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 An unreliable and wholly unofficial history

of BBC Television Centre...

...with grateful thanks to several current and ex BBC staffers who have passed some fascinating documents and other information to me.

 

contents of this web page...

early plans

stage 1 (scenery block)

stage 2 (restaurant block)

stage 3 (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5)

presentation area

puppet studio/video effects workshop

opening TC1, TC6, TC7

(a potted history of early colour cameras)

stage 4 (the spur including TC8)

stage 5

stage 6 (including the studio that never was)

programmes

studio summary

the future

 

An Overview

The original plan for TVC dated around 1960.  TC8 was the only one of the planned three studios along the spur that was eventually constructed.  The plasmas around the building that currently indicate what's on in the studios use a very similar plan to this - strangely including the studios in the spur that were never built!

Of all the TV studio centres in the UK, Television Centre (TVC) is by far the largest.  With eight medium to large production studios, five small ones and a further number of news and weather studios it continues to dominate the industry.  The building itself is huge; it is only seven stories high, apart from the tall East Tower, but the area it covers is considerable.  As well as the studios, scenery block and restaurant block there are countless hundreds of offices.  When they ran out of space in the 1980s they built even more offices on the roof of the scenery runway that encircles the main block.  Thousands of people work there every day - most not having a clue what everyone else does.  The waitress service restaurant is no more but there are still two cafeterias and many snack bars, coffee bars, delis and tea bars all over the building, not to mention the BBC Club.  The Centre contains a travel agent, a hairdresser, a dry cleaner, a florist (called 'Auntie's Blooms') and even a branch of WH Smith.

Its statistics are pretty extraordinary.  The main block is 500 feet in diameter and at basement level covers three and a half acres.  In the studios nearest the railway line the walls are 2ft 3ins thick to provide sound insulation.  When opened, the building contained 85 dressing rooms, sufficient for 613 artists.  There were originally 43 lifts plus 2 escalators to the basement level.  (These have not worked for at least the past two decades, apart from a very brief period in the '90s when the new offices for 'TSPR' opened in the hub.)  The ventilation system was the largest non-industrial system in Europe with 19 air-conditioning plants, 22 ventilating plants, 8 extract plants and 2 'absorbtion refrigerating machines'.  Gosh.

It was originally supplied with 2 separate feeds from the national grid, in case one went down.  Later, one of these was withdrawn by the electricity supplier when Battersea Power Station was closed and the one remaining feed has indeed failed on at least three occasions to my knowledge.  To cope with this, emergency generators have been installed and the power plant that originally purely heated the water was some years ago replaced with two gas turbines that can generate electricity as well as providing hot water and cooled air as a by-product.  This system is known as 'combined heat and power' or CHP.  (Their rumoured history of unreliability, however, is probably the subject of another book to be told elsewhere!)  On this very subject I have been contacted by Andrew Prince...

'Problem was they tried to be too clever and tried to extract the heat from either the main or the reserve generator.  Point of interest, I was tasked with testing them once overnight.  We advised the occupants of TVC that we were doing this and they should switch off PCs etc overnight just in case.  Come the night we powered the CHP up, disconnected TVC from the mains and tried to load the generator up.  I went around all the studios and put on all the studio lights we could and surprise  -  we cound not create the load we wanted.  Just goes to show what power is wasted overnight by things being left on. 

Footnote, when it came to re connect TVC to the national grid, the breaker would not go in.  It took several attempts before it held.  Phew, there were a few white faced people there that night.'

 

 

Despite best intentions, not all the original design choices were good ones.  The official 1960 BBC book about the building proudly states that the roofs of the studios were covered in asbestos tiles and that the trusses supporting the studio grids were 'fire-proofed, their members being covered with sprayed-on asbestos fibre.'  Guess what.  In 1988 asbestos was unexpectedly 'discovered' in TVC's studios and they were all shut down for examination.  Perhaps the BBC managers should have read the BBC's own 1960 book and they would have known some time before.  Anyway - each studio was closed for detailed examination and after a few weeks depending on the seriousness of the risk was brought back into service.  In the case of some, the asbestos was removed and with others it was encapsulated, with an intention to remove it at some later time.  

