Current or recent BBC studios

This section covers BBC Llandaff, BBC Cardiff, Roath Lock, Blackstaff, Pacific Quay and Dumbarton.

 

 

 

BBC Llandaff  (1952-2020)

 

 

The BBC site at Llandaff was purchased in 1952.  The initial development of 6 sound studios, concert hall, technical block and offices was completed in 1966.  TV studio C2 (1,500 sq ft) came into service in 1974.  This studio was used for local news and sport programmes.  The concert hall mentioned above was also known as studio A and was large enough to house the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales.  This orchestra moved its home to the BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre in January 2009.

The main production TV studio, C1, opened in December 1979.  It was 80 x 62 metric feet within firelanes, making the studio about 6,500 sq ft overall.  The grid had 88 motorised lighting bars with the usual BBC dual-source lanterns on them (albeit the rather less popular Kohouteks).  The production galleries were spacious and well equipped and from my experience of working there on a couple of shows it was a very nice place to make programmes.

 

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studio C1 in 2014.  A very nicely equipped studio, hardly used at all in its final years.  I wonder how many production companies even knew it existed.
with thanks to Louis Barfe via Twitter

 

From 1980 – 2011 the main programme recorded here was Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley).  This series actually began in 1974 – making it the BBC’s longest-running soap.  It was initially recorded in the BBC’s much smaller Cardiff studio in Broadway and occasionally even in Pebble Mill.  It used to be transmitted on BBC1 Wales but transferred to S4C when that opened in 1982.   Located at the back of the Llandaff building was an exterior set of a street with some house and shop fronts but all the interiors were shot in the studio.  For many years the programme used the studio on alternate weeks, allowing other shows to use it then.  Towards the end of its tenure here it was semi-permanently based in the studio.  The soap moved to Roath Lock in autumn 2011.

In January 2011 Crimewatch UK moved its base to Llandaff.  It had to use the music studio A at first but then transferred to C1 once Pobol y Cwm  had moved to Roath Lock.  The set for Crimewatch then took up residence semi-permanently in the studio.  There were 10 live shows each year plus a few editions of the CW Roadshow which used the studio for links.  In October 2017 the BBC announced that they were axing the main peaktime show after 33 years.  However, the daytime Crimewatch Live show now comes from the new BBC studio in central Cardiff.

 

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The Pobol y Cwm set.  It was built between two office blocks at the back of the main building.

 

Studio C1 was home to several popular series over the years.  Most of these were for transmission on BBC1 Wales or S4C but highly regarded drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George was made here in 1981, drama series District Nurse (’84-’87) with Nerys Hughes, Tiger Bay (’96-’97) and one series of Terry and June was famously recorded here when no studio was available at TV Centre.  Mastermind  was occasionally recorded here for transmission on BBC1.  Other series made in English for BBC1 Wales included the popular sitcom High Hopes (’02-’08) and musical gameshow The Lyrics Game (’03) – both suffering from lighting by yours truly.

The studio finally closed in March 2020 but it had not been very busy for some time.

 

 

BBC Cardiff  (from 2020)

 

In August 2013 the BBC revealed that it would be putting its Llandaff centre up for sale in the autumn.  In January 2015 they announced that the building would be sold to Taylor Wimpey, who would demolish it and build housing.  The new BBC site is next to Cardiff Central railway station in the city centre and is about half the size of the current building.  It houses around 1,200 staff. Some facilities in the new Welsh HQ are shared with S4C – which now gets its funding from the licence fee.  Construction began in December 2015.  Technical fit-out began in 2018.  The studios were fully in use by 2020.

By coincidence, in the summer of 2013 ITV announced that they too planned to move their local news operation from Culverhouse Cross to a new HQ in Cardiff Bay.

 

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The new BBC HQ has three TV studios, the largest being 3,500sq ft (about two thirds the size of the old studio C1).  It has a VR graphics system, as does the second studio, which is earmarked for news.  There is also a much smaller greenscreen studio.  In addition, there is a large flexible space and atrium area, fitted with a lighting rig, which can be used for programme making, plus a rooftop garden.  Around the building are 20 inject points, enabling a great deal deal of flexibility in using various parts of the building.  There are 3 studio galleries, which can control any of the areas and IP technology has been used throughout – a BBC first – enabling relatively simple upgrade to UHD in the future.

