The announcement came on 16th July 2012 with more details emerging on 20th when completion took place. Interestingly, the BBC decided to retain ownership of the building but sell its lease. This was sold to Stanhope plc, a property development company. The BBC 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 was backed by Mitsui Fudosan UK and Alberta Investment Management Corporation. Stanhope announced in January 2013 that they were also to receive a £50m loan from Royal Bank of Scotland to help pay for the reconstruction. £200m is of course a great deal less than the £300m the BBC originally hoped for.
They announced that the whole TVC site would be extensively redeveloped but the exterior of the original main block facing Wood Lane would be retained. They planned a mix of leisure, office and residential facilities. The site would be opened up as envisaged in the GLA’s ‘White City Opportunity Area Masterplan’ of April 2011.
From April 2013 the BBC rented back the whole site from Stanhope whilst they completed the removal of all useful kit and decommissioned the CCA (or Central Apparatus Room as I still like to call it.) Most of the interesting signage had been removed from the walls in the weeks leading up to closure by people working in the Centre who assumed it would all end up in a skip. One well-known celebrity was briskly escorted off the premises by security when he was found brazenly unscrewing a studio sign. Others got away with it without being caught. Everyone wanted to keep a tiny bit of this much-loved building.
Auctions were held to sell anything of any value. There were hundreds of items of technical gear that had been lovingly and painstakingly installed by BBC engineers over the years, all helping to make programme-making just a little bit better. None of that can be replaced. A few thousand pounds were raised – a drop in the ocean.
Stanhope 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.
When the Centre closed, the S&PP business moved to the refurbished BBC Elstree D, which has since housed Children in Need and the General Election results programme amongst many other productions. Stages 8 and 9 on the Elstree film studio site (owned by Hertsmere Council) were also leased and converted into TV studios. They are somewhat smaller than TC3, 4, 6 and 8. They were given TV floors, and a gallery suite was constructed in Portacabin-type buildings next to stage 9 as well as fitting out the existing control rooms between the stages. These are used for stage 8.
The cameras and other equipment were taken from TC3, 4, 6 and 8 and moved to Elstree. The George Lucas Stage was fitted with a control room suite within the building for Strictly Come Dancing and other shows. The cameras and other equipment for this were taken from TC1.
The original intention was to ‘lock and leave’ studios 1-3. However, this soon proved completely impractical and apart from the lights being covered in plastic bags and left hanging in the grid, all the technical equipment was removed. The gallery suites in all three studios were completely stripped of all gear. Dimmers were removed and replaced in TC1 and TC3 by the old ones from TC6 and TC8. A new technical apparatus room was constructed to be shared by all three studios – reminiscent of the one intended for TC6, 7 and 8 back in the 1960s.
All the wall boxes in the three studios were replaced and the cabling renewed. This was because the old power distribution and mains power supply had to be replaced with new plant. It was actually cheaper to start again than try to trace where all the old cabling went. Underground cable ducts had traces of asbestos so they could not be used to pull new cables through, adding to the complication.
Enormous amounts of work were carried out during 2015 to completely gut the basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor around studios 1-3 ready for BBC Studioworks (formerly BBC S&PP) to return in 2017. The basement now has a number of brand new green rooms, edit suites and many dressing rooms. There are production offices on the first floor and more offices on the second floor.
The heat and vent system was completely refurbished and ducts and pipes renewed as some still contained asbestos. New boilers and chillers were installed where the periphery offices used to be on top of the scenery runway. Heaven only knows how much all this cost.
BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) took over stage 6, which was completely rebuilt internally – with a giant curved staircase linking the floors in the middle of a new atrium. It is completely unrecognisable from when it was occupied by the main reception area and BBC News. Worldwide moved from the BBC Media Village at White City just up the road in 2014. The lease for those buildings was sold – to Stanhope as it happens. 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.
BBC Comedy – which had become part of ‘BBC Studios’ – also moved into stage 6 in 2016. ‘BBC Studios’ is now the name of the whole commercial side of the BBC and incorporates the old BBC Worldwide as well as the programme making departments.
There was a well-supported rumour some months before the final announcement that BBC Worldwide would occupy some of the studios at TVC, using them as exhibition spaces, conference rooms and visitor attractions, sharing one or more with Studioworks for them to use in busy periods. Indeed, one of the BBC orchestras was going to take over one of the studios. However, I understand that this interesting idea was abandoned ‘as the sums wouldn’t add up.’ This was a very seriously missed opportunity in my opinion.