The removal or containment programmes for each studio lasted for many months or in the case of TC1 - years.  (One does wonder whether all London's other film and television studios have received similar treatment.  Certainly, contamination was discovered in Granada's Manchester studios in February 2006.)  Sadly, it seems that this story is not yet over.  Early in 2006 it was announced that further work would be necessary on three of the studios - TC2, TC3 and TC5.  This was subsequently carried out, one studio at a time beginning with TC2 from late summer 2006.  The studio reopened after a very expensive process of removal early in 2007 when TC5 began its removal.  This was complete by the summer of 2007 and TC3 was closed.  It is due to reopen early in 2008.  When this process is complete, seven of the main studios will have had their original soundproofing stripped to the walls and new panels installed - making them look like new studios.  Only TC8 remains as it was built since no asbestos was used in its construction.

Construction and alterations have never ceased since building commenced in 1951.  The sound of distant drilling has disturbed countless transmissions and recordings over the decades.  In fact, it is such an extraordinary building that there literally can't be a person alive that has been in every part of it.  I was based there for 26 years and probably only ever saw a fraction of the building.  Its unique circular design means that many people, myself included, often exit a door onto a corridor and have to pause for a second to work out the best route to where they are going.  Many is the time I have said goodbye to someone as we go off in different directions only to meet them again a minute or two later, slightly embarrassed as we bump into each other - having taken completely different routes to arrive at the same place.  It happens so often that people barely remark on it.  Or perhaps it's just me.

I wrote at the beginning of this project that TV studios were factories.  That rather trite description probably applies to this building even more than most.  (Indeed, the then head of BBC Television described it as such on the day it opened.)  The sheer scale of its operation makes this inevitable.  However, it is also a corporate headquarters and a news centre and anyone entering the reception area that faces Wood Lane would be hard pushed to get any sense that this building contained television studios.  You can certainly tell who was director general when that part of the building was designed.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man I would have to say that the Centre is now nothing like it was when I first worked there in the late 1970s.  In those days the offices in the main circular block were taken up with the various departments of make-up, wardrobe, cameras, sound and lighting.  Above them were the production offices of the drama department and the light entertainment department.  The design department occupied the upper floors of the scenery block at the back of the building and dozens of designers and assistants had their offices there.  All production was in-house - nothing was made by independent companies or freelancers so these departments were considerable and employed many of the top people in the country in their respective fields.

Now of course, between a quarter and a half of the BBC's output is made by independent companies.  The BBC no longer has make-up, wardrobe or design departments.  All were made redundant in the mid nineties and these people are now freelance.  The camera, sound, electrical and lighting departments are staffed to a minimal level and employ many freelancers like myself on a daily basis.  Many independent production companies book studios at TV Centre to make their programmes for the BBC, some use other studios.  Also, some companies use TV Centre to make shows for other channels - in particular Channel 4.

Over the last twenty years - and this is the most significant difference to the nature of the building - the kind of programmes made in television studios have radically changed.  In the '60s, '70s and well into the '80s the studios were full of drama - series, serials and single plays.  Entertainment was variety-based with big showbiz music and comedy spectaculars occupying studios on a regular basis.  Even sitcoms have now dwindled to a trickle.  In 2004 the BBC only made four sitcom series at TVC in the whole year.  (Ab Fab, The Crouches, Eyes Down and Two Pints of Lager.)  In 2006 I believe Grownups and Two Pints... were the only sitcom series made here.  All the other sitcoms shown on BBC TV were made at Teddington or Pinewood or shot on location as 'comedy dramas'.

