On Friday they finally switched the lights off the glorious BBC TV centre for good. This made me sad – I couldn’t even bear to watch the BBC’s celebrations on the telly. It did however put me in mind of a grand day out I had for £9.95 when I toured the BBC building.
It is an odd place to be, the BBC. You know it so well, but you don’t know it at all. The tour started with a visit to the news centre, a place which employed 5000 people who work round the clock to make sure you are up to date, whether you consume your news online or on screen. The place was discreetly festooned with little machines that sold jelly beans for 20p, testament to 12 hour days where coffee alone just isn’t enough. You could feel the energy resonating through the place as they combed for news stories from both the official news agencies and through social media. Twenty four hour rolling news takes a lot of filling, it turns out, and they fill it with a commitment to excellence which baffled and inspired me.
Then to the entertainment factory. We went to the celebrity green rooms where super slebs like Madonna, Paul McCartney and Jennifer Lopez rested themselves before going for big shows.
We went to the TV studios where they recorded Strictly Come Dancing (assembling everything for the rehearsals and the night, before disassembling it all again so the studio could be used by Jules Holland to record Later). The world of telly has changed a bit since the 70s and 80s when all the classics were filmed here. This century, pretty much everything is freelance, and ITV and Channel 4 shows are filmed where once only BBC giants like Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers trod.
We wandered through the corridors which are covered with pictures of BBC Talent past and present. They took us to a little museum of objects from their biggest shows like EastEnders. You could read the news, present the weather, or participate in a very limited quiz (fair reader, I am excited to tell you I won a BBC tour mug).
The guide took us to see the doughnut on the inside of the centre, where they touched briefly on this history of the place. They didn’t dwell on it over much. The BBC know their audience pretty well, I think. They know we’re not that interested in their history, and I suspect they aren’t THAT interested in it either. They are proud of who they are, and celebrate their accomplishments. But my sense was they are always looking forward to the next thing. They know that there is always another brilliant idea, another fresh talent or a new technology to draw on, and they draw on it they do. And so, of course, they will be equally amazing in Broadcasting House, which one can also tour (http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/tours/).
On our way out of BBC TV Centre I paused, and asked the second, quieter tour guide if he ever got over the thrill of working there. His face broke out in a grin. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I love it here.’ Fair reader, so did I. Thank you, thank you, BBC TV Centre, and all you who sailed in her. Take a moment to celebrate it through this wonderful montage of more than 50 years of broadcasting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozdjrrIpXT8&sns=em