the changes imposed in the 1990s, flats and other items would be saved if they could be, repainted and used on many different programmes.  Thus, rather than 'the BBC' owning the scenery, it was and still is is now bought or hired by each individual programme department (or independent production company) which naturally does not have the budget to store it afterwards unless there is definitely going to be another series of the same show.  This was one of the many changes brought in by John Birt.

Actually, there is one exception to this.  Paul Hayes has informed me that the original Dr Who Tardis fell apart in the 1970s and was replaced with another that was used until the final Sylvester McCoy episode in 1989.  Despite the official policy of not storing scenery, this Tardis was never destroyed but over the years was quietly moved from place to place and hidden around the building.  I suppose nobody could quite bring themselves to give the order to load it onto a truck for disposal.  After all, it hardly took up much room.  (At least, on the outside.)  Of course, the new 2004 series was made in Wales with its own new 'machine' but the original (extremely tatty) Tardis was still on site in 2005 and was used for a spoof opening to Jet Set on the day in April when the new Dr Who was first transmitted.  I had the dubious honour of lighting this sequence.  Spookily, I also lit the same thing in 2006, with Eamonn Holmes exiting the Tardis in the Blue Peter Garden on the day the next Dr Who series began.  Curiously, a while after this website revealed the fact that it still existed, it was dug out of its hiding place, the dust blown off it and for a couple of years was proudly displayed outside the audience foyer entrance.  (See below.)  I'm not claiming any credit for this but I'm certainly glad to see that someone had the sense to make the best use of it.

It later dematerialised and was replaced with a 'newer' rather smarter version, which I suspect was constructed purely for visitors to TVC to examine and be photographed with.  I don't believe it was ever used an any Dr Who episode.  The original spacecraft's whereabouts once again became a mystery.  My spies tell me that it is still safe 'as it belongs to the BBC drama department'.  Some mistake there, surely.  It did however re-appear on the One Show's closing programme from TVC on 22nd March 2013 but which dimension it is in now is a mystery.  Meanwhile, the 'visitor attraction' version vanished and in 2012 appeared proudly displayed in the foyer of the MediaCity studios in Salford.  Bloody nerve if you ask me since those studios are not owned or run by the BBC and Dr Who has absolutely no connection with the place.

A familiar object to all.

This is the final 'Sylvester McCoy' Tardis.  I think the furniture castors spoil the effect a bit, personally.

 

with thanks to Ian Hillson

 

The photo below shows the interior of the scenery block.  Adam Tandy has written to let me know that he understood that the original Dr Who production designer (Peter Brachacki) got the idea for the treatment of the interior of the Tardis walls from this roof.  I see what he means.  In fact, I think even the David Tennant 'Welsh' version had an echo of it.  (This unique design, incidentally, impressed English Heritage so much that they recommended a grade 2 listing for the building in 2008.)

However, as with so many 'facts' to do with TVC this story, widely believed, is probably not true.  I have been contacted by Jan Vincent-Rudzki who interviewed Peter Brachacki in the mid '70s, specifically about his design for the Tardis.  He told him that he got the idea for the Tardis walls from the 'pop-out' dispensers pills come in.  In fact, early black and white episodes used actual photo blow-ups of pill containers stuck onto the walls.  Mind you looking at the scenery block skylights, that's exactly what they look like too. 

The ground floor of the scenery block.  (Actually, technically the first floor - as the basement that was accessed at the back of the building was in fact the ground floor.  Do you care? Neither do I.)

The plan dates back to 1953.  The photograph must have been taken just after completion and just before the scenery moved in.  The photographer is standing by the 'G' of 'Paper and Painting' on the plan drawing.

The carpentry and machine shop was later occupied by the technical stores and half the setting space became the lighting store.  This moved from an area in Stage 5 in the early 1990s when scenery construction was abandoned here.

 

 

The setting space on the ground floor during the early 1960s.  Flats were constructed in the workshops and then the sets were assembled here.  Any necessary alterations were made, the flats were marked up and then put into trucks to be towed round to the studio where they could be quickly re-assembled overnight ready for the following day's recording or live transmission.

For the first thirty-five years of the Centre, above the scenery workshop were the drawing rooms (no, not that sort of 'drawing room') and offices where all the designers used to work  It was very handy for lighting directors, costume designers, producers and directors to be able to pop over one of the bridges and meet them informally, look at the plans, drawings and samples of materials to be used and discuss the progress of the set design for a programme.  Nowadays this is is mostly done on the phone or via email which isn't quite the same.

Geoff Posner recalls 'the track down the corridor of designers and their assistants with numerous bottles of wine balanced precariously on the tilted drawing boards...' amongst many other happy memories of the good old bad old days.

As soon as the building was complete it was used to construct scenery which was then loaded onto lorries and transported to the studios in Lime Grove, Television Theatre and Riverside Studios.  The offices were occupied by the team designing and constructing the main block and the head of the television service was also based here.

 

In 1955, the same year that ITV was launched, the BBC held a glamorous showbiz ball one afternoon in the main scene dock of the scenery block of all places.  This was technically, therefore, the first television programme made at TV Centre.  Hundreds of celebs were invited and in fact those that weren't came anyway.  No less than 2,500 turned up and shuffled round the dance floor.  Two top bands played and the whole thing was televised by an OB unit.  (Sadly of course, this was live and no recording exists.)  The idea was partly to launch the new afternoon service of BBCtv but also obviously to prove to this new upstart ITV that the BBC still had the loyalty of all the top performers in the country.  However, some things never change.  The celebs were simply there for a bit of publicity and within a few weeks many of them were appearing on ITV shows. 

 

From the 1990s the design block had no designers in it - nor was any scenery built in it.  It later officially became the 'drama building' as  it contained the offices of the drama department.  No drama was actually filmed here of course.  However, I guarantee that if you had asked almost anybody working at TV Centre where the drama building was they wouldn't have a clue.  Ask where the scenery block was and quite a few would certainly know where you meant.

In 2011 the ground floor was vacated by the Studios and Post Production business (which is owned by, but not part of, the BBC.)  I gather that the BBC were charging so much to the company they own that they could not afford the rent.  The stores moved over the road to a warehouse in Ariel Way in the summer of 2011 and the scenery store was occupied by the old Blue Peter set, which was shown to visitors until the building closed.

 

 

 

Stage 2 followed on straight away and was the construction of the restaurant block.  This overlooked a small area of grass and shrubs that soon would become the famous Blue Peter Garden. 

The building was completed in 1955 and at first was used as rehearsal rooms and office space.  I'm told by Ron Isted that the basement was used to to house the Television Music Library (sheet music, not discs) between 1956 and 1960.  It began its intended use as a restaurant block in June 1960, with cafeteria-style seating on the first and third floors and waitress service on the second floor.  The kitchens were on the ground floor and connected with the main block via a tunnel and lifts, enabling food to be brought on trollies to the sixth floor hospitality suite.  They thought of everything!

The waitress service floor closed in the mid-nineties, the top cafeteria reduced in size and some of the block reverted to office space as eating in the 'BBC canteen' was far less popular than it used to be.   (Countless references to the canteen in comedy shows over the years probably didn't help.)  In fact, so much so that late in 2008 it closed at weekends.  Food became available via tea bars and delis spread around the building - but at weekends when all the office staff had gone home and the only people there were the ones actually making programmes there was only one tea bar open for some of the time.

Incidentally - in November 2006, the old 2nd floor restaurant (what used to be called the 'waitress service') was turned into a huge hairdressing salon studio with hidden cameras for BBC Three's Celebrity Scissorhands - a live reality show that somehow raised money for Children in Need.  Apparently the 'celebrity' trainees were: 'Eighties pop icon, Steve Strange;  winner of The Apprentice, Michelle Dewberry;  Radio 1 DJ, Scott Mills;  actress and Dynasty star, Emma Samms;  Right Said Fred frontman Richard Fairbrass;  TV presenter Sarah Cawood;  singer Rowetta (Happy Mondays, X Factor);  actor and TV presenter Ortis Deeley (Kidulthood, Live and Kicking);  and TV personality Darren Day'  it says here.  I'm afraid I missed it.

Geoff Posner suggested a very sensible use for part of this building in 2007.  As a seasoned producer/director of many comedies over the years, he pointed out how hard it is to find rehearsal space.  The old BBC rehearsal rooms in Acton are no more, so sitcoms mostly use draughty, cold and smelly church halls around London.  He suggested turning a floor in this building back into a rehearsal room for the following few years until the BBC decided what they were going to do with it.  Blow me down, but that's exactly what they did and some BBC Comedy shows for a while used the old 'Waitress Service' floor to rehearse sketch shows and sitcoms.  Glory Be!

(More on the rehearsal room saga a little below.  Be patient!)

The first floor canteen in 1960 with the waitress service restaurant overlooking it.  Possibly the idea was that those who could afford to eat there could literally look down on those who couldn't.  The balcony was later blocked off.

 

 

Around 2001/2 plans were drawn up to convert the lower two floors into studios and continuity areas dedicated to the children's department.  These designs reached quite an advanced stage but many problems were being encountered - in particular with lighting and air conditioning.  The head of Children's Department wanted the studios to open out into the Blue Peter garden with huge windows and doors overlooking it.  He wanted to be able to shoot from inside looking out and outside looking in - even in high summer.  The plan was that presenters should be able to begin talking to camera indoors and wander outdoors or vice versa on the same hand-held shot.  There was even to be a glazed conservatory area.  The problem was that this area faces south so coping with sunlight would have been something of an issue to say the least.

(This had been achieved to an extent in TC9 which occupied part of this area but the door was relatively small, did not face south and there were no windows so we never saw indoors to the studio whilst a presenter was outdoors.  If they walked from one area to the other the camera was 'racked' the several stops necessary to cope with the different light level.) 

I was asked to comment on the plans at one point and invited to oversee the project from the lighting point of view but I made some excuse and declined taking on this responsibility.  Frankly, I thought it would have been hugely problematic operationally and a considerable frustration to the programme makers.  It would have been a massive undertaking - the studios would have had to be lit to an incredibly bright level to compensate for the daylight.  At the same time, the producers apparently wanted to preserve the colourful mood and atmosphere of typical kids programmes, in particular X-change - the daily magazine programme which was coming from the nicely controlled environment of TC2 around that time.  Indeed, the set of X-change included plywood pillars that would match the real ones in the new studio, anticipating a move within a few months.  (A move that kept being postponed.)

Another issue was the changing nature of daylight in the late afternoon when children's programmes are on.  You might start a show with the studio lit to the same level as the outside but by the time you were off the air it would be dark outside.  These conflicting requirements and 'technical' issues were not, it seems, understood by those who were keen to see the studio built.  Apparently, the problems 'were being exaggerated by technicians who were stuck in the old ways of doing things and did not understand the new blue-sky thinking.'

One idea mooted by the production types as a solution was to have one bright half of the main studio matching the daylight somehow divided from a darker 'moody' half, but how you went from one to the other was never resolved.  Meanwhile, the size and cost of the new studio's ventilation plant continued rising.  As it happened, whilst decisions on the project were nearing a crisis the head of CBBC moved on to greater things as controller of ITV1 and the whole idea was quietly dropped.

A further irony is that by the end of 2006, the whole idea of in-vision presenters linking children's TV had gone out of fashion.  TC9 was no longer in use.  The programme X-change which drove all these plans was also no more.

 

 

Before leaving stage 2, I should mention the small studio that was established there in 1996.

TC9 was created in a single storey building overlooking the Blue Peter Garden.  This area, extending from the restaurant block, was originally designed as a 'foyer lounge' - hence the glass brick wall.  It probably never had this use, being used initially as a builders' canteen, then becoming a store for the make-up department.  This department was closed in 1995 and the studio was subsequently created to be used by the Children's department for continuity links and other short programmes. 

TC9 was an irregular shape, about 30 x 30ft average dimensions with a very low grid.  It also had a corridor and small seating area which could be used for interviews.  It was fitted with Thomson 1657 cameras which had been in use in Pres A for a year or so.  These could have the head separated from most of the electronics by an umbilical cable so that a very small camera was actually carried by the cameraman, enabling a great deal of movement.

This freedom from fixed shots was seen as very exciting by the young directors of the links transmitted live from here, who often could not understand why this introduced lighting problems.  Since the LD was also the console operator and had only one electrician for assistance, relighting between sequences could be very exciting to say the least.  Because of the way the links were shot, quite substantial relights were usually necessary.  It has to be said that not every sequence that went out from this studio over the years demonstrated perfect portraiture and subtle balance of foreground and background from the lighting point of view.  In fact, on occasions the fact that the presenter had any light on them at all was something of a miracle.  And I speak from some experience.

In 2004 the studio ceased linking children's programmes on the main broadcast channels and became the continuity studio just for the CBBC channel.  From late 2006 it was decided that links between children's programmes would be much shorter - often with no presenter in vision and the studio would no longer be required.

TC9 was still under a 'service level agreement' between BBC Studios and the Children's department so it could not be used for general programming.  It remained empty for about nine months but in September 2007 it became the home of two regular programmes - TMi, the Saturday morning show that had previously come from MTV's studio in Leicester Square, and SMart.  (Yes, that really is how it's spelt.)  The latter programme was presented by Kirsten O'Brien, who in a way returned home as she was for a long while one of the regular CBBC continuity presenters.

The studio was mothballed once again in Jan 2008 as the cameras had become old and unreliable but it was brought back into use again in the autumn and again in 2009 and 2010 for further series of TMi, using TC2's old Thomson cameras.

TC9 was decommisioned in 2011.

 

I have touched upon it already but of course alongside the Restaurant Block was the Blue Peter Garden.  This had camera cable points linking it to the first floor corridor in the main block so that up to three cameras could be driven from the gallery of whichever studio was in use for the show that day.  There was no actual 'Blue Peter Studio' - the programme used any of TC1, TC3, TC4, TC6 or TC8, whichever was available.  The garden had a semi-permanent camera tower that was sometimes used for high wide shots and before hand-held cameras were available, one of the studio's cameras would be mounted on a mobile camera crane and pushed around the garden, avoiding the steep slope and the pond.

The Blue Peter Garden in 1979 - that's yours truly sporting a cheesecloth shirt, flared jeans and fashionable blue Kickers operating an EMI 2001 on the front of a Kestrel.  I was only a lowly camera assistant at the time but in those days Blue Peter was seen as a good training exercise for all departments, including cameras.  Basically, it was an excuse for some of the old boys to have a nice quiet day drinking tea and letting the young lads get on with it.

with thanks to Doug Coldwell, a proper cameraman who was operating the camera on the tower that day.

 

Below is the BP Garden in 2010 - a few months before the pond and Petra's statue were moved north to their new setting and Percy Thrower's greenhouse was chucked in a skip.  The peaceful setting is quite a contrast to the new site in Salford which is right next to a tram stop.  Yes - that's me again with my back to camera, slightly broader in the beam than I was 31 years earlier.

 

 

 

The site in 1957.  The scenery block and restaurant blocks are complete and the foundations are being laid for the main block.  The ground slab for TC1 is the only visible studio.

 

 

Right - just before we begin to look at each part of the main block and how it played its part, let's look at the wonderful drawing below.  Like something from a giant Ladybird book, this was on display in the corridor outside TC1's audience entrance before someone snaffled it away in the dying days of the Centre in 2013.  Fortunately, an art director I know took a photo of it a week before it disappeared.  Let's be honest, she thought she might help herself to it at some point but took the photo just in case.  Anyway, a print was given to me, I had it scanned in and here it is.  It's not a real studio of course - a bit like TC3 or TC4 and apparently recording a drama, which is interesting because the cameras look like Thomsons which came into service in the 1990s after all the drama had finished.  Anyway, click on it to see it in all its detailed glory.

 

 

These were to be found by the door of every studio until they were mysteriously removed some time in the 1990s.  Biddy Baxter famously took no notice over many years - although to be fair I never saw her play a musical instrument (except in the course of duty.)

photo thanks to Bill Jenkin

Stage 3 involved the most complex construction and took four years before the Centre became operational.  It consisted of the main circular building (the doughnut) and the completion of studios 1 - 7.  Four studios would initially be brought into service within the first few months - 2, 3, 4 and 5.  The design of these was based on experience gained from working at Lime Grove and in particular Riverside, where various experiments involving gallery layout and lighting systems were tried out.  The Centre officially opened with TC3 operational on 29th June 1960.  TC4, 5 and 2 opened over the following few months.  The shells of  TC1, TC6 and TC7 were constructed around the same time but they were not fitted out until a few years later.

Arthur Askey - diminutive and popular entertainer of the '50s and '60s - standing in the newly completed TC3.  The studio was considered 'massive' at the time and of course, compared with those at Riverside and Lime Grove, it was.

Incidentally, the large window slightly protruding into the studio on top left of the picure is the viewing gallery.  Every studio has one of these (even control room suites did originally.)  The idea was that visitors could be brought round to see 'their' BBC in action without disturbing what was going on.

This still went on believe it or not.  More than once I have been standing in the middle of an empty studio set waiting for the sparks to return from lunch whilst picking my nose and scratching my behind - only to idly look up and focus on a window with 20 bemused members of the Women's Institute gazing down at me.

This charming picture is from the Readers Digest Junior Omnibus - 'Inside the BBC Television Centre'.  This sort of thing inspired a generation to apply to work for the BBC when they grew up.  Some of us never did.

TC2 and TC5 were both 60 x 40 metric feet within firelanes and TC3 and TC4 about 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes. 

TC2 soon became the home of the new wave of satirical comedy shows such as That Was the Week That Was and The Frost Report.  TC5 was the home of schools broadcasting and according to a 1970 BBC booklet 'adjacent to studio 5 is an area specially designed and serviced for schools programmes.'  I must admit I can't think to what this might be referring, unless the area originally intended as the puppet studio became taken over as some sort of preparation area.  Other programmes such as panel game shows were also made here but for various reasons, most likely because no schools could afford colour televisions in the early 1970s, TC5 was converted to colour long after the other studios - probably in 1973.

 

TC2 with the late great David Frost preparing for another live edition of That Was The Week That Was.  A truly ground-breaking show, it used the studio walls as a set and introduced a previously unseen irreverend and informal style of presentation.  It poked fun at the establishment in a way that had not been seen before and showed the BBC at its best - not afraid to stand up to the government of the day.

TC2 seen through the open dock door in 2006.  At various times the home of TW3, The Frost Report, Grandstand, Breakfast, Newsnight, the Holiday programme, Watchdog, Ready Steady Cook and X-Change.  Amongst many, many other shows.  The studio in which the expression 'lord privy seal' was first coined.  Give yourself a smug pat on the back if you know what I'm on about.

 

Of the larger two original studios, TC3 was earmarked as a drama studio and TC4 for light entertainment.  The difference was in the acoustic treatment of the walls - TC3 had a shorter reverberation period so was more suited to speech.  I have to say that I was never aware of this, having worked on many occasions in both studios, so possibly any acoustic difference was altered in later years.  (Both studios in any case had new acoustic wall panels fitted following the removal of asbestos - TC4 in 1988 and TC3 in 2007.)  Anyway, during the early years at least, TC3 was the preferred studio for drama.

TC4 also had a variable acoustic system involving microphones and speakers around the roof and walls.  This was called 'ambiophony'.  The system is said to have worked quite well, but according to a sound supervisor of the time it had the disadvantage that the delays to the different speakers would only be correct for one position within the orchestra.  That (and probably the scarcity of such programmes) meant that it fell into disuse.  It was soon overtaken by artificial electronic reverberation systems, although interestingly, a similar system was included in Limehouse studio1 when that was built in 1982.

This was the inlay desk in TC4 in 1961.  Captain Mainwaring at the controls.  Actually, I'm informed by Simon Vaughan that this gentleman is Desmond 'Cam' Campbell, who apparently was nicknamed at the time the 'father of lighting' so apologies to him.  It turns out that he originally worked with Logie Baird, then with the BBC's original television experiments at BH, later moving to AP and eventually to TC.  He was highly regarded in his day and was given the title 'Senior Engineer - Lighting.'

The desk was placed in the production gallery.  All the BBC's main studios had one of these.  They enabled clever wipes to be used or an early form of overlay using a luminance key.  The device seen to the right of the operator here is a camera looking down at an illuminated screen.  You could place a piece of black card in the shape of, say, a flower and that could be used as a key for an effect in a dance routine.  All kinds of wipes were tried out.  A particularly messy one was to cover the screen with tealeaves and blow them off on cue.  You couldn't do that one again in a hurry.

Later, as the studios were colourised the inlay desks became more sophisticated to include up to three layers of CSO (colour separation overlay).  DVEs (digital video effects) were added as soon as they became available in the 1980s.  The BBC research department came up with an early version but this was soon superceded by boxes manufactured by companies like Quantel.  Top of the Pops usually tried these devices out first but within a few months every show was plagued with zooming, flipping and tumbling pictures for no good reason.

Nowadays wipes and overlay tricks are done by the studio's vision mixer (switcher) but extra boxes of tricks like DVEs are brought in and plugged up as and when required.  Most complex video trickery is now done in post production rather than in the studio at the time of recording.  Sadly. there's no place any more for the 'blowing the tealeaves across the screen' wipe.

 

TC3 and 4 were both originally equipped with black and white cameras but the Centre had been planned with colour in mind.  These two studios were re-equipped in 1969 and 1970 respectively with EMI 2001 colour cameras.  Both studios in their last years had very swish gallery suites.  TC4 was fully equipped for high definition in the summer of 2008 and TC3 in 2011.

The production gallery of TC3 on March 22, 2013.  This was the evening of 'celebrations' on the closing of TV Centre.  Madness were appropriately performing outside the building whilst we were busy recording a sitcom pilot with Vic and Bob.  The studios were of course very busy right up to the bitter end.  On the One Show that evening, Michael Grade told the nation that the Centre had to close because it would cost £200m to bring the studios up to HD standard.  In fact, TC3 had been converted to the latest HD and 3D standard in 2011.  All the main studios had in fact been refurbished between 2006 and 2011 and were the best equipped in the UK.  I think Lord Grade perhaps needs to check his facts.

 

Back in 1960 the original camera choice was interesting.  No doubt in a desire to support both major British camera manufacturers, half the studios - TC2, 3 and 7 - were equipped with Marconi MkIV cameras and the other half - TC1, 4 and 5 with EMI 201 cameras. 

I have been given an interesting recollection by a cameraman of the period.  He informs me that the EMI lens turret was designed for 5 lenses (although only four were fitted) and apparently was slower in changing lenses than the Marconi - particularly when going between the ones that involved crossing the blank plate.  Apparently, for LE this was seldom an issue but for drama it could be crucial.  In a scene with two cameras taking over-shoulder 2-shots until the crucial dramatic moment when a close-up was called for, there might only be one second when the vision mixer cut to the other camera for the reaction shot before cutting back for the close-up.  If the turret was still turning then the cut would be forced to be late.  There was at least one drama director of the day who allegedly refused to work in the studio with the slower turret because it compromised his shooting style.  His plays or episodes of drama series had upwards of 500 shots in half an hour. 

The EMI 203 four and a half inch image-orthicon black and white camera.  These were installed in TC1, TC4 and TC5.  Most were fitted with turret lenses as shown but some had early zoom lenses.  It wasn't until colour cameras came along in 1967 that every camera was fitted with a zoom lens.

Thanks to Bernie Newnham for the image - for it is he - and a fine looking corduroy jacket it is too.

TC3 and TC4 were colourised in 1969 and 1970 respectively, with the superb EMI 2001.  I was looking for a typical photo of the camera in action and couldn't resist using this one.  I hope Steve Cockayne will forgive me.  Steve and I were contemporaries and spent many a happy hour putting the world to rights whilst tracking and swinging Mole or Nike cranes.  Steve went on to greater things - he eventually became the Head of Cameras and Lighting, where I believe they supplied him with a slightly more comfortable chair.  Or maybe not???  I'd like to think that he kept this one behind his desk.

photo thanks to Bob Glaister and the tech ops website.

 

Studios 3 and 4 were almost mirror images of each other although oddly, TC4 was actually 1 foot wider than TC3 at 71 metric feet within firelanes.  This may be because the walls of TC3 were thicker in order to keep out the noise of the Hammersmith and City tube trains.  By some quirk of fate there is a 'whistle' sign beside the track right by TV Centre so every train seemingly pointlessly gives that curious hoot that tube trains produce each time they pass the building.  As testament to the designers of the building, this has never disturbed a recording.

The studios were equipped with the same design of long lighting bars as had been tried out in Riverside.  Each was initially fitted with two 2kW fresnel lanterns and two multi-bulbed fill lights although this was adapted for each production.  The lighting bars also at first had a parallel bar hanging a few feet beneath although quite how these were intended to be used remains a mystery.  The bars were spaced the same as in Riverside - 2 feet from end to end and six feet apart.  This wide spacing has frequently caused many a headache to lighting directors, particularly when trying to position lights accurately over a drama or sitcom set.  Although the bars were replaced with a new design in the 1980s the wide separation remained the same.  (In monopole studios like Teddington or TLS the tracks are only 18 inches or 2 feet apart which enables lights to be positioned much closer to where the LD needs them to be.)

Above is the original lighting installation in  TC4.  The rest of the first batch of studios were fitted with the same long bars.  The lamps were simply hung on the bar rather than on rolling 'trolleys' and pantographs as they are today.  Of course, this is before the standard rig of two dual-source fixtures per bar was adopted.

Below is TC3 rigged for a typical gameshow in 2005.  We have almost gone full circle as hardly a single dual-source lantern is to be seen.  Nearly all have been derigged for this show (In It To Win It) which is lit almost entirely with automated lights.

 

These new studios adopted the dimming and lighting control systems that had been tried out at Riverside - Strand C-type consoles connected to variable resistor and auto-transformer dimmers, remotely controlled by an electro-magnetic clutch system.  The heat generated by hundreds of these dimmers must have been phenomenal.  Apparently, TV Centre was the first place to adopt normal mains voltage in the studios.  Previously a voltage of 130 volts (why?) had been used.  The BBC were also terribly proud of the fact that the lights in these new studios were 'remote controlled.' 

For someone who has become used to using automated lights like Vari-lites and Macs on various entertainment shows I found this claim somewhat surprising until I eventually found out what they meant.  It seems that these were the first BBC studios equipped with luminaires that had attachments enabling an electrician to adjust pan, tilt, and spot and flood using a pole.  Previously, every lamp had been adjusted by an electrician working off a set of ladders.  I would hardly describe this as 'remote control' but seriously, this was a significant advance.  I can work with an experienced pole operator to set 100 lamps and be finished in two or three hours.  To do this using ladders would probably triple this time if not more.

This picture shows a 'lighting supervisor' operating a Strand type C console.  (On Sundays he played the church organ.)  The white diagram on the wall is the geographic mimic which indicates to the operator which luminaires in the studio are lit.  Small bulbs are fed directly from the dimmers and glow in proportional brightness depending on the dimmer level.

All the studios were fitted with one of these mimics but only TC1 and TC3 still have one.  The other studios now have a VDU fed from the console, not the dimmers, that is nothing like as clear to read.  It must have cost a fortune to connect around 1000 tiny lightbulbs for the mimic in TC1 - one to each dimmer.

Judging by the shape of the plan - this must be TC3.

This is the lighting gallery of - I believe - TC6 when it first opened.  I'm guessing that because looking at the geographic mimic there are short bars running across the studio with 2 channels on each.  (This is of course when TC6's galleries were on the first floor.)  Spot the orange covers on the black and white monitors in order to match them to the same 'illuminant D' white as the colour monitor.  This of course is a Strand C console - no computer memories in 1967.  Those horrible red chairs were still around in the 1970s I seem to remember.  Note the OCPs for 5 cameras plus a slide scanner and remote racking of telecine machines (no grading was done in those days - colour correction of film was all done on the fly.)  The thing that puzzles me though is - where did the TM1 (LD) sit???

 

One great advantage all the studios at TVC had over London's other TV studios was in the provision of motorised scenery hoists.  In monopole studios a few motorised hoists are sometimes available but these have to be carried into position and placed where needed in the grid.  Most scenery is therefore supported using hemp ropes and hauled up by hand.  At TV Centre this was hardly ever necessary.  Every studio had dozens of scene hoists that could be tracked into position and raised or lowered at the push of a button.  The hook was attached to a steel line that was fixed to the flattage or ceiling piece that needed to be supported.   This made scene setting here much quicker, simpler and probably safer - and arguably gave designers more flexibility with their sets.  In TC3 and 4 each hoist was initially only trackable within a span of about 10 feet but during the major refurbs of the 1980s more were installed and they could then track across the whole studio between the lighting bars.  This improved system was originally installed in TC1, 6 and 8.  TC1 has even more hoists, some capable of supporting immense loads.

 

During the '60s, '70s and '80s, the Centre contained some extraordinary facilities, many of which most people working there probably had no idea existed.  For example - Tim Dorney, engineer in News dept, has written to inform me that during the 1970s he discoved that there was a room at the base of the South Hall where grand pianos were stored.  The door was never locked and he tells me that he passed many a lunch hour practising on one of several beautiful instruments, all of which were always in perfect tune.

 

 

Videotape and Telerecording

The Centre was designed with the basement or 'hub' being set aside for the new technology of videotape recording.  The BBC called it 'VT' - everybody else called it 'VTR'.  (When giving a cue for a pre-recorded insert, BBC directors learnt to say 'run VT' - meanwhile, ITV directors said 'roll VTR'.  I've no idea why the difference.)

By placing the VT department in the hub, the cable runs to each studio were kept as short as possible.  (Mind you, programmes at Television Theatre, half a mile down the road, were also recorded here in later years.  Indeed, when all the machines here were busy, some shows were recorded at TVI, five miles away in Soho, so long cable runs were perhaps not quite as crucial as was originally thought. 

The 2-inch 'quad' Ampex machines were very much new technology and were phenomenally expensive to buy.  In 1960 the BBC was paying around £30,000 per machine.  Bear in mind that around that time the cost of the average house was only £3,000.  By comparison, in November 2008 an average house cost £224,000.  That would put the price of a VT machine today at £2.24m!  You can actually pick up a reconditioned second hand one today for about £20,000.  (I can't find a 'new' price on the internet.)

Tape too was horrendously costly - around £120 per hour.  Another quick search of the internet will find today's popular format of Digital Betacam available at less than £12 for one hour's recording.  Then take into account inflation over the past 50 years and the difference in price is obvious. That's why so many '60s and '70s programmes were wiped and the tape used again.

Apparently, the videotape area in the basement was not ready when TC3 opened and a couple of machines were installed temporarily in the shell of Pres B.  Even when complete there were initially only four, then seven more videotape recorders in the basement for the first few years. 

By comparison, during the last two decades of TVC each studio had its own VT machines - sometimes as many as eight or more might be in use to record the main output of the studio, a back-up copy and a number of 'iso' recordings.  These are isolated feeds of individual cameras, enabling the programme to be edited more slickly at a later date.  The Post Production area in Stage 5 had well over a hundred more machines.  It seems astonishing that for the first few years the whole of TV Centre had only eleven VTRs in total for recording and editing programmes.  Even by 1970 there were only 16 VT booths - which was the maximum allowed for in the original design of the area.

 

Of course, many programmes were recorded - but not necessarily on tape.  Beneath TC6 was a large area set aside for the telerecording department.  Telerecording on film was a well-established means of saving programmes for archive purposes or for export.  When the Centre opened, most film telerecording was still carried out down the road at Lime Grove.  Garth Nicholson wrote to me in December 2008 with more info - and a comment on an astonishing recording of Dad's Army that had its colour restored from an original black and white film recording...

'As with telecine operators we originally had one or two working machines in TV Centre and these were initially staffed as an outpost of Lime Grove depending on our workload.  Finally the 16mm facilities became fully operational to be followed by the 35mm machines at TV Centre so we all decamped to TV Centre.

We worked there for some years (a quick recall would say right up to the early '70s) but of course apart from selling 16mm recordings overseas and finally back-up work for videotape the days of the somewhat crude technique of film recording were numbered. 