 

 

 

 

Roath Lock – Cardiff  (from 2012)

 

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No – not the entrance to a theme park or seaside amusement arcade, this arresting façade belongs to Roath Lock, the BBC’s Welsh Drama Centre. The ‘Dr Who Experience’ is/was the dark blue building at the end of the road.
Chris Patten, BBC Chairman, described it as looking like a cross between the Doge’s Palace and Ikea.  I think he possibly meant that to be a compliment.
Actually, having seen it myself it is not quite as – well, ‘Playschool’ – as it appears in photos, although it does vaguely resemble a Middle Eastern or Asian food wholesalers that you might find on the North Circular.

 

In July 2010 work began on the construction of the new BBC Wales Drama Production Centre.  Occupying a large part of the remaining undeveloped land in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay this 170,000 sq ft site now houses a number of popular BBC drama series.  Originally called ‘Roath Basin’, it changed its name to ‘Roath Lock’ early in 2011 following consultation with staff.  You may draw your own conclusions.

All credit due, the first shots were recorded only 14 months after construction of the studios began – an extraordinarily speedy process.  The studios were officially declared completely open on March 12th 2012.

Casualty, itself a casualty of the BBC’s drive to move programme making around the UK, transferred from its base across the water in Bristol to these studios during the summer of 2011, the first filming beginning on 16th September.  Pobol y Cwm, the long-running soap, (longer in fact than EastEnders) moved here around the end of November from its previous base at the BBC Wales HQ on the other side of Cardiff in Llandaff.  It now has a larger exterior set and occupies two stages.

 

Dr Who was previously made in Upper Boat Studios – a former seat belt factory on an industrial site at Treforest, near Pontypridd.  The BBC had leased those buildings since the summer of 2006.  That operation moved to the Roath Lock site early in 2012.  The Dr Who base at Upper Boat provided space for workshops, video editing suites, six sound stages and a large props store.  It was said to be ten times the size of BBC Llandaff.  Spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures was also made at Upper Boat and was due to transfer to Roath Lock but following the sad death of Elizabeth Sladen in April 2011 the decision was taken not to make any more.  Early series of Torchwood were also made at Upper Boat but the fourth series, Miracle Day, was mostly filmed in the United States.

In fact, Paul Middleton has pointed out that the rebooted (Christopher Eccleston) Dr Who first started at Sovereign House, an industrial unit in Newport on the Imperial Park industrial estate.  That building was first rented by the BBC in 2001 to house the BBC Wales drama series The Bench.  The building contained permanent sets of two law courts.  The show was first shown on BBC Wales but was intended to alternate with daytime soap Doctors on BBC1.  However, the production was axed after two series and Dr Who occupied those ‘studios’ from 2003 before moving to Upper Boat.

 

With Dr Who, Casualty, Pobol y Cwm and other BBC dramas being made here too, it is not surprising that the centre has no less than 9 sound stages of various shapes and sizes.  Upstairs Downstairs unfortunately was not recommissioned after its disappointing second series which was made in these studios.  However, Aliens vs Wizards started filming in spring 2012.

Three of the stages are occupied by Casualty, two by Pobol y Cwm and the remaining four have been used by ‘transient’ productions including Dr Who.

 

The stages here are called studios but apart from having flat TV floors they have no technical facilities and are fitted with very basic I-beam and scaffold grids so I would prefer to describe them as stages.  All are different sizes but most are the same height except for studio 4 which is several feet higher.

The dimensions wall to wall are approximately as follows:  Studio 1: 175 x 75ft; Studio 2: 100 x 60ft;  Studio 3 120 x 60ft;  Studio 4 140 x 80ft.  These are the stages built for for Dr Who and other dramas – the Tardis has been a semi-permanent set at one end of studio 4.

When first built, studio 4 was fitted with a huge greenscreen which was intended for Dr Who and any other drama that needed it.  It was said to be the largest in Europe.  However, it was soon realised that this big stage would be more productively employed being used for large conventional sets – in particular those needing a lot of height.  A greenscreen was then fitted in the corner of one of the other stages – large enough, but not the largest in Europe any longer.

 

In April 2022 it was announced that Dr Who would be moving from here to Wolf Studios, a few miles away.  Interestingly, the 4 vacated studios (1-4) are now to be managed by BBC Studioworks.

 

Studios 5 and 6 are both about 125 x 60ft.  These are the Pobol y Cwm stages and they have a basic truss and scaffold grid suspended over the sets.  The sets are mostly permanent – as are the overhead lighting rigs with floor lights often used and moved for each shot.  Each stage has a small room on the studio floor in which the LD sits along with a console op.  (Since Covid struck, the LD has sat outside the control room on the studio floor.)  The director sits at a table on the studio floor with the PA and a couple of monitors.  The two cameras are both recorded onto hard drive and edited later.  There is no vision mixer – unlike when the series was made in studio A in Llandaff.  In fact, Covid restrictions have meant that only one camera is currently used.