So what is made here?  Well - gameshows, chatshows, panel game shows, sketch shows, sport programmes, news, weather, kids shows, Later With Jools, TOTP2 (but only about once a month), Crimewatch, Strictly Come Dancing and er...that's about it.  Well, almost.  TC1 is a large studio and is ideally suited to the big one-off events such as Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sports Personality of the Year, The Soap Awards and of course every four years or so - the general election!  There is little likelihood of drama returning to the studios, which in my view is a great shame.  For many years the BBC used to record a television version of successful West End productions under the Play of the Month or Performance banner.  This gave millions the opportunity to see top theatre productions that they could not have otherwise, due to cost or where they lived.  There is no reason why this could not be done again and there are certainly the crews and directors with the experience and talent to make such programmes.

Variety is always 'about to make a comeback' and the occasional nostalgic music show is still made from time to time.  However, in my view we won't see the return of a popular variety show until some truly charismatic performers like Morcambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies come along around whom such a show can be built.  Ant and Dec are probably the closest to this we have now but of course, they are contracted to ITV and their shows are currently based more on gameshows than music and comedy.

If I sound somewhat downbeat about this building - put it down to familiarity and my age!  Despite my appearing to be dwelling on the past - TVC still has a certain something about it.  Its studios are amongst the best equipped in the industry.  Its history too is unique, as is its design which I shall attempt to summarize here...

Early Plans

As soon as the war was over the BBC knew they would need to build a 'television centre'.  They acquired Lime Grove Studios and shortly afterwards the Shepherds Bush Empire (Television Theatre) and Riverside Studios but these were stop-gaps and the intention was to move all television production into this new purpose built centre.  A site of 13 acres, previously occupied by part of the Franco-British Exhibition was bought shortly after the war.  This 140 acre exhibition had consisted of several highly ornate pavilions all faced in white which came to give this area of London just north of Shepherds Bush the name 'White City.'

Following the original exhibition and - let us not forget! - the 1908 Olympic Games - the buildings hosted several other exhibitions and expositions.  (What's the difference?)  The last time the site was employed for its original purpose was for the British Industries Fair in 1929 although some of the buildings were used for 'textile fairs' until 1937.   During the war some of the buildings were commandeered for the manufacture of parachutes.  In 1936 much of the site was taken over by Hammersmith council who built the South Africa Estate of flats surrounding the stadium. 

(Incidentally, the only remaining buildings dating from the exhibition were demolished as recently as 2004, when the site on the other side of Wood Lane was cleared prior to construction of a huge new retail park.)

By 1949 the remainder of the site was derelict and the BBC purchased 13 acres originally occupied by the 'court of honour' - although several councillors objected strongly and thought that the land should have been used for housing.  The only thing that remains of this extraordinary, spectacular exhibition site is a 2m square of tiles on the ground outside TC1.

The original White City.  Part of the 'Court of Honour' in the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.   This picture shows a fraction of this extraordinary development of palaces and pavilions.  It's hard to believe that Television Centre now occupies this land.

The story of how architect Graham Dawbarn came up with the design is well documented but I'll repeat it anyway.  Given a fifty-page brief he retreated to a pub for inspiration and with a plan of the oddly-shaped site in his head he pondered on the problem.  How to fit eight to ten studios in this area - giving easy access to scenery and separately to artists, crew and audiences.  Gazing at it for a few seconds he doodled a question mark on an envelope and the penny dropped.  The shape was perfect.

The famous back-of-an envelope doodle that started it all.  Note the year on the postmark.

He would build most of the studios around a circular hub containing video recorders in the basement - so cable lengths to each studio were minimized.  Around that would be dressing rooms in the basement and on ground floor level.  The studios would be spread outside a circular corridor on the ground floor in a large/small alternate pattern, enabling crush bars or 'assembly areas' to occupy some of the space next to the smaller studios.  On first floor level above the dressing rooms and assembly areas would be the studio control rooms and apparatus rooms - all with easy access to each other. 