TC1, TC2 and TC3 have survived but very sadly no other studios remain. It is no secret that the Studios and Post Production business (Studioworks) would dearly have loved to hang on to at least one more medium studio – they know that those are the ones most in demand.
I know that detailed plans that included the retention of TC4 were drawn up – indeed I nearly saw them for myself on one occasion but as they were slid across the table towards me they were whisked away from my sight by another person – ‘I don’t think he needs to see that!’ is what was said. (Clearly, I would have loved to have seen the drawings. Maybe one day I will? Heavy hint.)
A member of staff has told me that the BBC originally brought in consultants to see what the industry requirement for studios was likely to be in the coming years. They apparently recommended keeping all 8 main studios. This was not what the BBC wanted to hear so they were told to go away and think again. The answer apparently was that the absolute minimum would be to keep TC1, TC2 and two medium studios; TC3 – and TC4 or TC8. Unfortunately, it seems that somebody high up in the BBC, possibly under pressure from Stanhope, decided to ignore this advice so we have ended up with only three studios – one of which is far less useful than the other two. 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 if you disagree with it.)
I have also been told that S&PP would far rather have ended up with TC4, TC6 and TC8. Not exactly surprising – these three would have been much easier to sell to programme-makers than TC1, 2 and 3, and programmes could have been moved from studio to studio to give more flexibility in bookings – just like they used to be.
BBC Studioworks have taken out a 15 year lease on studios 1-3 from 2017. An enlarged ‘red assembly’ has been recreated, occupying the area previously used by the Star Bar, TC2’s make up room, some toilets and some corridors. The two staircases going down to the basement have been restored. It seems that special dispensation had to be agreed on historical grounds as they no longer comply with building regs!
There is an area next to TC3 for the storage of scenery and props. This is the space previously occupied by the corridor behind the lifts and the old green room next to TC3. Not exactly huge, but the scenery runway round TC2 and TC3 is also available of course.
The space surrounding the studios is now 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. In fact, in August 2021 angry anti-vax demonstrators nearly broke in through the new entrance doors and were just kept at bay by a number of police but it was a close thing. They thought the BBC still lived in the building. Oh dear.
Rather disappointingly, audiences are now expected to queue up and wait in the cold outside TC1, just like they used to in the bad old days before The Foyer was built.
Of course, one medium studio (TC3) was never going to be enough to cope with demand. This size of studio (90ft x 70ft) is the most popular for many programmes from sitcoms to gameshows, panel shows to chat shows and all things between. The inclusion of only one medium studio represents an extremely poor decision on the part of the BBC senior management. It is not just the BBC themselves who need studios, it is all the independent companies who make programmes for the BBC – and of course for all the other channels too.
One does suspect that the importance of providing studio space of the right size was not understood at all by the decision makers. TC1 is too big for many shows and TC2 much too small.
The situation got much worse of course in 2014 when Teddington’s main studio closed and then in 2018 when TLS closed its two studios of this size. What has infuriated many is that even TC3 will not be available for programme makers for the foreseeable future, since ITV Daytime now occupy it on a permanent basis. We really did need to hang onto TC4, TC6 and TC8!
My understanding is that the independent production companies who 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 pushed up costs (as predicted on this website several years ago) and I’m told that some programmes have not been made at all because there was no studio available at the time of artist availability. Certainly I have experienced programmes being delayed by many months due to the lack of a suitable studio.
Some shows are now being recorded on film stages rather than in TV studios. These are usually well outside central London making it difficult to attract studio audiences. The costs are often much higher than using a fully equipped studio as extra days have to be scheduled for rigging lights, PA systems etc and all the technical facilities have to be hired in. Standing sets for a series have to be used, occupying a stage for weeks on end rather than just booking a TV studio on the days it is required as the lighting cannot be turned around on a daily basis. The hire of the film stage and the lighting rig for all those days, most of the time doing nothing, inevitably adds to costs.
Meanwhile, in Manchester the old Granada Studios were due to be demolished to make way for a scheme involving flats, offices and a hotel, very similar to here. However, sense prevailed and the studios themselves have been retained with the buildings all around being redeveloped. This proves what could have been done with TV Centre. All 8 studios should have been kept on and the rest of the site redeveloped. In 2021 there are still many unsold flats at TVC, the new East Tower has not yet been started, the Dodds Yard houses have not been built and the multi-story car park houses are still a car park. The BBC should have insisted that the studios were retained and Stanhope could still have built loads of flats and made a profit.