The rig for one of the Pobol y Cwm sets.

 

Studios 7, 8 and 9 are dedicated to Casualty.  Studio 7 is about 80ft square and has a hospital ward set in one half and the other half is used for guest sets.  Studio 8 is the most impressive on the whole site.  It is about 125 x 100 ft and contains a fully ceilinged hospital set on two floors.  Everything looks completely believable – it is dressed and equipped as a real hospital would be (but without ‘that’ smell).  There are soundproof barriers that can be used to block doorways or corridors – this enables two units to be filming at once within the stage.  Cameras are Arri Alexas. Casualty is shot using single camera techniques but a second camera is often used.

 

Studio 9 is the only non-soundproof stage and is used as the Ambulance garage although guest sets are sometimes built within it.  It is about 75 x 50ft.  Outside this stage and studio 8 are small street scene exterior sets.  On the other side of the road from the hospital on the lot is a large pub set – this is used regularly by Casualty but also sometimes by Pobol y Cwm – with a little bit of re-dressing it becomes a Welsh country pub.  Pobol also occasionally uses one of the Casualty sets if it has a scene set in a hospital ward.

 

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The Roath Lock studios.  The individual buildings are not all whole stages – some also partly contain prop stores and workshops.
From right to left – the top three buildings contain studios 1, 2 and 3. Then comes studio 4 – the largest and highest on the site.  This stage does fill the whole building.  These four were used by Dr Who and are now managed by BBC Studioworks.
The centre of the site is the Pobol y Cwm base – studios 5 and 6 and the exterior street set in the middle.  The houses and shops are not just frontages – some contain sets in which scenes are regularly shot.
The left hand end of the site is for Casualty.  Studio 7 is within the next building and is used for guest sets.  The large building bottom left is studio 8 and contains the main hospital set.  This is on two floors within it.  The small extension to this building bottom left is studio 9 and is the Ambulance garage set.
Outside the ‘hospital’ and the ‘ambulance garage’ are exterior street sets. These are 15 miles apart in the story.
image thanks to Googlemaps

 

Each show has its own extensive prop store but every prop is recorded on a database so is also available to the other shows that are made here – or indeed to any other programme – at a reasonable price!  There is some cross-fertilisation of crew members too since most are freelance but most tend to work on one series most of the time.

The Crimewatch production office was located here although they used the main studio at BBC Llandaff for their monthly transmission.  On the face of it an odd choice but Crimewatch did of course film dramatic reconstructions of the crimes it covered so they were able to draw upon local expertise for these.

 

The BBC is committed to a 20 year lease costing £1.35m per year.  The construction cost was shared between the Welsh government, Cardiff council and the development company, Igloo.  They also paid £10m up front to fit out the studios.  In July 2012 it was announced that the development had been awarded the highest possible environmental and sustainability rating – and is the first industrial building in the UK to obtain the prestigious BREEAM Outstanding certificate.  This has proved slightly problematic.  At first, the stages proved to be very hot to work in as they were so well insulated and there was no conventional air conditioning.  Extra air handling ducts had to be fitted to some of them – and to the permanent Casualty set.  These still fit within the limitations of the BREEAM rules but have helped to lower working temperatures.

 

In some ways, these studios have taken the place of the old BBC Film dept at Ealing Studios – but on a much bigger and more sophisticated scale.  The people working here seem genuinely impressed with the facilities, including those on Casualty who needed a lot of persuasion to move from Bristol.  I have visited the site and was very impressed with what I saw.  Also, all the reports I have read have been extremely positive.  There is little doubt that establishing this centre has been a success with programmes not only benefiting from excellent facilities but able to cross-fertilise experience and talent from one production to another.  This has had simple practical benefits too – for example, a prosthetic baby made for Casualty was borrowed to be used on Upstairs Downstairs.  It’s all beginning to sound like the good old days at TV Centre!

Interestingly, although the site was intended to be shared with independent programme makers there is seldom room for them as the studios are busy with BBC work most of the time.  Even BBC programmes can’t fit in.  The 2013 series of  Sherlock  was due to be made here but because it clashed with the Dr Who schedule it was made in the old Upper Boat studios.  Good job they hadn’t gone back to making seatbelts.

Despite the fact that these studios were intended for single camera drama, the first and probably only multicamera entertainment show was recorded here in November 2013.  It was Only Connect, the very popular (in my household at least) quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell.  An OB truck was used for facilities.  It was previously recorded in Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross.  After this one series the show transferred to Enfys Studios, where it remains.

Good luck and well done to all those who work here.  Nice to hear a genuine success story.