As a matter of interest we did carry out some colour experimental work where we produced 3 negatives (R,G & B) using 3 separate passes on the same machine. These were sent away to the processing laboratory for combining using the Technicolor process but we were fighting a losing battle against the colour VTR machine. 

When I saw yesterday's rebroadcast of a 16mm Dad's Army from which they have recovered colour information I was totally amazed.  Remember in the early VTR days it was never thought that they would be accurate enough to even run colour and as for editing then it took several hours to make an acceptable cut between two takes which had to be done by going down to black at the end and the beginning of the edit. How things move on!'

 

It is perhaps worth pointing out that programmes recorded on film were of poor quality compared with the live picture.  Most engineers considered that the pictures, particularly in the early years, were barely broadcast quality.  From 1946 to the mid '50s the BBC did not transmit telerecorded programmes unless they absolutely had to.  Even a play with a repeat broadcast later in the week was perfomed live again.  The reason we have those old BBC telerecordings is that the programmes were exported in that form to Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. 

Research into improving the quality of the image did produce some results as the years went by and by the mid '50s more programmes were being recorded and transmitted on film.  In fact, according to BBC handbooks - in 1959 the BBC telerecorded 1,300 programmes and re-transmitted 600.  In other words, more were archived for possible export but 600 is still quite a sizeable number of TV programmes (on only one channel, don't forget) that were recorded on film for later transmission.

 

The telerecording area under TC6 became the BBC's very well-used and highly respected research library during the 1970s.  This provided invaluable support to all kinds of programmes for the next two decades.  In the mid 1990s under the new Thatcherite/Birtian commercial way of working it was declared unable to 'pay its way' (Heaven help us from small-minded accountants!!!) so it was closed.  It even made the national papers when someone leaked that the record library was having to charge more to lend a disc to a production for an hour or two than for them to buy a new copy.  The area later became a videotape archive.

When the VT department moved to Stage 5 in 1992 the hub area of the basement was transformed into open-plan offices with a huge glass roof.  Goodness knows how much that must have cost.  This became the HQ for 'TSPR' - the original trading name (with ancient Roman imperial overtones) for the newly commercial BBC Studios business.  Latin scholars are invited here to come up with a suitable acronym.  It actually stood for Television Studios Production Resources - how boring is that?

I have hardly done the VT and telerecording departments justice here.  For much more information and many old photos I recommend visiting the ex-BBC VT engineers' website on www.vtoldboys.com.

 

 

The presentation area

As well as the main studios there were several other smaller areas completed at this time.  On the fourth floor in the central wedge between TC3 and TC4 was the main network control area for what was then called BBCtv and the planned second channel.  A corridor led from the lifts towards the back of the building and on either side were the control rooms, apparatus rooms, voice-over booths and from 1963 a small room containing the 'noddy' camera that could be remotely tilted up to look at the revolving globe logo and down to look at a clock.

Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly, there was also a 'Big Ears' - a twin magazine caption scanner.

The noddy camera for BBC2.  The graphics are from the black and white years so the photo must have been taken some time between 1964 and 1967.  (Thanks to Gareth Dubai for pointing this out.)

Note the beautifully finished woodwork!  These days (if such things existed) it would be made of MDF with a lick of black paint if you were lucky.

At the end of the corridor was another control room on each side that looked into a pair of studios, side by side.  These were presentation studios and were known by all as Pres A and Pres B.  They had been designed for continuity announcers such as Michael Aspel, Kenneth Kendall, Judith Chalmers and Nan Winton but within a few years the BBC decided to adopt out-of-vision announcers.  Thus the studios became available for other uses.  They were quite small - at 32 x 22 metric feet wall to wall with a firelane crossing the middle.  This could never be obstructed!  It's not quite clear when in-vision announcements ended but there was a new intake including Meryl O'Keefe in 1963.

Pres A gallery, looking through to the studio some time in the very early years.  The layout of the gallery didn't change much over the years even when it was updated from time to time.

Pres A was the first to open in 1960 - Pres B opened in about 1963/4 with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  It was then converted to colour in 1966 and became the home of  Late Night Line-Up - a daily arts and topical discussion programme.  This studio thus became the home of the BBC's colour camera tests.  It is likely that the tests in studio H at Lime Grove ended around this time. 

The colour camera tests in 1966 initially involved three Peto-Scott (Philips) PC60s.  These were the cameras that had been chosen to equip the BBC's first colour OB units.  Later, a three-way test was undertaken using a prototype EMI 2001 (then called the 2000), a Marconi MkVII and a Peto-Scott PC60.  In order that the tests were fair, two of the cameras had a cue dot superimposed in the top left or right of the frame.  These were changed every night so the engineers watching at home did not know which camera was which.  They recorded their opinions and the results were later compiled.

This story has been confirmed to me as being accurate by an engineer who was involved and by the studio director who worked on the experiments at the time.  He later went on to direct the first colour shows in TC6 - themselves still very much an experiment.

The camera chosen to equip TC6 and TC8 in 1967 was the Marconi MkVII.  The reason for this choice is arguable and is discussed later on this web page.  (See 'A Potted History of early colour cameras.')

Pres A was converted to colour in 1968 (with Marconi Mk VIIs) and became the weather studio.  Between forecasts it was used to make trailers involving captions and slides with a voice-over actor in a nearby sound booth.  VT clips were played in and the people in the presentation department who made these trails became adept at producing very slick and professional-looking 'ads' for BBC programmes.  This was one thing ITV took many years to get right.  The ITV companies did not have an equivalent department or dedicated staff so their trails were much simpler - often nothing more than a caption voiced over by the continuity presenter.

The presentation area in the central wedge on the fourth floor in 1960.  As can be seen, the rooms on the left were opened first, those on the right were for the planned second channel.  Pres A is the room top left, Pres B on the right.  All the cueing and cutting from one programme to the next was done in the network control room on this floor.

Before the days of computers it was possible for the network producer to be quite creative in the way they went from one show to the next.  For instance, there was one individual who liked to do a slow mix from the BBC1 globe into the star field at the beginning of Star Trek Raphael Szynowski has written to me to let me know that the creative person in question was called Ken Laing.  Or at least, he told Raphael that he was.

Although the BBC soon went to out-of-vision announcers they did restore them for children's TV in the 1980s.  The tiny area used for this became known as the 'Broom Cupboard'. 

After the Great Storm of October 1987 all power to TV Centre was lost except for the emergency generator that supplied this area.  (Ironically, it was from Pres A that Michael Fish... well, you know that story.)  Therefore, BBC1 was kept on air with the news coming from the broom cupboard - a very serious looking Nicholas Witchell backed by a brightly painted wall and the remains of children's paintings that had been sent in to Philip Schofield and his puppet Gordon the gopher.

Nicholas Witchell of course went on to become the BBC's royal correspondent for many years - Prince Charles famously being overheard saying 'I can't bear that man.  I mean, he's so awful, he really is' when His Royal Highness thought he was out of microphone range.  But that's an entirely different story.

 

Andi Peters in the Broom Cupboard.  (Andi took over from Philip Schofield.)  Its exact location has been pointed out to me by Ian Trill, ace vision mixer and occasional studio director who used to work in Pres during the 1980s.  He has reminded me that the network control rooms were moved to the areas at the bottom of the plan below, previously occupied by the sub control and international control.  The right hand room was for BBC1 and the area to its right was walled in to create the room where the voice-over continuity announcer sat.  There was a window between him and the main control room.  The announcer had a small mixer in front of him so that he could cut up captions etc as he spoke.  It was this tiny room that had a camera bolted onto the wall so that the Children's TV continuity announcers could be seen in vision. 

The Pres area a few years later when both studios and all control suites were operational.  Click on the image to see it in higher resolution.  The control rooms and other areas were moved about and reconfigured several times during the life of this vital part of the BBC.

Later this area became completely unrecognisable.  Note the thickness of the wall dividing the studios.  Even this was removed when it all became offices.

 

One of the trickiest jobs as a young and inexperienced cameraman was doing the 'weather pan'.  One camera had a locked-off shot looking at the Atlantic chart.  The weather man - Jack Scott, Michael Fish, Ian McCaskill etc - then moved to a smaller chart showing today's weather.  This was being framed by another camera.  At some point he would take three or four paces right to the next chart showing tonight's weather.  Since there was no script and it was unrehearsed you had to take your own cue when to pan.  It sounds simple but was highly nerve-racking as there were many false moves as he might take a pace camera-right and stretch across the chart to indicate East Anglia or the weather in the North Sea.  Some individuals would move very briskly and if you were not careful he would leave you behind.  Of course, if you incorrectly started to pan too soon then you either had to continue and leave him behind or stop and pan back in a rather pathetic manner.  This, of course, is when he would notice that you had begun the move and as you panned back to the left he would leave the frame on the right.  You can imagine the various cock-ups possible on this, the simplest of camera moves.  At some point they all must have happened although never of course by me.  No really.  Honestly.

Jack Scott in front of the Atlantic chart some time in the 1970s.  The charts were made of painted steel so that the magnetic symbols would stick to them.  (Sometimes, of course, they fell off.)  The isobars on the Atlantic chart were specially made by The Magnetic Rubber Company of Sheffield.  I kid you not.  They also manufactured the rubberised strips used to seal fridge doors.  Now there's a fact to impress your friends at parties.

With thanks to Geoff Hawkes and the tech-ops website.

A later version of the weather maps around the early 1980s.  This is Jim Bacon.  Someone has sensibly realised that the chart on the right needed to be angled inward in order to be exactly perpendicular to the lens of the camera doing the pan.

Note the caption stand with the scruffy bit of paper on it on the far left of the picture.  This was a satellite photo that had been printed onto very thin paper on a very primitive computer printer and held in place with a couple of magnetic strips.  The third camera sometimes took a closeup of this.  To see an actual photograph of Britain from space covered in whirls of cloud taken just a few hours earlier was considered ground breaking technology in those days.

How Jim appeared on screen.

thanks to The TV Room

A typical satellite image from the early 1980s.  The weatherman drew the red coastline onto the paper print-out himself.

thanks to The TV Room

 

According to a couple of sources, the floor of Pres B was used to house the first VT machines at the Centre when it opened in 1960.  Apparently, the videotape area was not ready to accept them.  By the time Pres B opened around 1964 the machines had long departed for the basement.

Pres B was used for a variety of simple shows over the years including The Sky at Night, Points of View and Barry Norman's Film '72 (and onwards) seriesAmazingly, all these shows continue to be made - Film 2013 currently presented by Claudia Winkleman and Danny Leigh and at the time of writing recorded in the One Show studio in White City.  The Sky at Night is thought to be the longest continuously-running TV series in the world, and is now shot on location.  Its main presenter, Sir Patrick Moore, fronted the show for over 55 years until his death in 2012.

David Scott-Cowan has written to me to point out that a separate programme department was created to devise programmes that would fit into this tiny Pres B studio.  It was based in the 'temporary' wooden building - originally the builders' site offices - that sat in front of TVC along Wood Lane during the '60s, '70s and '80s.  The programmes included The Book Programme with Robert Robinson and Did You See? with Ludovic Kennedy.

As mentioned above, around 1968 these studios were equipped with three Marconi Mk VII colour cameras each, which had previously been in use for a few months in TC6.  These were very, very long.  About five feet long in fact.  Add a cameraman standing behind each one and there wasn't much studio left.  All the more astonishing then that Pres B was the original home of The Old Grey Whistle Test.  It began in 1971 and occupied the studio one night a week instead of Late Night Line-Up.  If you ever wondered why they used bare studio walls as a set, and the cameras never moved, then just picture the scene:  A live band plus three enormous cameras squeezed into a space about the size of someone's living room.  It's a wonder there was space for whispering Bob Harris on his stool in the corner.  Some truly astonishing bands and solo artists performed live in this tiny studio for Whistle Test over many years. The show was also later made in any of the other studios that happened to be empty - always using the bare studio walls of course.

Bowie performing 'Five Years' on The Old Grey Whistle Test in Pres B on 8th February 1972.  This is on YouTube if you care to search for it.

 

In the early '90s the weather moved to a purpose-built suite containing several studios on the 5th floor of TV Centre.  Pres A was then taken over by CBBC and used as a continuity studio - its original purpose actually.  In 1995 the BBC1 and BBC2 transmission suites moved two floors down to the old telecine area following that department's move to the post-production area in stage 5.  The old control rooms on the fourth floor were converted into continuity suites for the BBC's new digital channels.

Once Studio 9 was opened next to the Blue Peter Garden around 1996, Pres A was closed.  Pres B also closed towards the end of 1996.  Alan Brett has written to me.  He worked for a hospital TV studio and informs me that he was invited to go and help himself to anything useful from the old network control rooms.  Whilst there he looked in the Pres studios and on the wall was a setting plan for Barry Norman's Film '96.  It was dated 18th November 1996.  It's reasonable to assume that this was the last programme ever made in the studio - unless, of course, you know different!

 

As a little aside - Duncan Stewart (who now keeps Riverside Studios going) informs me that around 1985 he went to Pres A with his Dad who was replacing the studio's dimmers.  They were simply getting a bit old.  Some of the dimmers were duly saved from the skip and installed in Old Windsor Memorial Hall, where in 2013 they were still working perfectly.  They don't make 'em like that any more!

Some of the original 1960 Strand dimmers from Pres A - still working perfectly in Old Windsor Memorial Hall in 2013.

photo thanks to Duncan Stewart

 

The network control for the two main channels moved down to the second floor, occupying the area previously home to telecine.  The old studio control rooms and associated areas were later converted into new digital continuity areas for BBC1 and BBC2.  Pres A and B remained as empty shells until 1999, when they were rebuilt with a mezzanine floor and converted into more transmission suites and technical areas, coming into service in 2000.

However, even this did not last and early in 2005 the playout department for all the BBC and UKTV channels moved to a highly secure and sophisticated purpose-built area in the new media village at White City, just down Wood Lane.  That operation is no longer run by the BBC but by a private company - 'Red Bee' - which was formed in late 2005. 

As far as I know, this suite of rooms was unoccupied throughout 2006 and into 2007.  In Jan 2007 I explored the area and found that it had been completely transformed from the way the old control rooms and studios were originally laid out.  Even the wall dividing the two studios had been demolished - with only a couple of pillars remaining.  That must have been quite a job.  There were a number of  rooms - one or two quite large - with smart carpet, glazed partitions and hardwood doors.  The only clue as to what used to be there was the area up the new stairs at the back onto the mezzanine floor that was built within the space occupied by the two studios.  Although this was now an empty office with suspended ceiling and carpeted floor, the shape and size of the old Pres studios could still be made out.  They seemed very small.

 

As mentioned above, during the late '90s the transmission suites for BBC1 and BBC2 were situated two floors down from their original location.  Matt Phelps has written to me about his memories of this period...

'It was a 2 person suite - the Network Director and the Announcer, who sat in a glass booth off the left of this suite facing back towards you.  The big green digital countdown in the middle of the stack was the 'weather counter' which was fired from this position and could also be seen in the 'self op' weather studio.  If it went wrong, or you forgot to set it before a weather report, it usually sent the weather people into a fury! This room always stank of diesel fumes - especially in the Continuity booths - for reason that we never quite got to the bottom of during my 6 years there!'

Network control for BBC1 in 1998.  Sue Barker, reporting from Wimbledon, can be seen on the preview monitor.  The green 'weather counter' can be seen to the right of the clock.  The large handle on the right of the mixer is a fade-to-black control.  This was apparently known by all as the 'f**k fader' since its use by the Network Director would only be in dire circumstances and usually accompanied by that expletive.

With thanks to Matt Phelps.

 

 

 

 

I haven't normally included entire emails sent to me on this website, rather I have extracted the relevant, most interesting facts as I judge them.  However, in this instance I am including pretty well all of an account of a distant world of analogue television from a perspective few of us consider.  He was part of the team that used to sit in a room on the 4th floor and run BBC1 or BBC2.  He spoke to us between programmes (timing his comments to the second), mixed captions and sometimes cued the VT or telecine machine - all live and unflappably filling in when disaster struck.

Here is the account sent to me by Piers Bishop - Presentation announcer from 1980 - 1983...

 

'I worked in TVC Pres in two capacities, first voicing the evening trails and then as a staff announcer in BBC1&2 continuity.

When I was there, in 1980-83, almost all the trailers that went out on BBC1 in the evening were transmitted via Pres A and voiced live from the Pres A booth in room 4057, sometimes with captions added live as well.  This was because the exact timings of the evening might vary because of news over-runs, live sports events, etc, and they didn't want to put out trails with the wrong timings on, so the sequences were assembled in VT with just a music and effects track, no voiceover and either no captions or ambiguous ones.  So for the main "Programmes Tonight on BBC1" trail Pres A would be listening to the PA in Network Control 1 and running the VT 10 seconds before it was needed on air.  Then NC1 would take Pres A as the trail began, and the PA in Pres A had to count through the trail cueing the vision mixer to super the captions, graphics op to change caption and the voice to 'read on' when needed.  We would have three or four rehearsals of this routine before tx but then we were live with no safety net.  Strangely, I don't remember it going wrong, despite the large number of cues and the accelerating pace of those trails in the 80s. 

One exception to the live voicing was the trail that went out after the 9.00 news and weather for the late evening viewing on BBC1 - if the news agenda looked stable we sometimes pre-packaged this in Pres A so we could go home earlier.  This was not a straightforward process - the 2" quad VTs used in TC only had one (mono) audio track, so there was no way to bounce the music and effects through the gallery and back onto another track.  To get round this there was a 1/4" studer tape machine in Pres A gallery which had been modified so its capstan motor drive could be locked to frame pulses fed from one of the telecine channels instead of the mains.  So within the limits of the mechanicals and tape stretch, it stayed more or less in sync over a couple of minutes.  To put a voice onto a trail, the VT op would lay about a minute of TIM (the speaking clock) onto the countdown clock before the start of the taped trail, then the whole of that TIM was played through Pres A mixer and onto the 1/4" tape machine.  As it went through, we added the voice, so the complete version was now on the 1/4".  Then both the 1/4" and the VT machine were re-cued to the top of the TIM, and on a shout from the director both were started.  They weren't in sync at this point, of course, but the Sound Super in the gallery could hear the packaged version on his output and the VT version on prefade, and with the aid of an advance/retard 'nudge' key on the 1/4" machine would attempt to get the 1/4" in sync with the VT before the TIM ended.  If it was 'in' by -3 on the clock, the director would shout "Record" on the talkback to VT and the VT op would put the one audio track into record, erasing the original and any chance we would have had of starting again.  If not, they tried again - most of the Sound Supers were very good at it but sometimes it took a long time to get it right.

This farrago happened a lot, because Pres A crew quite liked going home after the 9.25 weather.  The total crew on BBC1 evenings was quite big - in Pres A we had Graphics op, Vision Mixer, Director, Sound Supervisor, PA, S.Tel.E and another vision engineer to rack the cameras for the weather, plus at least one camera operator in the studio for the weather. Add the voiceover and that's nine - but the BBC1 gallery also housed a Director, VM, PA and S.Tel.E., as well as the continuity announcer, which means in total there would be fourteen people supervising the transmission of a single 1'30" trailer in mid-evening.  So it's odd to see the picture of the 90s network gallery with its single chair.

However, the announcers did the director's job in the daytime, running the whole network from the mixer you see in the shot of the 'broom cupboard' (which was known as NC1 continuity until Philip Schofield turned up in the announcers' room).  So the S.Tel.E would call up the next tape or film programme on the router and put it on one of the three OS channels on the continuity mixer.  The announcer called up VT or TK and confirmed the programme number, then the source gave us control. We would press the Run button on the mixer to check it really was the right programme and see how it started, then press Reset (for telecine) or just ask the VT op to reset on talkback.  Then you looked at the continuity script to see where you would have to pre-roll the source (VTs needed a 10-second count down, Telecine parked at -8).  Typically, when the current programme ended you would fade it down and bring up a caption for the same time tomorrow or the next episode of what we just saw, and talk about it, then cut to another slide and promote the programme after next (they actually were 35mm colour slides in a scanner), then to a network ident.  If it was BBC2 or an Open University transmission you could animate the ident for a bit of extra pizazz, while still talking.  And meantime, either 8 or 10 seconds before you needed it, you would have pressed Run to start the next programme, so out of the network animation you would be able to do a lead-and-cut (sound starts then cut vision),  a cross-fade or a fade-down-and-up to get to the incoming programme.  All while talking, watching the time, and making the video look right(ish).  And they say men can't multitask.

 

By 1982 the Pres. A gallery had been rotated compared with the later plan on the site - the huge GV300 vision mixer had gone in and there was a Chyron caption generator, though NC1 still used caption slides and the primitive Anchor caption generator in emergencies.  The engineering/racks position was on the right as you went in, with the studio window behind the engineering desk.  Production desk was in front of that and I think the monitor stack must have been up against the window to what had been NC1, which had recently moved up the corridor into what had been International Control, with its new Continuity.

BBC2 continuity still had the remains of its old dual-standard capability - there were 405/625 switches on the mixer and the B&W monitors.  The main colour monitors were big Prowests which produced a deafening 15 kHz line whistle which I can still hear to this day - as I expect can most of us who spent 12 hours a day in a small room full of monitors.  (I certainly share the same permanent whistle in my ears!)

There were some ancient BBC-modified Garrard 301 grams on which we played music in the event of breakdowns in the film, or at closedown if we were feeling 'creative'.  That didn't happen on BBC1 - every bit of the night was scripted - but on 2 you could go to the slide library and pull out a montage of stills to show with some music at closedown if you felt like it.  Roses for the Chelsea Flower Show, moonscapes during the space missions, etc - it all seems rather quaint now.  You had to load the slides into the slide scanner in BBC2 apparatus room - a wonderful place that looked like Marconi's bedroom, with a wonderful smell of old cabling, dust and electricity.  Unlike NC1 apps which was sparkly and new, NC2 apps still contained remnants of the 405 era, rubbing shoulders with new kit like the Philips digital noise reducer.  This famously took the rain out of a Wimbledon transmission, so viewers were confused when rain had stopped play and there was just a bright day to see on the screen&ldots;

The one new thing in NC2 itself was a Grass Valley vision mixer - then known by the BBC as an 'event mixer' because you couldn't just mix on it, you could cut on the live bank or set up the next event and then mix or cut to it.  This caused some problems - if you wanted to lead the sound of the next programme and then do the event the mixer couldn't do it, so a small sound mixer had to be added at the side.  BBC2 being a slightly more relaxed network, the preset mix timings were slower - I don't remember exactly but I think BBC1 could mix to the next programme at .4 and .8 seconds whereas BBC2 could mixthrough at .8 and 1.8 seconds.  No doubt someone who vision mixed or directed will remmeber that better.

 

It seems odd now that we transmitted programmes off film in 1983, but helical scan VTs were only just appearing in TC and even they couldn't handle the longest feature films, so transmitting off the original film was the logical thing to do.  It was not without hazards, though, as films occasionally fell off air or went out with the reels in the wrong order&ldots; Also, a number of imported US films had to be edited for language as some still could not be said on the BBC.  So the sound was copied off the film onto sprocketed tape, and this tape was edited and then played out in sync with the original film.  Taking out words would make the timings wrong, but putting the same bit of sepmag in backwards would disguise the word and keep the timings right.  You generally didn't notice it, even listening carefully, especially if there was a music background, which most of those dire, 'fast-paced' action films did.  Sepmag wasn't entirely reliable, though, and sometimes the track would jump off the sound follower.  This wasn't necessarily a problem if that reel didn't have obscenities in it - when the sound off the sepmag disappeared the gallery just had to take the telecine's main output until the start of the next reel.  But at least one US film went out while I was at TC with every reel but one 'clean' (i.e. a lot of "cuffs" in the soundtrack - while the other reel generated a lot of calls to the Duty Office&ldots;'

 

Piers Bishop

 

 

 

TC4A and the puppet studio

The main phase of construction of TV Centre also included a couple of other interesting areas.  In the corner of TC4 was a soundproof door leading to a studio about 20 feet square called TC4A.  It had no equipment of its own but did have wall boxes with sound sockets connected to TC4's mixer.  It was intended as a small band room and was occasionally used for this purpose in the early years.  It could also be used as a stand-alone studio for simple single-camera interviews but although it was soundproofed it had no fixed production lighting facilities.  When the studio was last refurbished it was reduced in size and converted into a kitchen and food prep area for TC4.

Through a door in the opposite corner of TC4 was another small wedge-shaped studio - although somewhat larger than TC4A and quite a bit higher.  This was the puppet studio and it had connecting doors to the studios either side so cameras could be wheeled in to make recordings.  It had no sound or vision facilities of its own.  It did have a simple scaffold grid with lamps on pantographs but how they were controlled I have no idea.  It was intended to replace the old puppet theatre tin shed in the yard at the back of Lime Grove but was only used for a few years.

This picture shows Gordon Murray and assistants in the new TVC puppet studio, making an episode of Rubovian Legends named Bees and Bellows.  It was filmed somewhere around the beginning of 1962, although it was not transmitted until October of that year.

Roy Skelton was one of the voice-over artists.  He later went on to become the voice of Zippy and George in Thames TV's Rainbow and, most impressively, the voice of the Daleks!

with thanks to Alastair Roxburgh and www.rubovia.org

 

Gordon Murray was the head of the BBC's Children's department and also produced their puppet programmes but by the time the new studio was opened he was beginning to become somewhat disillusioned.  He apparently didn't think the BBC really appreciated what he was doing for them.  He probably made around fifteen Rubovian Legends programmes in the new TVC studio. 

He was keen to move on from this method of filming as he was also becoming frustrated by the limitations of using puppets with strings.  He produced a pilot called The Minute Men (minute men - geddit?) using stop frame techniques rather than strings but his bosses in the BBC were not impressed.  Other short films met a similar reaction.  Rather depressed at this, he left the BBC in 1964 and set up his own studio in Albert Mansions, near the Albert Hall.  The Children's Department was closed at his departure and the puppet studio was never used for this purpose again.

(Or was it?!  Roger Singleton-Turner has written to me to let me know that in 1973 he shot some inserts to Paul Ciani's series Outa-Space in the puppet studio.  This involved some prehistoric monster puppets.)

Two years after he left the BBC Gordon Murray went on to have huge success with his own company making Camberwick Green and then Trumpton.  One assumes that the senior manager who had driven him from the BBC did the decent thing and shut himself in a locked room with a loaded revolver.  Well - somehow I doubt it.

Meanwhile, Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate created Smallfims and sold such classics to the BBC as The Clangers and Noggin the Nog.  The days of stringed puppets on TV seemed to be over.  Well, at the BBC they were.  Sylvia and Gerry Anderson of course had other ideas and kept the technique alive - ultimately producing such 'Supermarionation' classics as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet at their APF studios in Slough for ATV.  (See elsewhere on this website.)

 

As mentioned above, the puppet studio probably became assigned to the schools television department around 1964 although what they used it for is not yet known.  (Can you help???)  TC5 was the home of schools broadcasting and the puppet studio had good access via a large door to this studio as well as TC4.

 

Around 1983 this little studio became the video effects workshop where post production work was done on shows like Dr Who and various other dramas using BBC-developed multi-level overlay and early digital video processors.  In the workshop there was space for a camera and a small blue screen as well as VT machines and a complex video mixing desk with loads of bolt-on toys (see above).  However - its creation had been a long time coming...

Back in the mid 1970s a very small department of experts - who came to be called 'Electronic Effects Operators' had been formed - consisting of  Dave Chapman, Dave Jervis and Mitch Mitchell - under the management of Bob Wright.  They were used primarily to operate the inlay and overlay desks in studio galleries during the recording of shows.  However - they realised that some effects were best achieved after the recording.  In fact, you might say 'post-production' - although nobody called it that back then.

Previously, any video effects would have been done in the gallery at the time of recording.  Editing was simply that - making a final cut of the show.  Such things as colour grading for video material or any kind of video post production were almost unheard of back then.  Mitch describes how a typical effect was created...

'The Blake's 7 teleport effect with the white line was a hand drawn matte for instance so could only be applied to a pre-filmed sequence or after the video was layed down to tape.  These things were only possible after the availability of the video frame brought about by 1"C format and frame stores of which Quantel were the main UK protagonists.'

These complex effects were done in ordinary studio galleries whilst the studio floor was being used for a set and light day.  However, this wasn't ideal to say the least.  Mitch thought that it was 'nuts' to be using studio galleries for this kind of work.  Also - some were better equipped than others.  He pressed hard to have a dedicated area created for this expanding area of TV production. 

The requirement was for a room containing vision mixing and video effect facilities, some VT machines and a camera with a small area of blue screen and space to shoot models and miniatures.  The old puppet theatre was the perfect place but despite management promises that it was about to happen it was many years before it did.  As well as the obvious issue of the cost of setting it up there is little doubt that the union had serious concerns about these individuals apparently doing the work of several separate specialists.  Remember that in the 1970s the unions in Britain were not known for their flexibility and willingness to embrace change.  In fact, Mitch and the others were all union members, had all been cameramen and were already in some ways doing the work of vision mixers. 

Anyway - sadly, after much frustration Mitch moved on in 1980 to do this kind of work for a newly created independent post-production company.  A year or two after he left, the video effects workshop was eventually opened. 

A few other EEOs were created to join the two Daves - Robin Lobb, Adam McInnes, Nick Moore, Danny Popkin and Ian Simpson.  The work done in this little studio was ground-breaking for its day and it was used not just for sc-fi programmes but also to paint backgrounds onto wideshots in dramas, add snow or other weather effects - in fact much of the kind of work done by very sophisticated CGI today.

Despite the success of the workshop, by the early 1990s things had moved on and video effects work was being done in post production suites either in the new stage 5 at TVC or independently by companies in Soho, so the workshop was eventually closed.  The area became used as a store for the visual effects department with many Dr Who props being left there.  Bob Richardson remembers seeing several Daleks huddled in a corner, lit only by a dim emergency light.  Sounds the stuff of nightmares!

During 1997 the area was converted into the Sport graphics area as it was linked to Studio 5.  For the previous few years Sport Graphics had been based in a tech room on the other side of TC5.  This in turn became the lighting, vision and remote camera operating gallery.

On 13th December 1997 the area went live, working into Grandstand.  It continued in operation right up to the end of 2011.  Most of the kit was the same as had been installed 14 years previously - there was not much point in upgrading it with the move to Salford looming.  With all its CRT monitors I'm told it got very hot in there on a Saturday afternoon!

 

The last Sport programme from TC5 and its graphics area was Final Score on 26th November 2011.  The studio remained mothballed until 31st December but then became part of the S&PP portfolio of studios and available for hire by anyone.  The old Sport set remained until November 2012 - purely to be seen by the regular groups of visitors who tour the Centre every day.  However, early in 2012 all the cameras, vision mixers, monitors, lights - in fact anything that could be removed was removed rendering the studio unuseable.

Well... not quite.  As its swansong TC5 was brought back into life for the 2012 US Presidential elections in November.  A greenscreen was hung and Jeremy Vine presented the 'state of the parties' graphics from this studio.  Why in here and not in TC4, say, is a mystery.

The board in the entrance lobby to TC5 as it was at the end of November 2011.

 

Completing the main block

The final part of this phase of the construction of  Television Centre was the completion and fitting out of studios 1, 7 and 6 - in that order.  This would finish the building as it was initially designed.  Further expansion along the spur was in the concept phase only and no detailed plans existed at that time. 

 

TC1 opened on 15th April 1964. (I'm sure I remember watching a Blue Peter special on the day.)  It was of course equipped with monochrome cameras (EMI 201s) and would have to wait until 1968 before it was colourised using EMI 2001 cameras.  It was said at the time to be the largest television studio in Europe although actually studio 5 at Wembley was and is much larger at 14,000 sq ft gross when it has its huge dividing doors open.

The newly opened TC1 with the opening production of BBC2 - Kiss Me Kate.  Except it wasn't of course, as TV Centre was blacked out by a power cut on the night - 20th April 1964 - so it went out a few days later.  As everyone knows, Play School was the actual opening programme, coming from Riverside Studios the following morning.

