Sunday, 30 August 2020

BRING ME LAUGHTER ALL THE WHILE [257]

BBC Television Centre (2009)

If you get the chance to visit a building usually closed to the public, take it.

In 2009, I visited BBC Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, London, a literal television production factory: studios were set up to record episodes of “Harry Hill’s TV Burp,” “The Alan Titchmarsh Show,” “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross” (with guests including Christopher Walken and Green Day), and “Strictly Come Dancing,” for which the main doors to studio 1 were open to deliver the set. We were permitted to look down on one studio, known as TC8, filming a pilot for a quiz show featuring Rufus Hound and Sara Cox. These shows were in addition to the numerous news, sport and children’s programmes coming live from elsewhere in the complex.

During the ninety-minute tour, starting at the main entrance targeted by a Real IRA bomb in March 2001, we sat in the BBC News editorial meeting room, passed through the famous wood-panelled Stage Door entrance, the circular courtyard and gold statue of Helios, and we were locked in a dressing room to keep us from wandering about the building, which is standard procedure no matter how famous you are. I won a BBC Tours mug in a quiz identifying theme tunes, and I saw exactly two well-known people: before the tour started, I saw Simon Jack, now Economics Editor for BBC News, and I saw “Broadcasting House” presenter Paddy O’Connell after buying the DVD – both were dressed to leave on a motorcycle.

Trying to peer through the Studio 1 doors (2009)

Even though I could only see into one studio – they all had viewing galleries, but they also had people working hard to keep their shows under wraps, I am glad the one I saw was TC8, as it was the studio most associated with BBC comedy programmes. It may have been the last studio to open, in 1968, but it hosted episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “The Morecambe & Wise Show,” “The Two Ronnies,” “Absolutely Fabulous,” “Keeping Up Appearances,” “Not the Nine O’Clock News,” “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” “Sykes,” “Victoria Wood As Seen on TV,” “Porridge,” “Are You Being Served,” “Open All Hours,” “One Foot in the Grave,” “French & Saunders,” “Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge,” “Up Pompeii,” “Hi-De-Hi!” and “Blankety Blank.” Of course, I knew this when I went in, that was why I was so excited. This was why I had no hesitation in buying a DVD of “Fawlty Towers” from their shop – episodes of that were made in TC8 as well.

This is all a very long time ago now: the BBC sold Television Centre to developers in 2013, and while three studios remain open, with the BBC’s commercial arm housed in the old News Centre, the rest has now been converted to expensive, but sympathetically designed, apartments – studio TC8 was demolished altogether.

You do not need a building like Television Centre to make programmes anymore: so long as you have a good camera, and you can keep outside noise away, you can make a show anywhere. But because it was the backdrop to so many shows in the last sixty years, Television Centre may be one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. I already knew so much about it that, when the tour guide mentioned the offices under the Helios statue, I already knew why they were built there: they originally housed all the then-highly expensive and precious video tape machines.

One connection remains to the old era of the BBC at Shepherd’s Bush: Alan and Mark Wogan, sons of Sir Terry - he of the chat shows, the Radio 2 breakfast show and “Blankety Blank” - have opened up a branch of their pizza restaurant chain Homeslice at Television Centre. I could go on naming programmes the BBC made there, but watching the Six O’Clock News, when it came from studio TC7, and knowing that “Multi-Coloured Swap Shop,” “Going Live,” “Live & Kicking,” “Play School” and even “Shooting Stars” used to be made there, gave me a smile.


Main Entrance / News Centre (2009)

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