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Thoughts on the restoration of ex-BBC Television Centre

I’m writing this in the courtyard of Television Centre in West London, which I happened to be passing today. I’m gazing up at the newly restored statue of Helios and watching the repaired fountains dance as they never have on any previous visit.

I think for most British people of my age, Television Centre is the home of Going Live, Live & Kicking, Blue Peter, Ed the Duck, Otis the Aardvark, and Philip Schofield and Andi Peters’s broom cupboard. After the BBC moved off the site in 2013, it has been closed for restoration and redevelopment, with luxury apartments the order of the day—albeit with three television studios remaining. It seems ironic that two-thirds of the studios in a location so closely associated with the BBC are to become the new standing home of iconic ITV programmes like This Morning any day now.

I last visited Television Centre with Wendy, a few months before it closed.

We were lucky enough to secure a place on one of the final tours of the building and were fascinated to get an understanding of the mechanics of production of TV shows (and especially news programmes). This aspect was far more interesting to both of us than the celebrity anecdotes, tour of the Match of the Day set, or inevitable visit to the gift shop.

We both felt a little uncomfortable at the tour of the ‘celebrity’ dressing rooms, knowing that they were the settings for sexual abuse: our visit coincided with a 12-month period in which horrific historical examples of abuse at the BBC were being recalled almost daily on the front pages of newspapers. The fabric of the building was also falling apart at the seams, the sense of magic ebbing away with the physical as much as the moral dilapidation.

Towards the end of the tour, we were press-ganged into making up the numbers for the studio audience of a recording of a truly terrible daytime game show which we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of since. In a high-pressured time-limited trivia finale, the host fluffed the reading of almost every question. He then got to record ‘pick-ups’, having a second (and occasionally third) go at reading them correctly. The contestant didn’t get a second go at answering them, and so presumably ended up appearing inexplicably flummoxed by perfectly simple questions, through no fault of her own. “TV magic”, it seems, still favours the “talent”.

This afternoon, Television Centre is quiet. In fact, as I tap away, I’m the only person in the courtyard. At least from the outside, the restoration appears sympathetic. The front of the site looks all the better for the landscaping that has replaced the exterior car park, which also has the effect of making the Centre seem smaller and more intimate.

I expected to feel a certain sense of melancholy from coming to a place to which I once felt such a close connection, knowing that a part of our collective cultural heritage had been auctioned off to the highest bidder and converted into apartments I could never hope to afford. And yet, that is not how I feel.

Perhaps incongruously, I feel a strange sense of satisfaction at seeing the building sympathetically restored. The impression is of quality and accessible historical grandeur, and it feels strangely as though the hope for the future inherent in redevelopment has frightened away the collected ghosts of the past.

It doesn’t feel like a wonderous “TV factory” any more, as it did from a distance in my childhood; but nor does it feel like a tainted crime scene, as it did on my last visit. It feels like a housing development sympathetically built around a listed building—which is, I suppose, exactly what it is.

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Photo-a-day 55: Dome

Dome of St Paul's

This 2,164th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, , .

Photo-a-day 37: Royal Festival Hall

CZ20140206191221359I’m just back from a very pleasant evening listening to the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. I’ve never been inside there before!

This 2,142nd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, .

Photo-a-day 36: Shangri-La

CZ20140205201514658This is the recently unveiled waterfall style sign for the Shangri-La hotel at The Shard. Suites in this hotel come with your own dedicated butler… and, no doubt, a price tag to match!

This 2,141st post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, .

Photo-a-day 30: Giraffe Stop

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I’m often to be found here when waiting for a train home!

This 2,133rd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, .

Photo-a-day 29: Elizabeth Tower

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This 2,132nd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, .

Photo-a-day 28: William Tyndale

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This is a statue of William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English half a millennium ago, causing (to put it mildly) a right old stir.

This 2,131st post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2014, Scrapbook, , .

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