Fair reader, this is a thing I have wanted to do since 1981. Back then, I had just moved with my mum from London to Sheffield. Blue Peter showed an item about a BBC exhibition where you could present the news and the weather, look at programmes like Doctor Who and the Adventure Game and EVERYTHING. In a moment, my young and fragile heart was transfixed by the white heat of desire. I wasn’t interested in much, but I was extremely interested in telly, and to see how these fabulous things could be made… it had to be. I turned to my mum, and over the the boxes of unpacked things, I asked if I could go. My mum, having just moved 160 miles from London to Sheffield, said very kindly that we couldn’t. My young and fragile heart broke, and a slow and silent tear rolled down my cheek. I had never wanted anything as much as I had wanted that day out, and it occurred to me for the first time that living outside London might have some drawbacks.
Thirty years later, I had got married, moved to London, and forgotten all about BBC gate. At a friend’s suggestion, I had signed up with a website called www.lostintv.com which sends out regular e-mail invitations to TV show recordings. The BBC website also has free tickets (www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours) although you have to move fast for the best ones. When lostintv.com e-mailed me to say there were tickets going to a pilot being recorded at BBC TV Centre, I was in there rapid as a ferret up a trouser leg. It took some persuading to get spouse to come – he was not overly enthralled by the idea of the pilot. I explained about Blue Peter and the solitary tear and the fragile young broken heart, and how BBC TV Centre is being closed this year, and he agreed.
Now, I am sorry to say that spouse was completely right about how rubbish the programme was. It was a pilot for a Channel 4 quiz panel show and the warm up act was much better than the main event. There were three commercial breaks – the event started hemorrhaging audience members from the first one. The panel comedians tried to keep things light and entertaining, but it began to feel like an endurance event pretty quickly, and we were lifers. On the upside, a large bank of people in front of us left early on, so the camera carefully avoided our section. As the comedians looked really angry every time anyone left (and they left in droves), we stuck it out as long as we could. The filming began around 7:30, we’d been advised we’d probably be out by nine and at 10:40, we had to bail so we could get home. We were unlucky – we’ve seen Apprentice – You’re Fired being filmed four times and it is very slick, but this really wasn’t.
To be honest though, the show was always an irrelevance. I was there to see the stage, and not the event. Unsurprisingly, it looks exactly like it does on the telly. You have to go through the equivalent of airport security to get into BBC TV centre, but when we did I felt like Alice finally getting into Wonderland. Mine eyes have gazed upon Gene Hunt’s Audi Quattro. The main patio area, which I must have seen a thousand times through various episodes of Saturday Superstore, Alive and Kicking and such, was right there in front of me. My inner eight year old took over, and I couldn’t stop grinning. There before me was the biggest prize of all, standing there by the smokers’ area – an actual Tardis. No force on earth, not the mightiest Cyberman, not even the Master could have prevented spouse and I posing for our photos, and certainly not the Dalek they’d left unattended in the visitors’ cafe area.
The BBC is a strange building. The studios are still labelled exactly as they were in the 60s when the building opened. The whole place has a curious vintage charm. In the 60s it must have been the absolute zenith of modernity, in 2011 it is pleasingly retro. Normally, I’m not a fan of hanging on to the past, but I think it is a tragedy indeed that they are selling BBC TV Centre. In previous episodes of this blog, we’ve talked about the heart of London, but in a very real sense, this building has been the heart of the nation for over 50 years. I know the programmes will be much the same, but I will miss it terribly when it has gone. But both I and my inner eight year old were thrilled to go, so we could say hello and goodbye to this beautiful, curious old building that I grew up with, and have always loved so very, very much.
I hope to visit the building again (thing 133 is to take the BBC tour). Next time we will, for the first time in my odyssey around London, actually spend some money, and will come perilously close to the £10 limit.