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unreliable and wholly unofficial history
BBC Television Centre...
grateful thanks to several current and ex BBC staffers
who have passed some fascinating documents and other information to me.
thanks to Peter Sumpter
of this web page...
1 (scenery block)
2 (restaurant block and TC9)
3 (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5)
studio/video effects workshop
TC1, TC7, TC6
potted history of early colour cameras)
4 (the spur including
TC8, TC10, TC11)
television rehearsal rooms
5 (including TC0 and TC12)
6 (including the studio
that never was)
final few years
on the closure
early plan for TVC dated around 1960. TC8 was the only one of
the planned three studios along the spur that was eventually constructed.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
when it came to re connect TVC to the national grid, the breaker
would not go in. It took several attempts before it held.
there were a few white faced people there that night.'
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
on the plan to view it in all its glory.
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.
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.
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
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
Britain; gameshows like Pointless, In It To Win It,
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
William Haley wrote to Graham Dawbarn (GRD)on 14th November 1949
inviting him to act as Architect in association with M T Tudsbery (MTT).
replied on the 16th November accepting the commission and offering
to commence work before a formal Agreement was signed.
believed that a meeting between Dawbarn and Tudsbery took place at
the Athenaeum, probably on the 23rd.
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!
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.
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.'
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
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.
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.
famous back-of-an envelope doodle that the story goes is what
started it all. Note the date on the postmark.
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. Equally important in those analogue days was
ensuring that all the studios were electronically in sync with each
other and with incoming sources like telecine and VT machines.
The circular shape helped enormously with this.
the VT area 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.'
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.
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
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.
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.
familiar object to all.
is the final 'Sylvester McCoy' Tardis. I think the furniture
castors spoil the effect a bit, personally.
thanks to Ian Hillson
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.)
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
Posner recalls 'the
track down the corridor of designers and their assistants with
numerous bottles of wine balanced precariously on the tilted drawing
many other happy memories of the good old bad old days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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;
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.
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!
on the rehearsal room saga a little below. Be patient!)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.'
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.
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.
leaving stage 2, I should mention the small studio that was
established there in 1996.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was decommisioned in 2011.
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.
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.
thanks to Doug Coldwell, a proper cameraman who was operating the
camera on the tower that day.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.)
thanks to Bill Jenkin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
and TC5 were both 60 x 40 metric feet within firelanes and TC3 and
TC4 about 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes.
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.
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.
- Juke Box Jury in TC2. This show was mostly recorded in
the Television Theatre down the road but apparently began here in
this little studio. That definitely is Angelos Epithemiou on camera 4
in case you were wondering.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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
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.
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.
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 the pilot of House of Fools with Vic and
Bob. Somehow that seemed apt too. 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
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 should have checked his facts.
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.
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.
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.
to Bernie Newnham for the image - for it is he - and a fine looking
corduroy jacket it is too.
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.
thanks to Bob Glaister and the tech ops website.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
by the shape of the plan - this must be TC3.
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???
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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!'
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
perhaps not surprisingly, there was also a 'Big Ears' - a twin
magazine caption scanner.
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.)
the beautifully finished woodwork! These days (if such things
existed) it would be made of MDF with a lick of black paint if you
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.')
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
this area became completely unrecognisable. Note the thickness
of the wall dividing the studios. Even this was removed when it
all became offices.
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.
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.
thanks to Geoff Hawkes and the tech-ops website.
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.
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
Jim appeared on screen.
to The TV Room
typical satellite image from the early 1980s. The weatherman
drew the red coastline onto the paper print-out himself.
to The TV Room
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
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) series. Amazingly, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
of the original 1960 Strand dimmers from Pres A - still working
perfectly in Old Windsor Memorial Hall in 2013.
thanks to Duncan Stewart
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.
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
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.
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
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!'
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.
thanks to Matt Phelps.
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
worked in TVC Pres in two capacities, first voicing the evening
trails and then as a staff announcer in BBC1&2 continuity.
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.
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.
farrago happened a lot, because Pres A crew quite liked going home
after the 9.25 weather. (As
an occasional cameraman in Pres A at the time I can vouch for
this. And what exactly was wrong with that? Ahem.) 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. (Sometimes
that was me.) 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
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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. 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
and the puppet studio
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.
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.
picture shows Gordon Murray and assistants in the new TVC puppet
studio, making an episode of Rubovian
It was filmed somewhere around the beginning of 1962, although it
was not transmitted until October of that year.
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!
thanks to Alastair Roxburgh and www.rubovia.org
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.'