 

 

 

Blackstaff – Belfast

 

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In 1989 the BBC announced plans to develop ‘Blackstaff’ near Broadcasting House in Belfast into a 6,500 sq ft studio with work starting in February 1990.  The facility also with accommodation for production departments and support staff was completed by the end of 1991 and replaced ageing facilities at Balmoral Hall.  Development costs were kept down by purchasing second hand lighting, mechanical equipment and audience seating.  Further cost savings were made as dedicated control rooms were not built (apart from a lighting gallery), with technical facilities provided by an OB truck when required.

 

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the Blackstaff studio – on a very wide lens!
thanks to Peter Jones

 

When it originally opened the Type 6 OB in operation was equipped with Thomson 1531 and 1624 cameras, although the portable tube cameras were were replaced by 1647 CCD cameras around 1992.  These cameras were all replaced in the OB unit around 1997 by widescreen capable 1657 camera heads.

Later the same OB scanner was equipped entirely with widescreen digital technology including Thomson/Philips LDK200 cameras, a 32-input DD30 vision mixer and 36-channel sound mixer.  It was the principal unit used to provide technical and control room facilities for the studio.  In late 2011 this scanner was replaced with a refurbished one with HD facilities.  10 Sony 1500R cameras are now available.

Blackstaff has been the home of many locally transmitted shows such as Nolan Live and the Blackstaff Sessions.  It has also been used to make several UK network programmes including Patrick Kielty Almost Live, Frank Skinner’s Opinionated, Ask Rhod Gilbert and Question Time.   It has retractable audience seating for 290.  A new floor was laid in 2011 .

It was thought for a while that the studio might have had much more network use with the increase in programmes commissioned by the ‘Nations and Regions’ under the current BBC scheme of things but that did not really happen until 2019.  This was when Mastermind was no longer made by the BBC but became an independent production produced by Hat Trick.  Part of the deal was that it would now be made in this studio.  It has reverted to a much simpler and arguably more dramatic set and lighting design.

 

In Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, the BBC also have studio B – a 2,000 sq ft studio used for local news, current affairs and sport, and studio C – a small unattended studio with a single camera.  Studio One is an old radio concert studio across the road from BH and has been used for a few programmes including Sunday Morning Live and Sesame Tree.  There is also a small studio in the parliament building at Stormont.

 

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above technical info.

 

 

 

 

Pacific Quay – Glasgow  (from 2007)

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Pacific Quay, formerly known as Prince’s Dock, formed an important part of Glasgow’s once thriving industrial docklands, being the first dock in the city to install the full range of cranes capable of lifting the heavy engines and boilers so important in establishing Glasgow’s industrial influence across the world.  The cargo docks existed for more than 100 years before closing in the 1970s.  The site was subsequently chosen for the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 but when that closed it remained largely redundant until its rebirth as Pacific Quay in the early 1990s.  It covers 28 hectares and comprises a 500,000 square feet mixed-use development incorporating offices, residential, hotel, leisure and other supporting businesses. 

The BBC’s HQ is a glass-fronted rectangular block, six stories high.  (Confusingly, actually five floors plus a mezzanine.)  The building is clad with a triple-glazed system, which I have read provides a natural air-conditioning system.  The interior of the building is far more interesting than the somewhat bland exterior.  Within the structure is a huge staircase, known as the ‘street’, that rises throughout the entire length of the design, housing some of the studios underneath and providing break-out spaces and informal meeting areas on top.  This is clearly what the architect was mostly interested in when he sat down with his blank sheet of paper, so to speak.

Making one’s way from the studio to the cafeteria which is on the top floor is therefore not quite as straightforward as it is in most studio centres.  To be fair, there are of course lifts to the top floor although the complicated security pass system does mean that you might get trapped the wrong side of the door if you’re not careful.

 

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The ‘street’. This photo was taken by me on the first floor (actually the second floor as the first floor is called the ‘mezzanine’) so it doesn’t show the entire height.
The interior reminds me of the turbine hall in Tate Modern – it’s on a similar scale.  However, instead of a huge spider or giant trumpet, there is a massive staircase rising from the entrance on the ground floor to the cafeteria on the sixth. Or fifth, as it says in the lifts.
The materials were apparently chosen to represent the history of the area – I’m told that the sandstone is the same as was used for the old dockside tenement buildings, the chromed metal represents the local ship building yards and the grey concrete blocks represent something else I’ve forgotten.  Sorry.
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The view from the top level.  Extraordinary.  The walk from the lifts to the canteen along this walkway is not recommended for those who suffer from vertigo.
The offices on each floor open out with no fire doors or other barriers to be seen.
I gather that initially there were rules about what could be left on desks so the place didn’t look untidy but from what I have seen, that rule has quite sensibly been quietly forgotten.

