This is the BBC!
When: April 2012
Where: BBC Television Centre, White City
Sometimes it's easy to forget about the things close to home and as the old song goes, "You don't know what you got till it's gone". With that in mind we decided to book a tour of BBC's Television Centre before it is sold off and possibly shut down. On a rainy afternoon we made the short journey to White City and began the tour. I was looking forward to see a live, living, breathing workplace filled to the brim with memories and perhaps a show being filmed. We were one of the last to arrive at the reception area where we were warmly greeted and handed our BBC Tours identity tag. We were met by two bright young guides who led us back out into the rain to go through security and then up to a nice little photo op if you are a fan of either Dr. Who of The Voice. I am not a fan of either but it was still a good ice breaker.
Our first stop proper was the news room area. Most of the filming is no longer done in London but is instead done in Manchester and the majority of the journalists don't work in the news room at the weekends as news rarely breaks at the weekend (mostly it's just sports headlines like Chelsea spanking QPR - YAY!) I did enjoy watching the news tickers they had and I was also unaware that the BBC is the largest news gathering agency in the world ahead of CNN and Reuters. It was also interesting to know that the BBC only used fully paid up journalists for their news shows rather than TV presenters and this meant that those who read the news could also interview (or often interrogate) their guests to a high and critical standard that was not possible in the past.
We then walked over to the original main entrance to Television Centre where we learned that the circular design of the building was both to compensate for the odd shape of the land and also that it made it very easy to walk from one studio to the next across the atrium in the middle. The entrance is a listed building and will be preserved in someway when the building is eventually sold.
After that it was on to an actual studio, this studio was the one used to film Strictly Come Dancing, however on this occasion it was empty. The most interesting part of this section of the tour was that for reasons of cost they would build the set and dismantle it weekly for this show due to the cost of renting out the studio. The level of detail that goes into setting up a studio is quite frightening and even as someone who likes to think they know a bit about film and TV, from the lighting, soundproofing, flooring and the reason why the walls are painted black!
It was then time to visit the MOTD studios, except it was just a replica as Match of the Day was now shot at the Manchester studios, you could sit and have your photo taken but it didn't feel quite right to do so with a replica set. Interestingly it seemed as though Channel 5 now shoots its football show here instead. In fact from walking around it seemed most of the shows shot here were not for the BBC.
Up next was the weather area, this was actually pretty interesting as the studios for the forecast are fully automated and the presenters are all fully trained meteorologists who write and present their own material. Also they are standard civil servants rather than private employees of the BBC and have contracts and a working day that reflect this. The forecasters also work across media (TV, Radio and Online) as well. We got to watch a forecast being delivered and had a little fun with a green screen!
The penultimate stage of our tour was visiting some of the green rooms or dressing rooms where stars are kept before a show. There are different types of dressing room depending on the star's status, apparently Prince, Jennifer Lopez and James Brown had some of the most interesting demands. The stories were more exciting than the dressing rooms which were a little crowded for a group of 20+
The final stage was where we got to see the magic happen, four lucky (or unlucky) souls got to participate in a spot of Weakest Link and a News Broadcast for the rest of us to enjoy and watch. After this it was time to say our good byes as we exited through the gift shop. In all a fun but slightly underwhelming way to spend a few hours. At least there was a trip to Wahaca to follow which as usual did not disappoint. In all the tour did not quite meet my expectations. I was hoping to see a little more action, but it seems everyone has moved up to Manchester where the new Media Village is whilst Television Centre was cutting edge in its day, HD, the Internet and 24 hour TV have slowly made it obsolete. Whilst it was not the most exciting afternoon out ever it was worth it to see what would soon be a piece of history.