The studio is 11,000 sq ft gross or 100 x 90 metric feet between firelanes (100 x 87 since the retractable audience seating was installed) and its size has proved immensely useful for all kinds of productions.

Originally it was going to have a section of the floor that could have been lowered with motors.  The official BBC book about the Centre published in 1960 states 'A pit is provided, fifty feet long by thirty feet wide which can be filled with water and will have above it a sectional floor that can descend to a maximum depth of 7 ft 6 ins.'  The idea went away before it was built but that part of the studio apparently still has a different maximum weight loading from the rest.  I can't think what kind of television production would safely be able to make use of a tank containing thousands of gallons of water and in the event I suppose others couldn't either.  I imagine that the problem of how to make the join in the floor so perfect that cameras could track over it without any disturbance to the picture also proved to be a bit of a headache.  It does indicate though that at the time of designing the building, cost was almost irrelevant and all they wanted were the best possible studios with the best possible facilities. 

 

TC1 was used often throughout the '70s and '80s for major dramas and operas.  Most of the BBC Shakespeares were recorded in here - using very expensive elaborate sets.  These were like mini feature films shot on video over several days.  I was privileged to work on several of them as a lowly camera assistant, sometimes being allowed to take the occasional static midshot.  Every month there was a major drama shot in the studio - mostly under the Play of the Month or Performance strand.  Operas were also recorded in the studio - the orchestra was in another studio with a televised link of the conductor on monitors all round the set.  The last drama series made in TC1 was probably The House of Eliott in 1994 and the last single play recorded here was probably Henry IV Part 1 in 1995.

The Beggar's Opera - directed by Jonathan Miller in 1982.  Lighting by Dennis Channon.  An impressive set by David Myerscough-Jones, typical of those that were regularly seen in TC1 in the '70s and '80s.  That's Ron Green on the front of the Nike crane.

One of the most celebrated programmes to come out of TC1 - I Claudius.  This picture was taken in 1976.  I can be fairly certain of that as I am the cablebasher on the far right of the frame.  (And that was a serious cable to bash, I can tell you.)  This series was the first I worked on when joining the BBC and I assumed at the time that the rest of my career would be spent working on programmes just like this one.  Ah well.

The others in the photo are Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Ian Perry on the camera and in the white T-shirt - Herby Wise, the director.

Note the panning handle on the camera is angled up at 90 degrees.  This was a technique used by Jim Atkinson, senior cameraman of crew 5.  All of us had to operate in the same way!  It enabled the camera to be controlled more easily when crabbing and panning.  This technique of fluid camerawork with the ped always on the move and operating on a wide lens close to the action was pioneered by Jim.  It was similar to today's use of hand-held or steadycam mounted cameras and was arguably 30 years ahead of its time.

This technique of actors 'finding the lens' as the camera develops its shot around the set was wickedly and hilariously parodied by Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield in their comedy review of the history of BBC2 which went out in April 2014.  Not many will have got the joke but I certainly did!

 

 

Major light entertainment shows used it too of course, notably The Two Ronnies and occasionally Morecambe and Wise as well as the show nobody speaks of - The Black and White Minstrel Show - which inexplicably continued to be made right up until 1978.  It has however never been a popular studio with comedians - its huge size dissipating any laughter or audience reaction.  However, some episodes of Fawlty Towers were recorded in it and I lit I'm Alan Partridge in this studio in 2002.  (The series in the house and caravan.)

The studio was always the home of General Elections - its huge size enabling impressive sets to be built that ITN could never hope to compete with.  Over the decades the studio was fitted out with all kinds of connectivity - hundreds of phone lines, video and audio inputs and computer links.  All this was ripped out and re-installed in BBC Elstree D at huge expense in 2013, ready for the next General Election.  (That £200m they sold it for keeps looking less and less like a good deal doesn't it?)

Blue Peter was also a regular user of the studio.  Its set was designed such that it could fit in any of the studios.  It was moved around TVC into whichever studio was empty on that day.  When it happened to be in TC1 they usually made the most of it and had large demonstrations of dancers or model cars or anything that could use all the space.  The Christmas edition almost always came from TC1 - the scene dock doors were opened and the Salvation Army Band and hundreds of choristers marched in.  Sadly, in their tiny studio two floors up in Salford's MediaCity, such things are no longer possible.

Leonard Bernstein and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in TC1 in 1982.

This was a recorded rehearsal of Elgar's Enigma Variations - the actual concert was the following evening in the Royal Festival Hall.  The many hours of rehearsal were all recorded and later televised in an Omnibus special.

I was thrilled to discover this photo in a book - you'll have to take my word for it but I was the cameraman hidden behind one of the musicians deep within the orchestra on the left of this photo.  This was one of the most extraordinary days I have spent in television.  Experiencing a master conductor guiding one of the world's best orchestras in how he wished that familiar piece of music to be played was a rare privilege.

Incidentally, I don't think he and the orchestra got on terribly well (which made great TV).  He wanted Nimrod played much slower than they were used to performing it and they all got quite cross with each other.

 

In 1988 the studio was closed for a major refit.  The galleries were all completely rebuilt - lighting moving to the opposite side of the production gallery.  The opportunity was taken to remove all the asbestos in the studio - the wall panels were removed and new ones fitted.  It was decided to close Television Theatre at this time and TC1 would become its replacement.  New retractable audience seating was installed and a new lobby was built at first floor level allowing audiences to enter the studio at the top of the seating rostra.  The seating was built on wall 2 - one of the long walls rather than wall 1, where it had always been set before.  This was in my view a mistake.  What resulted was a wide, shallow floor area for sets, with lots of wasted space either side of the seating.  All this work took a great deal of time and the studio did not reopen until January 1991.

Noel's House Party was a regular booking from 1991 - 1999 but other shows such as the Wogan show and National Lottery Stars used it too.

In the last few years before the building's closing it came into its own with popular shows like Strictly Come Dancing, 'Maria', 'Joseph' and 'Nancy', Let Me Entertain You, Last Choir Standing, Maestro and the audition phase of The Voice.  These big spectacular productions simply won't fit into any other London TV studio except for Fountain at Wembley and have enabled the BBC to present shows that are visually second to none.  Its final show in 2013 was a special in which Miranda Hart interviewed Bruce Forsyth and was recorded on 25th March.

The studio is due to reopen in the summer of 2017, following another major refit.

 

 

TC7 was almost exactly the same design as TC2 and TC5 (and also with long lighting bars) although it was a couple of feet longer.  According to the SMPTE Journal it opened on 4th July 1965.  It was originally due to open in '62, then '63, then '64.  Confusingly, according to the 1963 BBC Handbook (Jan 1963) it opened in 1962 but an IEE publication, 'The BBC Television Centre and its Technical Facilities', dated May 1962, states that 'TC7, as well as TC1 and TC6, will be gradually equipped and brought into service during 1963 and 1964.'  In fact, TC6 did not come into service until 1967.

Its design was very similar to the first four studios and the equipment fit was also along the same lines.  It originally had black and white Marconi MkIV cameras but was colourised with EMI 2001s in July 1968.  Play School was based in this studio for many years, providing excellent training opportunities for young cameramen and boom ops and not so young trainee lighting directors.  I still have in my garage a set of colour filters dating from the late 1980s that I carefully cut out and stapled together to create a very interesting underwater effect around the cyclorama end of the studio.  The director said she was very impressed but I think she was just being kind.

The lighting grid in TC7 photographed on Jan 1st 2013.

The photo was kindly sent to me by Joe Godwin who noted that those lights had illuminated many an edition of Going Live that he directed in 1993.  Indeed, I was responsible for deciding where those lights would be pointed on many an edition of the same show.

TC7 was used in later years for The Late Show, after it moved from Lime Grove, although of course dozens of other relatively small scale shows including panel games like Call My Bluff, cookery programmes with the likes of Delia Smith and childrens programmes such as Bodger and Badger were made in this studio.  The original three series of Vic and Bob's Shooting Stars from 1995 to1997 also came from here.  In 2002 it moved to TC1, which was quite a contrast.

From 1976, each Saturday TC7 was given over to live kids' TV - starting with Multi-Coloured Swap Shop until 1982 when it was succeeded by Saturday Superstore, then Going Live and finally Live and Kicking.  After a couple of series L&K moved to TC6 in 1997 - officially only occupying the same floor area as TC7 but, surprise surprise, the set gradually stretched over the years until it almost filled that studio.

A typical production gallery in the late '60s - in this case TC7.  PA on the left, then director, then vision mixer.  Confusingly, the vision mixer is also the name of the equipment he or she operates.

Until the 1980s all TVC's studios had the BBC-designed 2-bank system with 8 inputs - each with a fader and button beneath.  This was a totally different operating philosophy from the commercially designed mixers (switchers) in use everywhere else in the world.

Nowadays, all BBC studios use the same vision mixers as in other studios - usually made by Grass Valley, Sony or Thomson.

I have been sent an anecdote by Mike Renshall relating to BBC vision mixers, similar to the one above.  They could generate fancy 'wipes' by using a plug-in module - these were kept in a small flight case by the studio engineers.  The pattern of the wipe was illustrated on the cartridge that you plugged in for the desired effect.  Mike was a trainee engineer, working in TC5, when...

'...one day a vision mixer lady came into the back room and asked me (a young trainee on my own) for the 'box of 100 wipes'.  I of course didn't know then that this referred to the plug-in wipe modules for the BBC EP5/512 vision mixer (the one with the two quadrant faders on the mixer top and the 'clunk click' channel buttons) so offered her.. er.. a box of Kimwipes.  How embarrassing!'

 

From 1997-2013 TC7 was part of the BBC News empire.  Each weekday, Breakfast came from here, followed by Working Lunch, Newsround, The Six and Newsnight.  At weekends it was the home of Frost on Sunday which was replaced by the Andrew Marr Show.  A very busy little studio indeed.  In 2013 this rather sad poem was posted on the production gallery wall:

Stop all the studio clocks, cut off the gallery phones,

Prevent the Journalists from barking about a juicy bone,

Silence the signature tune and with muffled wipe bong

Bring out the TC7 End Credits & let the mourners come.

Let boom cameras circle, whirring overhead,

Framing the double-wall inset the message 'TC7 Is Dead'.

Put red W1 lanyards around the necks of the crew

While NBH security guys admit only the few.

TC7 was our North, our South, our East, our West,

Our Working Lunch and our AM Sunday best,

Our Newsround, our Newsnight, our HardTalk, our song;

We thought TC7 would last forever: We were wrong.

The lights are not wanted now: Put out them all;

Pack up the set and dismantle the Barco wall;

Pour away the Breakfast Tea and sweep up the floor.

For nothing now can ever come from here... anymore.

Please email me if you know the author.  He or she definitely deserves a credit.

 

 

Back in the early '60s the 'works block' was also finished on the east side of the site.  This was topped with a 13-storey office block - the East Tower - which was completed in 1964.  Although built at the same time as the rest of the main block it was not part of the original design and does not appear on any of the early models or drawings.  It seems like an afterthought and looked quite out of place with the rest of the site.  Its materials did not match those used on the other buildings and its design was typical of the type of bland office block of the period which seems surprising, given the unique nature and high quality of the design of the rest of TV Centre. 

For the last couple of decades it was occupied mostly by the Children's department.  The production office for Live and Kicking was on the top floor I seem to remember - I had the great pleasure of lighting that and Going Live before it for a few months each year for most of the 1990s.  Children's even had a couple of very basically equipped small studios in the building which were used for Newsround and CBBC continuity.  The Children's department left the East Tower during 2011.  It is due to be demolished in the redevelopment and another much larger tower containing flats will be built but a little closer to Wood Lane.

 

 

TC6 is an interesting case.  At the time the shell of the studio was built it was intended to install dividing doors and two sets of galleries.  It is therefore rotated through 90 degrees compared with all the other studios and has its long wall running along the scenery runway. The idea of being able to split it was abandoned before the studio was fitted out.  The lighting bars in TC6 were slightly further apart along the centre line because the grid was designed to make allowance for the doors that were never fitted.  Because this studio was 'sideways on' people occasionally described it as being long and narrow.  In fact it was the same width as TC3 at 70 metric feet and only two feet longer than the other medium studios at 92 metric feet.

The opening of TC6 was delayed until 1967 so that it could become the BBC's first colour studio.  BBC2 officially went colour in July of that year.  The first production was Once More With Felix starring Julie Felix.  (Remember her?  Just me then.)

Once More With Felix.  The first programme made in colour in TC6.  Looks fab doesn't it.  In those days they used fairy lights rather than Varilites.  (Sorry.)  You can actually see these lights in action on a clip of Leonard Cohen (who was a guest on this show) on YouTube.  Don't watch if you can't take too much excitement.

Note the cardboard lens hoods.  The real ones had not yet arrived.  Also note the grey floor and brown cyc.

In the late '60s following years of experiments at AP and studio H at Lime Grove the BBC had drawn up a book of rules as to what was and was not acceptable to transmit in colour.  It was almost as though they didn't want too much colour on screen as it might alarm the viewer.  Hence, for the first few years the most popular colour for cycloramas and scenery in general was brown.  Lovely.

 

A potted history of early colour cameras...

It had been a long wait before a good quality, reliable colour camera was available.  In 1966 there were three main European camera manufacturers:  Philips, Marconi and EMI.  The BBC carried out a three-way test over several months in Pres B using the programme Late Night Line-up.  Engineers in the studio examined their reliability - Marconi provided their own maintenance engineer, the other companies left it to the BBC ones.  Meanwhile, other members of the BBC great and good watched the pictures at home and made notes.  A decision had to be made urgently so that the first studios could be equipped in 1967.

 

Philips (under the brand name 'Peto-Scott') had its PC60 which was very good quality but perhaps a little soft - it had only three tubes.  Also, the company was not British - therefore at a disadvantage with regard to the BBC.  Nevertheless, two OB units were equipped with PC60s in 1967.

Marconi had its Mk VII which was much sharper, having four tubes.  This camera was designed in the mid '60s for the export market - in particular America - and with its lens bolted onto the front it meant that a wide selection of lenses could be used.  It was built using military-grade components and its electronic design was very advanced.  Ruggedness and reliability were intended to be key features.  The camera was sharp but its colourimetry was not liked by all - some described faces as looking sun-tanned, others simply thought that faces looked pink.  Someone has described the picture to me as looking like a black and white image with the colour added on top - which of course is exactly what it was.  Its luminance tube produced an image and the colour information from the other three tubes was superimposed. 

The main problem with the Mk VII was its weight and its length.  It was so long that the kind of typical camera moves used on studio dramas or light entertainment shows were not possible without each camera having an assistant or 'dolly-op' to move the camera pedestal.  Peds had to have a larger diameter steering ring fitted but when the cameraman stood behind it he couldn't reach the ped with his feet to push it.  Therefore he could not track or crab the ped in the usual way.

The third camera was supplied by EMI.  Some sources say this was originally named 2000, not 2001.  However, it was a long time ago and memories are not that reliable.

 

Anyway, the EMI camera in these tests was the nearest to the BBC's specifications.  In seeking sales EMI had worked very closely with the BBC to produce exactly what they wanted.  It was compact with an integral zoom lens so cameramen and directors loved it.  Its electronics were less complicated than the Marconi which supposedly made it easier to line up and maintain.  Its colourimetry was also closest to the BBC spec and (in its 1968 incarnation) produced very good flesh tones.  This camera used a different technique from the Marconi Mk VII, using the green tube to produce the basic image whilst the luminance tube supplied only the fine detail information between 1.5 and 5.5 MHz.  Perhaps surprisingly, this appeared more natural on screen in many people's eyes.

However - the only tubes that gave really good quality were Plumbicons - invented by Philips.  Naturally, they were reluctant to see other manufacturers use them.  Marconi got round this by selling cameras without tubes and asking the TV companies to order them direct from Philips which, surprisingly, they were willing to do.  Marconi had allegedly bought some Plumbicons for development purposes claiming they were for 'medical use'.  According to a technical paper by an EMI man named McGee, EMI attempted to develop lead-based tubes too but found it too difficult to get the mix just right and layer thickness uniform enough.  They were therefore forced to use much less sophisticated Vidicon tubes but these were nowhere near as good as the Plumbicon.  TV camera enthusiast Paul Marshall has written to me explaining the problem...

'I proved this for myself when I got the Marconi Coffin camera and the EMI (vidicon colour) 204 camera going for the NMPFT (National Museum of Photography, Film and Television).  Our 'scene', a red dalek, was perfect on the coffin, but the red sensitive vidicons just couldn't give a nice looking dalek (the blue and green tubes had so much red and infra red sensitivity that they always saw something through the crude dichroic and thus de-saturated reds.  Flesh tones were awful plus the low light shading, noise and microphony to boot!  Horrible.'

 

Ex EMI engineer Dave Craddock has written to me with his story.  He was EMI's technical manger in Australia and New Zealand betwen 1962 and 1966. In late 1963 he had four 204s that he demo'd at the 'Sydney Showground'.  This included an interview with the Australian PM, Robert Menzies.

He describes the 204 as three EMI 201s in the same box with Vidicon tubes, each providing an R, G or B signal.  He says that although the 201 was a good camera, having 3 together made registering the images very difficult, especially when the heat began to build up.

I'd better not repeat here what Dave thought of the people who were running EMI at the time.  However, he took a very dim view of the person who ordered cheap capacitors, most of which proved faulty.  They had to be replaced with Philips ones ironically and he says he filled a tea chest with the dud ones once a month.  Dave became so disenchanted that he resigned and joined RCA in 1966, before the 2001 came on the scene.

 

Peter Harris says he was told that that an early version of the 2001 was a three tube camera but it rapidly mis-registered after line-up so the conclusion was that three-tube cameras would never work.  This sounds as though it was probably the 204. It was only much later that they realised that the original yokes and tubes had been held in place with 4BA clamp screws (basically, rubbish) whereas in the later 2001 each of the yokes was secured in a tapered seat using 0BA bolts, which as I am sure we all realise were much less likely to slip when the camera was moved.  Obvious really.

 

What happened at the BBC tests is not 100% clear.  However, it seems likely that the results were a disaster for EMI.  The camera was clearly not as good as the Marconi.  The BBC engineers were dismayed as the camera designed to their spec wasn't the one that produced the best pictures.

Something had to be done fast to be ready for colour to begin in 1967.  Reluctantly, the BBC ordered 17 Marconi Mk VIIs which, thanks to Marconi pulling out all the stops, were duly delivered on time.  These were installed in TC6, TC8 and studio A at Alexandra Palace for BBC2 News.  Meanwhile EMI went back to the drawing board, persuaded Philips to sell them some Plumbicon tubes and spent months integrating them into the camera's design.  After a great deal of work they came up with a revised design ready for delivery in 1968.

 

However, I have also been sent an interesting email by Charles Hope - a retired senior BBC engineer - that casts a somewhat different light on this story.  He writes...

'At the time of this work, I was involved with the BBC Motoring Club (one of the many 'social' sections) and got to know the Head Of Designs Department (Neville Watson) very well.  He told me that everybody (Research, Designs and Operations) wanted to use EMI cameras but the Director of Engineering insisted the Marconi gave the best results.  In 1968, about a year after the Marconis had come into service, DE gave a major talk in the Theatre, fed sound only to all studios, in which he apologised for buying the 'wrong' cameras.  He retired shortly afterwards.'

At first glance this seems to contradict the other version of events - but not necessarily.  Firstly, it would be nice to know a bit more about this rather surprising announcement and apology.  I would certainly like to know the exact words the Director of Engineering used - and exactly what it was he was apologising for.  Perhaps for causing so much extra work by having to swap cameras round the studios so soon after they were bought.  However, he clearly felt at the time that he had no choice but to go with the Marconi.  Bear in mind that it does seem that the EMI wasn't as good in 1966 as it became a year or two later after more development work was done.  It is also frankly not very surprising that all those engineers wanted the EMI chosen if they had contributed so much to its design.

All this is most intriguing.  Can you shed any further light?

 

 

The author in 1976 with an EMI 2001 trying to look as though I know what I'm doing.

The picture was taken in studio A at the BBC's engineering training centre at Wood Norton, Evesham.

This print has been skulling about in the bottom of a drawer for 30 years and is a little the worse for wear.

 

Opinions differ strongly as to the relative merits of the various cameras of the day.  Those with ties to Marconi believe that their cameras were trashed unfairly by the BBC and that some sort of rivalry or worse existed between the Corporation and Marconi.  Interestingly, having seen this statement, a retired senior BBC engineer has written to me ...

'As a maintenance engineer in Central Area (later to become Television Network) we learned very early on to hate Marconi kit.  It was very unreliable!  Cameras, Picture monitors, Sync Pulse generators (I had the misfortune to have to commission one when on attachment to SPID) all failed far more often than other makes.  My former colleagues in what was Transmitter (Transmission) department had the same feeling about Marconi transmitters.' 

Of course this is only one person's opinion.  Other engineers may have had a different experience.  Certainly, there are several examples of Marconi MkVIIs in use by enthusiasts today who say that the cameras are reliable, well-built and still produce very nice pictures.  They sold very well all over the world - unlike the EMI 2001.  They were also popular OB cameras with some of the ITV companies.  I have, however, had an email from Ian Hillson who seems to be following the BBC line of the day...

'As an engineer, the thing I remember about them was the huge spares cabinet that you needed - every unit inside it seemed to have been designed by a different individual design team using their favourite components - so you had everything in there, transistors, nuvistors, thick film circuits, thin film circuits....

And Marconi only ever used salmon pink wire, so it was impossible to trace thro'...

And it was single core, so started to break as they used it at the hinge on the fold down front of the CCU....

And, I seem to remember, the lens they used was for an IO and gave a huge image size for the Plumbicon and not enough back-focus to accommodate the block, hence needed relay optics - and lost more light!  And it had a very Michael Mouse fixing system of a guillotine handle locking (or not quite locking) into an ineffectual slot around the back of the lens.  Methinks that everyone of my age has seen the zoom lens fall off a MkVII...'

So the 2001 became the favourite of the BBC - both cameramen and engineers liking it - and of course it remained in use for many years.  It was also bought to equip studios by most of the big ITV companies including Thames, LWT, ITN, Yorkshire, Granada and ATV.  They would certainly not have ordered it if they had not preferred it for studio work over the Marconi or Philips. 

Incidentally, I have been told by a retired BBC engineer of an apocryphal story concerning the time Granada was choosing whether to buy EMI or Marconi colour cameras.  It seems that the EMI was producing better pictures and when the man from Marconi came to try and improve results he is supposed to have said " A side by side comparison - that's not fair."  Actually, I think this tale says as much about the attitude of BBC engineers as it might about Marconi cameras.

Chris Whitehead has written to me with some more info on Granada's colour camera choice.  It seems that in 1969 they signed a contract with Marconi to refurbish 4 studios and equip them with the Mk VII.  However, once studio 4 had been equipped with those cameras and actually used for a few programmes, Granada went back to Marconi and insisted that they fit the remaining studios with EMI 2001s.  They must have had very good lawyers to amend that contract without a massive penalty - or maybe they could simply afford to pay it.

 

The 2001 was not without fault however - arguably no more reliable than the Marconi and prone to noise in some examples.  It was also not good at coping with dark scenes in plays - noise, smearing and curious colour casts are to be seen in old tapes.  Its greatest strength was also its weakness.  Its integral lens made it unsuitable as an OB camera where lenses are often changed and overseas TV companies did not like it for the same reason.  Only two zoom lenses would fit it.  Its colourimetry was not liked outside the UK.  The subtle tones it produced - giving excellent rendition of faces - could also made it appear cool and desaturated with some light entertainment material.  In particular, most US companies did not like it at all.  Perhaps they preferred orange faces.

Thus the original Marconis were removed from TC6 and TC8 after less than a year and used by the BBC where camera movement would not be an issue - in news studios and the Pres studios.  All the other studios were equipped with the EMI 2001.

 

Marconi and EMI each went on to develop a camera that was the opposite of the Mk VII and 2001 respectively.  Marconi produced the Mk VIII with its integral lens and much improved colourimetry.  In 1970 it was arguably the most advanced camera design in the world.  The BBC allegedly indicated that they were interested in purchasing 80!  Oddly, they actually bought only two - for a news OB unit.  In fact, probably three.  Ian Hillson and Roy Adcock found one in a cupboard in Elstree in 2000, apparently brand new and with a number 3 on it.  Ian had been an engineer occasionally working with the 2-camera OB unit and he was particularly cross...  '..."only bought two" ... pah!  They lied to us...'

One person who worked for Marconi has told me that he believes that the automatic line-up it possessed was not liked by the unions - fearing job losses - and the BBC did not want any industrial problems so avoided it.

A BBC engineer on the other hand recalled to me that his memory of the camera was that the automatic line-up was prone to errors and that a conventional line-up was often required in addition to the automatic one.  I have also been told by another senior engineer of the day that 'The automatic line up created enormous problems because it couldn't be switched off!  Lens aberrations at the edge of the picture could result in the camera deciding that the tube registration needed adjustment even when on air.'  However, Paul Marshall has written to me with this observation... 'Oh, dear, of course you can, it's a switch in the automatics drawer with several positions, including 'off !'  The automatics were never perfect, that's true, but they weren't bad if the tubes were from the same batch, correctly oriented and the beam current set-up right.  The later, MkVIIIB had a pair of 'size corrector' pots that mopped up a lot of problems to do with through the lens v. diascope line-up.  Lenses for tubed cameras invariably had chromatic aberration and inherently the diascope doesn't.  Thus, there were width and height registration errors when you went back to the lens.  The pots compensated for this and things were much better.  I think this is what your chap is talking about.'  Reading between the lines it does seem to me that the automatic functions of the Mk VIII were perhaps not quite as automatic as Marconi might have led potential purchasers to believe.

Ian Hillson takes the same view as the other BBC engineers...

'...The cameras were awful and needed a final tweak after auto line-up.  They had motorised pots on the CCU to store the settings! Fun to watch....

One of the problems as you say was that the diascope (obviously) didn't use all the elements in the lens - so you were still left with a bit of chromatic lens aberration to try and reduce.  And the green tube scan patch was smaller than the red and blue ones, just to make registration errors worse  - methinks that this gave the camera greater sensitivity (same light over smaller tube area) - sadly being three tube it was "contours out of green" which gave rise to soft & noisy red carpets at royal events!'

Ken Banwell - ex HTV engineer - has written to me with broadly similar views of the Mk VIII

'I came across them at HTV, who had 12 or 13, including 2 of the 3 preproduction ones.  The other was with the BBC News OB unit.  I notice that [Ian Hillson}says that the green scan patch was smaller than the red and blue.  It was the other way around - the red and blue had minifiers on to increase sensitivity.  The automatics after the addition of the additional pots worked quite well if set up.  The main problem was reliability from the wee cees - the red ones which burned out, the fans on the PSU`s that melted until replaced by metal ones and the camera head power supply (I still have one) which was a designers dream and an engineer's nightmare.  I could still line up a CCU without much thought after 20 odd years, I did it so often.  HTV tried twice to use one on an OB.  It never worked so they gave up and used a 2001 from studios if an extra camera was required.'

'A designer's dream and an engineer's nightmare' seems to be a common theme in what most people have told me.  Whether the Mk VIII was or was not liked by engineers, a cameraman who operated one told me that it felt odd in use - because the viewfinder and lens were offset.  In any event, the Mk VIII did very well in the export world so Marconi stayed in business.

 

EMI developed the 2005 after several years' research.  One wonders what they had been up to.  A long, ugly 3-tube camera with its lens bolted on the front was the result.  It produced soft, muddy pictures and was disliked by cameramen and engineers alike.  None were ordered for the BBC's London studios.  To my knowledge, only BBC Manchester, Granada studio 8 and LWT's studio at Wycombe Road were equipped with these cameras in the UK.

Within a short time EMI abandoned broadcast camera manufacture.  It is astonishing how they could have thrown their lead in this market away.  Sure, the integral lens of the 2001 made it difficult to sell abroad but there was no excuse for subsequently producing a camera that produced such disappointing pictures. 

Meanwhile, Philips quietly came up with the LDK-5.  A superb camera with triax cable that became the workhorse of BBC OBs and TV companies all over the world.

 

So in the late '70s the BBC were left without a suitable studio camera.  It was not politically acceptable to order a non-British camera to equip BBC studios.  They persuaded a little company that made CCTV security cameras - Link - to come up with a design.  The 110 was a soft 3-tube camera with integral lens that was not particularly liked by anyone but was just about acceptable.  Its physical design was not very sophisticated, as this experience from a Thames engineer indicates...

'At Thames I had experience of the Marconi Mk VII’s, EMI 2001’s and the dreadful Link 110’s.  The camera cable connector was attached to the chassis by 4 quarter inch, self tapping screws.  One day we noticed a couple on the floor and then spotted camera 1 tracking across the floor with its connector hanging in free air!'

The next design from Link that came along in the early 1980s was genuinely very good - the 125.  Most of the BBC's studios were eventually equipped with this camera.  Limehouse, too, ordered it after an exhaustive test looking for the best camera available at the time.  Everything was fine until Link went on to the next generation - the 130.  This model was developed in the mid 1980s to the latest BBC spec.  A set of cameras was delivered to be installed in Elstree A.  The studio was due to open with them in 1989. 

Sadly, the 130 overreached itself in what it was trying to do with the technology that was available to the company at that time.  It attempted to have an automatic microprocessor-controlled line-up but failed.  Despite all the efforts of Link and BBC engineers they could not make the cameras work reliably.  Oddly, at the time Marconi had a perfectly good camera (Mk IX) that did more or less the same thing - except that apparently it worked!  For some reason, the BBC would not contemplate buying the Marconi.  Very odd.  Shortly afterwards Marconi, too, ceased broadcast camera manufacture.

Having already bought some lenses to fit the Link 130s they had ordered, the BBC were left with a problem.  They had to find a suitable camera that would fit them.  The answer was found in France, believe it or not.  In 1989, a set of Thomson 1530s - one of the last tubed cameras on the market, was purchased for studio A at Elstree.  These were (of course) modified to BBC specs and were renamed 1531s.  Thus began a relationship with Thomson that was to last a decade.  4:3 CCD models followed by widescreen models were subsequently bought for almost all the BBC's studios over the next 10 years.  (The exception was at Elstree where the EastEnders studios bought Philips LDK 100s.)

Since 2004 Sony has become the BBC's manufacturer of choice, with almost all the TV Centre studios being first equipped with E-30 cameras and then HDC-1500 high definition cameras between 2006 and 2011.  These cameras are now in use at BBC Elstree D and Elstree Studios stages 1, 8 and 9.

 

Some might say that thanks to BBC camera policy during the 1960s-1980s - EMI, Marconi and Link were all forced to give up involvement in broadcast television.  You could say that EMI and Link failed because they were too closely involved with the BBC and Marconi failed because it somehow antagonised them.  However, you can't have it both ways.  Can the BBC really be held responsible because it ordered or didn't order various cameras?  What is certainly true is that all these companies had to give up at some point because their latest camera could not be sold in sufficient quantities at home and abroad.

Whatever the reason, there is now no British manufacturer of broadcast television cameras.

If you were part of this process and can add any information - or of course if you disagree with any of the above I'd love to hear!

Golden Age Television Recreations is a company that hires working examples of old TV cameras.  Their website has some excellent images of most of the cameras mentioned above.  Go to their 'equipment for hire' page.

 

 

Back to the late '60s and the dawn of colour on BBC2... 

Of course, costume drama was a perfect subject for colour and the first made in TC6 was Vanity Fair, starring Susan Hampshire.  The series began in October 1967.

It had been decided that the two big studios 6 and 8 were to be equipped for colour and would open within a few weeks of each other.  It was also decided that TC6, 7 and 8 would share a common apparatus room but in the event this proved to be a nightmare for the studio engineers to operate.  Within a few years walls were built and each studio had its own separate area and dedicated engineers like all the other studios.

Roderick Stewart has written to me with an amusing anecdote...