 

It’s not only BBC Scotland that has moved to this area – Scottish Television (formally SMG), the company that provides the ITV service to Scotland, is also based at Pacific Quay next door but two to the Corporation’s building.  However, STV have no production studios in their complex, just small news studios.  They vacated their central Glasgow studio centre which included a 6,200 sq ft studio but decided that it was not cost-effective to replace it.  That old Scottish Television studio had opened in 1974 and was demolished in 2007 shortly after STV moved here.  It does on reflection seem extraordinary that a nation with such a strong sense of identity as Scotland should have not even one large independent production TV studio to make programmes for its own market.

Just a quick note to record that from 1957 when they were created, Scottish Television occupied the Theatre Royal in Hope Street, which they used as a studio.  Some of the programmes made there were also shown south of the border.  In 1974 they moved next door to new purpose-built studios, which in turn were demolished in 2007, as mentioned above.  The theatre was then purchased by Scottish Opera.

I’m told by Leigh Mulpeter that…

‘ …The rear of the domed ceiling still opens up to reveal a second FOH lighting position put in place for the studio work.  This, when I last toured there, still had the Strand Patt 793 2Kw profiles in place as they were far too big and heavy for the crew to manhandle out of the roof space.  The roof opening is operated by a still beautifully intact and operational wooden block and pulley system with some very old counterweights.’

Well fancy that.

 

Since STV no longer have any studios, they do book studio space in the BBC’s building from time to time.  An example of this is Postcode Challenge, which was made in studio B.

 

I have been told a story that cannot possibly be true.  As you might have guessed, PQ was designed as a ‘tapeless’ studio centre.  Except of course, for the first few years it wasn’t and programmes made here were recorded on videotape like in every other studio at the time.  Apparently, early in its existence, a runner was sent to deliver the day’s recorded tapes to the STV building ‘next door’ where they were going to be edited.  He duly handed them into reception and went home.  Next day there was a flap on as STV hadn’t received the tapes.  It seems that the runner had obeyed his instructions to the letter.  Unfortunately, the building literally next door was occupied by the Scottish judiciary.  STV was next door but one.  The gameshow tapes had been taken in and included as evidence in an on-going legal case and could not now be released without permission from the judge, which would take several weeks to obtain.  I have yet to establish whether the runner was employed again.  More likely he was promoted and is now a producer of a Saturday night talent show.

 

The BBC’s building here contains three studios, of which one is is relatively large – at around 8,400 sq ft.  It is 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes so pretty well identical in size to studios TC3, TC4, TC6 and TC8 at TV Centre.  One might think it was booked solid making shows for Scotland – to be shown on BBC1 Scotland and STV but sadly this isn’t the case.

 

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Studio A. 90 x 70ft but with loads of elbow room. The firelanes are the widest I’ve ever seen at about 8 feet!  Note the storage area at the end of the studio for the mobile audience seating.  When this is in use that area is available for props storage.  The studio also has two scene dock doors and a large scenery/props store with easy access to outdoors and lots of space for vehicles to load/unload.  All this compares very favourably with the studios at MediaCity in Salford, which were built around the same time.  The only serious drawback of the studio’s design is that the control rooms are at gantry level (from which this photo was taken), not on the ground floor.

 

The main studio – studio A – is in fact occupied most of the time with programmes being made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2.  Since opening in the summer of 2007, several shows have been brought to the studio that might otherwise have been made in London.  These have included Get 100 and Copycats (CBBC gameshows), The National Lottery 1 vs 100, Win Your Wish List, Break the Safe, Who Dares Wins and In It To Win It, daytime gameshow A Question of Genius, sitcoms The Old Guys, Life of Riley and  Mrs Brown’s Boys and entertainment shows Tonight’s the Night and All Round to Mrs Brown’s.  Almost all of these had the production teams, director, actors/presenters and various heads of craft departments flown up from London.  In the case of Mrs Brown of course, the cast were flown in from Ireland.  Or Florida, where I gather they live for much of the year.

I am very pleased to report that the studio staff are very friendly and helpful to those who travel up to work with them – I’m not sure I would be in the circumstances.  The local staffers must find it a bit galling to have a bunch of Englishmen coming up to tell them how to do things that they probably consider they are quite capable of doing themselves but they certainly don’t show it and could not be more accommodating.

