The BBC – to some the British Building Corporation in recent years – has announced it will put one of its iconic buildings Television Centre in Wood Lane Shepherd’s Bush on the commercial market for sale or redevelopment. Some museum remnants may remain but this is the end of an era. The era of big studios, big shows, big budgets all made in house by big producers from big empires.
The question mark building – allegedly first sketched on an envelope in a pub and built in 1960 – will be no more the centre of the ‘Television Service’- as it was then fittingly called. Production will transfer to smaller studios, smaller units and outside independent producers who now make up to 50% of BBC TV shows. History has simply left TVC behind.
For those of us who worked in BBC outbuildings – in my case the independent republic of Lime Grove but half a mile away – TVC was foreboding and scary. It was where the grown ups in Light Entertainment made real programmes. You could set your watch by the crowds. If it was ‘Top of the Pops’ it was Thursday,’ Grandstand’ a Saturday. The shows set the Centre tone of the day even latterly down to ‘Friday night with Jonathan Ross’ (recorded on a Thursday for safety!). The great studio comedies -from ‘Till Death’ to ‘Citizen Smith’ to ‘Not the Nine O’clock news’ and their talent and star producers like Denis Main Wilson occupied the studio space at daytime and the BBC Club bar afterwards at night… This was the centre of British shiny floor Television. It still is on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Saturday nights.
Writes John Mair…
Most foreboding for a youngish producer was the TV Centre Sixth Floor where the big beast executives lived and fought like rats in a sack. Names that would bring fear into a neophyte like Paul Fox, Brian Wenham, B ill Cotton Jnr (his family has a long time link to TVC)and Michael Grade. If you ever went up to the sixth floor you tiptoed around in case the bosses found you – unless you wanted them to…
Us mere factual producers were only allowed the big studios on highdays, holidays and General Elections. That took over one mega studio for weeks with building, rehearsal and the Election night (and day) itself. In recent elections, the Election studio has come to resemble an outpost of silicon valley with the Peter Snow and Jeremy Vine virtual gizmos.
So, what next for TVC? The BBC talks of it becoming a ‘Creative Village’. An oxymoron if there ever was one. W12 is full of those with empty space aplenty. Why not acknowledge its seminal place in British broadcasting and turn it into a museum of, well, television? The British have a talent for that and nowhere to celebrate and salute it since the closure of MOMI on London’s South Bank and of Granada Studio Tours in Manchester.
By creating ‘TV at the Centre’ Britain and the BBC can acknowledge the rich history of the medium, the Corporation’s role in it and help to educate future generations to avoid the descent to hell or Isleworth.
The question mark will then have come full circle and will provide an answer.