Is it possible to fall in love with buildings? If so, then BBC Television Centre, would have to be “the love my life”.
From a very young age, I can distinctly remember being fascinated with The BBC Television Centre building, I loved it whenever it was shown on TV, like in the first series of French and Saunders, and if a TV programme showed the audience. My mum had worked there and at Lime Grove in the early 196O’s, not long after TV Centre had first opened. In her early twenties she was a costume assistant in the wardrobe department, and had worked on some classic shows, including the original Doctor Who series. She would sometimes tell me stories of what it was like, how things worked, and what a happy place it was to be. Especially when she was working on Doctor Who, which she describes as like being part of one big happy family. These stories really interested me and so my love of watching television, admiration for the BBC, and thanks to my Dad’s sense of humour, choice of TV programmes and people he liked, like; Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Not the 9 O’Clock News, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Spike Milligan, Kenny Everett, The Goons and Hancock…my inbuilt love of comedy just grew and grew.
Like many children of the 70’s/80’s, I grew up watching Blue Peter most Monday and Thursday tea times. On this programme a lot of Television Centre was regularly shown, they might be outside in the Blue Peter garden with Percy Thrower, or sometimes they would have to open the big double doors, to let something big into the studio. The environment of Television Centre really fascinated me.
So you can imagine my delight, when in 1985, Blue Peter asked a few Brownies, Girl Guides and Rangers from the Hampshire West Division, who were getting ready to perform in a big anniversary show, at the Southampton Gaumont Theatre, (Later renamed The Southampton Mayflower Theatre – and where I would in a few years time see French and Saunders, Victoria Wood, Ben Elton and the Bottom Live tour on the very same stage) celebrating 75 years of the girl guiding movement, to appear on the programme. Only 200 from a cast of 500 were chosen, and I was one of the lucky ones. I had come home from rehearsals one evening with a letter explaining it and how we had to ask my headmaster if I could have the day off school.
Thursday 14th February 1985
It was my tenth birthday, and I had to be up really early to pick up the coach to London. On arriving at Television Centre mid morning, I remember the tremendous excitement I felt when I looked out of the coach window, and there in front of me, I saw the iconic building. There it was, just how I imagined it to be, only much bigger. We were led into the building and walked through the central courtyard, past the fountain. We had to then wait in a corridor to be called into the studio. That was when I remember some of us getting excited, pointing and saying “Look!, there’s Goldie”, Simon Groom’s dog came walking past us on a lead with her handler, along with someone else carrying the cats, Jack and Jill in a basket. We finally entered the studio and I remember feeling totally overwhelmed with the size of it, it was enormous, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, everything felt very familiar, yet it was very strange seeing the studio from this different view point. We were all dressed in our guiding uniforms and had to gather around a campfire to sing some of the songs from our show. It was probably filmed it a couple of times, and the presenters did a few interviews with some of us. They were all really friendly, and made us feel very welcome, especially lovely Janet Ellis. This recording was then ready to be slotted into the programme when it went out live later that afternoon.
We had to now travel back to Southampton and get ready for the opening night of our show. My family never had a video recorder at the time, and because we had to go straight to the theatre to get ready, I don’t ever remember seeing this particular episode of Blue Peter.
I did however, have a fantastic consolation prize, a much wanted and longed for Blue Peter Badge – treasured to this day.
Only six years later I was back at Television Centre, now a teenager and to be in the audience for the night of Comic Relief and the recording of Bottom. Both times in the same studio and the memories of that first visit, from when I was 10, certainly did come flooding back, it felt wonderful to be back there again. I loved it so much, that I kept on writing away for audience tickets, sometimes I got them and sometimes I didn’t. Pre-internet days, it was difficult to know what shows were going to be made, a lot of time, effort and research had to be done. In 1992 I also got to see and episode of The Mary Whitehouse Experience and later in 1995 Punt and Dennis at Television Centre.
I’ve seen quite a few other recordings at various other T.V. studios in and around London too, but none of them come close to the experiences I always had at Television Centre.
At 16 years old, I was inspired and my ambition was to work there, just like my mum did. I didn’t really have any clue as to what I could actually do, I was just mainly obsessed with the idea of walking in there every day.
In 2012, it was announced that the BBC were leaving Television Centre. Times were changing and it was feeling like an end of and era. The building was going to be turned into flats! Thankfully as a listed building I’m glad it hasn’t been totally bulldozed, the iconic frontage and various other lovely parts are still standing. Not only that, but 3 studios still remain, and in 2018 programmes were starting to be made and recorded there again. I went back to visit in January 2019, I thought I’d hate it, but was amazed by the tremendous facelift the building and area is having. It’s probably looking better than it’s ever done. Although my ambition and dream to work there, never actually came true, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced what I did, when I did, and in some ways, feel a tiny bit involved with some of British Television history. Therefore, BBC Television Centre, will forever have a special place in my heart.
Jennifer Saunders talks about Television Centre in her book:
‘Bonkers, My Life in Laughs’.
The BBC was more than a channel. More, even, than a production company. The BBC was a national resource. It trained and produced the greatest technicians, most of whom then eventually went on to work in the film industry. It was a centre of learning and creativity, with an executive culture that trusted the creative staff to do their job. It was the place everyone wanted to work, despite the fact that you got more money on ITV. It was full of TV history. Dawn and I loved just to walk round the corridors and see what else was happening. Who was in the studios? Who was writing what?
It had great studios, totally made for purpose. Make-up rooms and dressing rooms were all perfectly placed to service each studio, and there were small tea bars between each one for snacks and refreshments. If you needed a proper lunch, you went to the canteen that overlooked the Blue Peter garden. If you wanted a posh lunch, you went to the silver service restaurant that was on the balcony above the canteen. Same food, but with a waitress serving your peas with two spoons….
…Back then, if you wanted to speak to an executive about something, you just nipped up to the executive floor and popped your head around Michael Grade’s door. He was the controller of the BBC, and his door was always open.