Stage 4 (The Spur)

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

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

 

 

 

 

TC8 opened in the autumn of 1967 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  It was intended as a specialist comedy and LE studio and had built-in retractable audience seating.  The design of TC8 benefited from the experience gained from working in the older studios.

 

As ever with researching this website, I have discovered a great deal of contradictory evidence regarding which studios opened in colour, in which year and with which cameras.  The written evidence – recollections on the BBC Eng.inf website, BBC Handbook for 1967 and a Jan ’68 Wireless World magazine article state that only two studios – TC6 and TC8 – opened in 1967, each with 5 Marconi Mk VII cameras plus a shared spare.  The Wireless World article has photos of TC8 and its gallery in use during December 1967 and other sources have photos of TC6 in use with Marconi Mk VIIs in 1967.

The BBC Engineering document ‘Technical Description TC7’ published in June 1968 states  ‘TC7 is the first major production studio to be converted for colour operation and the third colour studio to be brought into service at Television Centre.  It came into service on 14th May 1968 after a short working up period.’   The document states that it opened with EMI 2001 cameras.

 

However, two cameramen and a studio engineer who worked on this project have contacted me.  One of the cameramen recalls working on a drama in TC7 in 1967 with Marconis and the other doesn’t recall TC8 having them at all.  They disagree with the account on this website of the order the studios opened and which cameras they had.  The engineer said ‘Without any question, TC6, 7 and 8 were installed with Marconi Mk VII cameras throughout to meet the opening of colour in December 1967.’

It is very difficult for me to question these memories but one possibility is that occasionally, when both TC6 and TC8 were occupied with standing sets or possibly undergoing maintenance, some cameras were wheeled through into TC7 and it was used – maybe controlled from its own galleries or maybe those of one of the other studios.  The shared apparatus room would have made this relatively straightforward.

I have found nothing in print – documents or photos, that show Marconi colour cameras were ever installed in TC7 but several that indicate that it opened in May 1968 with EMIs.  In fact, these were the first EMIs – TC8 received its new cameras to replace its Marconis within a matter of weeks.

This page from the BBC Engineering document about the opening of TC7 mentioned above (published June 1968) makes interesting reading:

tc7 camera info 450p

tc7 cam info pt2 450p

So – sincere apologies to those who think I’ve got it wrong.  I’m genuinely sorry that I am doubting your honestly-held memories but with published evidence that appears incontrovertible I believe I have to stick with what is in print and which tallies with all other documented evidence.

 

tvc tc8 colour 1967 350p
TC8 making a colour programme in 1967.  An article in Wireless World states that the studio was equipped ‘with 4 Marconi Mk VII 4-tube cameras.’  It also reports that there were 2 production studios equipped for colour with a third due to be equipped with EMI 2001s in 1968. The third planned to open in 1968 with EMIs would therefore be TC7.
photo thanks to Wireless World (Jan 1968)
tvc tc8 lx gallery colour 1967 350p
The lighting gallery of TC8 in 1967.  The console is a Thorn Q-File, the first computerised lighting desk at TV Centre.
photo thanks to Wireless World (Jan 1968)

 

TC8 soon became the most popular studio in TV Centre.  It was 2 feet wider than the other medium studios – and every inch counts when you are building a set.  The built-in audience seating gave it a classier feel than the other studios – almost like a theatre – and it had a lot more space left on the studio floor when you were using an audience.  Actors, comedians and performers loved it.

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

 

tvc tc8 floor with cams 450p
These photos were taken for marketing purposes in 2008 by Paul Holroyd.  As can be seen, TC8 was superbly equipped with all the latest HD digital kit – a far cry from the stories put out by senior BBC managers and Michael Grade that millions needed to be spent to bring the studios up to date.  Most of this equipment was moved to stage 9 at Elstree.
tvc tc8 prod gallery 450p
Above is the production gallery.  When the studio opened, there was a well between the desk and the monitors where execs were supposed to sit, hidden from view.  Nobody knew who might be sitting down there and what they might overhear so it was sensibly removed in 1994.
It would appear that rising smoke was also something of an inconvenience.  During the refurb, the sign below was rescued from being chucked in a skip by Dave Markie.  You just know that plenty of execs would simply have ignored it.  Many thanks to Dave for recording this little bit of social history.

tc8 no smoking d markie 450p

tvc tc8 lighting 450p
Above is the lighting gallery.  I sat in one of those chairs on many, many occasions.  Racking dramas like Play of the Month in the mid ’80s, console-opping on shows like Yes Prime Minister, TOTP, Tomorrow’s World and Bob Says Opportunity Knocks in the late ’80s and then sitting in the LD’s chair for various gameshows and sitcoms from The Brittas Empire through to Not Going Out and Miranda.
tvc tc8 sound 450p
Above, the sound gallery.  I am ill-equipped to comment but I do know that a new 5.1 mixer was installed in January 2008, which sounds pretty good to me.

 

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

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

 

Right to the end it remained the favourite for many in the industry.  Closing it was a genuine tragedy carried out by people who had never been involved in making any studio TV programmes in their careers and were utterly ignorant of the damage they were doing.  Rather like a bunch of sport fanatics demolishing the National Theatre because it looks a bit ugly from the outside.  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 decades to come.