The fan of studios would create wedges between them where other areas could be fitted - camera stores, prop stores, dimmer rooms and even a small puppet studio.  A larger wedge between two of the studios would contain a wide access route between the front and back of the studios on the ground floor whilst above this would be the transmission suites, presentation studios, telecine areas and central apparatus room.  Outside the studios would be a covered road or 'runway' enabling scenery to move between studios and to and from the scenery block - a large construction connecting the main block at the rear of the building.  Outside the scenery runway would be a road enabling vehicles to move easily round the site.  The circle of studios would extend along a spur that could be built in phases with more studios as and when required over the years.  The spur would connect with the scenery runway at the back and the artists' corridor at the front.

A concept plan was drawn up, a model made, and in 1951 construction began on the first building - the scenery block.  However, the foundation stone for the main block was not in fact laid until 1956.  There was a pause of a few years before building could commence on the studios.  The government was going through financially straitened times following the war and they could not afford the huge capital investment that was required to be borrowed.  As it transpired, the delay was to the good as the plans could be further developed and refined.

The original plans had some of the studios rather different from the way they ended up.  TC2, 5 and 7 were eventually built as originally conceived.  However, TC1 and 6 were going to be the same size as each other - a very long and relatively narrow 75 x 120ft wall to wall with a grid height of 45ft.  More interestingly, TC3 and TC4 were initially both planned to be 75 ft wide and 120 ft long but the end 40ft was to have a grid height of 60ft enabling scenery to be flown as in a theatre.  (These dimensions are taken from a magazine article dated 27th May 1950.)  The enforced pause before building commenced brought about a squaring-off of the studios, an early plan to make TC6 divisible into two and a realisation that TC1 could lengthen to occupy the scenery runway space and widen by 25ft without ruining the concept of the whole building.

The model of the original concept.  Note that it indicates that 10 production studios were originally planned and that TC6 was going to be the same way round as the other studios.  TC3 and TC4 both have scenery fly towers in this model.  Note also how much of the site is occupied by the scenery building.  The part of the scenery block on the far right did not end up this shape and in fact this area became occupied by the paint frame and later the 'EBX' building and offices. 

Of course, other differences include the absence of the East Tower, which was constructed in 1964 on top of the 'works' building shown just above the scenery block here, and the multistorey car park which was built in the 1980s on the other side of the Hammersmith and City railway viaduct.  On the lower left is the restaurant block.  The interesting construction that occupies the far left of the garden was never built but the single storey one at the right hand end of the garden became TC9 - from the mid '90s for a decade this was the CBBC continuity studio.

The building was intended to be constructed in phases or 'stages'.  This highly confusing term is still in use at TVC today.  Thus you will see signs indicating 'Stage 5' or 'Stage 6.'  Most people in the industry would naturally assume these to direct the observer to a studio, given the nature of the building.  But no.  Stages 5 and 6 were construction  phases and have come to refer to parts of the building.

Another BBC term that is often taken for granted is the naming of studios.  To avoid confusion every BBC studio in the country was given a unique name with prefix letters relating to its building.  Thus 'TC1' is Television Centre studio 1.  Allegedly, a few years ago the newly appointed head of BBC Resources decided that this was misleading as visitors might think that TC1 was a telecine suite, not a studio.  Thus all the hundreds of signs around the building now read 'studio x'.  Nevertheless, everyone in the industry still refers to them as 'TC whatever' so I shall here.  Apparently, it would appear that he did not think that signs directing people to 'stage 5' or 'stage 6' were confusing at all.

The back of the scenery block in 1954.  This all looks very different today.  The protruding section of the building is the scenic artists' studio or 'paint frame'.  This is now completely hidden by - you guessed it - offices, and satellite dishes now occupy much of this area.  Note the wonderful old cars!  You certainly can't park there any more.

 

Stage 1 was the construction of the scenery block (officially called the design block) which was completed in 1953.  At the back of the building a scenic artists studio was constructed enabling backcloths to be painted.  This extraordinary construction is 65ft from basement floor to roof beams.  A platform half way up the room enabled the artists to paint massive cloths 30ft high and to reach all the parts of the cloth simply by raising or lowering the canvasses which passed through a slot between the platform and the wall.  When finished, the cloth could be rolled up and stored in the basement or slid through a slot in the wall into the ground floor area.