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
board in the entrance lobby to TC5 as it was at the end of November 2011.
the main block
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.
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.
newly opened TC1 with the opening production of BBC2 - Kiss
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
was the actual opening programme, coming from Riverside Studios 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.
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.
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.
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.
of the most celebrated programmes to come out of TC1 - I
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.
others in the photo are Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Ian Perry on the
camera and in the white T-shirt - Herby Wise, the director.
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.
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!
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.)
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?)
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.
Bernstein and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in TC1 in 1982.
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.
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.
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.
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.
House Party was a regular booking from 1991 - 1999 but other
shows such as the Wogan show and National Lottery Stars
used it too.
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.
studio is due to reopen in the summer of 2017, following another
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
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.
lighting grid in TC7 photographed on Jan 1st 2013.
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.
you're wondering what happened to all the lights - they were sold to
dock10, the company that runs the studios at MediaCity in Salford,
and they now hang from the grid in studio HQ1. Funny old world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
all BBC studios use the same vision mixers as in other studios -
usually made by Grass Valley, Sony or Thomson.
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...
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!'
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:
all the studio clocks, cut off the gallery phones,
the Journalists from barking about a juicy bone,
the signature tune and with muffled wipe bong
out the TC7 End Credits & let the mourners come.
boom cameras circle, whirring overhead,
the double-wall inset the message 'TC7 Is Dead'.
red W1 lanyards around the necks of the crew
NBH security guys admit only the few.
was our North, our South, our East, our West,
Working Lunch and our AM Sunday best,
Newsround, our Newsnight, our HardTalk, our song;
thought TC7 would last forever: We were wrong.
lights are not wanted now: Put out them all;
up the set and dismantle the Barco wall;
away the Breakfast Tea and sweep up the floor.
nothing now can ever come from here... anymore.
email me if you know the author. He or she definitely deserves
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
the cardboard lens hoods. The real ones had not yet
arrived. Also note the grey floor and brown cyc.
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.
potted history of early colour cameras...
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.'
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.
this is most intriguing. Can you shed any further light?
author in 1976 with an EMI 2001 trying to look as though I know what
picture was taken in studio A at the BBC's engineering training
centre at Wood Norton, Evesham.
print has been skulling about in the bottom of a drawer for 30 years
and is a little the worse for wear.
denim was considered the height of cool back then, honest.
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 ...
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.'
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...
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....
Marconi only ever used salmon pink wire, so it was impossible to
it was single core, so started to break as they used it at the hinge
on the fold down front of the CCU....
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...'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
bought two" ... pah! They lied to us...'
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
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.
Hillson takes the same view as the other BBC engineers...
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....
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!'
Banwell - ex HTV engineer - has written to me with broadly similar
views of the Mk VIII
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Thames I had experience of the Marconi Mk VIIs, EMI 2001s
and the dreadful Link 110s. 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!'
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
the reason, there is now no British manufacturer of broadcast
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!
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.
to the late '60s and the dawn of colour on BBC2...
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.
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.
Stewart has written to me with an amusing anecdote...
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.'
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
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.
Stewart has some more information on the 525-line capability of
'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.'
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.
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.
'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.
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...
Comet Kohoutek fell far short of expectations its name became
synonymous with spectacular duds.'
have though it?
one for the 'you couldn't make it up' department...
2014 dock10, the company that run the MediaCity studios in Salford,
bought 85 of the ex-TVC Kahouteks from BBC Studios
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.)
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.
Centre probably in 1960. TC1 is built but not fitted out.
TC8 has yet to be constructed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
'80s to the mid '90s.
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
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.
one of the many lighting console
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.
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.
curious saga of the QII
continue along this rather specialised lighting console tangent...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
thanks to Roger Smeathers
(TC10) during the 1980s. The cameras are Bosch KCP 60s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
view from the newsreader's chair in N1 in 1993.
thanks to Clive Woodward.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
then became the home of BBC Three's 7o'clock
news. This in turn ended in December 2005.
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.
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.
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.
to the history of the building...
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.
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.
thanks to Mike Parkins
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.
view from the East Tower in 1985. Work is just commencing on
the background White City Stadium has been demolished but the old
dog track is still visible.
to Mike Renshall who tells me that the tiny white blob towards the
top right is the camera
blimp over Wembley Stadium.
Centre showing the first section of the spur completed but before
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
BBC left the building in the spring of 2008. It was demolished
in the summer of 2010. What a shame.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
- sadly for those made redundant - the PP part of S&PP hardly
exists any more. They still provide editing facilities for EastEnders
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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'
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
colour of the elevation is quite striking and I wonder how it would
have looked when completed.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.'