 

tc8 miranda rig 450p
Above and below, the glorious chaos of a typical sitcom – in this case Miranda, the last sitcom to be made in TC8, in 2012.  Ideally suited to making comedy shows, the studio was loved by all who worked in it

tc8 miranda studio floor 450p

tvc tc8 grid rob tompsett 450p
The grid of TC8 as it was never seen during its working life – empty. From the LD’s point of view, this was the best grid in TV Centre.
photo thanks to Rob Tompsett

 

 

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

Their manufacturer, Strand Lighting, offered no similar replacement when they stopped manufacturing them.  Unfortunately, they and all the other console manufacturers subsequently sold  consoles that were aimed at the theatre and moving light market.  Very few operators or LDs believed these were as suitable for television as the old Galaxy.  Thus, these old lighting desks soldiered on until the last one at Pinewood in 2015.  Spare parts were acquired from old consoles being replaced in theatres or studios all over the world.  The BBC even bought an old second hand Galaxy from Russia.

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

 

 

The 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 Alexandra 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 running by Monday.  People worked for days without going home, grabbing a few hours sleep when they could on camp beds in a conference room in order to complete the move without any hitches.

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

Each studio had 4 Marconi Mk VII cameras – remotely controlled from the gallery.  Three were brought from Ally Pally and the other five had previously been used in TC8 for less than a year between 1967 and 1968.

 

tv centre news studio camera roger smeathers 450p
A couple of remote-controlled Marconi Mk VIIs in one of the news studios in 1969.  They each had a small ‘stand clear’ warning stuck on the panning head.  You had to watch out if you stood too close as the operator, sitting in his control room, might suddenly move the camera and that huge lens could give someone a good old bash.
In the bottom left corner of the photo can be seen a motor bolted to the camera ped.  This controlled the ped height remotely.  Ian Hillson tells me that one evening, live on air, the feedback loop fell off the servo of one of these and it powered itself to full height in vision during a live studio spot.  All the racks man could do was to pan the camera down so the poor reporter ended his piece with a crick in his neck looking almost straight up into the grid.  Must have looked very dramatic, like the closing shot of a big movie.
picture thanks to Roger Smeathers
tvc n1 450p
N1 (TC10) during the 1980s.  The cameras are Bosch KCP 60s.

 

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

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

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

 

Then there was the 1976 Peter Woods incident – some assumed a little the worse for wear after a few hours in the BBC Club.  In fact it occurred 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.”

Simon King has written to me – he was working in News at the time.  He reckons that this bulletin was an insert into a current affairs programme – possibly  Newsday – presented by Robin Day.  He recalls Peter Woods being faded out pretty quickly and Robin Day saying something like ‘Well, we leave the newsroom there earlier than expected and…’

In any case, hundreds of viewers phoned in to complain.  His condition was later blamed on the effect of medication ‘for sinus problems.’  The news was always recorded ‘PasB’ on a domestic video recorder but on his website Bob Taylor, studio engineer, owns up to having removed the tape on the spur of the moment and erased it to save Peter’s blushes.  The official announcement was that the machine had been faulty.  The incident didn’t seem to affect Mr Woods’ career however, and he was even included in the famous Christmas Morcambe and Wise dancing newsreaders sketch singing the last line.

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

 

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

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

 

tvc n1 pres view clive woodward 350p
The view from the newsreader’s chair in N2 in 1993.
Photo thanks to Clive Woodward.

 

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

 

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

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

 

TC11  (50 x 40ft) was opened as the home of Liquid News from February 2002.  At the extended end of the studio with the lower ceiling the 60-Second News set was built.  Both these programmes went out on BBC Three.  Liquid News became very popular with a small but dedicated audience.  Initially it was based in TC0 and then moved to this studio to make way for CBeebies.  The original presenter, Christopher Price, had a dry innuendo-laden style and the show became very much his vehicle.  Tragically, he died suddenly on 22nd April 2002, at the age of just 34.  Robert Nisbet was their main showbiz reporter, enthusiastically covering frothy stories from exotic locations all round the world.  He later became the Regional Director for the UK’s Rail Delivery Group.  A spectacular career change arguably on a par with that of Nick Clegg.

The show was quite expensive to produce and gradually reduced in audience terms following Christopher Price’s death.  It was axed on 1st April 2004.  TC11 then became the home of BBC Three’s 7 o’Clock News.  This in turn ended in December 2005.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Back to the history of the building…

 

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

A Blue Peter time capsule was buried inside the concrete ramp near the entrance.  The brass plate indicating its location was removed early in 2013 – possibly by a souvenir hunter.  The car park has now been demolished, to be replaced with affordable housing as part of the redevelopment so what has happened 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?

 

tvc bp time capsule car park 450p
Above – the brass plate indicating the buried Blue Peter time capsule.  I took this photo late in 2012.  Very difficult to read but it is something like ‘Blue Peter 1980s Box – xxx xxx lies a record – xxx xxx the 1980s – xxx the children of – Samuel Lucas School – Blue Peter.  Below is the ramp with the position of the time capsule clearly indicated in the concrete. This photo was taken in March 2013 but as you will see, someone has removed the brass plate.
photo below thanks to Mike Parkins

tvc bp time capsule ramp 450p

 

 

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

tv centre looking towards white city 1985 mike renshall
The view from the East Tower in 1985.  Work is just commencing on Stage 5.
In the background White City Stadium has been demolished but the old dog track is still visible.
photo thanks to Mike Renshall who tells me that the tiny white blob towards the top right is the camera blimp over Wembley Stadium.
tvc with spur in 1969
The Centre showing the first section of the spur completed but before stage 5.
I have read somewhere that Dawbarn intended that the main façade should represent a TV set, the curved wall of office windows being the screen.  Hmmm.  Not sure.
Having said that, the proportion of width to height of the central grey section up to roof level is exactly 4:3, the same ratio of a TV screen in 1960.  So…maybe.