A happy band of Balham and Croydon Brothers and Wives enjoyed an entertaining visit to the BBC Headquarters in Portland Place on Friday Aril 1. Certainly not April fools, we were lucky enough to catch one of the last tours for the time being and we were given an interesting insight into “Aunty’s” culture and workings.
Construction of (old) Broadcasting House began in 1928. Programmes transferred gradually to the building. On 15 March 1932 the first musical programme was given by the bandleader Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra. Hall also wrote and performed, with his Dance Band, Radio Times, the name of the BBC’s schedule publication.
The first news bulletin was read by Stuart Hibberd on 18 March. Broadcasting House was officially opened on 15 May 1932. George Val Myer designed the building in collaboration with the BBC’s civil engineer, M. T. Tudsbery. The interiors were the work of Raymond McGrath, an Australian-Irish architect. He directed a team that included Serge Chermayeff and Wells Coates and designed the vaudeville studio (now the radio broadcasts studio), the associated green and dressing rooms, and the dance and chamber music studios in a flowing Art Deco style.
A major make-over of the building was carried out at the beginning of the current millennium with the creation of the large wing to the rear of the building linked to the old building and creating a plaza between them. The original architects were replaced for not agreeing to cost-related revisions, as Sir Richard MacCormac was unwilling to sacrifice the quality of his design. All the important features of his design were however retained. Construction was completed by Bovis Lend Lease in 2010, and control handed over to the BBC in 2011.
The extension contains the BBC News and Journalism departments, and state-of-the-art technical equipment and new studios to house the BBC News bulletins on television, the BBC News Channel and BBC World News, the BBC Arabic Television service and the BBC Persian Television service. At the heart of this is a new newsroom, the second largest live newsroom in the world.
Sadly, probably due to increasing concerns over security, we were only allowed to see into the state-of-the-art new studio for news from the cafe balcony viewing point. We could get a good insight into the excitement of the new building, but it was still, literally, “behind glass”.
Our tour was none the less enjoyable, though it mostly took place in the older building, where we visited the radio theatre, a news studio and a small drama studio also for radio productions. It was an interactive tour in that some of us got to read the news and be recorded on television as well as participating in a mini drama, which we then listened to as a radio performance.
This was all great fun and went a long way to compensate for missing out on the architectural drama the new building. To quote Steve “it was great fun, I haven’t laughed so much for years. Our guide was hilarious and that and the almost monoglot French students making up our party made for a wonderful time. The news read in a thick French accent was a whole new experience.”
TGB with acknowledgements to Wikipedia