Tour of BBC Broadcasting House London

This week we had the opportunity to go to Broadcasting House in London to go on a tour with a group.  We had the easy trip up to town by coach which was very comfortable on a very humid day.  All pictures were taken on my mobile phone without flash, I decided my camera may have proved rather intrusive during the visit.

The tour was led by a feisty girl called Zowie, and a very lively chap called Mark.

We learnt that the newsroom in Broadcasting House ,which took 10 years to build, was the largest in the world.

The first part of the trip was an explanation of how the BBC use the facilities in the new Broadcasting House.  This was done by showing images of different areas of the building broadcasting, all on a very large video screen.  The news readers in the newsroom looked very lonely on their own as they prepared for a bulletin.  The studio has no camera or boom operators in it, the cameras are operated from a gallery, and are mounted on rails.  We also saw that the weather reports came from an open fronted studio which a camera mounted one level above the large newsroom.

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To my surprise there was no restriction on taking photos, just at one point when we looked into the newsroom.  Oddly, there is the opportunity to do this if you have to wait for a tour to start.  There is a cafe, in a large holding area, which has large windows which give a spectacular view of the news room one floor down.

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We were then led out of the main area, out into the paved pedestrian area which is going to have a cafe open in it from next month. It is an area where the public can walk, an excellent opportunity for the BBC to engage with the public, or even do outside interviews if the need arises. We also learnt that the statue above the front doors to the original Broadcasting House was sculpted by Eric Gill.  When the building was first opened their was a public uproar about the size of Ariel’s boyhood!  John Reith, the first DG at the BBC was a very prude and religious man and he demanded it was toned down.  According to Mark there was also a picture of a lady smiling behind the statue,but it has since disappeared. The paved area in front of the Newsroom entrance has a globe in the tiles, it also has names associated with BBC news etc on other tiles, on example is pictured. The beacon on top of the John Peel wing (the one with the glass cone) is a memorial to all of the newsmen who died in whilst reporting news. The beacon lights up and beams into the sky every evening as a tribute to them.

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First we were taken into a corridor and shown long wall of illustrations giving the history of the BBC from the beginning when it was a private company.  Plenty of explanations about this from the lovely Zowie.

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Next we went into a lobby area close to the area we were given the history of the BBC in.

There was a lovely tapestry on the wall given to the BBC by President De Gaulle – note the long nose on the chaps face.  Also one of the classic old BBC microphones used in radio.

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We were led into a small mock up of a radio drama studio.  I took part in this and thoroughly enjoyed this.  The microphones used in the studio were modern. The scripts unusually were spiral bound.  Everyone did very well on the acting front, considering none of us had experience before.  Well I did as a member of the BBC Studio Amateur Dramatic Group in the late sixties, I have to admit.  At this stage I must point out this was more of a nostalgia trip for me, as I did 34 years in the old BH in a range of jobs connected with Radio.

Below our two guides give us the low down on how they used to do sound effects in the studio, and still do. The classic coconut shell for horses hooves!

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We were also taken into a dressing room and told about stars willing to perform at the BBC for a very small fee, valuing the publicity it gave to new books and songs etc.

We then went to an area rigged out as a news and weather studio.  Once again I volunteered and read the news.  Great fun, the weather is much more difficult and one of our party did a splendid job of ad libbing it.  The news readers had auto cue to follow. My words were in yellow and the lady reading had hers in  white.  I found it went fast, but the lady said she thought it went as fast as one read.

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Next we were taken to the new Radio Theatre which was being rigged up for another show.  It is used by Radio 2 for concerts and many other programmes. The new Broadcasting House can turn any area into a broadcast studio, giving excellent value for money. He showed pictures on an iPad of the Radio Theatre rigged up in the war as a dormitory area. The area was subdivided by a curtain, one side for women and one for men!  Mark also played a recording of Bruce Belfrage reading the news, a bomb strikes BH on the 7th floor and falls through to the 5th floor killing staff.  Bruce pauses, someone asks if he is ok, then he carries on with the news whilst the bomb damage settles as if nothing had happened. If the Germans got wind of the direct hit they may have done more damage!

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Finally we visited the largest newsroom in the world.  We were told about the news traffic area where bulletins and reports were received.  It was a truly awesome sight.  There are news staff from all over the world. The news room covers all of the BBC World Service languages, all BBC Radio and Television programmes. Newsnight apparently comes from the control room of the Radio Theatre at times.

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In the area where you come out and go in, there is a Dalek on display. There is also a super size version of the Tardis.  Great stuff for a Dr Who fan like myself!

For myself and wife and excellent day out.  Biased for me possibly because I worked in that building over 12 years ago before retiring, but I felt that the tour was professional and interesting, not too technical for others there. In addition to people in our group the party that we went round with had some younger children and some visitors from places such as Australia.

There are tours round most BBC buildings now all over the country visit this link for more details http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/tours/

I was amazed to find that Trip Advisor our favourite reference point when booking hotels for holidays abroad, has feed back on the tours on this web page  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g186338-d1547288-Reviews-BBC_Broadcasting_House-London_England.html

I went away with the impression that the few staff that are left behind have to be very versatile. There sadly must have been many redundancies in order to compress all of BBC’s news activities in one room.  The new building is really versatile, and staff discipline must be paramount as any area can be immediately turned into a broadcast area.

I felt fortunate to have had two excellent guides.  I did accidentally watch the group before ours going round, and the chap did not seem to have much humour. Ours did and I am pleased they are working at the BBC and have affection for what was, and still is my favourite building in London!

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