Stage 3

Stage 3 involved the most complex construction and took four years before the Centre became operational.  It consisted of the main circular building (the doughnut) and the completion of studios 1 – 7.  Four studios would initially be brought into service within the first few months – 2, 3, 4 and 5.  The design of these was based on experience gained from working at Lime Grove and in particular Riverside Studios, where various experiments involving gallery layout and lighting systems were tried out.  The Centre officially opened with TC3 operational on 29th June 1960.  TC2, 4 and 5 opened over the following 14 months in that order.  The shells of TC1, TC6 and TC7 were constructed around the same time but they were not fitted out until a few years later.

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Arthur Askey – diminutive and popular entertainer of the ’50s and ’60s – standing in the newly completed TC3.  The studio was considered ‘massive’ at the time and of course, compared with those at Riverside and Lime Grove, it was.
Incidentally, the large window slightly protruding into the studio on top left of the picture is the viewing gallery.  Every studio had one of these (even control room suites did originally.)  The idea was that visitors could be brought round to see ‘their’ BBC in action without disturbing what was going on.
This still went on right to the close, believe it or not.  More than once I found myself 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.

TC3’s observation window in 2021. The room behind is now used for Loose Women production meetings.
photo thanks to Tom Smit
The view from the observation window in 2021.  The set is for Good Morning BritainThis Morning is at the far end of the studio.
photo thanks to Tom Smit

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An unknown drama being made in the early days of TC3.  The dolly is a Motorised Vinten – predecessor of the Heron.  Crude but effective.  Note the typical BBC casual wear of the mid 1960s.  Those don’t look like soft soled shoes to me!
image thanks to Roger Bunce
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TC4 soon after opening in 1961.  Almost identical to TC3 but 1 foot wider.
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This photo taken in TC4 on 22nd March 1964 shows Reg Poulter on the Mole (cam 1) and Pete Ware on cam 2.  The show was something called Ted’s Cathedral.
photo thanks to Geoff Fletcher
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This charming picture is from the Readers Digest Junior Omnibus – ‘Inside the BBC Television Centre’.  This sort of thing inspired a generation to apply to work for the BBC when they grew up.  Some of us never did.

 

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

 

 

TC2 soon became the home of the new wave of satirical comedy shows such as That Was the Week That Was and The Frost Report

 

Below – TC2 with the late great David Frost preparing for another live edition of  That Was The Week That Was.  A truly ground-breaking show, it used the studio walls as a set and introduced a previously unseen irreverent 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.

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above – 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.
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TC2 seen through the open dock door in 2006.  At various times the home of TW3, The Frost Report, Grandstand, BBC Breakfast, Newsnight, The Holiday Programme, Watchdog, Ready Steady Cook, X-Change and Strictly: It Takes Two – 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.  This studio is now the home of ITV’s Loose Women.  No comment.

 

The rather sad photo below was taken by me in May 2015, two years after the Centre closed and two years before it was due to reopen.  It is the production gallery of TC2.  The window on the left looks through to the sound gallery, the one on the right is the viewing room.  Astonishing as it seems now, every gallery at TVC (except TC8) originally had a window where members of the public could come and watch programmes being made (TC2’s was the only one to remain to the end).  I think visitors would have found several programmes rather educational over the years, particularly the arresting language used by some directors under stress.

TC2 was the only studio not to have its galleries completely rebuilt at some point.  It was of course re-equipped from time to time but these wall surfaces and windows are the original, dating back to 1960.  Glory be – they survived the refurb and in 2017 they remained, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.

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

TC4 also had a variable acoustic system involving microphones and speakers around the roof and walls.  This was called ‘ambiophonics’.   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 studio 1 when that was built in 1982.

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This was the inlay desk in TC4 in 1961.  Captain Mainwaring at the controls.  Actually, I’m informed by Simon Vaughan that this gentleman is Desmond ‘Cam’ Campbell, who apparently was nicknamed at the time the ‘father of lighting’ so apologies to him.  It turns out that he originally worked with Logie Baird, then with the BBC’s original television experiments at BH, later moving to AP and eventually to TC.  He was highly regarded in his day and was given the title ‘Senior Engineer – Lighting.’
The desk was placed in the production gallery.  All the BBC’s main studios had one of these.  They enabled clever wipes to be used or an early form of overlay using a luminance key.  The device seen to the right of the operator here is a camera looking down at an illuminated screen. You could place a piece of black card in the shape of, say, a flower and that could be used as a key for an effect in a dance routine.  All kinds of wipes were tried out.  A particularly messy one was to cover the screen with tealeaves and blow them off on cue.  You couldn’t do that one again in a hurry.
Later, as the studios were colourised the inlay desks became more sophisticated to include up to three layers of CSO (colour separation overlay).  DVEs (digital video effects) were added as soon as they became available in the 1980s.  The BBC research department came up with an early version but this was soon superseded by boxes manufactured by companies like Quantel.  Top of the Pops usually tried these devices out first but within a few months every show was plagued with zooming, flipping and tumbling pictures for no good reason.
Nowadays wipes and overlay tricks are done by the studio’s vision mixer (switcher) but extra boxes of tricks like DVEs are brought in and plugged up as and when required.  Most complex video trickery is now done in post production rather than in the studio at the time of recording.  Sadly, there’s no place any more for the ‘blowing the tealeaves across the screen’ wipe.