The actual plans…
The plans were revealed to the public on 5th February 2013. There were no great surprises – the proposals had been known in principle for many months. Some revisions were announced in April 2014 but these did not affect the studios.
The whole site has been opened up to the public – the gates on Wood Lane have gone and the horseshoe car park has become a public landscaped ‘square’. The central Helios courtyard is also open to the public and a footpath passes through the building to the right of the South Hall to link up with Hammersmith Park.
Since the end of 2014, Stage 6 has housed BBC Worldwide – now confusingly called BBC Studios.
It was announced in April 2014 that rather than an internal refurb, stages 4 and 5 would be completely demolished and replaced with a new purpose-built 10 storey office block. This is intended to attract media companies and includes a branch of Soho House private members club with a garden and pool on the roof. The ground floor has a few cafes and restaurants. Stage 4 previously contained TC8, which was constructed some years after the rest of the building. 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 have been retained – the area behind the South Hall is a scenery/props/lighting storage facility. Delivery access is via the existing ring road running round the site – past the new flats. Lorries will unload below the windows of the new flats in the East Tower when they are eventually built. The obvious solution to noise disturbance would have been to roof over this section of the ring road but I gather the architects would not countenance the idea as it would spoil their artistic concept of the entire site. Studioworks requested this but they are not the client – Stanhope is – so their request carried little weight. Oh well…
S&PP (Studioworks) were planning to return in the winter of 2014 ready to reopen the studios in April 2015. However, in the summer of 2014 it was officially announced what many people in the industry had already guessed. They would not reopen the studios until the late summer of 2017, when in theory most of the demolition and rebuilding of the rest of the site would have been completed.
TC4-TC8 have all been demolished. They have been replaced with an inner ring of flats occupying the old 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 old building.
The old offices in the central ring that face Wood Lane and spread round past TC1 to TC2 have become a hotel.
The old Stage Door reception area and South Hall are the entrances to the hotel and flats respectively.
The restaurant block (which English Heritage wanted to be listed) has been demolished and will eventually be replaced by an office block.
A small housing development is to be built in Dodds Yard. The East Tower and scenery block have been demolished. A new much larger tower containing flats was to be built replacing it but somewhat closer to Wood Lane. This has been put on hold – property prices have stagnated so the developer is waiting for them to rise again before constructing the tower and associated flats. It could be several years before it is built.
The multistorey carpark is also to be demolished and replaced with ‘affordable housing’ but in 2020 this had still not happened.
As previously mentioned, there is a crew and artists informal seating/assembly area on the ground floor between TC1 and TC3, somewhat 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. Early plans also suggested that this would be an audience holding area but this idea was soon scrapped as being impractical.
Early plans also indicated a stage door in the basement with access via new stairs but this idea also went away. The studio entrance/stage door is now where the doors used to be at the end of the main corridor next to TC1.
The first floor has the control rooms, shared apparatus rooms, new toilets and two ‘daily’ production offices. The second floor has open plan offices – this is now occupied by ITV Daytime.
The basement beneath TC1-TC3 consists of dressing rooms, stores, edit suites, green rooms etc. The rest of the basement is a car park for 466 cars – but this of course is for the use of the flats, hotel and offices.
There is incidentally only one small lift serving the whole of the studios building.
What has been achieved by Studioworks in these three studios and the area around them is excellent in the circumstances. They deserve praise for the general high quality of the fit-out. However, talk to anyone employed by Studioworks and they will tell you they REALLY wish they had at least 1 more studio. The quality of the refurbishment of the rest of the site by Stanhope also deserves praise. It is of a very high standard but it could of course have looked just like this if all the studios had been retained.
In a bizarre twist of fate – in February 2017, ITV announced that they would be folding their TLS business and closing the excellent studios on the South Bank in March 2018. They said that they planned to return to the new building when it was completed in a few years time – it would contain 3 small studios for ITV Daytime.
They placed a booking on TC2 and TC3 from the beginning of 2018 to last at least 3 years. So those studios became unavailable for anyone else to use. They were filled with Good Morning Britain, Lorraine, Loose Women and This Morning. TC2 is also the home of Peston and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. To make matters worse, within a few months ITV announced that they had no intention of returning to the South Bank after all so their occupation of TC2 and TC3 is now permanent.
Meanwhile of course, where have most of the shows gone that previously used TLS studio 1? Studioworks have been very happy to book Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, QI, Saturday Night Takeaway and several other shows in TC1.
So with the reopening of these three studios the shortage of studios in and around London continued.