'Studios TC6, 7 and 8 did indeed have a combined apparatus room as you describe, but by the time I worked there, they'd already put up Marley blinds to separate the areas belonging to each studio, because the original plan was not as practical as they'd thought. There was a common monitoring desk (known as the "Magic desk") which had been included with the intention of checking colour consistency between the three studios, but it was hardly used, and eventually dismantled, though one of the control panels was so integrated with the workings of other equipment that we couldn't disconnect it, so we just buried it under the floorboards where it could sometimes be seen glowing through the cracks between them.  It probably puzzled whoever eventually dismantled the studios for their next refurbishment.'

 

One other item of interest about these three studios - they were initially designed to be dual 525 and 625-line capable.  This came as a surprise to me when I discovered it as I would have thought that exporting programmes to the US was not a high priority in those days - unlike ATV at Elstree.  However, I have been informed by one of the engineers responsible for the installation that TC6 did indeed make at least one programme in 525-line NTSC which was subsequently converted to 625-line PAL by the BBC's standards converter.  The programme was a play - Charley's Aunt - starring Danny La Rue and made in 1969.  I have also been informed that at the time the studios were designed there were no 625-525 converters, only ones converting from the US standard.  (625-525 standards converters came a little later.)  Thus, to make a programme for export to the US you had to make it in 525 lines.  It also seems that one current affairs programme for the USA came out of TVC for the London contributions and was made in 525-line NTSC.

Interestingly, there were some problems using the 525 lines/60Hz system as the frequency sometime 'beat' with the studio lighting causing a flicker.  The lights were fed by normal 240 volt AC current which of course alternates at 50Hz.  (50 Hz means that the electric current alternates fifty times per second.)  ATV's studios at Elstree apparently got round this by using a DC feed to their lighting, which therefore did not flicker.

Roderick Stewart has some more information on the 525-line capability of these studios...

'There was one set of 525 line NTSC equipment which could in theory be assigned to any of the three studios at the flick of a switch, but I only ever saw it used twice, and each time it was a nightmare of clattering relays, followed by hours of diagnostics to trace which ones had stuck and which DC fuses had blown because the system hadn't been used for years.  Thinking about all the things that had to be switched, the pulse feeds to the cameras and encoders, RGB feeds from cameras to encoders, inputs to and RGBS outputs from rack mounted decoders to colour monitors, and feeds to a separate waveform monitor and vectorscope, it was amazing it ever worked at all.

Not only that but there was some relay logic intended as an interlock to prevent two studios from being assigned the 525 NTSC gear at the same time.  If it had been necessary to switch it every day there might have been some sense in all this complication, but in reality it was more trouble than it was worth.'

 

 

TC1, TC6 and TC8 were designed with a new short lighting bar system with one dual-source luminaire on a rolling trolley on each bar.  Each bar was only 4 feet long and spaced with their ends 3 feet apart.  (In TC1 this distance is 4 feet.)  Each row of bars was spaced four feet apart, rather than the 6 feet in 'long bar' studios.  This arrangement gave much greater flexibility to the lighting director.  Top light entertainment LD Dickie Higham used to have his own studio classification which baffled many a colleague (including me) until the penny dropped.  According to him, TC1, TC2, TC3 and TC8 were all 'long bar studios.'  The rest were 'short bar' ones.  He was, of course, referring to the distance from the studio to the BBC Club.

 

The dual-source luminaires designed by Derek Lightbody (no, really) were first installed in TC6 and TC8 when they opened, then the rest of the studios at TVC, and D and E at Lime Grove.  There were even some at Television Theatre.  They were a clever way of reducing rigging time and offering more flexibility to the lighting director.  They are commonly called 'twisters' by everybody in the industry except the BBC.  The 'pointy' end - with a fresnel lens and barndoors - was fitted with a 5kW lamp which had two filaments, each rated at 2½ kW.  You could use either or both filaments by using a pole-operated switch.  When the Link cameras were installed in the studios, these needed less light so the filament size changed to 1¼ and 2½ kW.  So far so good.

The 'soft' end wasn't really, since the reflector was only about 18 inches square.  However, the original lanterns - called 'Quarts' by Berkey, the manufacturer - were fitted with a very good eggcrate, giving quite a bit of control over the spread.  Thus, they actually made excellent softened keylights and were used as such on many dramas and sitcoms. 

I shouldn't really use the past tense as they are still in use in various studios - or at least newer versions are.  The newer lanterns designed by Lee Colortran have soft ends with eggcrates giving less control over the spread but they are a bit softer.  Other manufacturers have also made their versions.  Beware the Kohoutek!  This monster attempted to use the same bulb for both ends and was a complete disaster.  Sadly it was to be found in a couple of the smaller studios at TVC.  Believe it or not this luminaire is named after a comet that promised astronomers a great show but when actually observed was a huge disappointment.  According to Wikipedia...

'Because Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations its name became synonymous with spectacular duds.'

Who'd have though it?

Here's one for the 'you couldn't make it up' department...

In 2014 dock10, the company that run the MediaCity studios in Salford, bought 85 of the ex-TVC Kahouteks from BBC Studios at a knock-down price to equip their flagship studio HQ1.  Which is either hilarous or tragic, depending on your point of view.  Frankly, whoever made that purchase can't have spoken to many lighting directors. (Dare I suggest, perhaps they should have read my comments on this website.)

 

I am told that one of the reasons the original Berkey lanterns were replaced in the 1980s was that a very useful material was allegedly used as insulation in their construction.  Yes - you guessed it - asbestos.  God only knows how much of the stuff was knocked out of them over the years whilst being beaten with a stick by enthusiastic electricians.  Let's face it...we're doomed.

 

 

TV Centre probably in 1960.  TC1 is built but not fitted out.  TC8 has yet to be constructed.

Ace cameraman and all round good egg Roger Bunce operating a Link 110 in TC6.  The play was something called Enchanted Castle apparently.  Note the painted floor - the scenic artists used to do some brilliantly effective floors in those days.  I believe this parquet effect was achieved using a sort of roller but other more organic effects were just as good.  To be honest, HD has killed all that - you have to use real floors now on sitcoms (no multicamera drama remains except for EastEnders) - mostly vinyl floor coverings which cameramen hate as they slow the peds down.  The ped here is an old Vinten HP - a few of these were in use right up to the end of the '80s until they were replaced gradually with Fulmars.

Before leaving TC6 it is worth noting that from 1993 this was the only studio at the Centre to have its production, lighting and sound galleries at ground floor level.  They had previously been on the first floor like all the others but due to the layout of the studio being lengthways, an area was available on the ground floor that had previously been used as large make up and wardrobe rooms and a lighting preparation area.  A 14 month refit that also included the removal of the asbestos from the studio was used to make the move downstairs. 

This was the time when the studios were opening up to independent production companies.  TVC was now in direct competition for business with the ITV studios on the South Bank (TLS).  Their galleries are on the ground floor which is very popular with directors, producers and lighting directors, who often have to make many trips to and from the studio floor.  Other studios around the country built since the 1980s also had galleries constructed at ground floor level.  The requrement to have windows looking out over the studio floor was no longer necessary.

TC6 did indeed prove to be very popular with many productions for this very reason.  Never Mind the Buzzcocks was one of a number of shows that found a home here.  All the more baffling then that when the new studios were built at BBC Glasgow and MediaCity in Salford, their galleries were placed an extraordinary 2 floors up at gantry level.  It is as if all the lessons learnt over decades of programme making were forgotten overnight and an unnecessary annoyance to production teams was introduced without a care.

 

 

Stage 4 was the construction of the first section of the spur.  In 1959, months before the building had opened, a meeting was held to discuss what would be included in the first section of the spur.  They decided that it would contain another medium to large studio - TC8 and the new news centre. 

Preliminary work began in 1963 and by 1966 the basic shell of the building was complete.  The occupation of the news area was postponed, however, by the World Cup.  The BBC, as host broadcaster, had to house the world's TV companies for the contest so the space was turned into facilities for them.  A temporary studio was built, equipped with EMI 203 black and white cameras, which following the World Cup was used as the weather studio whilst Pres A was being colourised.  Once this was over work could resume on equipping the studios and newsrooms.

 

TC8 opened in 1967 with Marconi MkVII colour cameras a few weeks after TC6.  The Marconis only lasted a few months and by April 1968 they had been replaced with EMI 2001s.  The design of TC8 benefited from the experience gained from working in the older studios. 

It soon became the most popular studio in TV Centre.  It was 2 feet wider than the other medium studios - and every inch counts when you are building a set.  The built-in audience seating gave it a classier feel than the other studios - almost like a theatre - and it had a lot more space left on the studio floor when you were using an audience.  Actors, comedians and performers loved it.

Its galleries were well laid out, the ventilation system was better, the makeup and wardrobe facilities were very good, there were loads of motorised scene hoists all over the studio, the lighting bars were closely spaced so lights could be hung almost exactly where the LD needed them to be, there was a large prop room leading onto easy access from the ring road - everything felt right for every department - from when the studio opened to when it was forced to close in 2013. 

It was the favourite studio for literally hundreds of the greatest comedy and light entertainment artists in Britain's TV history.  The programmes made in here included Sykes, The Liver Birds, Monty Python, Q, Are You Being Served, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Open All Hours, Dad's Army, Citizen Smith, Up Pompeii, Porridge, The Goodies, The Good Life, Reggie Perrin, Not the Nine o'Clock News, Fawlty Towers, Butterflies, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, To the Manor Born, Yes Minister, Only Fools and Horses, Bread, Hi Di Hi, Blackadder, Alas Smith and Jones, 'Allo 'Allo, May To December, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Just Good Friends, In Sickness and in Health, Ever Decreasing Circles, French and Saunders, One Foot in the Grave, The Fast Show, Lee Evans - So What Now?, Absolutely Fabulous, The Brittas Empire, Dead Ringers, As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, Dinnerladies, 2 Pints of Lager..., The Catherine Tate Show, Little Britain, Mitchell and Webb, Not Going Out, Yes Prime Minister and Miranda. 

Those are just a selection of comedy shows - maybe 10% of all those made in the studio.  There were just as many entertainment shows that included the likes of Morcambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies.  Even Hole in the Wall was made in TC8.  OK, maybe best forgotten along with Little and Large and quite a few others but there were plenty like Bob Says Opportunity Knocks, The Dick Emery Show, Blankety Blank, National Lottery Live, Jet Set, In It To Win It, Parkinson, Saturday Night Armistice, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, Look: Mike Yarwood, Dave Allen at Large, Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge, Top of the Pops, Tonight's The Night, Shooting Stars, Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Mock The Week etc etc etc and those are just the ones that happen to occur to me now.  There will be at least another 30 or so that you are bound to remember if I could be bothered to look them up on Wikipedia.

Right to the end it remained the favourite for many in the industry.  Closing it was a genuine tragedy carried out by people who had never been involved in making any television programmes in their lives and were utterly ignorant of the damage they were doing.  When it closed it was equipped with the latest HD kit, was still the best designed studio in the country and would have continued to have had bookings for many years to come.

I wonder if Mark Thompson and his board of management have any idea of the damage they have done to the popular culture of this country in closing down this studio.  It's like a bunch of sports fanatics deciding to close down the National Theatre because it looks a bit ugly from the outside.

Miranda - the last sitcom to be made in TC8 - in 2012.  Ideally suited to making comedy shows, the studio was loved by all who worked in it.

 

TC8 was also the first studio with thyristor dimmers controlled by a computer memory console - the Thorn Q-File.  This console was subsequently installed in TV Theatre and all the other studios at TVC except TC6 and Lime Grove D and E.  These three studios were equipped with the Strand MMS - 'Modular Memory System.'  This was a console with fader wheels rather than the motorised faders of the Q-File.  It had a slightly different operating philosophy from the Thorn desk which some liked, others not.   It was in fact the predecessor to the Galaxy - without question the best lighting console ever developed for TV studios.  For many years, almost every studio in the UK was equipped with one - they were available to purchase, in improving versions, from the early '80s to the mid '90s. 

Their manufacturer, Strand Lighting, offered no similar replacement when they stopped manufacturing them.  Bizarrely, they and all the other console manufacturers only sold consoles that very few operators or LDs believe are as suitable for television as the old Galaxy.  Thus, these old lighting desks soldier on.  Spare parts are acquired from old consoles being replaced in theatres or studios all over the world.  A few years ago, the BBC even bought an old Galaxy from Russia.

When one of the many lighting console manufacturers have a new one for sale that is as good as a Galaxy then they will probably sell about 30 of them within a year or two.  Sadly, this won't be Strand.  They went bust in 2006.

TC7 and TC8 were later equipped with a radical re-development of the Q-File called the 'Thornlight.'  It had obviously been designed by a committee and was in some ways rather clumsy to operate.  However, once you got the hang of it it was extremely flexible and I personally really got to like it.  These were later replaced by Galaxys, as eventually was TC6's MMS, until by the late 1980s the only studios still with a Q-File were TC1 and Television Theatre.

The curious saga of the QII

To continue along  this rather specialised lighting console tangent...

...a handful of' senior 'lighting and vision control supervisors' (console operators) at the BBC decided in the mid '80s that the Thornlight was rubbish and that the old Thorn Q-File was better than the Strand Galaxy.  There was, as it happened, a problem in re-equipping TC1.  It was due to have more than 1000 dimmers installed in its refurbishment and the software of the Galaxy could not apparently cope.  Thus, they persuaded the BBC research department to design a console that could control this many dimmers.  It was to be, in effect, a copy of the old Q-File using modern components and would be called the QII. 

It had only 99 files in its memory which for the kinds of shows that were being made in TC1 (Children in Need etc) was clearly inadequate yet the project went ahead.  It solved the channel number problem by including A, B, C and D on its keypad as well as numbers.  Some of the more junior operators like myself were concerned at what we would be losing compared with the Galaxy.  After some pressure, a modification was made to the design and a sub-master panel was included - a small victory.  

By the time the console was available and installed in TV Theatre and TC1 many of those who had pressed for its adoption had retired or were now LDs.  Thus a new generation of console ops had to make the best of this curious desk.  TV Theatre closed in 1991 so the only one left was in TC1.  Eventually, after console operators had struggled with it for nearly a decade one of the last Galaxies available was installed in TC1 in 2000.  Of course - all the dimmer numbers on the lighting bars had to be changed as there were no longer any 'A, B, C, D' dimmer numbers.  This was a huge task in itself!  An electronic patching system solved the problem with the amount of channels - as it could have all along.  Indeed, the same engineers developed an excellent one called 'Leopard' (can't change its spots - geddit?) at the same time as the QII.

This project was done with the best of intentions and looking back, it is very hard to understand what the people who drove the whole thing forward had against the Galaxy.  At the time, as a relatively new console operator I was perfectly happy with the Galaxy but I suppose I was won over by the enthusiasm of the project leaders.  A couple of TC1 studio engineers and a team of engineers from BBC Research Department spent years working to develop the QII.  For some reason, I was asked to demonstrate the prototype at the Institute for Electrical Engineers which was a little awkward as it was a very simple desk with no effects built in.  Indeed - its simplicity was said to be its main advantage.  I did a few cross-fades, ending up by cutting through a dozen cues as fast as I could accompanied by some music and everyone applauded.  Phew.

This really was the old BBC at its best and worst.  At its best because it put vast resources into creating something that no commercial company could supply and which it genuinely thought would provide the best solution.  At its worst because the project was essentially looking backwards not forwards, it must have cost a fortune, and clearly had no hope of recouping any of that through sales. 

 

 

The two news studios on the 6th floor of the Spur, N1 and N2, were not entirely fitted out with brand new kit, as you might have expected.  According to engineer Bob Taylor, no less than 65 large lorries were used to transport cameras, other technical equipment and all the office contents to TVC from Alexexandra Palace.  The move began on the night of Friday 22nd September 1969.  Astonishingly, they had to be ready for a broadcast into Grandstand the following morning and fully up and runnning by Monday.  People worked for days without going home, grabbing a few hours sleep when they could on camp beds in a conference room in order to complete the move without any hitches.

Actually, Roger Wilson has pointed out that the first news bulletin from TVC was not from N1 or N2 but from the newsroom - the lunchtime headlines insert into Grandstand.  He tells me he spent most of the time preventing editorial staff from wandering into shot as they no idea where they were supposed to be.

A couple of remote-controlled Marconi Mk VIIs in one of the news studios in 1969.  They each had a small 'stand clear' warning stuck on the panning head.  You had to watch out if you stood too close as the operator, sitting in his control room, might suddenly move the camera and that huge lens could give one a good old bash.

In the bottom left corner of the photo can be seen a motor bolted to the camera ped.  This controlled the ped height remotely.  Ian Hillson tells me that one evening, live on air, the feedback loop fell off the servo of one of these and it powered itself to full height in vision during a live studio spot.  All the racks man could do was to pan the camera down so the poor reporter ended his piece with a crick in his neck looking almost straight up into the grid.  Must have looked very dramatic, like the closing shot of a big movie.

picture thanks to Roger Smeathers

N1 (TC10) during the 1980s.  The cameras are Bosch KCP 60s.

Both news studios were originally about 30 x 40 ft.  This was a bit of a disappointment to the news department, who had become used to working at Alexandra Palace in studios almost twice as big.  It is odd actually, that they were so small and consequently somewhat limited in their potential use.  However,  in 1984 N2 was enlarged to include the lobby area and prop store that was sited adjacent to the two studios.  It thus became about 40 x 50 ft but one end has a low ceiling.  This enabled a big wideshot of the studio set to be done at the beginning of the Nine o'Clock News around that time.

I'm sure there are plenty of anecdotes of incidents during news broadcasts from these studios.  Please send me some if they are relatively short and of course amusing/interesting.  Well-known ones of course include Jan Leeming surviving an exploding light bulb above her head whilst on air in 1980.

On May 23rd 1988 the 6 o'clock News was invaded by several women protesting against Section 28.  Sue Lawley kept cool under fire whilst Nicholas Witchell sat on a passing lesbian to try to shut her up.  The most impressive part of this was that the protestors actually found the studio.  Most people who worked at the Centre had no idea where it was.

Then there was the 1976 Peter Woods incident - some assumed a little the worse for wear after a few hours in the BBC Club.  In fact it occured at seven thirty in the evening, during a five-minute bulletin into BBC2.  After several slurred attempts to read out the trade figures he gave up, saying "Apparently, the trade figures are an awful lot."  Network Control then faded him out and the continuity announcer had to make a quick apology.  Hundreds of viewers phoned in to complain.  His condition was later blamed on the effect of medication 'for sinus problems.'  The news was always recorded 'PasB' on a domestic video recorder but on his website Bob Taylor, studio engineer, owns up to having removed the tape on the spur of the moment and erased it to save Peter's blushes.  The official announcement was that the machine had been faulty.  The incident didn't seem to affect Mr Woods' career however, and he was even included in the famous Christmas Morcambe and Wise dancing newsreaders sketch singing the last line.

A little postscript to this incident:  I'm reminded that despite the 'official' video recording having been lost, Kenny Everett used to play it during his anarchic radio show.  How he got hold of it is a mystery but apparently a unit in the bowels of Broadcasting House had the job of transcribing news broadcasts so used to make an audio recording of the TV news.  'News Sound Recording' dept in the Spur of TVC also it seems would have had an audio copy so the mole who leaked the tape to Mr Everett might have worked in either of those departments.  Or of course, neither.

Another anecdote from Roger Tone's memory bank was recounted to me by Ian Hillson.  It seems that Robert Dougall, one of the 'old school' BBC newsreaders, liked to sit on his 'lucky cushion' when he was in front of camera.  He was known as being icy cool and with a somewhat subtle sense of humour.  For a bet, one of the crew (who shall not be named here) placed a fully-charged whoopee cushion under the favourite 'official' one and the studio crew awaited the inevitable result when Mr Dougall sat down.  He was a little late into the studio and sat down rather gingerly just before transmission.  The whoopee cushion failed to detonate so all those in the know spent an agonising 10 minutes during the bulletin praying that it would not go off during a particularly serious piece to camera.  The studio director, fully appraised of the situation, instructed the floor manager confidentially over talkback, "If it goes off on-air I expect you to say 'excuse me'..."   It didn't - and Mr Dougall went to his grave never knowing how very close to an embarrassing incident on camera he had been.

Roger Wilson tells me that the cushion was subsequently placed on various reporters' chairs - they had a habit of rushing into the studio and flinging themselves down with disastrous consequences.  Fortunately, this only happened in rehearsals - it was the floor manager's responsibility to ensure the chair was clear for touchdown during transmission.

 

 

N1 and N2 were closed in 1998 when the new News Centre opened in Stage 6.  They became the 'property' of BBC Resources who renamed them TC10 and TC11 but that department could not afford to refurbish them so they were left unused for a couple of years.

TC10 (30 x 40ft) was the home of daily afternoon shows The Phone Zone from April 2000 and then TOTP@Play, both broadcast on satellite channel UK Play.  When this channel closed down in September 2002 the studio was unused for a while but then became the home of the Virtual Reality (VR) department until 2004.  However, it is not known what VR programmes were made here.  During this period it was also used to make two new series of Treasure Hunt for Fremantle in 2002 and 2003. 

From 2004, TC10 entered a 'service level agreement' with the Children's department and was used for presentation and continuity for childrens programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 replacing TC9 in this role.  From April 2006 the daily Level Up show was based here.  This replaced X-Change on CBBC channel.  Level Up ended its run in Sep '06.  This studio was then on long-term booking to Children's dept until they moved to Salford and various children's series used the studio during that time.  The studio was closed once Children's moved north but the studio floor was occasionally used for single camera interviews etc.

TC11 (50 x 40ft) was opened as the home of Liquid News from February 2002.  At the extended end of the studio with the lower ceiling the 60-Second News set was built.  Both these programmes went out on BBC Three.  Liquid News became very popular with a small but dedicated audience.  Initially it was based in TC0 and then moved to this studio to make way for CBeebies.  The original presenter, Christopher Price, had a dry innuendo-laden style and the show became very much his vehicle.  Tragically, he died suddenly on 22nd April 2002, at the age of just 34.  The show gradually reduced in audience terms and was quite expensive to produce with reporters being sent to glamorous locations all round the world.  It was axed on 1st April 2004.

TC11 then became the home of BBC Three's 7o'clock news.  This in turn ended in December 2005.

The studio was subsequently used for a few news-related bookings, including covering for the main news studios whilst they were being refurbished in 2006.  It then returned to the BBC Studios portfolio and was available for general use.  I understand that TC11 was occasionally used by the Sport department.

In the autumn of 2008, 2009 and 2010 it was used for the daily Strictly Come Dancing spin-off series - It Takes Two.  Previous series had been made at independent studio The Hospital Club, with its lovely Thomson LDK 6000 HD cameras, so the rather less sophisticated JVC KY-29D cameras in this studio certainly provided a bit of a challenge to the lighting and engineering departments, to say the least.  Fortunately these dreadful cameras were replaced by the Sony E-30 cameras from TC6 in the summer of 2010, which although SD were still very nice indeed and only 6 years old. 

In 2011 the Smithy 'round table meeting' sketch for Comic Relief was shot in here over a number of days using a host of A-list celebrities and politicians.  The studio was closed in the autumn of 2012 and its equipment removed.

 

 

Back to the history of the building...

During the 1980s the site was developed further.  Offices were built behind the scenery block which also contained the telephone exchange - hence it became known as the EBX block - and opened in 1982.  The multistorey car park for 964 cars just snuck in before such things became completely impossible for planners to agree to and also opened in 1982.  It was said at the time that planning permission had only been granted by the council on the condition that it would be used by those working unsocial hours.  Astonishingly, once opened many such people found it very difficult to obtain car park passes and it appeared to be at its fullest between 09.30 and 17.30 during weekdays.  Fancy that. 

A Blue Peter time capsule was buried inside the concrete ramp near the entrance.  The brass plate indicating its location was removed early in 2013 - possibly by a souvenir hunter.  The car park will be demolished and replaced with affordable housing during the redevelopment so what will happen to the time capsule?  I have read one report that this time capsule was removed at some time and re-buried in the BP garden and this was one of the two that was found damaged.  Can you confirm this - or is it still here?

Above - the brass plate indicating the buried Blue Peter time capsule.  I took this photo late in 2012.  Very difficult to read but it is something like 'Blue Peter 1980s Box - xxx xxx lies a record - xxx xxx the 1980s - xxx the children of  - Samuel Lucas School - Blue Peter.  Below is the ramp with the position of the time capsule clearly indicated in the concrete.  This photo was taken in March 2013 but as you will see, someone has removed the brass plate.

photo below thanks to Mike Parkins

 

Yet more office space had to be found so a ring of prefabricated buildings were set on top of the scenery runway.  This became known as the 'periphery' and these offices containing 15,000 sq ft opened in 1985, blocking the view of the park previously enjoyed by those sitting on the terrace outside the BBC Club.  This view had been carefully planned by Dawbarn in the original design and was no accident.  Still - these were the 1980s and offices had to come first, obviously.

The view from the East Tower in 1985.  Work is just commencing on Stage 5.

In the background White City Stadium has been demolished but the old dog track is still visible.

photo thanks to Mike Renshall who tells me that the tiny white blob towards the top right is the camera blimp over Wembley Stadium.

The Centre showing the first section of the spur completed but before stage 5.

I have read somewhere that Dawbarn intended that the main facade should represent a TV set, the curved wall of office windows being the screen.  Hmmm.  Not sure.

Having said that, the proportion of width to height of the central grey section up to roof level is exactly 4:3, the same ratio of a TV screen in 1960.  So...maybe.

 

Television Rehearsal Rooms

Before moving onto Stage 5 a brief mention ought to be made of the Television Rehearsal Rooms in North Acton.  Clearly, not part of TVC but very much tied in with the process of making programmes at the Centre, they were only two stops down the Central Line.

Mike Jones has passed to me all sorts of fascinating info about this little area of TV history.  (The picture above is thanks to him).  He used to manage the bookings as part of his job.

When TV Centre was in the early stages of planning it had been assumed that rehearsal rooms would be included.  However, the BBC at the time needed about 30 such rooms - all big enough to compare with the space available in a studio.  They soon realised that there would simply not be sufficient space on site and of course cost was another issue.  Therefore they would continue to book all the old drill halls and church halls currently in use.

Astonishingly, this decision caused a flurry of letters to The Times in Nov/Dec 1962 involving a prominent MP and several others.  These decried the despicable treatment of actors by the BBC.  The head of drama at Granada rubbed the BBC's noses in it by pointing out that Granada had included rehearsal rooms in its new centre.  However, for the first decade of TV Centre's life, actors and performers would have to slum it as before.  (As indeed they do now.)

This decision was most unpopular, not only with performers but with directors and producers too.  According to Mike Jones - Bill Cotton Jr, being shown around the Centre for the first time, nonplussed the assembled top brass by agreeing that it was all wonderful but then went on to ask; "Where are we supposed to rehearse?"  Bill was just a Light Entertainment producer at the time but in 1962 was made Assistant Head of Light Entertainment.  In later years he of course became head of Light Entertainment and then Managing Director of Television.  One can't help thinking that if he had been in charge a few years earlier there would have been some suitable facilities included at the Centre.

However, the BBC were eventually forced into making some new arrangements.  In 1968 the government announced a planned reduction in the size of the Territorial Army and many drill halls around the capital would close or have a change of use.  The BBC would have to provide its own facilities after all.  They drew up plans and did a deal with a property development company who would be responsible for building them.  The Television Rehearsal Rooms in Victoria Road, Acton opened on 4th May 1970 containing eighteen large rooms.

The local press visited soon after opening and reported that the following programmes were in rehearsal: Dr Finlay's Casebook, Dad's Army, The Doctors, a drama series called Codename, Up Pompeii, a Brian Rix farce, and an edition of 30-Minute Theatre.

The building was very impressive - seven floors high and with a great view of - well, Acton actually - from the canteen's terrace on the top floor.  The ground floor was where rehearsal props and hundreds of white poles on bases were stored.  (These were used to denote doorways in sets.)  Each of the first to sixth floors had three very large rehearsal rooms of 70' x 50', 70' x 50' and 80' x 50'.  There was also a large green room on each floor.  The first floor rehearsal rooms even had sprung dance floors.

For the first twenty years of its life it was very busy with all kinds of shows being rehearsed - dramas, comedies and variety shows.  The canteen at lunchtime was filled with dozens of famous showbiz stars - actors, singers and dancers all rubbing shoulders and massaging egos.

Of course, in the early 1990s it was considered by the accountants that such facilities ought to make a profit (!?) so a price was put on the hire of each room.  Few programmes could afford to pay the unrealistic hire rate set by - well - I wonder who? - so sitcoms and sketch shows mostly moved out to cheaper church halls.  (Why didn't they charge productions the same as other accommodation, one wonders, then the licence payers' money would have stayed within the BBC, rather than going to the owners of all the less suitable halls.  You see, I simply don't understand how to run a business.) 

To be fair, by the '90s the rooms were not needed by anywhere near as many productions as in previous years.  The change from multicamera studio drama to single camera shooting meant that the need for rehearsal rooms for dramas dried up (they were usually rehearsed at the shooting location) and the old variety shows also went out of fashion.

So - by the end of the 1990s, two of the floors were being used as the costume and wig store and the rest was turned into - offices.  Hey ho.  It does seem strange that at least one floor could not have been kept on with its three rooms for rehearsals.  The BBC Comedy department could certainly have kept those in use - and of course they could also have been rented to independent companies too.

In fact, a couple of rooms did become vacant around 2007 when it was clear that the building would soon be disposed of.  The office furniture was cleared away and they became - rehearsal rooms!  They were busy for several months and proved what could have been done for the previous decade with a bit of - dare I say it - imagination and common sense.

The BBC left the building in the spring of 2008.  It was demolished in the summer of 2010.  What a shame.

 

 

Stage 5

In 1978 a steering group had been set up to examine what could be included in the project to complete TV Centre - in other words, Stage 5.  The 'Television Development Committee' chaired by Robin Scott would examine four or five possibilities.  (One of the intentions was that this final phase of construction would partly replace the existing facilities at Lime Grove and TV Theatre.)  Their conclusion was to construct stage 5 in two phases - the first would provide a new videotape area containing 100 machines (in fact it became 130) and accommodation for staff from Lime Grove.  The second phase would see the construction of a replacement for Television Theatre (TC9). It was assumed that the project would be complete by the mid 1980s.

In fact, construction did not commence until January 1985 and the first phase was completed in February 1988.  It contained no television studios although at the time it was still assumed that the new TC9 would be built within a few years.  The huge task in designing the new studio was begun.  By October 1985 the plans were well developed - even to the extent of building a large scale model in which acoustic tests could be undertaken.  The huge volume of the new studio - far greater than any other built by the BBC - was raising issues of reverberation within the building and the possible penetration of traffic noise.  Thus the research and detailed plans for TC9 gathered pace.

To support the weight of the new building, piles 100 ft deep had to be driven into the ground.  Its largest single girder is 22 metres long and weighs 12 tons.  Despite these superlatives Stage 5 is a monolithic brick-faced block that does not quite match the colour or style of the previous construction.  The back of the building is in my view particularly unsympathetic to the original design.

 

Stage 5 included the BBC post production areas on its upper floors.  130 VT machines were installed.  Rather different from the 16 machines the VT area in the hub was originally designed for. 

The move of the VT department to stage 5 did not take place immediately.  They had to wait for a new tape format to be established before equipping all the suites.  This format was the D3 cassette.  Developed by Panasonic, the BBC was its first major customer.  A few suites were opened in 1991 and used for training but the big move to stage 5 happened in January 1992. 

The BBC's post production department had been created in 1989 - combining film editing with VT editing and sound dubbing.  This new department was, as its name suggests, more concerned with what happens to the programme after it has been made rather than during it.  From 1991, the new D3 cassette enabled every studio to be equipped with its own machines in the studio's apparatus room which were remotely operated by the studio resource manager who sat in the production gallery.

The new VT suites in stage 5 thus became almost entirely used for editing.  In the late '90s as each studio was converted to digital widescreen, the tape format in general use was changed to Digital Betacam. This used the superior component system of recording whereas D3 recorded composite pictures.  It took many years and several tape formats but with Digital Betacam we at last had a recording system in use that in playback was indistinguishable from the original live pictures.