 

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

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The production gallery of TC3 on March 22, 2013.  This was the evening of ‘celebrations’ on the closing of TV Centre.  Madness were appropriately performing outside the building whilst we were busy recording 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 truth, TC3 had been converted to the latest HD standard in 2011.  All the main studios had been refurbished between 2006 and 2011 and were the best equipped in the UK.  I think Lord Grade perhaps should have checked his facts.

 

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

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

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The EMI 203 four and a half inch image-orthicon black and white camera. These were installed in TC1, TC4 and TC5.  Most were fitted with turret lenses as shown but some had early zoom lenses.  It wasn’t until colour cameras came along in 1967 that every camera was fitted with a zoom lens.
Thanks to Bernie Newnham for the image – for it is he – and a fine looking corduroy jacket it is too.
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TC3 and TC4 were colourised in 1969 and 1970 respectively, with the superb EMI 2001.  I was looking for a typical photo of the camera in action and couldn’t resist using this one.  I hope Steve Cockayne will forgive me.  Steve and I were contemporaries and spent many a happy hour putting the world to rights whilst tracking and swinging Mole or Nike cranes. Steve went on to greater things – he eventually became the Head of Cameras and Lighting, where I believe they supplied him with a slightly more comfortable chair.  Or maybe not??? I’d like to think that he kept this one behind his desk.
photo thanks to Bob Glaister and the tech ops website.
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Top of the Pops in either TC3 or TC4.  It moved around all the large studios over the years but only TC3 and 4 had pantographs on the lighting bars – seen in the background here.  This is the closing sequence of the show – these cameras have mechanical effects attached to the lenses, supplied by a company called Telefex.  The long one is a sort of kaleidoscope with mirrors inside – simple but very effective.  The camera was swung around the studio looking at the lights whilst the closing roller was superimposed over the swirling colourful image.
photo copyright Colin Davey, Evening Standard, Getty Images

 

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

The studios were equipped with the same design of long lighting bars as had been tried out in Riverside.  Each was initially fitted with two 2kW fresnel lanterns and two multi-bulbed fill lights although this was adapted for each production.  The lighting bars also at first had a parallel bar hanging a few feet beneath although quite how these were intended to be used remains a mystery.  The bars were spaced the same as in Riverside – 2 feet from end to end and a whole 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 fact, when ITV took over TC3 in 2018 they installed extra trussing between the lighting bars to fill in the gaps.

 

tv centre drama in tc4
Above is the original lighting installation in TC4.  The rest of the first batch of studios were fitted with the same long bars.  The lamps were simply hung on the bar rather than on rolling ‘trolleys’ and pantographs as they are today.  Of course, this is before the standard rig of two dual-source fixtures per bar was adopted.
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Above is TC3 rigged for a typical gameshow in 2005.  We have almost gone full circle as hardly a single dual-source luminaire is to be seen. Nearly all have been derigged for this show (In It To Win It) which was lit almost entirely with automated lights.

 

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

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

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This picture shows a ‘lighting supervisor’ operating a Strand type C console.  (On Sundays he played the church organ.)  The white diagram on the wall is the geographic mimic which indicates to the operator which luminaires in the studio are lit.  Small bulbs are fed directly from the dimmers and glow in proportional brightness depending on the dimmer level.
All the studios were fitted with one of these mimics but only TC1 and TC3 kept theirs up to closure in 2013.  In the other studios it was replaced with a VDU fed from the console, not the dimmers, which was nothing like as clear to read.  It must have cost a fortune to connect around 1000 tiny lightbulbs for the mimic in TC1 – one to each dimmer.
Judging by the shape of the mimic – this must be TC3.

 

The photos below were taken by Paul Holroyd in 2008, following a multi-million pound HD refit to TC4.  It included a 5.1 surround sound mixer.  The studio emerged as arguably the best equipped in the country.  All the other main studios had similar refits – these were the ones you may remember were described by senior BBC managers as being ‘analogue dinosaurs in a digital age’ and by Michael Grade as needing 200 million pounds spent on them in order to bring them up to standard.  Makes you weep, doesn’t it.

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TC5 (60 x 40ft within firelanes) was the last of the original four studios to open – in August 1961.  For the first decade or so it 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 assume this refers to the old puppet studio which must have become some sort of preparation/graphics area.  Other programmes 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.  Its cameras were the last version of the EMI 2001 with upgraded electronics and arguably produced the cleanest pictures.

With TC2 closed between 1969 and 1981 and TC7 occupied with Play School and Swap Shop/Saturday Superstore,  TC5 became the studio used for cookery shows, discussion programmes, magazine shows like The Holiday Programme and panel shows like Call My Bluff and  Ask The Family.

The studio was mothballed around 1985 – reopening in 1987 with Link 125 cameras.  TC5 then became the home of BBC Sport, which was its only use until 2011 when Sport moved to Salford and the studio closed for good.  For many years the floor was divided in two with black drapes.  The lighting gallery became a second production gallery, so different sport programmes at each end of the studio could go out on BBC1 and BBC2 simultaneously.  The lighting gallery was moved downstairs into the technical store and most of the cameras were remote controlled – the operator sitting alongside the LD and racks operator.

 

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

 

During the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the Centre contained some extraordinary facilities, many of which most people working there probably had no idea existed.  For example – Tim Dorney, engineer in News dept, has written to inform me that during the 1970s he discovered 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 practicing on one of several beautiful instruments, all of which were always in perfect tune.