This space still remains, hidden behind a locked door, and is occasionally rented out.  There is a small dirty window between a staircase and the platform area which I discovered early in 2006.  A few small flats were leaning against the wall but there was no sign of any cloths having been painted recently.  Large flexible tubes now hang from the roof - one assumes to improve the ventilation and draw the paint fumes out.

The paint frame.  This elevation drawing taken from the 'Architect and Building News' shows the scale of the building.  As you can see - canvasses can be painted on all sides of the platform as they slide up or down at the touch of a button.  The control panel for the hoist motors in the centre of the platform was affectionately known as the 'Dalek.'

On the ground floor is an area originally used to manufacture and store scenery.  A carpentry and machine shop created the sets which were then assembled in the setting space before being disassembled and stacked on trucks to be towed round the scenery runway to the studio.  The scenery would then be brought back and taken down in a huge lift to be stored in the basement or repainted and adapted for use in another programme.  In another part of the basement was a large prop store where items for dressing sets were kept.

The prop store is still there - rented by a private company now - but the rest of the basement is a muddle of cages with old office furniture and other junk filling the place.  Scenery is now stored in a large open-sided shelter that runs around the outside of the ring road around the main building.

Nowadays all scenery is made by private companies and nothing is manufactured here any longer.  The only scenery stored on site is for shows whilst they have a regular booking in a studio.  Sets are destroyed when they are no longer needed, whereas before the changes imposed in the 1990s, flats and other items would be saved if they could be, repainted and used on many different programmes.  Thus, rather than 'the BBC' owning the scenery, it is now bought or hired by each individual programme which naturally does not have the budget to store it afterwards unless there is definitely going to be another series of the same show.  This was one of the many changes brought in by John Birt.

Actually, there is one exception to this.  Paul Hayes has informed me that the original Dr Who Tardis fell apart in the 1970s and was replaced with another that was used until the final Sylvester McCoy episode in 1989.  Despite the official policy of not storing scenery, this Tardis was never destroyed but over the years has been quietly moved from place to place and hidden around the building.  I suppose nobody could quite bring themselves to give the order to load it onto a truck for disposal.  After all, it hardly takes up much room.  Of course, the new 2004 series was made in Wales with its own new 'machine' but the original (extremely tatty) Tardis was still on site in 2005 and was used for a spoof opening to Jet Set on the day in April when the new Dr Who was first transmitted.  I had the dubious honour of lighting this sequence.  Spookily - I also lit the same thing in 2006, with Eamonn Holmes exiting the Tardis in the Blue Peter garden on the day the new Dr Who series began.  I have been told recently which dark corner it is currently stored in but if I say where then the suits may find it so I'll keep mum.  (After all, its cloaking device hasn't worked for centuries.)  The day it is at last destroyed because it costs too much to store we might as well all give up and go home.  Oh - and by the way, it really is much bigger inside than out.  No really.

The photo below shows the interior of the scenery block.  Adam Tandy has written to let me know that he understood that the original Dr Who production designer (Peter Brachacki) got the idea for the treatment of the interior of the Tardis walls from this roof.  I see what he means.  In fact, I think even the current 'Welsh' version has an echo of it.

The ground floor of the scenery block.  (Actually, technically the first floor - as the basement that is accessed at the back of the building is in fact the ground floor.  Do you care? Neither do I.)

The plan dates back to 1953.  The photograph must have been taken just after completion and just before the scenery moved in.  The photographer is standing by the 'G' of 'Paper and Painting' on the plan drawing.

The carpentry and machine shop is now occupied by the technical stores and half the setting space is now the lighting store.  This moved from an area in Stage 5 in the early 1990s when scenery construction was abandoned here.

 

 

For the first thirty-five years of the Centre, above the scenery workshop were the drawing rooms (no, not that sort of 'drawing room') and offices where all the designers used to work  It was very handy for lighting directors, costume designers and directors to be able to pop over one of the bridges and meet them informally, look at the plans, drawings and samples of materials to be used and discuss the progress of the set design for a programme.  Nowadays this is is mostly done on the phone or via email which isn't quite the same.