 

In 2006 the BBC announced that over the next few years it planned to go over to a tapeless system of recording and transmitting programmes, meaning that everything would be stored on hard disk or server.  This was to avoid having to digitise recordings prior to editing, grading and dubbing.  The transferring of the final edit to a master tape would become a thing of the past with programmes being transmitted as data directly off a hard drive.  This was to simplify the whole post production process and cut costs.

In fact, not much was done about this for two years - it was not until 2008 that the BBC announced a grand scheme to transfer all its archive material as well as all new recordings onto digital media servers.  This was to be called the Digital Media Initiative.  You may have heard of it.  They spent a reported £98.4m on the project and it was abandoned in May 2013.

Despite the good intentions, 'going tapeless' has taken many years to achieve - the catastrophe of the BBC's DMI became front page news and this certainly didn't help.  However, this is not just a BBC thing - most other facilities and channels took far longer than anyone anticipated to leave the security and familiarity of tape.

Even in 2013 about half of all programmes were still being recorded on tape and subsequently digitised for post production work although it is likely that by the end of 2014 the majority of programmes will at last be recorded directly onto hard drive.

 

BBC Post Production did most of its work at TVC for the Sport department in the last decade or so of TV Centre.  They did do some work for factual productions and BBC Entertainment shows (eg Strictly) but most comedy productions preferred to use independent facilities in Soho.  Once Sport moved to Salford it was clear that the department would have to be considerably reduced in size when it moved out of TVC.

In November 2012 the post production side of BBC S&PP began moving into the old premises of Editworks, which had gone bust a few months earlier.  (Any alarm bells ringing??)  The new HQ was to be in Charlotte Street, Soho - an area of London where many film and TV production companies are based along with several other post production houses. 

It was equipped with nine Avid Media Composer offline suites, nine Avid Symphony Nitris DX finishing suites, an Avid Pro Tools 5.1 audio suite and an Autodesk Smoke system.  (The days of 130 VTR machines long gone.)  The new building was to house 14 permanent staff and freelancers - rather fewer than Stage 5 in its heyday.  Meanwhile, the company's Digital Media Services department moved to South Ruislip.

I had the pleasure of going to the new Charlotte St premises for the grading of a sitcom in July 2013 - in fact we were the first show to use the new suite.  Very nice it all looked too.  Three weeks later S&PP announced that for some reason, the business plan did not work and they would be closing Charlotte St down at the end of 2013.  Extraordinary.  Quite how the sums could have been so wrong is difficult to fathom - the new business was hardly given a chance to see if it could be made to succeed.

So - sadly for those made redundant - the PP part of S&PP hardly exists any more.  They still provide editing facilities for EastEnders and Holby City at Elstree - and the South Ruislip facility with its digital media servers is still operating.  Their speciality is the transferring and restoration of old programmes from 16mm film, 2 inch and 1 inch VT and old SD cassette formats into a digital format for preservation.  It doesn't get much more post production than that.

 

 

TMS/TC0

The new stage 5 included a music studio on the ground floor.  It was built to replace the TMS (studio H) in Lime Grove and was equipped to a very high standard.  It opened in July 1989 and was planned to have sufficient space for 40 musicians. It apparently had an automated Neve 48-channel sound desk together with 2, 8 and 24-track ATRs.  (I was previously mystified as to what these initials stood for.  It was more than a year before Aiden Lunn wrote to me to point out the obvious.  ATR stands for 'audio tape recorder'.  Doh!!!)

The main floor area is 52 x 26ft but it also had a very large control room at 35 x 21 ft and a separate smaller soundproof 'loud' booth which is 21 x 15ft.  The whole studio is a floating box within a box construction.  The walls have variable acoustic panels that can be turned round for hard or soft surfaces, and it has a silent ventilation system.

Unfortunately, the new TMS only had a working life as a sound studio for a few years.  With the new commercial way of working introduced in 1993 (snappily named 'Producer Choice') each studio had to bid for bookings in competition with those outside the BBC.  Despite its superb facilities it was priced too high and therefore did not get the use it deserved.  It struggled to pay its way for a year or two until the decision was make to close it.  It might seem curious to some that closure was a better idea than cutting the hire cost to attract business but that is the way an accountant's mind seems to work.

 

Around 1995 the studio found a new use.  It reopened as a 'virtual reality' studio following a name change.  It was considered unwise to call it TC9 as the BBC policy in the '90s was to close studios, not open new ones.  Senior BBC management might not understand.  Therefore it became TC0 ('TC zero') which also had a nice 'virtual' ring to it.  Matt Goodman has written to me claiming to be the one who thought that one up, and who am I to doubt him.

The studio was initially equipped with a 2-D system called 'Virtual Scenario'.  Around 1997 this was upgraded to a 3-D system called 'Free-D'.  Richard Russell worked on this project.  He informs me that Free-D was first shown publicly at IBC in 1997.  It had been developed by BBC Research Dept. and many people thought it would be very popular with programme makers.  The system allows actors or presenters to move freely in front of a blue screen whilst the camera can track, pan, tilt and zoom.  Hand-held cameras can also be used.  Sensors detect all these parameters partly by looking at 'targets' mounted all over the studio grid and the system automatically locks the background behind the artist.  This background can be a photograph or more interestingly a computer-generated 3D world.

I mentioned 'blue screen' but it was even cleverer than that.  The cameras had a ring of blue LEDs around their lens and the cyclorama and floor were made of grey fabric impregnated with millions of highly reflective glass beads (rather like a road sign).  Thus the camera saw the cloth as bright blue but the actors could be lit in any colour to match the background.

Free-D was a great idea but sadly few producers initially liked it or understood its implications and only a handful of VR programmes were made in TC0.  These included Record Breakers Gold - although in fact this show probably only used the 2-D system..  Richard Russell also recalls another children's series, probably broadcast live on Sundays, which involved children searching for objects that they couldn't see (although the viewers could, through the magic of VR).

As a small studio, TC0 was perhaps not the best environment to fully explore the potential of Free-D.  Therefore, VR 'targets' were installed in the grid of some large studios.  One quarter of TC4 had them mounted between the lighting bars - I lit an experimental VR programme in there in July 1997.  TC1 was fully equipped for Fightbox and Elstree D for the series Bamzooki.

Shortly after the studio closed as a sound studio, the control room was converted into a dubbing suite.  Thus it was not possible for it to become the new vision and production control area for TC0.  At one end of the main studio is a timber bridge running across the room's width that was originally intended to be used for musicians.  A single control room for sound, vision and production was constructed beneath it.  This effectively reduced the studio's length by about eight feet.  A basic floor-supported lighting truss was constructed within the studio - the ceiling would not take the weight.

VR proved to be a commercial disappointment and after a few years - probably in 1999 - the gear was removed and the studio was booked for a conventional series (if that's the right expression) when The Chris Moyles Show took up residence.  This went out on digital channel UK Play.  When this series ended after some months it was followed by another daily show - The Phone Zone.  Some time later this show moved upstairs to TC10 to become TOTP@Play and TC0 became the home of BBC Choice's entertainment news show - Liquid News which began broadcasting in May 2000. When this in turn moved upstairs after nearly a couple of years to what had become TC11 the studio was occupied by the presenters of the CBeebies channel from February 2002 until the end of 2007.  In January 2008 they rather surprisingly moved to studio 4 at Teddington. 

It seems that the studio was probably not used at all in 2008.  However, one wonders how many production managers even knew it existed.  There was a rumour for a while that it might be turned back into a sound studio but nothing came of that.  In  2009 it was used for the occasional single camera shoot and as a rehearsal room for sitcoms.  Early in 2010 the BBC's Research and Development department was relocated from Kingswood Warren to Centre House Block D - on the other side of Wood Lane.  (They have now moved to MediaCity in Salford.)  TC0 was allocated to them for their experiments, since there was no suitable space in the other building.  Thus, the department that devised the various virtual reality systems returned home, as it were.

In September 2010 they carried out what was probably a world first in this studio - a combined use of Super Hi-Vision pictures and stereoscopic 3D.  The band The Charlatans performed a concert that was broadcast live to Japan.  Apparently the images were quite extraordinary!  Super Hi-Vision has a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels.  The current HD standard is 1920 x 1080.  The format may soon be used in cinemas but is unlikely to be available for home use before 2020.  BBC R&D are working along with NHK to develop ways of compressing the extraordinary amount of data that is involved in producing pictures so sharp.  Until they do, it will not be possible to use this system domestically.  However, only a few years ago it was thought impossible to transmit HD channels on Freeview.  Thanks to the work done by BBC R&D, there are now several HD channels available via your aerial.

 

Incidentally - the old sound control room was itself turned into an ad-hoc TV studio for a kids' live interactive puppet series called Nelly Nut in 2004.  This room was 35 x 21 ft so was actually very slightly larger than the old Pres A and B.  This formally become known as TC12 and for a while was the home of one or two CBBC programmes including Sportsround.  It then became the continuity studio for CBBC - the 21st century version of the famous broom cupboard.  Early in 2008 that operation moved to a room in the East Tower and the studio was closed.  It was then used again as a control room for TC0 by the R&D department and TC12 as a studio no longer existed.

CBBC presentation was located in studio PR-1 in the East Tower until late 2011 when it moved to Salford.  Apparently it was previously the edit suites used for UK top 40 and CBeebies.  This 'studio' was roughly the same size as TC12.  It was very simply equipped, with three fixed sub-broadcast quality cameras and no camera racking or lighting control.  One can imagine the BBC engineering managers of yore rotating in their graves!

The CBBC Newsround bulletins came from a similarly ad-hoc cheap and cheerful 'studio' called NR-1.

 

Around 2000 an area on the ground floor of stage 5 previously used as the lamp store was converted into 'The Foyer'.  (The lamp store moved to the scenery block).  The Foyer was a large area capable of holding two studio audiences - about 650 people - before they make their way to their studios.  It contained a licenced coffee bar and also a BBC shop selling merchandise.  It took many, many years for the BBC to realise that an audience that had been kept waiting outside in the January rain for an hour or more before coming into the studio would not laugh as loud as one that was nice and warm and had had a glass of wine.  One wonders where audiences will wait when the Centre reopens with just TC1 - TC3 as there doesn't appear to be a similar holding area on the proposed plans.

The Centre following the completion of stages 5 and 6.  It's pretty clear that several architects were involved in the design of each section of the spur.  I wonder what Graham Dawbarn would have thought of what they did to his original building. 

Personally, I think the original spur and stage 5 are particularly disappointing but the design of stage 6 is much more in keeping with Dawbarn's design.  It contains several details and features that echo the main block and its mass is far better balanced.  It's still a shame that the bricks are not the same colour!

 

Stage 6 was, as we have seen, very nearly a superb television studio that would have been the envy of the whole industry.  Nearly, but not quite.  During the '70s and '80s the entertainment department had been putting pressure on the BBC's senior management to construct a new studio in the remaining space at the end of the spur at TVC.  It would replace Television Theatre but would be far more flexible in its use.  It was to have a floor area about 98 x 85ft wall to wall but with the addition of large audience rostra on two levels.  (So somewhat larger in both length and width than LWT's studio 1).  The BBC producers were fed up with the way that LWT's big shows looked so much more impressive than theirs made in TC8.  Even TC1 didn't look as good once you filled it with the usual mobile seating.

This model was built during the 1980s to show how the new TC9 would look when completed.  What is notable about this is the extraordinary detail of the model itself!  It alone must have cost thousands to make.

The colour of the elevation is quite striking and I wonder how it would have looked when completed.

Detailed plans were drawn up over several years for this new TC9.  It was to have a grid height of 72 ft (TC1 is 'only' 45ft high) which would enable scenery to be flown on counterweight systems.  There would be a permanent audience rostra seating 400 which could be extended with moveable 'wings' and the studio would have its own foyer, make-up, wardrobe and scenery handling areas.  There was even to be a large band room with its own control room - oddly duplicating the new music studio a few yards away in stage 5 which was almost exactly the same size.

Terry Brett was asked to represent the lighting side of things.  He was a busy LD at the time but attended many meetings of the steering committee.  He tells me that he is still waiting for someone to inform him that the project has been cancelled - let alone thank him for all the work he put in.

Terry tells me a couple of problems with the studio's design that had to be overcome.  One concerned the trough that was to run round the bottom of the cyclorama so that groundrow lights could be hidden, thus creating an 'infinity cyc'.  One challenge was how to create this trough whilst still leaving enough headroom in the news department garage beneath.  Terry describes another issue that arose:

'...being the BBC it had to have handrails to protect the terminally stupid.  However, in the end the trough lid became the safety device on the outer side.  The trough had to be engineered to allow camera tracking when the studio was in sitcom mode and the cover strong enough to take camera cranes and just about anything else that could be thrown at it.  Also it had to be deployed quickly so as to speed up turn-rounds.  The final solution was to have the trough covered by a concrete 'lid' which could be hydraulically raised.  Now as most builders at that time worked to the nearest inch at best, the construction of this monstrosity was going to be a challenge.  However, unbelievably the challenge was met!

Secondly, there were problems in keeping the studio ventilated. With such a high cyclorama containing the heat [someone] came up with the idea of dropping the ventilation to the level of the lighting rig.  Now this brought some strong protest from many, not the least me.  The amount of space lost in the hanging rig would have been unbearable.  It was then suggested that the ventilation trunking should be flexible and fitted to the LX bar suspension.  i.e. as the bars came down, the trunking came down with it - albeit a few feet above the bar itself.  This was built and a demo section was installed somewhere in the depths of Woodlands.

Such was the ability of the old BBC to innovate - where did that all go?  In retrospect the noise from those pop riveted lamps heating up and cooling down would have given sound something to think about.'

 

Before stage 6 was built, the ring road past TC8 came to an abrupt end and a ramp took it down to the level of the front car park.  Terry tells me that somewhere under the ramp a couple of experimental sections of trough were built complete with hydraulic lids.  He even has some video of the contraption in operation.  I wonder if it's still buried under there...???

Cameraman Jeff Naylor was asked for his advice on a particular issue...

'One addition to the plans for the New TV Theatre was for a remote-head camera crane such as a Louma - I distinctly remember the plans from a meeting where I discussed where it could be mounted and the compromises it would force on the lighting rig, in particular the followspot positions - as I wanted to hang it over the edge of the Circle!'

 

I see that some things never change.

The planned TC9 at ground level.  Click on the image for a larger view.

Wood Lane is bottom right and the music studio top left is the current TC0 (although it was actually built a slightly different shape.)  Its sound control room became TC12 for a while.

The line down the centre of the plan indicating the left wall of the studio denotes the limit of construction.  Everything to its left was built - everything to the right remains a 'what if.'

The adjustable side audience units in the theatre are shown with dotted lines.  The floor area of the studio would have been somewhat larger than TC8 but with the addition of two tiers of audience seating.

Incidentally, the area marked as lamp store and scenic store later became used as 'The Foyer'.

A section through the proposed studio.  Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Note the two tiers of seating and the side 'boxes.'  To get an idea of scale, the cyclorama on the right which is shown dropped into the trough is marked as being 36ft high.  Only the largest studios today have tracks for a cyc of just 30ft height.  The height of the grid over the studio floor is 22m which is an astonishing 72 feet!  This would have enabled huge scenery units to have been flown out of sight.  The man shown on the gantry on the right is at the height of a grid in a 'normal' studio.

Note the lines drawn to indicate angles and possible positions for follow spots.

The cars indicated at the bottom are in the underground car park.  It can be seen that the groundrow trough would have reduced the headroom in that area in the car park.

The large empty 'box' top left is an area that would have had ventilation plant and other services.

 

The idea was to close TV Theatre and transfer Wogan, or the show's successor, to the new studio.  It would also of course be available for other big Saturday night shows.  There is little doubt that this studio would have become the best equipped LE studio in the country and would have been much in demand for big gameshows and music/entertainment shows.  Sadly, despite all the work done on the project it was abandoned very soon after Michael Checkland became DG.  The studio had been enthusiastically supported by Bill Cotton but it was cancelled within a week of his retiring from the job of Managing Director of Television in 1989.

It was becoming fashionable with some around that time to declare the age of the big TV studio over.  Also, the new director general and his assistant John Birt were introducing far more stringent financial control over all the BBC's costs and expenditure - so with accountants rather than programme makers running the BBC the project didn't stand a chance.  If only construction had begun a few months earlier it would almost certainly have been completed and become the busiest studio in London!

Instead, TC1 - which was due to be refurbished - would be given a more fundamental refit, with built-in retractable audience seating and redesigned stairs with a new glazed foyer area at first floor level for the audience.  After nearly three years work the 'new' TC1 opened in January 1991 but was not a patch on what might have been.

The legacy of the old plans could be seen in the rather oddly shaped curved podium that extended from the base of Stage 6 towards the Horseshoe carpark.  This was part only of what was going to be the grand entrance to the new theatre leading in turn to the foyer on the first floor and taking audiences into the main studio auditorium at the back of the seating (as happens in West End theatres).  There was even an idea for LED lights announcing tonight's performance displayed around the semi circular facade above the entrance doors.  Stage 5's rear elevation makes a bit more sense too when the original proposals are understood.

 

So what did become of stage 6?  Well, it became the BBC's News Centre.  It was opened in July 1998 by (some might say appropriately,) Sir Christopher Bland.  It seemed a good idea to John Birt to bring radio news away from Broadcasting House in central London to join TV news several miles away at Television Centre.  Guess what?  The journalists didn't like it.  So Greg Dyke gave the go-ahead to rebuild much of  Broadcasting House to take the radio news back there as well as the TV news.  They returned in March 2013.

Stage 6 was also finished off with a new reception area complete with Henry Moore sculpture (later removed), facing Wood Lane.  It all looked very smart and businesslike.  The old reception became the 'stage door' and was still occasionally featured on various shows. 

 

Stage 6 opened in July 1998 and the Real IRA tried to blow it up in March 2001 with a taxi parked outside.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt.  Although the damage looked superficial (one assumes that such an attack had been foreseen) it took about two years before the scaffolding came down and an even stronger bombproof wall of glass was revealed.

TV Centre reception the day after the bomb.

 

TVC came under attack on several occasions over the years.  Apart from the Real IRA, it was surrounded by thousands of screaming pubescent girls when bands such as Take That performed on Saturday morning kids' shows.  If you don't think that sounds too bad you should have been there! 

Only slightly less scary was the occasion when evangelical militant Christians tried to prevent people from entering or leaving the building during the Jerry Springer the Opera controversy in January 2005.  More recently, when leader of the BNP Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in TC6 on 22nd October 2009, several hundred angry protestors demonstrated outside the gate - about 25 breaking in as far as the Stage Door (the former main reception).  On the same night three other audience shows were also being recorded - Harry Hill's TV Burp (TC3), Friday Night With Jonathan Ross (TC4) and Piers Morgan's Real Lives (TC8).  About 1,000 ordinary punters with tickets therefore had to be got into the building past the shouting protestors - as well as the QT audience and the panelists - but somehow the security staff did it - and got them out again safely.

I should declare an interest here, having lit the televised version of Jerry Springer the Opera, several editions of Live and Kicking and been in the building lighting TV Burp on the night of the BNP Question Time.  (For the record, the ignorance shown by many of the protestors of what was actually depicted in Jerry Springer the Opera was astonishing and proved to me how otherwise intelligent people can be hoodwinked into believing anything if instructed by skillful and manipulative leaders.  At least I had seen the show - several times - which most of those interviewed clearly had not.)

Other incidents have included the women's invasion of the 6 o'Clock News in 1988 when Sue Lawley kept her cool and Nicholas Witchell sat on a lesbian.  Meanwhile, in March 2000 a media studies student (no really) vaulted over the low turnstile in main reception and found his way to the main newsroom.  He is said to have gone on the rampage, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage, getting 'within feet' of Anna Ford.  Having smashed monitors and thrown a coffee table through a window, he explained afterwards that he was upset by Greg Dyke's style of leadership and thought the licence fee was too high.  Apparently he threatened to kill anyone who tried to stop him but eventually somebody did and he ended up in a mental hospital.  Still, A* for the essay he wrote afterwards so probably worth it.

This happened incidentally after security had been tightened following the murder of Jill Dando.  After that, access from reception into the building was completely redesigned with a high glass wall containing motorised turnstiles that only let one person through very slowly and could, in theory, trap someone half way round.

Then there was the invasion of the live Lotto draw in TC4 during Jet Set on 20th May 2006.  This was by six members of Fathers for Justice, one of whom allegedly received a distinctly less than friendly welcome from presenter Eamonn Holmes.  The director cut to a close-up of him remaining calm and collected but those working on the show have told me what was happening just out of shot!  Respect due to Mr Holmes.  Soon afterwards, Camelot decided to move the draws to the rather more secure ex-British Forces Broadcasting Service (SSVC) studios run by Arqiva in Buckinghamshire.

 

 

Construction and refurbishment continued at TVC for the whole of its life.  Individual rooms and whole floors were from time to time gutted and rebuilt.  Studios too were given refurbs every few years.  The running of the building itself was taken out of the BBC's hands in 2001 and became the responsibility of a company called Land Securities Trillium.

The early days of this new operation were sometimes not as smooth as they might have been.  A studio resources manager has told me a story that cannot possibly be true.  Allegedly, shortly after Land Securities Trillium took over, he phoned the new number to ask for the air conditioning to be made cooler in the studio he was working in.  He was connected with an office in the north of England.  The operator requested the studio's 'room number', what floor it was on, the address of Television Centre and various other details.  Finally, he was told the job number and informed that the work would be carried out next Tuesday.  Thankfully, I believe this and other similar teething troubles were ironed out within a few weeks.

In July 2006 the contract to supply facilities management passed to a company called Johnson Controls.  I assume they too learnt pretty quickly to adjust studio temperatures faster than next Tuesday.

 

 

The Centre as it was in its final years.  Click on the image to see in detail.

 

 

The programmes...

It would be impossible to list every programme ever made TVC - some are probably best forgotten anyway.  (Little and Large, anyone?)  What I shall foolishly attempt to do here is to list by decade a range of typical productions.  They are in no particular order.  I am bound to have missed some really obvious ones.  Where I know it, I shall indicate the studio in which it was made.  It's worth pointing out that although some shows almost always came from the same studio others moved about quite a bit, depending on available space.  TC3, 4, 6 and 8 were all about the same size so a show designed for any one of these will fit in another.  Where I have indicated a studio it doesn't mean that it didn't also use others.

There are quite a few where I haven't put the studio even though I have a pretty good idea.  For instance, TC8 has for years been the favourite studio for sitcoms but unless I am sure, I have not noted it here.

Some series spanned years or even decades so I have simply noted them when they started (or moved here from other studios).

Anyway - here goes...

1960s

The Wednesday Play (many highly regarded individual titles), Play For Today, Softly Softly, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Compact (TC2), The Forsyte Saga (TC4 - last b/w drama), Vanity Fair (TC6 - first colour drama), 30-Minute Theatre, Theatre 625 (TC1), Billy Budd (opera - main set in TC1, orchestra in TC2), Sherlock Holmes (TC1), Stand Up For Nigel Barton (TC4), Steptoe and Son, Not Only...But Also, Till Death Us Do Part, Dad's Army, That Was The Week That Was (TC2), Not So Much a Programme - More a Way of Life (TC2), BBC-3, The Lance Percival Show, Come Dancing (TC2!), Tomorrow's World, Frost Over England, It's a Square World, Morecambe and Wise (TC1 and TC8), Sykes (also at Riverside), Harry Worth, The Dick Emery Show (TC8), Marty (Feldman), The Liver Birds, Meet The Wife, The Rag Trade, All Gas and Gaiters, The Likely Lads, Marriage Lines, Monty Python's Flying Circus (TC6, TC8), Spike Milligan's 'Q', Comedy Playhouse (TC4), Top of the Pops (TC2 briefly then all large studios), International Cabaret, Beat Room (TC3), The Black and White Minstrel Show (TC1), Jackanory (probably every studio at some time), schools programmes (TC5), Ask the Family (TC5), Top of the Form, Call My Bluff (TC2, TC5), Late Show (TC2), Points of View (Pres B), Late Night Line-Up (Pres B), The Sky at Night (moved here from Lime Grove to Pres B and the corner of several other studios), Holiday '69 and onwards (TC5)

1970s

Elizabeth R, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I Claudius (TC1), Pennies From Heaven (TC6), Play of the Month (TC1 usually), Play of the Week, War and Peace, Testament of Youth, Secret Army (TC8, TC1), To Serve Them All My Days, The Onedin Line, The Pallisers, Churchill's People, BBC Shakespeares (TC1 mostly), Telford's Change, Professional Foul, The Duchess of Duke Street, The Flying Dutchman (opera - main set in TC1, orchestra in TC3), Hansel and Gretel (opera - main set in TC1, orchestra in TC3), Dr Who (moved to TVC from Riverside and Lime Grove - used most large studios), Blake's 7, The Two Ronnies (TC1 plus others),  Are You Being Served?, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Open All Hours (TC8), Citizen Smith (TC8),  Up Pompeii!, Porridge, In Sickness and in Health (TC8), The Les Dawson Show (TC8), Rentaghost, The Goodies, The Good Life (TC6), The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Not the Nine O'Clock News, Fawlty Towers (TC1, TC3, TC6, TC8), Jim'll Fix It, Blankety Blank (TC8), Parkinson (TC8), The Old Grey Whistle Test (Pres B plus others), Butterflies, To The Manor Born, Play School (TC7), Blue Peter (TC1, 3, 4, 6, 8), Grange Hill (various studios before moving to Elstree in 1985), Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (TC7), Film '72 and onwards (Pres B)

1980s

The Chronicles of Narnia, Tenko, Lord Peter Wimsey, Performance (TC1 usually), Marie Curie, The Ginger Tree (TC4 - first HD drama series), Juliet Bravo, Bomber Harris (TC6), Yes Minister (TC8), Only Fools and Horses (TC8), Bread (TC8), Hi-De-Hi, Blackadder, Russ Abbot, Alas Smith and Jones, 'Allo 'Allo (some series), Birds of a Feather (series 1), May To December, Just Good Friends, Ever Decreasing Circles, Three of a Kind, Children in Need (TC1), Noel Edmunds' Late Late Breakfast Show (TC8), The Paul Daniels Magic Show (TC8), Lenny Henry Show (TC8), Victoria Wood as Seen on TV, French and Saunders (TC8), A Bit of Fry and Laurie (TC6), Bob Says Opportunity Knocks (TC8), Bob's Full House, Saturday Superstore (TC7), Going Live (TC7), Double Dare (TC4), Chucklevision, Newsnight (TC2, then TC7), BBC Breakfast (TC2 then TC7), Crimewatch UK (most studios at some time), Watchdog (TC2 and 5)

1990s

The House of Eliott (last multicamera studio-based drama series - TC1), One Foot in the Grave (TC8), The Fast Show, Absolutely Fabulous (TC8), Rory Bremner (TC6), Knowing Me Knowing You, Saturday Night Armistice (TC8), The Thin Blue Line, The Brittas Empire (TC8), As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, Never Mind the Buzzcocks (TC6), I'm Alan Partridge (TC1), Dinnerladies (TC8), Shooting Stars (TC7 for two series then TC1), They Think It's All Over (TC6), Live and Kicking (TC6), The Stand-Up Show (TC7 then TC6), Terry Wogan's Friday Night (TC1), Ruby (TC2, TC4), The Full Wax (TC1), Comic Relief (TC1), Auntie's Bloomers (TC8), The National Lottery Live (TC8) The Late Show (TC7), Later With Jools (TC1 and TC3), Noel's House Party (TC1), The Generation Game (Jim Davidson version - TC4), Bodger and Badger (TC7), Run the Risk (TC1), Grandstand (from Lime Grove to TC5), Match of the Day (from Lime Grove to TC5), 2000 Today (TC1)

2000s

My Family (series 1 only), 2 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (TC8, TC6), The Crouches (TC8 & TC1), Lee Evans - So What Now? (TC8), Dead Ringers (TC4), Catherine Tate Show (series 2 & Christmas special - TC8), Little Britain (TC1 & TC8), Swiss Tony (TC8), National Lottery Stars (TC1), TOTP (returning from Elstree and Riverside to TC3), Distraction (for C4  - TC1), Boys and Girls (for C4), Without Prejudice? (for C4 - TC4), Friends Like These (TC1), Wright Around the World (TC4), In It To Win It (TC1, TC4, TC6, TC8), Jet Set (TC4), Eggheads (TC6, TC3, TC4, TC1), The Keith Barret Show (TC8), Friday Night With Jonathan Ross (TC4), Liquid News (TC0), Come and Have a Go, Hard Spell, Strictly Come Dancing (TC4 then TC1), Strictly Dance Fever (TC1),  X-Change (TC2), The Saturday Show (TC6), Dick and Dom in Da Bunglow (TC2 then TC6), Mock the Week (TC8 and TC6), Level Up (TC10), The Soap Awards (for ITV1 - TC1), New Paul O'Grady Show (for C4 - TC6 and TC8), 8 out of 10 Cats (TC6 and TC4 for C4), Grownups (TC6 and TC8), That Mitchell and Webb Look (TC8), A Question of Sport (TC8),  How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? (TC1), TMi (TC9), The Charlotte Church Show (for ITV1), Any Dream Will Do (TC1), I'd Do Anything (TC1), Alan Titchmarsh Show (TC4 for ITV1), Let Me Entertain You (TC1), Who Dares Wins (TC1), Lab Rats (TC8), Goldenballs (TC8, TC3, TC4 and TC1 for ITV1), The Omid Djalili Show (TC8, TC1, TC4), Alan Carr's Celebrity Ding-Dong (TC8 for C4), It Takes Two (TC11), Last Choir Standing (TC1), Hole In The Wall (TC8), Would I Lie to You?,  Maestro (TC1), Ready Steady Cook (TC2 from Capital), Are You Smarter Than Your 10-year-old (TC1, from Maidstone), Miranda (TC3, TC4), Armstrong and Miller (TC8), Coming Of Age (TC8), Piers Morgan's Life Stories (TC8, for ITV1), Tonight's The Night (TC8), Alan Titchmarsh Show (TC3, TC4), Harry Hill's TV Burp (from Teddington TC3 then TC4)

2010s

Watchdog (TC2 - returned from office location in 2010),  Pointless (TC1, TC8), Michael Ball Show (TC3), Hairy Bikers' Cook Off (TC4), Not Going Out (TC8 - from Teddington), Fast and Loose (TC6), 10 O'Clock Live (TC6), Gory Games (TC3), The One Ronnie (TC8), Britain and Ireland's Top Model (TC2), Compete For The Meat (TC8), Friday Download (TC3), King of...(TC6), Embarrassing Bodies Live (TC4), Minute To Win It (TC6), The Impressions Show, The Marriage Ref (TC4), The Ones (TC6), Oedipus (TC4), Alan Carr Chatty Man (TC6), 24 Hour Quiz (TC4), I Can Cook (TC2), Show Me Show Me (TC6), Trust Us With Your Life (TC8), Room 101 (TC4, TC8), Britain's Best Dish - The Chefs (TC3), Chris Moyles' Quiz Night (TC6), Up For Hire (TC6), Breakaway (TC3), Epic Win (TC4), Frank Skinner's Opinionated (TC8), I've Never Seen Star Wars, Sam and Mark's Big Friday Wind Up (TC6), So You Think You Can Dance (TC1), Watson and Oliver (TC8), Fee Fi Fo Yum (TC3), Ab Fab specials (TC4), Argumental (TC8), Show and Tell (TC3, TC4), Genius (TC6), A Question of Taste (TC8), Mad Bad Ad Show (TC4), Just a Minute (TC3), Matt Lucas Awards (TC3), Morgan Spurlock's New Britannia (TC4), No Strings Attached (TC2), Mad Mad World (TC1), The Voice (TC1), You Cannot Be Serious! (TC4), Get Well Soon (TC2),  Lucky Sexy Winners (TC8), Don't Sit in the Front Row (TC3), Breakaway (TC4), Meet the Parents (TC6), Big Fat Quiz (TC8), Yes, Prime Minister (TC8, TC4), Dara O Briain's School of Hard Sums (TC4), Tipping Point, Beat the Pack, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (TC4), Live at the Electric (TC8), Five Minutes to a Fortune (TC8), Up the Women (TC3), Let's Dance for Comic Relief (TC1), Big Chat with Graham Norton (TC3), Up the Women (TC3), Five Minutes to a Fortune (TC8), Name Dropping (TC3), When Miranda Met Bruce (TC1), Cash Point (TC2), Vic and Bob's House of Fools (TC3), Goodbye Television Centre (TC1).