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...???
Jeff Naylor was asked for his advice on a particular issue...
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!'
that some things never change.
planned TC9 at ground level. Click on the image for a larger view.
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.
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.'
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.
the area marked as lamp store and scenic store later became used as
section through the proposed studio. Click on the image for an
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.
the lines drawn to indicate angles and possible positions for follow spots.
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.
large empty 'box' top left is an area that would have had
ventilation plant and other services.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Centre reception the day after the bomb.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Centre as it was in its final years. Click on the image to see
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.
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
series spanned years or even decades so I have simply noted them
when they started (or moved here from other studios).
- here goes...
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Touch of Class
The Wedding Party
The Hotel Inspectors
The Kipper and
Basil the Rat
...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
summary of each studio
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.
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.
and one or two other shows made here using VR. VR kit removed
around 1999 and studio used for The
Chris Moyles Show and
The Phone Zone
- daily shows for UK Play channel. From May 2000 used for Liquid
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
x 40 ft. (So 2 feet longer than TC2 and TC5). Opened in
July 1965 with Marconi Mk IV black and white cameras.
Re-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
thanks to Mike Emery for collating much of the above information
regarding cameras and to Ian Trill for vision mixer info.
you spot any errors or can fill in any of the blanks do get in touch!
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.
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.
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:
- March 25, 2013 -
Miranda Met Brucie
- 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 )
- March 29, 2013 - Who's Asking? (pilot)
- 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.)
- November 6, 2012 US Election special. (Sport
dept vacated the studio on November 26, 2011)
- December 21, 2012 - Pointless
- March 15, 2013 - 6 o'clock News
- March 26, 2013 - Five Minutes to a Fortune (Last
sitcom was Miranda on October 14, 2012)
final few years...
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.
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.
between 2011-2013 a considerable amount of activity using the small
studios moved from this building.
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.
- What was going to happen???
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
attempted sale of BBC Resources...
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the sale of the business having come to nothing due to the
recession, the value of the site itself continued to plummet during 2008.
in 2009, the old Studios and Post Production divisions were merged
to form a new company, snappily named 'BBC Studios and Post Production'.
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.'
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.
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.
list or not to list...
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.
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.
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...
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.'
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!
depressingly a BBC spokesman immediately began to argue the case but
they did issue the following statement...
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.
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.'
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 Centres 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
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.
January 15th 2009 I was sent the following email by a representative
from the DCMS:
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.'
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.
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."
as with all these things, it was not quite that simple.
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.
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
have sought some clarification of this rather confusing situation
and my understanding is as follows:
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.
- Where did that leave us???
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.'
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).
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.
'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.
the summer of 2011
events moved on yet again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
thanks to James Daniel
the redevelopment of the left hand end of the building, the S&PP
business are using the refurbished BBC Elstree D, which has now
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.
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
cameras and other equipment for this were taken from TC1.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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
offices in the central ring that face Wood Lane will become a luxury hotel.
reception area and South Hall become the entrances to the hotel and
block (which English Heritage wanted to be listed) is to be
demolished and replaced by an office block.
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.
multistorey carpark is also to be demolished and replaced with
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.
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
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.
planning and construction schedule is as follows:
- 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.
- detailed planning applications to convert stage 6 for BBC Worldwide.
- detailed planning application for refurbishment of TC1-TC3.
This was granted.
- outline planning application for the remainder of the site.
Detailed application followed in the summer. This was granted
May 2014 -
revised planning application to allow demolition and rebuilding of
stages 4 and 5 plus other amendments.
- Stanhope take possession of the building - demolition and
- BBC Worldwide occupy stage 6
BBC S&PP return to refurbished, re-equipped TC1, 2 and 3 in the summer.
- redevelopment of main block and stages 4 and 5 complete.
approx - redevelopment of rest of site complete.
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
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.
and costs involved -
Centre was sold for just £200m.
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.
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.
BBC have not completely left TVC of course. According to press
reports, Stanhope will receive around £12m per year in rent for
the 3 studios (S&PP) and stage 6 (BBC Worldwide).
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, created a new apparatus
room and production offices, fitted out prop stores, refurbished
dressing rooms and bought 200 new lighting monopoles. They also
have to pay a large annual rent to Hertsmere Council who own the
studios. All of this has cost an undisclosed but obviously very
large sum indeed.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
having just one medium studio at TVC will be insufficient for
London's needs - particularly since Teddington's studio 1 closed 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
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.
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.
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:
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
David Mitchell - The Observer
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Jeremy Clarkson - Sunday Times
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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!