 

 

Studio B is much smaller – smaller than TC2, say, at TV Centre.  In 2008/9 it was decided that daytime shows The Weakest Link and Eggheads would also move to Scotland and be made in this studio.  Weakest Link was being made in a large studio in Pinewood and was completely unsuitable to be transferred to such a small room.  However, despite the size of the Scottish studio being marked out on the floor of TV-One at Pinewood so all could appreciate the problem, certain BBC managers and producers apparently insisted that it would have to be made to fit.  After several months of discussions it was eventually decided to make the show in Studio A.  Eggheads, however, was made to fit in Studio B.  By chance, the set could just about squeeze into the tiny space with a little trimming but the ‘question room’ – previously an area just behind the set in the same studio – literally had to become another room in the building.  Another daytime quiz show –  Perfection – also made the move to Glasgow and squeezed into studio B.

The last block of Eggheads to be recorded here was in July 2018.  I happened to be working on that episode and it was very sadly clear that the team did not expect to be back any time soon.  At the time there were several months of untransmitted editions on the shelf but the BBC mixed these with repeats of old recordings so there was no need to make any more for over a year.  The transmission time was moved around and for some periods was stopped altogether, much to the distress of the many fans of the show.  Nearly 2,000 editions over 21 series had been recorded since 2003.

In 2021 it became clear that the BBC had indeed decided to record no more editions when Channel 5 announced that they had taken up the show.  A new series was recorded at Riverside Studios in London (without having to pay for travel and accommodation for Heads of Department, of course.)  Somewhat surprisingly, while the new shows were going out on C5, old recordings continued to be shown on BBC2.

 

 

When Pacific Quay opened, the BBC was plainly keen to see these studios used as much as possible and to try to get more programmes made outside London.  However, I’m not sure that making a couple of sitcoms in Glasgow that from their scripts were plainly supposed to be set in the south-east of England was quite the way to achieve that.  Similarly, I wonder if making existing gameshows in Glasgow that worked well in London was really helping to promote Scottish culture and identity throughout the UK.  I wonder how many Scots even realised that these shows were now ‘Scottish?’  Nevertheless, in October 2008 Jana Bennett (Director, ‘BBC Vision’) announced that…

‘…Network spend [in Scotland] is planned to at least meet the population level by 2016, increasing from 3.3% currently to around 9%.’

She added…

‘…We will double the amount of comedy from The Nations by 2012….Scotland will focus on five genres, in all of which it already has great strengths – and those are Children’s, Comedy, Entertainment, Drama and Factual.’

I wonder, is it possible to ‘focus’ on quite so many areas of TV – that’s almost all of it isn’t it?  Oh yes – I almost forgot the Arts.  But Newsnight Review (later called The Review Show) and Alan Yentob’s Imagine moved here too.  Anyway, there was more…

‘…Scotland’s in-house Entertainment business will be reinforced by the move of key returning strands.  We will be making at least one Saturday night Lottery show in Pacific Quay as well as one from the independent sector.  To bolster the in-house entertainment department we are planning to move Weakest Link to Scotland.’

Anne Robinson’s reaction to the move was not recorded.  Jana Bennet continued…

…Question Time , one of the BBC’s leading political programmes, will be based in Scotland from 2010.  We are planning to commission a National Lottery show from an independent in Scotland in addition to one made in-house.’

 

Now, pretty obviously Question Time is a show that travels the country so is not made in these studios.  As for the Lotto shows – it turned out that almost all the shows were made here – until 2017 when the BBC ceased to broadcast the Lotto draws.

What does seem odd and downright wasteful to many is that so many shows are being made in these studios that were previously made in London – but without any obvious benefit to Scotland or indeed to the BBC.  It must be costing far more, since so many of the key people involved are travelling up here from their homes around London and being put up in hotels for the duration.  The hired lighting equipment too has to be trucked all the way up the country and back again.  Local BBC staff cameramen, sound crews, make-up and wardrobe assistants, electricians and scene crew are of course employed on the shows – which is nice for them but tough on the freelance crews from all over the rest of the UK who originally worked on them.

 

It’s easy to be cynical about these things but in principal the BBC is trying to do the right thing. It can’t seem right to many people all over the UK that so much of the country’s television seems to be focused on London.  However, the essential problem will not go away – as has been discovered time and again; most writers and performers working in the worlds of theatre, comedy, music, film and television tend to gravitate towards London, wherever they were born and brought up.  London is arguably the cultural capital of the world, not just the UK.  There will of course always be individuals who fight that urge and decide to work in their local town or city but for most creative people the magnetic force of London cannot be resisted any more than people in similar professions in the US gravitate to Hollywood or New York.