Just to emphasise again - a number of programmes carried on from one decade to the next - so what already looks like a busy 2010-2012 was actually even busier, with many well established series carrying on (eg Strictly, Buzzcocks, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock The Week, TV Burp, 2 Pints, Miranda, Later With Jools etc.)  In fact, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were the busiest years at TVC for a long time and studios were being booked right up to the closing in March 2013.  I have not included pilots - which again added to the studios' use particularly in recent years.

It's interesting that TC3 seems to be relatively poorly represented above in some decades.  Some of those programmes above without a studio indicated were possibly made in TC3 but I can't confirm that.  During the '60s and into the '70s it was a favourite studio for dramas - the titles of individual plays are sadly forgotten.  During the 90s it was not converted to digital widescreen due to lack of funding so was often empty.  From 2002 - 2006 it was the home of Top Of The Pops and was the home of Later With Jools for a number of years.

On the drama front, there were a number of easily forgotten series that came and went and several striking single plays that often appeared under the banner of 'Play of the Month', 'Play for Today', 'Performance' etc.  Again, during the '70s and '80s the BBC were famous for their traditional Sunday teatime dramas - often of Dickens' work.  These were usually made  in TC3, TC4, TC6 or TC1.  The amount of drama made in these studios gradually faded during the 1980s until only a handful of series were being made by the turn of the decade.  With the ease of shooting using digital video on location and the improvement in the quality of super-16mm film all BBC drama was being made using a single camera on location or in film studios by 1994 - or was being shot in its own dedicated studio like EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.

Incidentally, there is a lack of mention of music specials with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Jack Jones, Sammy Davis Junior etc. although I do remember there seeming to be a constant flow of such programmes - especially during the seventies.  Many such shows were of course made down the road at TV Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green.

 

 

 

I have been sent photocopies of the front pages of the scripts for what is still considered by some as the best sitcom ever made.  I refer of course to Fawlty Towers.  Only 12 episodes were recorded over two series.  For those who like such things - here's where they were made and please note how long they had to record them in series 1.  Only one and a half hours.  For series 2 they had a whole 2 hours!  Also note the gaps between episode 1 and 2 and between episode 10 and 11.  Interesting too that the show moved so much between studios from week to week.  I must confess, I wish I had realised that The Germans was recorded in TC6 when I worked in it.  I would certainly have said 'Don't mention the war' far more often.

Episode

Title

RX date

record time

 

studio

 

1

A Touch of Class

23.12.74

20.00-21.30

TC8

2

The Builders

3.8.75

20.00-21.30

TC3

3

The Wedding Party

10.8.75

20.00-21.30

TC8

4

The Hotel Inspectors

27.8.75

20.00-21.30

TC8

5

Gourmet Night

7.9.75

20.00-21.30

TC8

6

The Germans

31.8.75

20.00-21.30

TC6

7

Communication Problems

21.1 79

20.00-22.00

TC1

8

The Psychiatrist

28.1.79

20.00-22.00

TC8

9

Waldorf Salad

11.2.79

20.00-22.00

TC8

10

The Kipper and the Corpse

18.2.79

20.00-22.00

TC1

11

The Anniversary

18.3.79

20.00-22.00

TC1

12

Basil the Rat

25.3.79

20.00-22.00

TC8

 

...and finally - I just had to include this memo from the BBC's Comedy Script Editor.  I'm glad to see that lack of critical judgement in the BBC's management was just as bad then as it has always been.

 

 

 

 

A summary of each studio

Measurements are in metric feet (30cm) and relate to working area within firelanes unless there are no firelanes.  I have highlighted the dates when cameras were replaced.  Over the years technology has moved on.  It has followed this pattern:  monochrome, 4-tube colour, 3-tube colour, CCD 4:3 colour, widescreen colour, digital widescreen colour and 1080i high definition.  3D was the next development - TC6 was the first studio to be fitted with this standard.  Between 2006 and 2011 BBC Studios installed HD cameras in TC1, TC8, TC4, TC6, TC3 and TC2 (in that order.)  The BBC now have a policy of making all programmes in HD.  TC1 made the first stereoscopic 3D programme in the UK in the summer of 2009 using hired kit.

TC0

45 x 28 ft wall to wall.  Originally built as TMS (television music studio).  Opened in July 1989.  Mural of musicians and instruments on corridor wall outside the studio indicated its origins.  Closed as sound studio and converted to 'virtual reality' TV studio renamed TC0 probably in 1995.  Record Breakers Gold and one or two other shows made here using VR.  VR kit removed around 1999 and studio used for The Chris Moyles Show and then The Phone Zone - daily shows for UK Play channel.  From May 2000 used for Liquid News for BBC Choice.  From Feb 2002 - January 2008 was continuity studio for CBeebies channel.  (CBeebies then moved to Teddington studio 4 and later to TC10)  Equipped with JVC KY-29D cameras.  Hardly used after CBeebies left.  Occasionally booked for single camera shoots.  Sometimes used as a rehearsal room.  In early 2010 TC0 was taken over by BBC Research and Development Dept as their experimental studio.  first 8K Ultra -HD stereoscopic tests in the world carried out here in 2010.  Closed in 2013.

TC1

100 x 87 ft.  (Originally 90ft wide before audience seating installed.)  Opened in April 1964 with EMI 203/6 cameras.  Converted to colour with EMI 2001 cameras in 1968.  During '70s used for several operas and major dramas like I Claudius and BBC Shakespeares.  LE included Black and White Minstrel Show and Morcambe and Wise Show.  Closed for major refurb and asbestos removal in 1988.  Re-opened in Jan 1991 with Thomson 1542 CCD cameras (first at TVC).  GVG 1600 vision mixer.  QII lighting console installed.  96-channel stereo sound desk installed.  Control galleries completely rebuilt.  New 384 seat audience rostra fitted.  Acoustic wall panels all replaced.  Lighting hoists all replaced.  In 2000, cameras replaced with digital widescreen Thomson 1657Ds, vision mixer replaced with Sony 7000 series and lighting console changed from QII to Galaxy.  In 2003 VR 'targets' fitted in grid for Fightbox VR series - also used for general election.   In summer 2005 sound desk converted to 5.1 digital audio ready for high definition.  TC1 was then used for various kinds of shows from comedy:- I'm Alan Partridge, Little Britain - to LE: - Strictly Come Dancing, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? - and major event programmes: - General Elections, Comic Relief, Sports Personality of the Year and Children in Need.  This studio staged the live final of ITV's Kids' Stars in Their Eyes in March '06 when Granada's studios in Manchester were closed for some months due to asbestos scare.  TC1 was fully equipped for high definition in August 2006 with 10 Sony HDC-1500 cameras, Sony MVS 8000 vision mixer and HD monitors in refurbished production and lighting galleries.  Received a new vision matrix during the summer of 2008.  Made first stereoscopic 3D programme in summer of 2009 for Sky using hired kit.  The last Blue Peter from London was made here on 28th June 2011, the programme subsequently moving to MediaCity in Salford where it is based in a studio one seventh the size of TC1.  That's progress.  This studio will survive the reconstruction of TV Centre but closed in March 2013.  Most of its technical kit was moved to stage 1 at Elstree to be used by Strictly Come Dancing.  It will be refurbished and reopen in April 2015.  It is not confirmed whether Strictly will return but this possibly now seems unlikely.  The studio would thus be freed up for a variety of work during the busy autumn period.

TC2

60 x 40 ft.  Opened in 1960 with Marconi Mk IV cameras.  Home of weekly soap Compact and satirical comedy shows like That Was The Week That Was throughout '60s.  Not converted to colour so closed in 1969.  Used for storage of  audience seating units throughout '70s.  Re-opened in 1981 with five Link 125 cameras and GVG 1600 vision mixerNew lighting hoists and Kahoutek dual-source lights installed.  First studio at TVC to be equipped with Galaxy lighting console.  Breakfast Time and Newsnight moved here in 1987 from Lime Grove.  Equipped with Thomson 1542 cameras around 1991.  News dept moved to TC7 in 1997.  Basic widescreen refurb in 1998 with Thomson 1657s and Sony 7000 series vision mixer.  From Jan 2002 used for daily X-Change programme on CBBC channel.  This programme ended in March 2006 after 2,032 shows.  The studio was officially closed at the end of March as asbestos was said to have been discovered in the air conditioning system.  However, it was used for one or two programmes in summer 2006 with a temporary A/C plant.  It was then decided to reopen the studio after all so removal of asbestos began in August 2006.  The cost of removal is said to have run into millions of pounds.  It reopened in Jan 2007, temporarily as the Sport studio whilst TC5 had its asbestos treated.  It became available for general programming from the summer of 2007.  TC2 was an interesting addition to BBC Studios' portfolio.  They had not had a small/medium studio to offer general clients for a number of years as all three of these studios had been permanently tied up with Children's, Sport and News.  Received TC4's 4-year-old Sony E30s in summer 2008.  Fitted with a new Calrec digital sound mixer in Jan 2009.  Equipped for HD using 'fly-away' kit and cameras hired or borrowed from other studios in September 2009 for new series of Ready Steady Cook.  Had an HD refit in the summer of 2011 which involved the permanent installation of the flyaway kit the studio had been sharing with TC3.  In its last years TC2 suffered from very old dimmers (probably 30 years old), many of which had become unreliable causing lights to randomly flicker.  These will hopefully be replaced before the studio reopens.  TC2 will survive the reconstruction of TV Centre but closed in March 2013.  When it reopens it will probably not be as busy as the other two studios due to its small size.  I predict that it will spend much of its time as a scenery store, due to the lack of storage space in the new redevelopment.

TC3

90 x 70ft.  Opened in June 1960 as drama studio (very 'dead' acoustic) with Marconi Mk 4 cameras.  It was the first studio to open at TVC.  Colourised in 1969 with EMI 2001 cameras.  Major refurb in 1985 - six Link 125s installed at same time as new Grass Valley 1600 24 channel vision mixer.  Galaxy 2 console and 541 new dimmers installed.  New lighting hoists fitted.  Permanent retractable audience seating installed.  Asbestos treated in 1988.  Thomson 1542 CCD cameras installed in 1992.  These only 4:3 PAL so work reduced during 1990s until digital widescreen refurb in 2001 for return of TOTP.  Galleries also rebuilt at this time and sound facilities upgraded to be suitable for several live bands on the same show.  No cameras purchased so Thomson 1657 widescreen cameras 'borrowed' from other studios when required on a daily basis.  Sony 7000 series vision mixer installed.  Red Assembly area converted into 'Star Bar' for use by TOTP.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  Later With Jools used this studio from 2004 using HD cameras via an OB unit.  Further work on asbestos removal began in the summer of 2007 leading to closure for several months.  Reopened in January 2008 with new black wall panels.  In 2009 first HD programme was Eggheads using 'fly-away' kit.  Became home of Harry Hill's TV Burp in 2009 after seven years at Teddington.  Received a full HD refit in the summer of 2011 - 8 x Sony HSC-300 cameras and new Sony mixer and OLED monitors. Reopened in time for Britain's Best Dish, which was previously recorded at TLS.  This studio will survive the reconstruction of TV Centre but closed in March 2013.  It is likely to be very busy when it reopens in April 2015.

TC4

90 x 71ft.  Opened in Jan 1961 as LE studio with variable acoustic ('ambisonics') and small band room (TC4A).  Initially equipped with EMI 203/4 cameras.  During '60s was favourite studio for sitcoms before TC8 was available.  In 1967 was the studio used to make all but one episode of The Forsyte Saga - the last major drama shot in black and white.  Colourised in 1970 with EMI 2001 cameras.  £2m major refurb in 1983.  Link 125s installed.  GVG 1600 vision mixer fitted.  Galaxy console and new dimmers installed.  New lighting hoists fitted and permanent retractable audience seating installed.  Grass Valley 1600 vision mixer fitted.  Asbestos removed around 1988 and new acoustic wall panels fitted.  Thomson 1542 CCD cameras installed in 1992.  Major refurb to digital widescreen in 1996.  Galleries rebuilt and new Thomson 1657 cameras installed.  GVG 4000 vision mixer fitted.  Galaxy Nova console installed.  VR 'targets' installed in quarter of grid for VR shows in 1997 but hardly ever used.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  New sound desk installed summer 2007.  Refurbished in summer 2008 with eight Sony HDC-1500 HD cameras and Sony MVS 8000 vision mixer, HD monitors and VTRs.  Sound also converted to 5.1 surround.  Regular home of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross from 2001 - 2010.  TC4 was used for all kinds of programmes but gameshows in particular were a regular booking during its final decade or two.  Was the home of Harry Hill's TV Burp for its final few series from 2010 to 2012.  Cameras and electronic infrastructure removed to go to Elstree stage 8 in Jan 2013 - programmes until closure used an OB scanner for facilities.  This studio will be lost in the redevelopment and closed in March 2013 along with the rest of the building.

TC5

60 x 40ft.  Opened in Aug 1961 with EMI 203/4 cameras.  During 1960s was home of schools television, although other programmes made here too - especially panel games.  Last studio at TVC to be colourised with EMI 2001s around 1973.  Studio mothballed for a while in mid 1980s.  Re-opened in 1987 after 2-year refurb (!) and equipped with  GVG 1600 vision mixer and Link 125s.  Link 130s originally specified but had to be abandoned when they proved unuseable so major change to camera system mid way through installation.  Thomson 1657 widescreen cameras installed around 1995 along with 2 x Sony 7000 series vision mixers.  Lighting gallery converted into second production gallery enabling two sport programmes to be run from different ends of the studio simultaneously (on BBC1 and BBC2).  Studio divided by thick black drapes.  Lighting gallery moved into old prop store and also remote camera controls fitted enabling a reduction in the size of the camera crew.  'Virtual' green screen sets used for several years.   Old puppet theatre/video effects workshop converted into sport graphics area in 1997.  Around 2001 new 'real' permanent set built on two levels to be used by all sport programmes.  New set design in 2005.  Further work on asbestos removal discovered to be necessary in 2006.  This began early in 2007.  Old acoustic wall panels removed and new ones fitted.  Sport returned to the studio with another new set when asbestos removal was complete in summer 2007.  Production Gallery 2 (and incoming/outgoing lines) converted to HD for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Six year old ex TC6 Sony E-30 cameras installed summer 2010.  Vacated by Sport dept at the end of 2011.  Temporarily brought back into life for US elections in Nov 2012.  This studio will be lost in the redevelopment.

TC6

92 x 70ft.  In original plan was to be two studios divided by doors but this was never actually done.  Opened in 1967 as BBC's first colour studio.  Cameras were Marconi Mk VIIs but were changed in 1968 for EMI 2001s.  In 1977 replaced with 3-tube Link 110s with Varotal lenses.  (Very prone to blue flares!).  1988 closed for 10 weeks to encapsulate and part remove asbestos.   Studio closed in July 1992 and reopened in September 1993 after major refurb as TVC's first serial-component digital studio.  The refurb took 14 months.  Included in the refurb was the complete removal of all remaining asbestos in the studio, cable ways and air conditioning.  Acoustic wall panels replaced.  8 x Thomson 1647 Sportcams installed.  First refurbishment done under new 'Producer Choice' commercial regime and planned to cost a third less than previous refurbs.  Many so-called non-essential things left out but many carried out over following few years when found to be essential after all.  Gallery suite moved downstairs to ground floor after 'new customers' - independent production companies - requested this.  (Old gallery suite on first floor became 'red button' interactive control room for digital TV channels.)  First studio to have all colour monitors fitted in production gallery.  (Previously, only the transmission and one preview monitor had been in colour.)  Thomson 'Synonym' temporary vision mixer installed as production model not ready.  Galaxy Nova installed.  New Calrec Q-series sound desk with 60 channels.  Thomson 9500 vision mixer fitted probably in 1994.  Upgraded to digital widescreen in 1998 with Thomson 1657s.  Gallery monitors replaced.  TC6 was home of Saturday morning kids' TV from 1997-2006 with Live and Kicking, The Saturday Show and Dick and Dom in Da Bunglow.  Also very popular with independent production companies.  Never Mind the Buzzcocks a regular booking from 1996.  TC6 received TC8's 2-year old Sony E30 cameras in August 2006.  New sound desk installed summer 2007.  Received HD upgrade with 8 Sony HDC-1500 cameras (including 1080/50P capability) in July/August 2010 making it the fourth fully equipped HD studio at TVC.  It became the first 3D capable studio in the UK - with 3D stereoscopic monitors in the production gallery.  The equipment from TC6 was used to refurbish Elstree D.  The final recording was an edition of Pointless on 21st December 2012 but equipment remained in place well into 2013 due to delays in refurbishing Elstree D.  This studio will not survive the redevelopment.

TC7

62 x 40 ft.  (So 2 feet longer than TC2 and TC5).  Opened in 1962.  Originally Marconi Mk 4 black and white cameras but equipped with EMI 2001 cameras in July 1968.  Home of Play School from 1968 when it moved here from Riverside until 1988.  Refurbished in 1979 with Link 110 cameras.  (The EMI 2001s were sent to the newly-opened Greenwood Theatre for another 2 years' use.)  Link 110s replaced with Link 125s from another studio in about 1992.  In 1994 Thomson 1647s installed and a major refit carried out which included rebuilding and enlarging the gallery suite in preparation for it to be used for news-related programmes.  Sony 7000 series vision mixer installed.  TC7 was home of Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore, Going Live and early series of Live and Kicking before News dept arrived in 1997.  Thomson 1657 widescreen cameras installed in 1997.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  New Sony 8000 vision mixer installed over Christmas 2007.  Newsround moved to Salford in autumn of 2011.  Breakfast moved to Salford in April 2012.  TC7 was vacated by Newsnight in October 2012 when it transferred to New Broadcasting House, W1.  It continued to be used for the 6 o'clock News until 15th March 2013.  TC7 will be lost in the redevelopment.

TC8

90 x 72 ft.  Opened in 1967 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  Replaced early in 1968 with EMI 2001s and was first studio in UK with these cameras.  Designed as LE studio and the only one at TVC to have retractable audience seating designed from the outset.  No asbestos said to be used in its construction so only studio not to have had wall panels replaced.  Only studio with ventilation ducts spread all over grid so air conditioning usually very good here.  First studio with Q-File lighting console and Thyristor dimmers.  In 1978 fitted with Link 110 cameras with Schneider lenses (much nicer than Varotals.)  New sound desk installed in 1981.  Link 125s ex TV Theatre installed in 1991 along with 16 channel GVG 1600 vision mixer also ex TV-Theatre.  Mixer later replaced with 24-channel GVG 1600 ex Lime Grove.  Major refurb including rebuilding of gallery suite completed in November 1994.  (The visitor's 'well' in front of the monitor stack in the production gallery was removed.)  New widescreen Thomson 1657 cameras and Thomson 9500 vision mixer installed.  This was the first digital widescreen studio at TVC.  Sound desk and dimmers not replaced at this time and major headaches caused to both sound and lighting departments for several years until eventual upgrading about five years later.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  Vision mixer also replaced with GVG Zodiak which a year later was moved to TC9.  Sony DVS9000 vision mixer installed in 2005.  Equipped with Sony HDC-1500 high definition cameras in summer 2006 and full HD vision installation completed in January 2007 including new Sony MVS 8000 vision mixer.  New 5.1 sound desk installed in Jan 2008.  TC8 was the favourite studio for comedy for many years and dozens of sitcoms were made here.  After TC1 it had the largest working floor area when the audience seating was in use. It always was the most popular studio at TVC amongst programme makers.  Miranda was the last sitcom series to be recorded in this studio in October 2012.  The studio continued in use recording a gameshow - Five Minutes to a Fortune - until 26th March.  Its equipment was then transferred to stage 9 at Elstree.  Under the redevelopment plans it was for a while considered to be kept on by Stanhope and the BBC as stage 4 (the Spur) is being retained - and TC8 was part of stage 4.  However, it was decided that demolishing it and building a few more flats would make more money.  This studio is certainly the one that will be missed the most.

TC9

Was at one time to be the name of a new TV Theatre to be built as the second part of stage 5.  Plans abandoned in 1989.

The later TC9 was an irregular shape, about 30 x 30ft average dimensions but also had a corridor and small seating area which could be used for interviews.  Converted from old make-up store on the ground floor of the Restaurant Block in 1996.  Fitted with Thomson 1657 cameras which had been in use in Pres A for a year or two.  Used as continuity studio for children's programmes on BBC1 and BBC2.  Converted to widescreen in late '90s.  In 2004 became continuity studio for CBBC channel and CBBC on BBC Prime.  Ex-TC8 GVG Zodiak vision mixer installed in 2005.  The studio no longer used for CBBC continuity from late 2006.  TC9 unused for about nine months even though it was on long-term booking by Children's dept.  However, from Sep 2007 it became the new home of SMart and TMi.  Old Thomsons said to have become unreliable and overdue for replacement.  Studio mothballed again early in 2008 but was brought back into use in autumn 2008 for another series of TMi using TC2's ten year old Thomson 1657s.  After several more months of inactivity it was used again for TMi from September 2009 and again in 2010.  Blue Peter occasionally used TC9 in 2010.  Since the BP Garden is outside the door it is perhaps surprising this hadn't happened before.  Early in 2011 the studio was closed and its equipment removed.

TC10

30 x 40 ft.  Originally news studio N1 - initially used for BBC1 news bulletins - opened in 1969 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1981 replaced by Bosch KCP 60s.  In the early 1990s replaced with Thomson 1647 CCD cameras.  Closed in 1998 when news moved to stage 6.  Renamed TC10 but not refurbished due to lack of funds.  Eventually reopened with JVC KY-29D cameras in 2000 for UK Play channel to use for The Phone Zone which then became TOTP@Play daily afternoon show.  This channel closed down in September 2002.  From 2002 - 2004 was used as VR studio.  During this period was also used to make new version of Treasure Hunt for Chatsworth.  From 2004, TC10 was used for presentation and continuity for children's programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 replacing TC9 in this role.  From April 2006 daily Level Up show based here.  This replaced X-Change on CBBC channel.  Level Up ended its run in Sep '06.  This studio was then on long-term booking to Children's dept and various children's series used the studio.  From summer 2010 became home of CBeebies, which returrned from Teddington.  Studio closed in 2012 and equipment removed.  However. used for Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe in Jan 2013 using 'One Box' cameras.

TC11

50 x 40 ft.  Originally news studio N2 - opened in 1969 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1981 replaced by Bosch KCP 60s.  Initially used for BBC2 and weekend news bulletins.  In 1985 the lobby area and props store between N1 and N2 was taken over by this studio and its size increased - although this addition has a low ceiling.  This studio then became the home of BBC1's Six and flagship  Nine o'clock News.  In the early 1990s cameras replaced with Thomson 1647 CCD cameras.  Closed in 1998 when news moved to stage 6.  Renamed TC11 but not refurbished due to lack of funds.  Opened again early in 2002 with JVC KY-29D cameras when Liquid News moved here from TC0.  60 Second News set built in the low-ceilinged end for the new BBC Three channel which replaced BBC Choice in Feb 2003.  Liquid News ended in April 2004.  The studio was then the home of BBC Three's 7o'clock news.  This was axed in December 2005.  The studio was used early in 2006 as a temporary news studio whilst the main studios in Stage 6 were being refurbished.  Around 2006 Sony 8000 vision mixer installed.  TC11 became part of the BBC Studios portfolio again and available for general programming.  Used for Strictly Come Dancing spin-off It Takes Two in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.  Sometimes used as a rehearsal room.  TC11 received some of TC6's Sony E30 cameras in the summer of 2010.  2011 Comic Relief  'Smithy round table meeting' sketch shot here.  Studio closed in 2012 and equipment removed.

TC12

About 30 x 20 ft.  Originally built as control room of music studio.   First used as TV studio in 2004 for interactive CBBC show Nelly Nut.  Later used for other CBBC shows including Sportsround.  Up to 2 cameras were borrowed from TC0 as and when required.  From late in 2006 became the continuity studio for CBBC using a CSO (chromakey) backing to overlay presenters on top of graphics.  New presenter/puppet CBBC continuity from summer 2007.  This moved to converted studio in East Tower early in 2008.  Studio used by BBC R & D dept. until they moved to Salford in 2013.

Pres A

32 x 22 ft.  Opened in 1960 as monochrome studio with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  Originally intended as in-vision continuity studio but only used as this for a few years (until at least 1963.)  3 x Marconi MkVII colour cameras installed in 1968 ex TC6.  Became used as weather and trails studio.  Link 110s installed around 1980.  Weather left to go to new purpose-built weather centre in TVC around 1990.  Thomson 1657 cameras installed around 1994.  Used as continuity studio for children's programmes until closure in 1996.  Cameras moved down to TC9.  Was never converted to widescreen.  The studio was later converted to offices.

Pres B

32 x 22 ft.  Opened around 1964 as monochrome studio with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  Originally intended as in-vision continuity studio for planned second channel (BBC2) but never used for this purpose.  Colour tests with 3 Peto-Scott (Philips) PC60s, then 3 different cameras in 1966.  3 x Marconi MkVII colour cameras installed in 1968 ex TC6.  Used for a number of small shows including Late Night Line-Up, Points of View and Barry Norman's Film 'xx series.  Famously, the original home of Old Grey Whistle Test.  Link 110s installed around 1980.  Due to fewer and fewer bookings the studio closed around the end of 1996.  The studio was later converted to offices.

with thanks to Mike Emery for collating much of the above information regarding cameras and to Ian Trill for vision mixer info. 

If you spot any errors or can fill in any of the blanks do get in touch!

 

I am of course aware that there were a number of news and weather studios distributed around the building.  However, these do not come under my self-imposed remit of only including studios around London that make a range of different programmes.  I know I have included the old news studios N1 and N2 above but only because they then became used for general entertainment programmes when they were renamed TC10 and TC11.

However, just for the record there were in stage 6 three news studios used for the BBC News Channel, BBC World News and the regular main bulletins on BBC1 - except for the 6 o'clock News which came from TC7.  These all ended on March 15th 2013 when operations moved to New Broadcasting House.

 

 

The last programmes

For some reason many people are interested to establish which was the last programme made in each of the studios.  I have a copy of the final studio schedule so am pretty sure it's right.  Anyway - here goes:

 

TC1 - March 25, 2013 - When Miranda Met Brucie

TC2 - March 29, 2013 - Hat Trick pilot.  Do you know its name??? (this may have been a pencilled booking that was not taken up.  Can you confirm?  Prior to that was a pilot called Cashpoint on March 20 although the galleries were used for the Madness concert on March 22 )

TC3 - March 29, 2013 - Who's Asking? (pilot)

TC4 - March 29, 2013 - CBeebies pilot.  Do you know its name??? (This was a single-camera shoot as the galleries had been stripped of all equipment in January.  The studio was used for several shows between Jan and March using an OB scanner for facilities.)

TC5 - November 6, 2012 US Election special. (Sport dept vacated the studio on November 26, 2011)

TC6 - December 21, 2012 - Pointless

TC7 - March 15, 2013 - 6 o'clock News

TC8 - March 26, 2013 - Five Minutes to a Fortune (Last sitcom was Miranda on October 14, 2012)

 

 

 

The final few years...

 

Stage 6 had since 1998 been occupied by Television and Radio News.  This department moved to New Broadcasting House in central London in March 2013.  The weather department also moved to BH at the same time. 

During 2011 and into 2012 Sport and Children's departments transferred to Salford.  News, Sport and Children's departments were occupying the small studios TC5, TC7, TC9 and TC10.  Blue Peter used to book a large studio one or two days a week almost since the building opened but from summer 2007 it used the much smaller TC2 - and then only occasionally.

Thus, between 2011-2013 a considerable amount of activity using the small studios moved from this building.

The main studios however remained very busy right up to the end of 2012.  TC4 and TC6 were then closed to remove their kit - although TC4 was used for some shows in 2013 using an OB unit because of the shortage of studios in London.  The other two main studios were fully booked up to the end of March.  By main studios I mean TC3, TC4, TC6 and TC8.  These four studios are the most popular size of about 90 x 70 ft.  Almost all comedy and entertainment shows are made in studios this size.

 

So - What was going to happen???

The final five or six years of TVC saw its fate go from seemingly inevitable complete disposal and demolition to something that at least preserves a minimum amount of programme-making capability.  I shall attempt to sum up the various changes of fortune below...

 

In January 2007 the BBC heard that the licence settlement for the following six years would be below the rate of inflation.  The planned move of Sport and Children's departments to Salford from 2011 was to be ring fenced as was the commitment to pay for digital switchover.  The BBC Trust stated that it did not intend to see programme standards eroded.  Thus, they had to make some significant savings elsewhere.

One area where the BBC hoped to make savings and also raise some cash was through the disposal of surplus property.  They announced on 18th October 2007 that the BBC Trust had agreed in principle to the sale of Television Centre by the end of financial year 2012/13.  This schedule was either not noticed or possibly not believed by many people working in the industry - certainly, when the building actually did close on the predicted date it seems to have come as a great surprise to many.

The closing of TV Centre was justified to the press by various announcements including one allegedly from a senior BBC manager who claimed that Television Centre is 'an analogue dinosaur in a digital age.'  If this ill-informed comment did indeed come from someone senior in the corporation then the BBC truly did have serious problems.  The eight main studios were then and remained right to the end the best equipped and many would say the best designed studios in the country.  If these were no good then heaven help the rest of the industry.

The BBC hoped to raise a relatively modest £300m from the sale.  After the announcement was made, there was a fairly widespread assumption that this meant that the building would be demolished and replaced with offices, housing or an extension to the Westfield retail park that has recently been built on the other side of Wood Lane.  I even heard that the owners of Queen's Park Rangers might have been interested in building a new stadium here.  Of course, these were all whispers of rumours.

In fact, whether the sale of the building would be to a developer who would simply demolish it, or to a company who would keep the studios open and redevelop the rest of the site, was never made clear.  The fact is that from January 2007 until the beginning of 2013 - nobody, including the Director General, was actually in a position to be able to confirm exactly what would happen to Television Centre.  Back in 2007, the future of the building in any case rather depended on the sale of BBC Resources - in particular, BBC Studios, the business that operated the studios themselves.

 

The attempted sale of BBC Resources...

A separate plan, hatched in 2007, was indeed the intention to sell off BBC Resources.  This consisted of three divisions - Studios, OBs and Post Production.  The Costume and Wig department, popular though it was, was simply closed early in 2008 and the BBC have since left their purpose-built rehearsal rooms in Acton, where the Costumes and Wigs had been located.  The three remaining divisions of BBC Resources were due to have been disposed of by April 2008.

It was assumed, when the announcement was made that TV Centre would be sold, that the studios would by then no longer be operated by the BBC but by a private company.  However, the attempt to sell the business during the winter of 2007/2008 came to nothing. 

It therefore appeared that at some point in the future the BBC would be faced with an interesting choice.  Either sell the building to a developer who intended to clear the site (and be presented with the considerable problem of what to do with the Studios business and its staff) - or sell it to a company who would keep the studios open as an independent business - or keep the Studios business running as part of the BBC and sell off the rest of the site.

The first choice would probably have raised more cash but it would have meant that the profitable and still needed BBC Studios business was simply closed down and the staff left with nowhere to go.  This would hardly be a popular decision with programme makers, let alone the staff.

Simply closing the studios without an alternative arrangement for the business would certainly not have been in the best interests of the BBC anyway, since they would still need London based studios for their own production teams and for the independent companies who make programmes for the BBC.  The five large studios here represented almost half the available fully equipped TV studios of that size in the London area.  If simply closed then the shortage of studio space would mean serious scheduling problems and inevitable increased costs for all programme makers.