As soon as the building was complete it was used to construct scenery which was then loaded onto lorries and transported to the studios in Lime Grove, Television Theatre and Riverside Studios.  The offices were occupied by the team designing and constructing the main block and the head of the television service was also based here.

In 1955, the same year that ITV was launched, the BBC held a glamorous showbiz ball one afternoon in the main scene dock of the scenery block of all places.  This was technically, therefore, the first television programme made at TV Centre.  Hundreds of celebs were invited and in fact those that weren't came anyway.  No less than 2,500 turned up and shuffled round the dance floor.  Two top bands played and the whole thing was televised by an OB unit.  (Sadly of course, this was live and no recording exists.)  The idea was partly to launch the new afternoon service of BBCtv but also obviously to prove to this new upstart ITV that the BBC still had the loyalty of all the top performers in the country.  However, some things never change.  The celebs were simply there for a bit of publicity and within a few weeks many of them were appearing on ITV shows. 

The design block now has no designers in it - nor is any scenery built in it.  It is now officially called the 'drama building' as apparently it contains the offices of the drama department.  I guarantee that if you ask almost anybody working at TV Centre where the drama building is they wouldn't have a clue.  Ask where the design block or scenery block is and quite a few would certainly know where you mean.

 

Stage 2 followed on straight away and was the building of the restaurant block.  This overlooked a small area of grass and shrubs that soon would become the famous Blue Peter Garden. 

The building was completed in 1955 and at first was used as rehearsal rooms and office space.  It began its intended use as a restaurant block in June 1960, with cafeteria-style seating on the first and third floors and waitress service on the second floor.  The kitchens are on the ground floor and connect with the main block via a tunnel and lifts, enabling food to be brought on trollies to the sixth floor hospitality suite.  They thought of everything!

The waitress service floor closed in the mid-nineties, the top cafeteria reduced in size and some of the block has now reverted to office space as eating here is far less popular than it used to be.  (Was it ever?)  Food is now available via bars and delis spread around the building.

Incidentally - in November 2006, the old 2nd floor restaurant (what used to be called the 'waitress service') was turned into a huge hairdressing salon studio with hidden cameras for BBC Three's Celebrity Scissorhands - a live reality show that somehow raised money for Children in Need.  Apparently the 'celebrity' trainees were: 'Eighties pop icon, Steve Strange;  winner of The Apprentice, Michelle Dewberry;  Radio 1 DJ, Scott Mills;  actress and Dynasty star, Emma Samms;  Right Said Fred frontman Richard Fairbrass;  TV presenter Sarah Cawood;  singer Rowetta (Happy Mondays, X Factor);  actor and TV presenter Ortis Deeley (Kidulthood, Live and Kicking);  and TV personality Darren Day'  it says here.  I'm afraid I missed it.

The first floor canteen in 1960 with the waitress service restaurant overlooking it.  Possibly the idea was that those who could afford to eat there could literally look down on those who couldn't.  The balcony has now been blocked off.

 

Around 2001/2 plans were drawn up to convert the lower two floors into studios and continuity areas dedicated to the children's department.  These designs reached quite an advanced stage but many problems were being encountered - in particular with lighting and air conditioning.  The head of Children's Department wanted the studios to open out into the Blue Peter garden with huge windows and doors overlooking it.  He wanted to be able to shoot from inside looking out and outside looking in - even in high summer.  The plan was that presenters should be able to begin talking to camera indoors and wander outdoors or vice versa on the same hand-held shot.  There was even to be a glazed conservatory area.  The problem was that this area faces south so coping with sunlight would have been something of an issue to say the least.

(This had been achieved to an extent in TC9 which occupies part of this area but the door is relatively small, does not face south and there are no windows so we never see indoors to the studio whilst a presenter is outdoors.  If they walk from one to the other the camera is 'racked' the several stops necessary to cope with the different light level.) 