That applies too to producers, studio directors and the various craft departments – set design, lighting, sound, cameras, vision mixing, costume, make-up, graphics, visual effects and so on – it’s simply because they work on so many shows of all types that they learn how to do their jobs and are able to work quickly and efficiently to world-class standards.  If all that is fragmented then arguably the industry as a whole will suffer.

My guess (and I promise that this rant will be over soon) is that the important thing to most viewers is who the people are that they are watching on their TVs – and where the programme appears to be set – not where the programme has actually been made.  Two Pints of Lager was firmly set in Runcorn with a northern cast but apart from a few location scenes it was recorded at TV Centre.  The locations for Last of the Summer Wine were all shot in Yorkshire but the interiors were filmed at Pinewood.  Still Open All Hours filmed exteriors in Doncaster but also used Pinewood for interiors.  Does that matter?  Surely what really matters is that the culture of people who are not from the south-east of England is properly represented.

Incidentally, I’m not including drama in this.  TV drama is often written with a very strong regional identity and produced and directed by people who are proud of their local culture and heritage.  There are now a number of film stages up and down the UK where such dramas can be made, which is as it should be.  I’m talking about studio entertainment and comedy shows that frankly could be made anywhere but are forced to be made in Salford or Glasgow, even though it adds to the cost, just to tick a box.

Rant over – for now.

 

To be fair, in the past few years (I’m now writing this in 2020) there have been more programmes made here at Pacific Quay that have been originated and mostly crewed locally, which is as it should be.  However, the new BBC Scotland TV channel which was launched in February 2019 has disappointingly not generated many more local shows that use these facilities.

 

Anyway – back to the studios.  As previously mentioned, there are three – A, B and C. A is about 8,400 sq ft (90ft x 70ft within firelanes), B is 2,600 sq ft (53.3ft x 37ft within firelanes) and C is just under 2,000 sq ft.  (The ‘within firelanes’ measurements are metric feet – i.e. 30cm.)

Originally, only A and C had fully equipped galleries.  B opened as a four-waller and until 2017 used an OB truck as a production gallery although it now does have its own galleries.  C is used for local news and sport and A, as mentioned, mostly for entertainment and comedy shows.  A is equipped with eight Sony HDC-1500 high def cameras and C with five.  The studios were designed to be ‘tapeless’ – in other words, all material would be recorded straight onto hard drives where it could easily be edited.  However, for the first few years of use all shows recorded onto tape and disc-based recording only started in 2012.

 

The galleries in A are large and well laid-out, although perversely located at upper gantry level rather than at ground level which would have made much more sense.  The walk to and from the studio floor is thus longer than in any other studio I know of – apart from the ones at MediaCity in Salford which are even further away.  Who has been telling the architects of these new studios that we’d like to be as far away from the studio floor as possible please?  I’d like to meet him!!!

At first glance, studio A appears to be almost a carbon copy of studios TC3 or TC4 at TV Centre.  It is almost exactly the same size and has widely-spaced long lighting bars so looks very similar.  I suppose this is a compliment to the team who built TV Centre 50 years ago – although personally I’d have preferred shorter, more densely spaced bars like in the new Riverside studio 1.

 

Lighting here is controlled by a very sophisticated data network, which as originally planned enabled 64 universes to control the three studios, presentation, reception and local areas.  Thus it is possible for a show using any gallery to control the lighting in any other studio as well as its own.  If that sounds a bit scary to you you’re quite right.  I have worked there on and off since 2008 and the local data system has on occasions been very scary indeed!

 

As mentioned, the lights are suspended from long motorised bars in A (to be honest, monopoles would have been the best choice from my point of view).  The dimmers are on the lighting bars, rather than in a separate dimmer room so access for fault finding or resetting trips can be difficult.  Everything is linked to the very complex data network which can make even the simplest thing – like feeding a socket with mains – rather time-consuming and occasionally prone to network faults.  I detect the influence of ‘consultants’ most of whom, let’s be honest, seem to have very little experience of actually making a television programme themselves.

 

The lighting and scenery hoists are controlled by a complex computerised panel which reassuringly has two buttons to actually control the motion.  These were clearly manufactured specifically for this studio. See below…

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Studio B has a basic scaffold grid with bars about 3ft 6ins apart.  Rigging is via step ladders and scissor lifts.  (No quick relights in here then!)  There is a mix of new lights and the Colortran dual sources from the old BBC Glasgow studios.

Access to studio A is via two scene dock doors with clear access to the outside world for loading/unloading and there is plenty of space for storage.  This aspect of the building’s design is excellent.  (Interesting to compare these studios in this respect with the MediaCity ones in Salford.)