Back in 2007 it had been assumed that the new owners of BBC Studios would have used the following few years to build new studios elsewhere (probably Pinewood) or convert film stages into studios so the staff - and existing programme contracts - could move there.  This of course never happened.

Just for the record, it seems that one company was interested in purchasing the whole of BBC Resources but their offer was not acceptable.  The decision was made to sell the divisions separately and BBC OBs were sold off - to SIS Live.  This company took over the existing contracts with BBC Sport but in the summer of 2013 when they were due to be renewed, not a single one was retained.  All the contracts to supply OB facilities for the various sports went to other OB companies.  Perhaps not such a good buy for SIS after all.  They decided to close their OB business in March 2014 - so, very sadly, what remained of the BBC outside broadcast department is no more.

On 5th June 2008 it was announced that BBC Post Production would remain a wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of the BBC as a suitable buyer had not been found.  The facilities were retained in TV Centre until its closure in March 2013.  The division was drastically slimmed down and facilities were taken over in Charlotte St in Soho.  However, within a matter of months it became clear that the business model was not working and in the summer of 2013 S&PP announced that they would leave Charlotte St at the end of the year.  They now only have a presence at Elstree providing post for EastEnders and Holby but are offering facilities on a 'job by job' basis.  Quite a contrast to the vast post production department of only a few years ago.

 

As for the Studios division - although ITV were said to be in discussions, it would appear that only one company - Pinewood Studios Group - made it through to the final stages in the negotiations.  According to the Guardian, one of the sticking points was the pension liability of BBC Studios staff.  Whatever the reasons, the sale did not happen.  On 7th March 2008 Mike Southgate, CEO BBC Resources, declared 'business as usual' for BBC Studios including the upgrading of TC4 to HD in the summer of 2008.

With the sale of the business having come to nothing due to the recession, the value of the site itself continued to plummet during 2008.

Early in 2009, the old Studios and Post Production divisions were merged to form a new company, snappily named 'BBC Studios and Post Production'. (BBC S&PP)

Although it seemed unlikely that there would be another attempt to sell the business in the following few years, the 'Delivering Quality First' document issued by the BBC in September 2011 did include an interesting statement.  It said that the BBC would 'seek new ideas and potentially external investment for our resources business.'  The then chief executive of S&PP, Mark Thomas, issued a statement to staff which said 'We must accept it is very unlikely the BBC will be able to fund all our ambitions, including remaining at Television Centre or moving to a new location.'

The biggest problem in selling off the business in 2008 was said to be taking on the pension liabilities and conditions of service of all the staff.  During the early part of 2011, many staff were offered redundancy.  There were then no staff cameramen (apart from one), sound crew or lighting directors remaining and only the bare minimum of staff engineers.  The number of resource managers was also reduced to a handful with freelancers running most shows day by day.

This reduction in overheads helped the profitability of the business and also of course made it much easier to sell it off at some time in the future.

 

 

 

To list or not to list...

Perhaps the clincher that ensured that at least some parts of the building would be around for a while is its architectural merit and its place in the nation's cultural history.  Possibly familiarity bred contempt but in declaring an intention in 2007 to simply dispose of it, the BBC's senior managers seemingly failed to look around at the property for which they were the current custodians. 

Selling the building for it to be demolished was always likely to be somewhat problematic.  The local council have made it clear in the past that they wished to preserve the building and would have taken a very dim view of any major modifications to it, making the granting of planning permission for any new development highly unlikely.  National organisations interested in preserving the country's heritage too were likely to protest strongly at any attempt to lose this rare icon to late 1950s architecture.

In fact, one of the BBC's architects who was heavily involved in the design of Stages 5 and 6, including the abandoned TC9, wrote to me in 2006 to clarify the situation at that time regarding the listing or otherwise of the building...

'...it is not currently listed grade 2 but just on a local authority list of buildings of merit , also sitting within a conservation area, the aim of which is to preserve and enhance the setting of TVC and White City Station.  I have argued on behalf of the BBC not to have it listed as the nature of television operations is such that we are constantly altering the building inside and out and to have to obtain listed building consent each time would be very inhibiting.  However, I have no doubt it would be spot listed should any radical future site proposals surface.'

 

 

When the announcement was made of the intention to dispose of the site there was a petition to No 10 signed by large numbers of people.  English Heritage subsequently looked into its status with regard to giving it a Grade II listing.  Perhaps rather surprisingly to some, they came back with a very strong recommendation on 30th June 2008 to preserve not just the facade of the building - but to keep it as a working television centre.  Not only did they want the main studio block preserved but also the scenery block and the restaurant block!

Rather depressingly a BBC spokesman immediately began to argue the case but they did issue the following statement...

'The BBC has announced that it does not intend to occupy the whole of TVC after 2012 but any reference to detailed development plans for the building and site is premature.

We recognise the historical importance of the building and will be looking for a solution that best preserves the interests of the BBC and licence payer but there are no firm plans currently on the table.'

 

 

It is worth noting that by the summer of 2008 they were no longer saying that they planned to wholly leave the site and abandon it to its fate.  The tone is certainly different from the original statements made some months earlier.  To see what the fuss was all about, the statement on the English Heritage website is worth quoting in full...

Peter Beacham, Heritage Protection Director for English Heritage, said: 

“This building is not just architecturally important.  As one of the first purpose-built television studios in the world, it represents the moment when Britain led Europe into the television age. The BBC itself is an important part of our British identity and Television Centre has acquired an iconic presence.

“The nation has an immense fondness for this building and what it represents for our culture.  We all feel we know areas such as the Blue Peter garden and the studios where people have watched significant moments in broadcasting over the last 50 years: from early Doctor Who to Top of the Pops, Terry Wogan and Children in Need.

“We know the BBC is rightly proud of their building and their heritage, and we are enthusiastically working with them to make sure that marking TV Centre’s national importance will not affect its ability to adapt to changing technology or new uses.  We are glad that, following the current Heritage Protection Bill, we will be able to put in place a modern type of designation that involves a Heritage Partnership Agreement.  This will make sure that the site remains just as flexible, despite being of undeniable national interest and one of very few monuments to television history.”

English Heritage has assigned special interest only to the very best parts. These are the scenery workshops, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and rows of circular rooflights; the light and airy 1950s canteen that overlooks the Blue Peter garden; and the distinctive circular drum that houses offices and the main studios.  This has some very good 1950s design and architectural features including dazzling mosaics, a gilded sculpture of Helios in the centre of the drum and the familiar pattern of atom-like discs on the front.

with thanks to the English Heritage website

 

It was announced that the final decision on the listing of the site would be made by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) later in 2008.  However, by the end of the year there had been no such announcement.  In December, I wrote to the Culture Secretary to ask whether he had made his decision. 

On January 15th 2009 I was sent the following email by a representative from the DCMS:

'I can inform you that the decision on this application has not yet been made.  Officials from DCMS and English Heritage visited the site in November 2008 and DCMS officials are still in the process of gathering expert advice.    A thorough assessment of all the evidence, including reports from English Heritage, will be carried out and we aim to put recommendations shortly.'

 

In fact it was not until 10th July 2009 that the announcement was made.  A letter was sent to the BBC from the DCMS that stated that TV Centre would be listed at Grade II.

Barbara Follett, the architecture minister, was quoted as saying "BBC Television Centre has a special place in our shared history and heritage.  The home of BBC television news since 1969, and the place where Blue Peter, Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers first came to life (well, one correct fact out of three isn't bad for an MP I suppose), it has been a torture chamber for politicians and an endless source of first-class entertainment for the nation – sometimes both at the same time. I am delighted to be able to give it the extra protection that listing provides."

 

However, as with all these things, it was not quite that simple.

Despite the recommendations of English Heritage and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the government decided to award special grade II status only to the central ring of offices, the courtyard with its statues and fountain and the exterior walls of TC1.  They declined to include the scenery block, the restaurant and studios 2 - 8.  Indeed, they also said that the interior of TC1 is not covered by the 'special' status.

However, the announcement also stated that while other studios in the building, as well as the scenery block and canteen, did not meet the level of architectural or historic interest needed for special listing, they will nevertheless gain grade II status because of their “structural attachment” to the more notable parts of Television Centre.

I have sought some clarification of this rather confusing situation and my understanding is as follows:

 

The whole building is listed giving a measure of protection but only the central ring and TC1 - i.e. not the other studios - were described as being of SPECIAL interest.  Excluding parts of the building from 'special' status removed uncertainty for incomers and made conversion/partial redevelopment easier to apply for. However, I am told that to demolish ANY part, even the appallingly ugly East Tower, will require listed building consent and therefore a demonstrable improvement to the setting and use of the heritage areas.


 

So - Where did that leave us???

In November 2008 an interesting email was sent to BBC staff by DG Mark Thompson.  In it he stated that due to the financial crisis and large number of empty offices across the UK it was unlikely that the Centre would be sold by 2013.  In his words - 'We'll need to review this timetable.'

As it turned out, the timetable was (for the moment at least) set in the late summer of 2010 when the BBC Trust, hoping one assumes to keep the government off their backs, volunteered to freeze the licence fee for two years.  This in effect meant a reduction of millions of pounds in the income of the BBC so it was essential that savings would have to be made wherever possible.  In September 2010 the BBC declared that they would 'definitely' leave TV Centre in 2013.  They even announced an evening of live TV to be held one day in 2013 to mark their departure from the building.  (They didn't mention that it would be hidden away on BBC4).

In November 2010 property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton were appointed to oversee the redevelopment of the building.  The BBC were said to be intending to sell the building but - good news at last - rent back some of the studios to continue making programmes at the site.  They also said that they might move BBC Worldwide into the building and base one of the BBC orchestras here.

This 'artist's impression' was released by the BBC in May 2010, indicating how they saw the future of TV Centre once they have left.  It's worth pointing out that the exciting buildings in the foreground are in fact the Westfield Shopping Centre.  TVC can just about be made out in the background - or at least what's left of it, with what appears to be a bonfire burning in the central courtyard.

 

In the summer of 2011 events moved on yet again.

The Centre was put on the market on 13th June, with purchasers having to register their interest by 1st July.  This caused a flurry of unfavourable comment in the industry and the press, with many reacting as though this was a huge surprise - even though the BBC's intentions had been pretty clear since 2007.

The BBC spent the next few months considering the various options and choosing a winning bid.  They needed to maximise the amount raised from the sale as the BBC was now even more broke than it was when this process was started.  This of course was due to the licence fee being frozen by the government until 2016 - which represented a significant cut in real terms.

Confusingly, in the BBC's press release of 13.06.2011 was the clear statement that the BBC 'will now remain in the Centre until 2015', suggesting that the leaving date had been postponed by two years.  This date was still being quoted in the press well into 2012.  However, all departments were soon back on a timetable to leave by the end of March 2013.  It seems that the 'Delivering Quality First' document, issued to staff in October 2011, brought the date forward again.

Delivering Quality First is the Orwellian BBC name for a number of stringent cuts of around 20% across all departments.  This has meant that the BBC has also vacated most of the White City/Media Village buildings, retaining just the Broadcast Centre and more people than were ever originally planned are now working in New Broadcasting House in W1. 

However, when they said that they would be leaving in 2015 (or in fact 2013), the BBC were not including S&PP.  Part of their press statement made this clear.  It stated that 'the existing Studios and Post Production business will continue to operate following the sale of Television Centre, either remaining on site or in a new location.'  It would all hinge (as it always has) on who was to buy the Centre.  TVC was either to be sold outright to a purchaser with their own development plans or to a company who would work in partnership with the BBC to enable the studios (or at least some of them) to continue in operation.  The BBC also stated that they would like to see a 'visitor destination' on the site and they reportedly saw the benefit in creating a hub for creative businesses.

 

In September 2011 a couple of interesting bits of news emerged.  One was that most of the 11 companies shortlisted to purchase the building were looking to form a joint venture arrangement which would involve keeping some of the studios in operation.  One of the interested companies was said to be internet giant Google.  Others were reported to include property development companies Stanhope, Delancey and Argent. 

The other news was that the BBC had for a while been in secret negotiation with the Olympic Park Legacy Company over occupying the International Broadcast Centre building after the games.  This, it is said, would have included moving EastEnders from Elstree to that site and may also have been seen as a location to construct some studios to replace those at TVC.  However, this plan was abandoned.  The BBC said it was not able to commit in the medium term to the Olympic centre so it became available for other companies to occupy.  In fact, BT Sport have built their new studio centre there - which at that time nobody could have predicted.

In November I heard that the shortlist of purchasers had reduced to five - four of which planned to keep most of the studios open.  In December this list was said to be down to 3 contenders and rumour had it that all planned to keep some studios in operation.  The announcement of the winner was due to be in March 2012 but this deadline came and went. 

It transpired that the BBC was now intending to hold on to 51% ownership of the building, thus guaranteeing that some studios did remain open.  It is not clear exactly when this change happened - or if indeed this had always been the intention.  However, the shortlist was said to be down to two companies and an announcement of the winner was due in the early summer.

 

So - finally...

The announcement came on 16th July 2012 with more details emerging on 20th when completion took place.  Interestingly, the BBC decided to retain ownership of the building but sell its lease.  This was sold to Stanhope plc, a property development company.  The BBC have retained the freehold but this could be bought by Stanhope at some time in the future.  The sale of the lease was for £200m plus 'future overage payments.'  The finance is backed by Mitsui Fudosan UK and Alberta Investment Management Corporation.  Stanhope announced in January 2013 that they were also to receive a £50m loan from Royal Bank of Scotland to help pay for the reconstruction.  £200m is of course a great deal less than the £300m the BBC originally hoped for.

They announced that the whole TVC site will be extensively redeveloped but the exterior of the original main block facing Wood Lane will be retained.  There will be a mix of leisure, office and residential facilities.  The site will be opened up as envisaged in the GLA's 'White City Opportunity Area Masterplan' of April 2011 which I am sure you are completely familiar with. 

Actually, Google it - it makes interesting reading.  It includes a proposal for a linear park running from the horseshoe carpark in front of TVC - all grassed over - across Wood Lane and running some distance either side of the elevated tube line track as far as the West Cross Route dual carriageway.  It also includes a public footpath and cycleway running right through the central courtyard, through the South Hall and beyond to link up with Hammersmith Park!

 

From April 2013 the BBC rented back the whole site from Stanhope whilst they completed the removal of all useful kit and decommissioned the CCA (or Central Apparatus Room as I still like to call it.)  Stanhope were planned to have vacant possession of everything except TC1 - TC3 and stage 6 in April 2015.  In fact, the keys were handed over at the beginning of October 2014, the 'BBC' letters being removed from the front of TC1 the day before.

The iconic letters coming down on 30th September 2014 marking the end of the BBC's occupation of the whole building.  I gather they were due to be moved to Broadcasting House but the wind got hold of one of them and it smashed.  Oops.  Some might say the spirit of the building was fighting back.

photo thanks to James Daniel

During the redevelopment of the left hand end of the building, the S&PP business are using the refurbished BBC Elstree D, which has now housed Children in Need, amongst many other shows.  Stages 8 and 9 on the Elstree film studio site (owned by Hertsmere Council) have been leased and converted into TV studios.  They are slightly smaller than TC3, 4, 6 and 8.  They have been given TV floors, and a gallery suite has been constructed in Portacabin-type buildings next to stage 9 as well as fitting out the existing control rooms between the stages.  These are for stage 8.

The cameras and other equipment have been taken from TC4, 6 and 8 and moved to Elstree.  Stage 1 in the George Lucas building has been fitted with a control room suite within the building for Strictly Come DancingThe cameras and other equipment for this were taken from TC1.

 

BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC, not to be confused with the BBC World Service) will take over what is now stage 6 at TVC, which is being refurbished.  (This is the area previously occupied by BBC News.)  Worldwide will move from the BBC Media Village at White City just up the road.  The lease for those buildings will then be sold off.  This is particularly interesting as it represents a reversal of the original idea, which was to move out of TV Centre completely and move some departments to the Media Village.  (The One Show has, incidentally, moved from the Media Village to occupy a studio on the ground floor of the Peel Wing in New Broadcasting House, previously used by BBC London.)

There was a well-supported rumour some months before the final announcement that BBC Worldwide would occupy some of the studios at TVC, using them as exhibition spaces, conference rooms and visitor attractions, sharing one or more with S&PP for them to use in busy periods.  Indeed, one of the BBC orchestras was going to take over one of the studios.  However, I understand that this interesting idea was abandoned 'as the sums wouldn't add up.'  This was a very seriously missed opportunity in my opinion.

 

TC1, TC2 and TC3 will survive but very sadly it is planned that no other studios will remain after the redevelopment.  It is no secret that the Studios and Post Production business would dearly have loved to hang on to at least one more medium studio.  I have been told that detailed plans including the retention of TC4 were drawn up - indeed I nearly saw them for myself on one occasion but they were whisked away from my sight when somebody considered that this might be a bit controversial. 

A member of staff has told me that the BBC originally brought in consultants to see what the industry requirement for studios was likely to be in the coming years.  They apparently recommended keeping all 8 main studios.  This was not what the BBC wanted to hear so they were told to go away and think again.  The answer apparently was that the absolute minimum would be to keep TC1, TC2 and two medium studios - TC3, and TC4 or TC8.  Unfortunately, somebody high up in the BBC apparently decided to ignore this advice so we have ended up with only three studios - one of which is almost useless.  Of course I can't prove the above but it was told to me by someone I believe was telling the truth.  (Do contact me in confidence if you can verify this - or indeed disagree with it.)

 

S&PP has taken out a 15 year lease on studios 1-3 from 2017.  They will have office and dressing room facilities in the basement beneath these studios.  The original 'East Hall' will be recreated, occupying the area previously used by the Star Bar, some toilets and dressing rooms.  This will contain a coffee bar for the use of crew and performers and will also be used as an audience holding area.  There will be a small area behind the South Hall for storage.

The area surrounding the studios will now be open to the public raising all sorts of questions over security and crowd control.  Anyone who has witnessed thousands of screaming girls at the TV Centre railings as the latest heart-throb boy band is performing in one of the studios will know what I mean.

 

Unfortunately, one medium studio (TC3) will not be enough to cope with demand.  This size of studio (90ft x 70ft) is the most popular for most programmes, from sitcoms to gameshows, panel shows to chat shows and all things between.  The plan to share one of the remaining studios with BBC Worldwide would have made perfect sense and would have been of enormous benefit to the UK TV industry as a whole.  The inclusion of only one medium studio represents an extremely poor decision on the part of the BBC senior management.  It is not just the BBC themselves who need studios, it is all the independent companies who make programmes for the BBC - and of course for all the other channels too.

One does fear that the importance of providing studio space of the right size has not been fully understood by the decision makers.  TC1 is too big for many shows and TC2 much too small.  Salford and Glasgow only have one studio each of this size.  Teddington's main studio is due to close at the end of 2014 making the problem even worse. 

My understanding is that the independent production companies who have regularly used TVC were asked whether they would need studio space in the future.  I gather that most responded that they would and were very concerned at the proposals to close a number of medium studios.  I am afraid that one can only conclude that these concerns were ignored by the BBC.  It appears that only the requirement of their own in-house production department was addressed.  Unfortunately, most comedy and entertainment shows that appear on BBC channels are made by independent companies rather than the BBC themselves.  These are now struggling to find studio space which has already begun to push up costs (as predicted on this website several years ago) and may even mean that some programmes cannot be made at all because there is no studio available.

Shows are now being recorded in film stages rather than TV studios.  These are usually well outside central London making it difficult to attract studio audiences.  The costs are much higher than using a fully equipped studio as extra days have to be scheduled for rigging lights etc and all the technical facilities have to be hired in.

 

 

The actual plans...

The plans were revealed to the public on 5th February 2013.  There were no great surprises - the proposals had been known in principal for many months.  Some revisions were announced in April 2014 but these did not affect the studios.

The whole site is to be opened up to the public - the gates on Wood Lane will go and the horseshoe car park will become a public 'square'.  The central Helios courtyard will also be public and a cycle route will, as rumoured, pass through the building to link up with Hammersmith Park.

Stage 6 will house BBC Worldwide - from the end of 2014.

It was announced in April 2014 that stages 4 and 5 will be demolished and replaced with a new purpose-built 10 storey office block.  This is intended to attract media companies and will include a private members club with a garden and pool on the roof.  The ground floor will contain shops, cafes etc.  Stage 4 currently contains TC8, which was constructed some years after the rest of the building.  However, this studio is not to be retained and will disappointingly be demolished, just to enable a few more flats to be built.  It is a great shame that the opportunity was not taken to incorporate the studio into this public area and use it as a cinema, arts theatre, conference hall, exhibition space and even, on occasions, as a TV studio.

 

TC1, TC2 and TC3 are to be retained - the area behind the South Hall becomes a rather small scenery/props/lighting storage facility.  Delivery access is via the existing ring road running round the site - past the flats.

S&PP were planning to return in the winter of 2014 ready to reopen the studios in April 2015.  However, in the summer of 2014 it was officially announced what many people in the industry had already guessed.  They will not reopen the studios until the summer of 2017, when most of the demolition and rebuilding of the rest of the site will have been completed.

TC4-TC8 are all to be demolished.  They will be replaced with an inner ring of flats occupying the existing offices overlooking the central courtyard.  Behind them is a narrow strip of grassed and planted area.  Then a ring of flats follows the outer line of the existing building. 

The current offices in the central ring that face Wood Lane will become a luxury hotel.

The old reception area and South Hall become the entrances to the hotel and flats respectively.

The restaurant block (which English Heritage wanted to be listed) is to be demolished and replaced by an office block.

 

A small housing development is to be built in Dodds Yard.  The East Tower will be demolished and replaced with another block, slightly nearer to Wood Lane and considerably larger and taller.  This will contain flats.

The multistorey carpark is also to be demolished and replaced with 'affordable housing.'

There will be a new coffee bar/audience holding area on the ground floor between TC1 and TC3, larger than the old Red Assembly.  This was intended to have memorabilia of TV Centre on the walls - signage etc - but unfortunately most of this was removed by souvenir hunters in the weeks before closure.

The second floor around TC1-TC3 will become production offices.  The basement beneath TC1-TC3 will be dressing rooms, stores, offices etc.  There will be a new 'stage door' at the back of the building near TC1 leading down to the basement.

 

The rest of the basement becomes a car park for 466 cars - but this of course is mostly for the use of the flats and offices.  It is not known how many spaces will be allocated to the studios.

 

To be fair, what is planned for the three remaining studios and the areas supporting them sounds reasonably good.  From what I have seen and heard from those involved it is clear that they are very keen that this will be an attractive place to make programmes, whilst recognising the history and legacy of what was there before.  It is simply tragic that only three studios will be included.  Just one more would have made all the difference.

 

The latest planning and construction schedule is as follows:

April 2013 - Programme making ceases on site.  All offices are vacated.  Some engineering areas continue for a while such as CCA until around the end of 2013.  A new CCA is created in the BBC Broadcast Centre up the road at White City - at enormous expense.  New news hub for elections created at BBC Elstree - also at huge cost.  All studio equipment is removed - the BBC retain access to the whole building until April 2015 although enabling works commence.

January 2013 - detailed planning applications to convert stage 6 for BBC Worldwide.

April 2013 - detailed planning application for refurbishment of TC1-TC3.  This was granted.

May 2013 - outline planning application for the remainder of the site.  Detailed application followed in the summer.  This was granted in December.

May 2014 - revised planning application to allow demolition and rebuilding of stages 4 and 5 plus other amendments.

October 2014 - Stanhope take possession of the building - demolition and reconstruction begins.

late 2014 - BBC Worldwide occupy stage 6

2017 - BBC S&PP return to refurbished, re-equipped TC1, 2 and 3 in the summer.

2018 approx - redevelopment of main block and stages 4 and 5 complete.

2020 approx - redevelopment of rest of site complete.

 

According to the original proposals, for several years the three studios would have been operating in the middle of a noisy and dusty demolition and building site.  To an extent they still will as the redevelopment of the whole site will take several years to complete.  However, on 17th July, BBC S&PP confirmed what many had suspected - they won't be returning until the summer of 2017 once the demolition/reconstruction of the main block has been completed.  A very wise decision in my opinion.  However, when completed, they will be surrounded by flats and a hotel whose occupants may not be too keen on lorries loading and unloading scenery outside their windows or screaming fans hoping for a glimpse of their idol, or demonstrators complaining about some controversial BBC programme.

S&PP are likely to continue to use the stages at Elstree even after the return to TVC - as long as the business demand is there from programme makers.  In fact, CEO Anna Mallett did not rule out taking over other studios too.  'Never say never' is what she is quoted as saying.

 

 

The sums and costs involved -

Television Centre was sold for just £200m. 

The redevelopment of Broadcasting House and equipping news and weather studios there cost £1.04bn.  The cost of moving the CCA from TV Centre up the road to the Broadcast Centre in White City is estimated to be around £50m.  This is the hub of all the BBC's TV communications in and out of the UK.  It took many months to move some of the kit and of course a great deal of new equipment had to be purchased.

Moving Radio 5 Live and Children's and Sport departments from TVC to MediaCity in Salford has according to the BBC cost £942m.  This includes relocation expenses paid to staff - many of whom reluctantly left London.  The BBC are tied into a 10 year deal with Peel Media - the company that owns the MediaCity (dock10) studios.  They are committed to spending £82.8m over 10 years simply to hire studio space.  Previously they would have used their own studios in TVC - the productions' hire fees would have then gone into investing in newer kit in the BBC's own studios and making constant improvements for the benefit of everyone.  Any profits made by BBC S&PP go back into programme-making.  The money the BBC and independent programme makers now spend in Salford instead of TV Centre is pure profit for Peel.

The BBC have not completely left TVC of course.  According to Private Eye, Stanhope will receive around £12m per year in rent for the 3 studios (S&PP) and stage 6 (BBC Worldwide).

BBC S&PP have taken over stages 1, 8 and 9 in Elstree film studios - originally for 2 years, then extended to 4.  They have built new production, sound and lighting galleries, fitted out prop stores, refurbished dressing rooms and bought new lighting monopoles. 

Studio D at BBC Elstree has been completely refurbished.  It has now become the key studio used for general elections, Children in Need, Comic Relief etc that need multiple phone and other comms in and out of the studios.  All this was previously installed at TVC but has been ripped out.  These complex communications have had to be re-routed to BBC Elstree at great expense.  The galleries in studio D have been stripped to the walls and completely rebuilt to cope with these large scale productions.  A switching centre for multiple live OBs associated with elections has been built in studio C's galleries at huge expense.  None of these costs which must run into tens of millions would have been necessary had they simply stayed at Television Centre.  Much of this funding has come from central BBC coffers.  There is no way the S&PP business could have afforded it.

According to the National Audit Office the cost of building New Broadcasting House, Pacific Quay in Glasgow and moving to Salford was £2bn.  That's two thousand million pounds not spent on programmes.

 

Programmes made in Salford or Glasgow use local camera, sound, scenic and electrical crews.  However, heads of craft departments are freelance and almost all in the industry are based in or near London.  Therefore every production made outside London involves paying transport and accommodation costs for key personnel such as producers, director, researchers, writers, set designer, lighting director, camera supervisor, make up and wardrobe supervisors - plus of course the talent.  These costs cannot be avoided - the industry is no longer staff-based but freelance.  Experienced freelancers simply won't work in Salford or Glasgow unless they are paid their expenses.  Every production wants the best people to be working on it and this freelance talent is mostly London based.  These people are not 'Londoners' but have come from all over the UK and chosen to live near London as it is the hub of the television industry as well as film, theatre, music and dance in the UK.  None of these extra costs apply to programmes made in London.

 

The BBC claim that TV Centre was costing too much to maintain.  However, they could have sold off the outer ring of buildings and kept the studios which were almost all fully fitted out with the latest HD kit and required no serious money to be spent on them for years.  Looking to the long term they could have equipped them with LED and fluorescent lighting which would have saved huge amounts of electricity and power used in air conditioning.

From just a quick look at the costs above, it does seem clear that moving almost everything from TV Centre has cost the BBC far more than staying put and selling off part of the site rather than selling off all the site and renting part of it back.  They did not need to tie themselves into an £83m deal with Peel - they could still have moved Sport, Childrens and Radio 5 Live to Salford if they really had to but did not need to commit to using poorly designed studios that are disliked by many programme makers.  They did not actually have to move news to Broadcasting House which would have saved a vast amount with the reconstruction of that building.  If saving money was the main driving force behind all this then refurbishing and modernising stage 6 and expanding into stage 5 for News would have cost a fraction of what it cost to build New BH.

Also, The One Show could have moved to TVC where the Helios courtyard or horseshoe carpark would have been a far more suitable place to stage music and other activities rather than the front of New BH, where it must really irritate and disturb all the people working on serious news there.

 

Even though the very expensive construction of New Broadcasting House did go ahead, there was no inevitability that this should lead to the closure of Television Centre.  Stage 6 could still have been occupied by BBC Worldwide, as is happening.  The other departments that were based at White City could have moved to TVC rather than being crammed into New BH, which was never designed for them.  Worldwide could have run a visitor attraction in the basement of the hub - with sections including props and sets from famous dramas and comedies and of course Dr Who.  One of the studios could have been modified to be used as a conference centre when needed by Worldwide in quiet times for studio bookings.  Another idea which should have been developed was to use one of the smaller studios - TC5 say - as a home for one of the BBC orchestras.

 

Several of the decisions taken by the BBC Board of management under Mark Thompson have been heavily criticised in the press and by MPs.  However, the selling of Television Centre was arguably the worst as it will have the greatest long-term effect on the industry.  To be fair, the decision to move news to BH was taken under Greg Dyke's leadership but this decision was taken in October 2000, 13 years before the actual move took place.  There were plenty of opportunities to revise the plan in the intervening years when the immense costs became apparent.

 

It is hard to see how recording programmes such as gameshows, comedy shows and sitcoms in Salford and Glasgow makes the BBC less London-centric.  How many viewers know where these shows are made?  How many care?  Sarah Millican's show would look and sound identical (although would almost certainly cost less) if it was made in TVC rather than Salford.  When Dale Winton steps onto the In It To Win It set in Glasgow rather than in Television Centre - how is that better for the average Scot?  How is it better indeed for people living in Bristol or Barnsley or Bridlington or Birmingham?

Just looking at the Sarah Millican Television Programme - it is made in HQ2 in Salford but its production office is in Glasgow so the final credit reads 'BBC Scotland.'  So recording it in Salford makes even less sense.  They could still have had the office in Glasgow but made it at TV Centre where it would have cost less and all of the guests could have actually been in the studio rather than the awkward situation where one each week has to be interviewed via a satellite link - all the way from London.

 

 

The anger and frustration felt by many working in the industry at the decision to demolish most of the studios at TVC is widely felt.  It is not only because of the cultural and artistic legacy, it is because of the sheer practical benefits of having a number of studios based in one place.  The decision was taken by managers apparently with no experience of making music, entertainment or comedy programmes in studios.  They employed consultants to advise them - who were also not people currently making programmes.  Even so, it appears that their original recommendations were ignored.  It also seems that the wishes of the independent TV production companies who make most comedy and entertainment programmes were ignored.  What is particularly galling is that most of  those responsible have moved on - some including Director General Mark Thompson are not even working in the UK any more.

The excuse given for demolishing most of the studios was that it would have cost too much too keep them on.  As Danny Baker pointed out, the same excuse was given when all those videotapes from the '60s and '70s were wiped.  Those responsible have never been forgiven and I suspect that Mark Thompson and his board of management will never be forgiven for what they did.  There has been a lot of misinformation spread around.  Michael Grade, on The One Show, said that it would cost £200m to convert the studios to high definition.  In fact all the main studios were converted between 2006 and 2011 and were at the time of closure the best equipped studios in the country.  No wonder they were being booked by programme-makers right to the end.  One hopes that Lord Grade was simply misinformed and that his chairmanship of Pinewood-Shepperton had not coloured his views.

 

The closing of the main studios at TV Centre is a national disgrace and those concerned should be ashamed at what they did.  There was an opportunity to keep the studios but redevelop the rest of the site but ignorance of how the studio industry works or plain lack of imagination seems to have affected their judgement.

What has been clear all along to many in the industry is that the BBC still needs a reasonable number of fully equipped studios for its own use and for the independents who make programmes for them.  Indeed it would be bizarre, if not to say gravely irresponsible, if the BBC had created a situation where there were not enough television studios of the right size in the UK's capital city - a city with a worldwide reputation for all forms of entertainment and culture. 

After all, they have just spent over a billion pounds in redeveloping Broadcasting House in central London, making it the best equipped radio and television news centre in the world.  They have also created an excellent drama centre in Cardiff, are planning to move the BBC Wales HQ from Llandaff to a new more central location and recently completed an expensive new broadcasting centre in Glasgow.  So to severely curtail the television comedy and entertainment side of their business - increasing costs through a shortage of studios - is perverse to say the least and wholly inexplicable to other broadcasters around the world.  This at a time when Sky is planning a new big studio for its own use.

 

London has been and always will be the creative focus of the UK's entertainment, music, theatre, cinema and television industries.  In recent years it has become more than that - a truly global city attracting talented people from all over the world. 

Sadly, having just one medium studio at TVC will be insufficient for London's needs - particularly since Teddington's studio 1 is due to close at the end of 2014.  TC2 is far too small to be much use for anything other than small magazine type programmes and TC1 is considered by some too big for comedy - many performers like a more intimate room and a closer relationship with the studio audience.  In other words, the 90 x 70 foot studio is what most productions need.  Even if stages 8 and 9 at Elstree are kept on they are not a direct replacement for the missing TVC studios.  Their location and lack of a nearby tube station mean that studio audiences find it far harder to get to them than TV Centre.  Their design and fit-out prevent rapid turnarounds from one show to the next.  They also lack the ancillary storage and back-up facilities of the TVC studios.

I was given the opportunity to made the case for retaining TC8 as part of the 'Television Factory' personally to the BBC's Head of Commercial Design Development and Planning and to the BBC's Head of Workplace, who is also the head of the joint BBC/Stanhope working party that is planning how the Centre will be redeveloped.  Although I was politely received, nothing came of our conversation or the detailed paper I submitted putting the case for keeping TC8 within the proposed scheme.

 

On 20th December 2013, planning permission for the whole scheme was granted by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.  It emerged that Stanhope are paying the council £10m to be used to fund a variety of local schemes and projects.  They are also paying £3m towards Crossrail.

 

Many well-known people have commented publicly on the BBC's decision to sell off most of TV Centre.  Let's face it - none of them favourably.  These include almost all those who appeared on the Goodbye From Television Centre programme.  Jools Holland and the producer of Later With Jools also made their views known.  Alexander Armstrong said in an interview early in 2013:

"The BBC is a brilliant, infuriating, delightful cornerstone of our culture but it drives me round the twist.  I will never forgive them for selling off BBC TV Centre.  It's probably the best studio facility in Europe, possibly the world, and it's being sold off for flats and a luxury hotel."

In the Goodbye from Television Centre programme it was quite clear that almost everyone who was invited onto the show to reminisce about 'the good old days' was in fact very upset and angry about what had been done.  'I'd like to kick them up the arse' shouted Brian Blessed and I suspect that a very long queue would form behind him to join in.  Michael Grade, chairman of that show and as it happens - chairman of Pinewood-Shepperton, looked distinctly uncomfortable at times as it began to dawn on him that his guests were not simply going to tell a few funny stories but were genuinely moved and upset at this appalling decision.

 

 

A campaign to save all 8 main studios was launched in April 2013, nine months after the redevelopment plans had been announced.  Probably nobody could quite bring themselves to believe it was really happening until the doors finally closed for good.  It was simply called Save TV Centre Studios and had the backing of Equity, The Writers' Guild, the Musicians' Union, BECTU, the NUJ and many others.  A number of well known celebrities, journalists, actors and musicians gave their support and there was a petition with a large number of signatures. 

Unfortunately, despite a great deal of hard work being put into the group by a few individuals it was unable to reverse any of the decisions already taken by Stanhope and the BBC.  One can't help wondering what the outcome would have been if this campaign had begun 18 months earlier, when negotiations were still on-going between the BBC and various developers.  I suspect it would have had a much greater chance of success.  Very sadly, trying to make changes long after the deal had been done behind closed doors was always going to be a very hard mountain to climb.

 

 

There are dozens of people who took photographs of the Centre before it closed and posted them on-line.  There are also two very good Facebook pages - 'BBC TVC' and 'Memories of BBC Television Centre'.  If you are on Facebook I strongly advise visiting both.  There is loads to see and read.  Joe Godwin has also posted a superb slideshow on YouTube of photos of various parts of the building taken on January 1st 2013, accompanied by a number of familiar Kids' TV theme tunes.  Well worth a look here.

Another beautifully made video showing snippets of TVC programme gems superimposed on the building has been made by Ed Stradling.  Be prepared to shed a tear but see it here.

 

One of the many performers to criticise the closure and whose knowledge and intelligence is beyond question is David Mitchell.  In 2011 he wrote the following whilst musing on new ways the nation might celebrate special days:

 

Television Centre Day (always the last Tuesday in August - the day before the department stores put up their Christmas decorations)

This should be a day when the nation comes together to celebrate its proud tradition of masochistic decision-making, the unique British characteristic of allowing ourselves to destroy things that almost everyone likes, to be able to accept a line of argument, however nonsensical, purely because it leads to a conclusion that will cause us pain.

The day will feature a parade of bendy buses from Euston station to a block of flats in Shepherd's Bush where they used to make TV programmes.  The media coverage should generate business for local hotels as a large number of journalists are expected to travel down from Manchester.

copyright David Mitchell - The Observer

 

Of course, part of the assumed reduction in demand for studios is due to the enthusiastic desire by a few to move programme making out of London to Salford.  One does sense that this is not welcomed terribly enthusiastically by all producers.  Perhaps the last word should go to Jeremy Clarkson.  Love him or hate him, his views expressed in an article he wrote on 20th July 2011 are shared by a great number of people working in the industry:

 

 

...A lot of the arguments against the BBC's move have been centred on the expense, but I believe there's a more important problem than money.  In short, Salford is up north.

I do not speak now as a trendy southern poof who misses Tony Blair and has angst about sending my kids to private school.  A television show found that since 1740 every single person in my family tree was born, married and died within 12 miles of one Yorkshire village.  I am therefore a pure-blood northerner, a man who makes Michael Parkinson look like Brian Sewell.  Cut me in half and you'd find I run on coal and whippets.

But here's the thing.  While I was being raised in the north, my parents would occasionally risk the highwaymen and take me to London on trips.  There are photographs that show a six-year-old me looking at an elephant in London zoo and pointing at a black man on Bayswater Road.  I remember trying to make a soldier in a busby blink and gazing in open-mouthed wonderment at the sheer size of the Palace of Westminster.  It all seemed so much more exciting somehow than anything I'd ever encountered oop north.

And now, 30 years after I escaped from Yorkshire, that still holds true.  I still get a tinkle fizz when the motorway ends and I'm plunged into the labyrinth.  I still get a kick out of the BT tower and from hailing a black cab.  I absolutely love London.  And I'm sorry but if the BBC now said I had to move back up north, I'd resign in a heartbeat.  Many others faced with the same problem have done exactly the same thing.

We are told that too many BBC shows are made by Londoners in London, but that simply is not true. Top Gear, the show on which I work, is based in the capital but, so far as I know, every single one of the production team is originally from somewhere else.  The producer is from Glossop, in Derbyshire.

One of the researchers is from Loughborough, in Leicestershire.  Until recently we even employed a Scot.  Richard Hammond is from Birmingham.  James May is from one of the moons of Jupiter.  We are therefore as "London" as the Chelsea football team... when John Terry is ill.

London is full of the cream.  The bright.  The sharp.  The ambitious.  People who had the gumption at some point to up sticks and leave the two-bit town in which they were raised and do a Dick Whittington.  You see it as you drive about: cafes rammed full of people reading big newspapers and talking about big things and drinking coffee that people in Salford have never heard of.

It's where the shows are.  It's where films premiere.  It's the nation's Oxbridge.  It's the best of the best of the best.

Salford?  It's just Salford.  A small suburb with a Starbucks and a canal with ducks on it.  It's a box that has been ticked.  A gentle tousle of the politicians' mop.  According to Wikipedia, its only real claim to fame is that a man there was ran over by Stephenson's Rocket.  Oh, and someone once found a head in a bog.

This does not qualify it as a great place to make television shows.  Indeed it's a very bad place.  Every week we have to try to entice a guest to our studios, which are in Guildford.  Sometimes it's tricky.  But it's nowhere near as tricky as it would be if we had to get them up to Manchester.  Or as expensive. 

And how could a news programme run from Salford?  It's nowhere near any court that matters and nowhere near a single politician.

Furthermore, if we ran the show from Salford, we'd be employing people from Salford.  People who were born there and thought, "Yes. I like this.  I see no reason to go anywhere else."  And in the world of television that could be a genuine handicap.  Every year we'd end up making a Christmas special from the Dog and Duck or the nearest Arndale centre.  A television show needs to be run by worldly people.  Not people who are frightened to death of the next town.

And what would be the upside?  Who cares where a show is made?  Who cares whether the Blue Peter garden is in London or not?  Who cares whether Simon Mayo is speaking to you from Portland Place or a glass-fronted tower up north?  It makes not a jot of difference. 

The big problem here is that politicians - and they're behind this shift, be in no doubt about that - have got it into their heads that Britain is a big place.  But it isn't, really. It's titchy.  Moving half the BBC from London to Salford is the same as a parish council moving the table around which it meets from the village hall to the community centre.

Britain is a small place with a whopping great world-class city in its bottom right-hand corner.  It therefore makes sense to me that every head office, every government department, every newspaper and, most of all, every television and radio show is based there.

copyright Jeremy Clarkson - Sunday Times

 

 

 

...and finally, Roger Bunce has written an excellent piece putting the case for keeping the studios at TVC.  It appeared on the 'Save TVC' website in April 2013.  If you read nothing else on this website you must read this.  It is absolutely superb.

 

1: The Architecture.

BBC Television Centre is a design classic - an iconic example of that futuristic, space-age architecture of the late 1950s and early 60s.  It belongs to an exciting, experimental period of design that gave us the Festival of Britain, Coventry, Brasilia and Tracy Island.  Modern construction techniques, involving gleaming glass and steel Cathedral, are blended with traditional treatments, including brick, tile, timber and mosaic, to create forms that are entirely original.  There is sculpted concrete, but it is used sparingly, with none of the dingy, graffitied slabs that became fashionable in the later 1960s.  The whole building is a work of art, and the staff within are motivated and energised by the aesthetics of their surrounding.  Those who wish to demolish such an imaginative vision, are taking philistinism to a level unknown since the days of Goliath.

It is clear from the original documents that the architects were not just building a studio centre, they were deliberately creating a permanent monument.  They describe it as "A new London landmark" - hence the sculptures and fountains.  They succeeded.  From the start, programme-makers were so inspired by TV Centre's art and architecture that they were using it as a backdrop for their productions.  From the Opening Night, via Square World, Record Breakers, Top of the Pops and Blue Peter, right up to the closing night 'Madness' concert, Television Centre has starred as a location in its own productions.

Broadcasts from the central circle or the front car park became such common occurrences that exterior plugging points were installed for cameras and microphones.  And, as a result, the architecture of BBC Television Centre is known to viewers all over the country - and overseas.  It is an immediately recognisable symbol.  There is no other building quite like it.  The uninspired structures at Salford Quays will never be used in this way, nor will they ever gain such widespread public recognition.  They are just bland rectangular slabs, like so many others.  As for the gaping, pointless void of the BH Newsroom, it looks like a singularly ill-favoured shopping mall!

Another of the original concepts of TV Centre is that it could be endlessly adaptable.  It could be extended, or contracted, re-equipped or rebuilt, in accordance with operational needs.  It would never be necessary for the BBC to leave!

 

2: The efficiency of the building.

Behind the sculptures and the mosaics there is another TV Centre: the functional TV Centre; the programme-making machine.  And this is another masterpiece of design. When TV Centre was being planned, the Senior Management of the BBC included Senior Producers and Chief Engineers: people with an intimate understanding of programme-making both from the creative side and from the nuts-and-bolts practical realities.  They had learned how studios work from their experiences of Alexandra Palace, Lime Grove and Riverside.  Working with the architects, they were able to design a complex which was ideally laid-out for speed and efficiency of operation.  Everything is in the right place.  The dynamics work.  The encircling Ring Roads ensure the delivery of scenery and equipment.  The Assembly Areas funnel the cast from their dressing rooms, via Wardrobe and Make-Up, into the studios.  Everyone and everything arrives at the right place at the right time, ready to go.  At the peak of its operation, one studio could mount a different programme each day and could be completely reset and relit each night.  Turnarounds were accomplished with all the slickness of a Formula One pit-stop.  And there is a natural buzz and excitement that comes from working at that level of efficiency.  As Victoria Coren has said, "I didn't realise, until making a film about it closing down, what a fantastic building this is - how purpose built - how fit-for-purpose - or how loved." (Did you notice the phrase 'Fit-for-Purpose' there?)

One might have expected that the BBC's new studios, at Salford and New BH, would have improved upon TV Centre and be even more 'fit-for-purpose'.  Sadly, it is not so.  Stories of bad layout, poor planning and lack of foresight abound.  It is as though no one had ever built a television studio before; no one had learnt from past experience.  But, the Senior Management of the BBC no longer includes Producers and Engineers.  Today it consists of career bureaucrats, who have only minimal understanding of programme-making, television or broadcasting.  Worse, they don't believe that they need to have any such understanding.  Had the BBC progressed from TV Centre to something even better, I might have shrugged sadly and accepted that this is the nature of progress.  The fact that the BBC is regressing from TV Centre to studios that are less well-designed and much less 'fit-for-purpose' cannot be justified by any argument.

 

3: The meeting place of talents.

One of the advantages of having so many studios and different types of programmes at one site was that Television Centre became a meeting place for talented people from different genres and different disciplines.  Children's Programmes could talk to Drama; Quizzes could talk to Comedy; Production people could take advice from Technical People (without having to pay for it!).  All knew that they were talking to experts in their field.  And because everyone felt that they were working for the same organisation, experiences and advice were shared freely.  It was in these exchanges that new ideas were born.  If you have two geniuses, each with a good idea, then you have two good ideas.  If you let the two geniuses talk to one another, then three, four or five good ideas will emerge from the conversation between them.  When half a dozen geniuses meet up, preferably with a glass in their hands, the ideas explode exponentially.  And that was how Television Centre worked.  It was not just a programme-making factory, it was an ideas factory - an imagination factory.  (N.B. This is an argument, not just for the preservation of the Studios, but also for the Club, the Canteen, the Tea Bars, and all the communal areas where those impromptu planning meetings took place, and where the programme ideas cross-fertilised.)

The current Senior Management of the BBC is sadly lacking in any understanding of the creative process. Their dystopian vision of the future places different genres at different sites.  The geniuses will never meet and their ideas will not be exchanged.  Meanwhile, a largely freelance workforce will naturally be protective of their knowledge and unwilling to share advice.

 

4: History and Heritage.

Many of the celebrities who have deplored the sale of TV Centre have done so from a nostalgic point of view, quoting all the classic programmes that were made there.  It is not an argument that should be dismissed as too emotional.  Heritage matters.  The reason that most public buildings are preserved is because of the history that was made there.  BBC Television Centre was first purpose-built TV studio complex in the country - and in the world.  As such it is a historic monument of national, and international, importance.  It is a heritage site. As Michael Parkinson put it, "It's as culturally important, in my view, as the Royal Opera House, or the National Theatre."  Arguably, this is an understatement.  Only a small proportion of the population have ever enjoyed a production at the National Theatre: even fewer at the Royal Opera House.  Yet productions from TV Centre have been enjoyed by virtually everyone in the country, and by millions all over the world.  There are other, older opera houses in the world.  There are other theatres. But there is only one BBC TV Centre, and it was the first of its kind.  To demolish it would be an act of cultural, historical and architectural vandalism comparable with simultaneous bulldozing of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Palladium, the British Museum and many other venues of education, information and entertainment.

Historians will doubtless look back on this loss of a national asset and compare it with Dr. Beeching's railway closures - another misguided attempt to save money, which actually succeeded in wasting money, and did irreparable damage to the country's infrastructure.

 

5: The sheer financial waste.

The BBC sold TV Centre for about £200 million pounds. This figure is not profit. The cost of moving BBC Programmes and facilities out of TV Centre needs to be subtracted. In order to move Sport and Children's Programmes to 'the North', the BBC has invested over £800 million in Media City at Salford Quays. This figure does not include the cost of staff relocation, nor the continuing travel and accommodation costs of staff and cast who are still commuting from London, nor the ongoing cost of hiring studios that the BBC doesn't own. We must also subtract the reported £1 billion spent on moving the news operation from a virtually brand-new newsroom at TV Centre, to a much larger, and uglier, newsroom at New BH. Together, Children's, Sport and News represent only a minority of the programmes made at TV Centre. For all the others there is the cost of hiring and modifying temporary studios, until some of them are able to return to TV Centre. Finally, CCA is still located in TV Centre. (Did the Management even know it was there?) It is due to be moved to other locations at an estimated cost of a further £50 million. Nor should we forget the money paid to Management Consultants, without whom the overstaffed, overpaid bureaucrats of BBC Management seem incapable of actually managing anything. At a very conservative estimate, the the sale of TV Centre has wasted over £2 billion of Licence Payers' money. Only BBC Management could 'sell the family silver' and make such a massive loss on the deal.

 

6: No consultation with the Licence-Fee Payers.

Those who decided to sell TV Centre were not its owners.  They were only temporary custodians.  Boris Johnson, during his tenure as Mayor of London, would not be expected to bulldoze Trafalgar Square and build flats on it.  Nor should a short-term Director General of the BBC have been allowed to sell a national landmark without consulting its true owners.  TV Centre was paid for by the Licence Fee Payers. They/we are its true owners.  The Licence Fee Payers are now expected to cover the billions that have been lost.  Yet they/we were never consulted.  (Nor were the staff or the Programme Makers.)  It may be too late to prevent the financial squandering but it is not too late to demand a Public Enquiry into how this mis-management occurred; to ask for full publication of the accounts; to name and shame the individuals responsible, and to take measures to reduce the ongoing waste.

 

7: The loss of studio capacity.

If BBC Management has any consistent vision for the future, it seems to be that they no longer wish to own studios.  They would rather rent or lease them.  But this leaves them extremely vulnerable to market rates.  Any reduction in supply will cause an increase in demand and a reduction in competition.  Prices will go up.  The closure of Television Centre means the loss of 8 large to medium-sized broadcast studios, and 4 or 5 smaller ones.  Teddington Studios are also due to close.  Together, they represent a substantial proportion of the studio capacity in the London area.  Such an abrupt reduction in availability will create an anti-competitive situation in the market, enabling the remaining suppliers to significantly increase their prices.  The BBC may, therefore, have scored a massive financial 'own goal'.  Their cunning plan was to sell studios because it is cheaper to rent, but the loss of those studios will, itself, make renting more expensive!  If, however, Television Centre studios remain available to programme-makers, albeit under different ownership, they will increase the competition in the market and help to keep prices down.

 

8: The creation of a near-monopoly.

Two of the studio centres likely to gain work from the closure of Television Centre, and therefore benefit financially, are Pinewood and Shepperton.  Their chairman is Michael Grade, who was chairman of the BBC until about a year before the closure of TV Centre was announced.  Pinewood and Shepperton are owned by The Peel Group (formerly Peel Holdings), who also own MediaCity at Salford Quays and are, therefore, the primary financial beneficiaries of the BBC's 'move to the North'.  The Peel Group also owns Teddington Studios, but intend to close them, thus reducing competition and driving more work to their other centres at Pinewood and Shepperton.  Personally, I suspect that the BBC's role in the creation of this near-monopoly is more cock-up than conspiracy.  But questions need to be asked.  Any enquiry should demand to know why BBC bosses have used Licence Fee Payers' money to give The Peel Group a disproportionate share of the market - particularly since this will be of benefit to a former BBC Chairman.  I note that during the BBC's evening of programmes about TV Centre, the primary spokesman supporting the closure, both on The One Show and on Goodbye Television Centre, was Michael Grade.  He did not declare his financial interest.

 

9: Studio operation incompatible with residential property.

Current plans involve converting much of the TV Centre site into a hotel and flats.  But studios and residents may not make comfortable neighbours.  From the studio viewpoint, public access will create security problems.  From the residential viewpoint, studio programme-making is a 24 hour operation, and is rarely quiet.  The rumble of lorries, the off-loading of scenery and technical equipment (and the familiar clang of scaffold poles) late into the night will be a constant irritant.  And that's before we think about loud music programmes, rioting rock-stars and over-excited audiences.  Some of the noise nuisance could be reduced by insisting that all resets and re-rigs take place during daytime, but that would immediately double the number of studios needed to make the same number of programmes.

 

10: Studio operation incompatible with a building site.

It gets even sillier.  I had assumed that the BBC were going to abandon the site between 2013 and 2015 because this was the period during which the rebuilding was due to take place.  There would be obvious problems trying to make programmes on a building site: the constant noise and vibration of bulldozers, pneumatic drills, excavators and demolition, creating an atmosphere full of cement dust (and newly liberated asbestos).  But I now learn that the bulldozers aren't due to start until 2015 - about the same time that BBC Studios are moving back in!  Cue predictable disaster.  Which poses the question, why did the BBC decide to leave in 2013 and waste a fortune hiring and modifying temporary studios for a couple of years, when 8 of their own perfectly functioning studios were still available to them?

 

11: The total absence of any reason to leave.

Maybe the strongest argument of all is simply that there is no rational reason for the BBC to leave Television Centre.  It is a colossal waste of Licence-Payers' money and a major disruption to programme makers which achieves nothing whatsoever.  The decision to leave seems to have been an obsessive, compulsive urge amongst certain members of the Senior Management team, most of whom have since been required to leave, clutching generous 'rewards for failure'.  The reasons that they have given for the move are listed below.  It will be seen that none of them bear much relation to reality.

 

 

Reasons given by BBC Management for the abandonment of Television Centre:

 

1: To make money.

It sounds like a sick joke now, but this was the original reason given for selling TV Centre.  It was announced on 18 October 2007 that, because of a £2 billion shortfall in funding, the BBC would "reduce the size of the property portfolio in west London by selling BBC Television Centre by the end the financial year 2012/13."  Translating management jargon into English, this means simply that they were selling the building to raise cash.  With the Westfield Shopping Centre anticipated, and property prices in the area likely to rise, BBC Management thought they could make a once-only, short-term profit on the sale.  We now know that they have actually managed to make a catastrophic loss.  The cost of moving out of TV Centre must be over ten times the income from the sale.  Any other homeowner, selling a valuable property in London in order to downsize to a cheaper place in the country, might expect to have had some cash left over. Only BBC Management could fail so disastrously.

 

2: To make the BBC less London-centric.

Because of lower approval ratings in the North of England than in the South, the BBC decided to move some of its operations from London to Salford Quays.  This is often given as a 'Politically Correct' excuse for closing Television Centre.  But the sums don't add up.  Most of the mainstream programmes produced at Television Centre have not gone to to the North.  They have been scattered to various temporary studios around London and the Home Counties.  Sport has been sent to Salford, but that could only be used as a excuse for closing TC5, one of the smaller studios.  Children's Programmes have also be ordered to Salford, which might excuse the closure of TC9, an even smaller studio, and half of whichever studio Blue Peter might be using that week. The movement of News to New Broadcasting House might also justify the closure of TC7, another of the smaller studios, and the TV Centre Newsroom.  But this leaves absolutely no excuse for closing any of the large or medium-sized studios at Television Centre - TCs 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 8.  All the comedies, light-entertainment, chat-shows, quizzes etc. which were made there have been left with no alternative home.

 

3: Television Centre is getting old and needs maintenance.

Yes, most buildings of a certain age need a lick of paint and a dollop of filler occasionally.  But no one has suggested bulldozing the Albert Hall, the Palladium or the Houses of Parliament just because they need maintenance.  At Television Centre the problem has become worse because, since making the decision to leave, routine maintenance has been badly neglected.  So, if we put the metaphorical horse and cart in the correct order, and cause before effect - It is true that Television Centre needs maintenance because of the decision to leave.  It is NOT true that the decision to leave was taken because Television Centre needed maintenance.  Even if it were true, it would be the equivalent of buying a new car because the ash tray was full in the old one!

 

4: Programme-making has been moving out of studios onto location.

This argument is about 20 years out of date.  In the early 1990s, BBC Drama Department decided that they wanted to make 'Films' not 'Television Plays'.  They abandoned the old-fashioned, multi-camera, 'as live' style of shooting in favour of the even older-fashioned, single-camera, 'as film' style.  The last major studio drama series, The House of Elliot ended in 1994.  As drama and documentaries left, the BBC needed less studio capacity and therefore closed down Lime Grove, TV Theatre and the Greenwood.  They even mothballed some of the studios at TV Centre.  But fashions can swing in both directions. Programmes were soon moving back into TV Centre.  The mothballed studios were reopened, and additional studio space had to be created around the building.  TC0 and TCs 9, 10, 11 and 12 were opened.  Shows were being shot in offices, dressing rooms, galleries and even corridors.  The success of Strictly Come Dancing brought glossy-floored, big studio spectaculars back into fashion.  Budget cuts forced smaller programmes back into studios since working live, or 'as live', saved editing and post-production costs.  High-definition led to a need for more detailed, more substantial scenery with the result that more studio time was occupied with scenic construction and standing sets, which created a need for yet more studio space.  Even after the departure of Sport, Children's and News, TV Centre studios were as busy as they had ever been - right up until the time that they were forced to close.

 

5: Television Centre has problems with asbestos.

More old news.  This argument is about 25 years out of date.  Asbestos problems were identified in TV Centre studios in 1988.  Since then the asbestos has been stripped out or encapsulated.  It is no longer a problem, (unless, of course, someone does something incredibly stupid, like knocking the place down and building a hotel).  There are still asbestos and structural problems in the East Tower, but few people would complain if that was demolished.

 

6: Television Centre has out-of-date technology.

Does anyone know who coined the phrase, "Television Centre is an analogue dinosaur in a digital age."?  It would be nice to know, if only so that they can be publicly pilloried.  It is difficult to know whether the Senior Management of the BBC were really so badly out-of-touch with their own business that they actually believed this, or whether they were resorting to desperate lies in order to justify an obviously stupid decision.  Just because TV Centre was opened in 1960 does not mean that it is only capable of producing black-and-white, 405 line television!  Anyone who has worked there, or anyone who has ever turned on a Tele, knows this to be untrue.  The technology has been constantly updated - to 625 lines - to colour - to stereo - to digital, hi-def widescreen.  A number of studios were equipped for Virtual Reality, and one (TC6) was even capable of broadcasting in 3-D.  Up until its forceable closure, TV Centre contained some of the most up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment in the world.

 

7: Television Centre is not 'Fit for Purpose'

You know they're getting defensive when they resort to meaningless managerial jargon.  Those who say this are either lying, have never worked at TVC, or are desk-bound bureaucrats.  No one who has ever worked at the sharp-end of TV could believe it.  An endless succession of Cameramen, Engineers, Directors etc, could be produced to explain exactly why TVC is entirely 'Fit for Purpose' and, more importantly, why it is much MORE 'Fit for Purpose' than either Salford Quays or New BH!

If they get really desperate they may even claim that TV Centre has been tainted by Jimmy Savile. (Didn't he come from Salford? Better cancel the move to the North!)

The decision to leave TVC was taken years before the scandal arose, and cannot, therefore, have been a true motivation.  Actually, most of Jimmy Savile's programmes were made at TV Theatre.  Stricter security would have made abuse much less likely at TV Centre, although some must have happened.  But no one has suggested demolishing Stoke Mandeville Hospital and ending all the good work that is done there, just because of the behaviour of one nasty, creepy man.

 

Final Question?

One question we are certain to be asked, and it has been puzzling me, is why it has taken us so long to start this protest.  I can only answer for myself.  I think it is because I couldn't believe that it was really going to happen - even BBC Management couldn't be quite that stupid.

There has always been a comedy element to the leadership of the BBC.  It dates far back to quotations like, "What is this 'Go On Show'?", or the memo telling Michael Bentine that, "BBC Television Centre is not to be used for purposes of entertainment."; or the apocryphal story that some executives believed that "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was a documentary about aerobatics.  I particularly liked the 'Ariel' headline, which explained how important it was for Sports Department to be established in their new home at Salford in time for the London Olympics!  As a fan of the 'Tintin' comics, the knowledge that the most senior figures in the management were called 'Thompson and Thomson' (one with a 'p', one without) seemed entirely appropriate - even if they didn't wear bowler hats.  But the announcement in 2007 that they were planning to sell TV Centre seemed to take corporate idiocy to an entirely new level. Even their cartoon namesakes wouldn't do anything that ridiculous.

At each stage of the process, new evidence arose which should have convinced any sentient observer that the policy was misguided.  In 2009 the central parts of the building were Grade 2 listed by English Heritage.  Surely, the bureaucrats would take note and realise that they could not sell off a national treasure.  Yet, they carried on.  It soon became apparent that the cost of leaving the building would greatly exceed any income from the sale.  At this point even the accountants should have recognised their mistake.  The most innumerate bean-counters would surely notice that they were about to lose over two-billion beans.  Yet, they carried on, with blinkered determination.  Comedy gave way to complete farce when it was announced that the BBC, who had vowed never to return, would need to lease back three of the studios they had just sold.  At last, it seemed, they were admitting that they had got their sums wrong.  It would only be a matter of time before they realised that they would need all the main studios.  But no, they steamrollered on with their pathological obsession.  Then the Trust finally stepped in.  Thompson and Thomson were paid to leave, followed rapidly by their successor.  Now the destruction that they had begun seemed certain to stop.  Yet, it blundered relentlessly on: a now headless and pointless juggernaut. BBC Television Centre closed its gates on 31st March 2013 - one day before the new DG took over.

The unbelievable had actually happened, despite all the evidence that it couldn't possibly. This, for me, was a tipping point. Another was watching the Goodbye Television Centre programme, and hearing a succession of celebrities condemning the sale.  We 'Techies', who work behind the camera, always thought that closing TV Centre was a stupid idea.  But no one has ever listened to us.  Now, however, I discovered that the on-screen talent was of exactly the same opinion.  These were people who had only seen TV Centre from the 'front'.  They had never experienced the behind-the-scenes magic of the ring-road operation, or an overnight set and light.  Yet they felt the energy and atmosphere of the place.  Nor was it only the mature celebs who spoke out.  The youngsters, who had far less reason to be nostalgic about the place, were equally vehement.

I suppose that is when I ceased to be sad, and became very, very angry.

 

Roger Bunce - April 2013

 

 

 

 

Copyright information:  As on the rest of this website - please do not use or ask permission to use any of these images in books or other publications or on TV programmes or commercially run websites.  Many of the illustrations are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders according to the original copyright or publication date as printed on the artwork or publication and are reproduced here for historical reference and research purposes.  If you do own the copyright to any image displayed here and wish it to be credited or removed, please contact me and I shall of course be happy to oblige.

 

An apology - firstly for all those errors which are almost certainly still sprinkled throughout the above.  I shall do my best to put them right when I discover them or when somebody contacts me with the facts!  Secondly - I am very aware that I have almost completely ignored sound in all my comments about studio equipment.  It's not that I'm not interested, rather that I am far better informed about cameras and lighting and frankly there is very little information out there about which sound mixer was installed in what studio and when.  That's my excuse anyway.

 

Many of the above images are taken from old out of print books and documents.  However, I am particularly grateful to Bernie Newnham and his superb BBC tech ops history site on www.tech-ops.co.uk.  Many happy memories have been rekindled by reading it  I have shamelessly 'borrowed' a few stills from the site but I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the operational history of TV  It's much more interesting than this one!

 

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