I should also mention that the foyer area is in effect another studio.  It has a truss rig well stocked with lights and a semi-permanent performance stage that is regularly used for music shows.  These are mostly for BBC Alba but are also occasionally transmitted on BBC1 Scotland.

There is no doubt that these are mostly well designed studios and have benefited from a great deal of input from the BBC staff who moved from the old studios in Queen Margaret Drive.  In the words of Joe Breslin – staff LD at the time – “I aimed high, asked for everything, and got about 70%”  Good for him, I say.  At least they bothered to ask him.

 

These excellent studios have proved to be very successful and are guaranteed a long future. I have certainly enjoyed working here. What I would truly like to see however are plenty of shows made here by the Scots for Scotland. It would also be good if some of them were shown on UK network TV too – but in my view they should be ‘Scottish’ shows, not London shows brought up to occupy the studio in order to artificially satisfy a quota.

 

There was an interesting press report in March 2020 – it seems that Entertainment controller Kate Phillips had been in conversation with Screen Scotland about the possibility of building a large TV studio.  She is reported as saying ‘We’re asking a wider question of whether we can build a bigger studio because until then, we are limited in terms of what we can do in Scotland.’  No site was mentioned but the obvious place would be the grassed-over area in front of Film City (Govan Town Hall), which is just a few hundred metres from the BBC.  This site has been earmarked for a possible film stage since 2010 but so far nothing has been done.

 

In 2021 news reports suggested that the operation of studios A and B here might be transferred to BBC Studioworks.  This is the commercial subsidiary that runs all the studios at BBC Elstree, three studios at Elstree Studios and the remaining three studios at Television Centre.  (They are also involved in a new large TV studio being built near Reading in Berkshire.)  The business does not have its own staff crews but simply rents out studio space to programme makers, who then hire freelancers to make the shows.  Therefore, the BBC Scotland staff working in these studios feared that they would lose their jobs and/or have to go freelance.  Of course, Studioworks is London based so this added a political edge to the proposal.  Not surprisingly, an announcement was made in July 2021 that the Pacific Quay studios would continue to be run by BBC Scotland.

However, also in 2021 it transpired that the old Kelvin Hall, the roof of which which can be seen from the upper floors of Pacific Quay, is being turned into a TV studio centre.  Guess what?  Reports suggested that BBC Studioworks are possibly going to manage those studios.  If so, they will be in direct competition with the PQ studios.  If Studioworks undercut BBC Scotland then they could attract work away from these studios.  Some might come to wonder whether it would have been better if Studioworks had been running both centres after all…

 

 

 

 

BBC Dumbarton Studios  (from 2002)

 

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Above and below – the BBC Dumbarton site.  Top left is the external set for River City.  The internal sets are in the centre block below.  The one to its left is studio 1 – which is available for general hire.  Studio 2 is the lower of the larger buildings top right, the other is a workshop.

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The glorious architectural splendour of the BBC’s Dumbarton studios.  Lifts the spirits doesn’t it.

 

Although unknown to most people living south of the border, River City is a very popular soap in Scotland.  It has been made by the BBC since 2002 and is based in studios that are a converted whisky bottling plant in Dumbarton, on the north west outskirts of Glasgow.  The site has three main stages converted from industrial buildings.  One is permanently occupied with the sets for  River City and the other two (studios 1 and 2) are available for hire.  There is also a back lot with a permanent street scene set.  The site has workshops and all the usual facilities – make-up, wardrobe, dressing rooms, production offices etc.

In 2008 two stages were made available for use by other productions.  Studio 1 is 170 x 104ft and studio 2 is 197 x 147ft.  Both have relatively low roofs of only 16-22ft as you might expect from converted industrial sheds.  Studio 1 is an unbroken space but studio 2 has two rows of pillars within it, supporting the roof.  Studio 1 has been acoustically treated and both stages have a 3-phase power supply.  Neither stage has a lighting grid.

 

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Above – studio 1;  below – studio 2
with thanks to the BBC Dumbarton website

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There are no technical facilities – River City is shot using single camera technique (although 2 cameras are often in use.)  The two other stages are just basic 4-wallers, even though the BBC call them ‘studios.’  They have been used for a number of dramas and films but Channel 4 daytime quiz show Face the Clock, hosted by Ropy Bremen was also recorded in studio 1 in the autumn of 2012.  Fly-away facilities and cameras were hired in.  I’m told that the greatest problem during recordings was preventing the contestants from looking freezing cold on camera.

Since 2008 Dumbarton has been used for a number of dramas including Garrow’s Law, The Deep, Hope Springs, Personal Affairs, Eagle of the Ninth, How Not to Live Your Life, Still Game, Millie Inbetween and Shetland.