I was asked to comment on the plans at one point and invited to oversee the project from the lighting point of view but I declined taking on this responsibility.  Frankly, I thought it would have been hugely problematic operationally and a considerable frustration to the programme makers.  It would have been a massive undertaking - the studios would have had to be lit to an incredibly bright level to compensate for the daylight.  At the same time, the producers apparently wanted to preserve the colourful mood and atmosphere of typical kids programmes, in particular X-change - the daily magazine programme which was coming from the nicely controlled environment of TC2.  Indeed, the set of X-change included plywood pillars that would match the real ones in the new studio, anticipating a move within a few months.  (A move that kept being postponed.)

Another issue was the changing nature of daylight in the late afternoon when childrens programmes are on.  You might start a show with the studio lit to the same level as the outside but by the time you were off the air it would be dark outside.  These conflicting requirements and 'technical' issues were not, it seems, understood by those who were keen to see the studio built.  Apparently, the problems 'were being exaggerated by technicians who were stuck in the old ways of doing things and did not understand the new blue-sky thinking.'

One idea mooted by the production types as a solution was to have one bright half of the main studio matching the daylight somehow divided from a darker 'moody' half, but how you went from one to the other was never resolved.  Meanwhile, the size and cost of the new studio's ventilation plant continued rising.  As it happened, whilst decisions on the project were nearing a crisis the head of CBBC moved on to greater things as controller of ITV1 and the whole idea was quietly dropped.

A further irony is that by the end of 2006, the whole idea of in-vision presenters linking children's TV had gone out of fashion.  TC9 is no longer in use.  The programme X-change which drove all these plans is also no more.

 

The site in 1957.  The scenery block and restaurant blocks are complete and the foundations are being laid for the main block.  The ground slab for TC1 is the only visible studio.

 

Stage 3 involved the most complex construction and took four years before the Centre became operational.  It consisted of the main circular building and the completion of studios 1 - 7.  Four studios would initially be brought into service within the first few months - 2, 3, 4 and 5.  The design of these was based on experience gained from working at Lime Grove and in particular Riverside, where various experiments involving gallery layout and lighting systems were tried out.  The Centre officially opened with TC3 operational on 29th June 1960.  TC4, 5 and 2 opened over the following few months.  The shells of  TC1, TC6 and TC7 were constructed around the same time but they were not fitted out until a few years later.

Arthur Askey - diminutive and popular entertainer of the '50s and '60s - standing in the newly completed TC3.  The studio was considered 'massive' at the time and of course, compared with those at Riverside and Lime Grove, it was.

TC2 and TC5 are both 60 x 40 metric feet within firelanes and TC3 and TC4 are about 70 x 90 metric feet within firelanes. 

TC2 soon became the home of the new wave of satirical comedy shows such as That Was the Week That Was.  TC5 was the home of schools broadcasting and according to a 1970 BBC booklet 'adjacent to studio 5 is an area specially designed and serviced for schools programmes.'  I must admit I can't think to what this might be referring, unless the area originally intended as the puppet studio became taken over as some sort of preparation area.  Other programmes such as panel game shows were also made here but for various reasons, most likely because no schools could afford colour televisions in the early 1970s, TC5 was converted to colour long after the other studios - probably in 1973.

Of the larger two original studios, TC3 was earmarked as a drama studio and TC4 for light entertainment.  The difference was in the acoustic treatment of the walls - TC3 had a shorter reverberation period so was more suited to speech.  I have to say that I have never been aware of this - having worked on many occasions in both studios so possibly any acoustic difference was altered in later years.  In any case, during the early years at least, TC3 was the preferred studio for drama.

TC4 also had a variable acoustic system involving microphones and speakers around the roof and walls.  This was called 'ambiophony'.  The system worked quite well, but according to a sound supervisor of the time it had the disadvantage that the delays to the different speakers would only be correct for one position within the orchestra.  That (and probably the scarcity of such programmes) meant that it fell into disuse.  It was soon overtaken by artificial electronic reverberation systems, although interestingly, a similar system was included in Limehouse studio1 when that was built in 1982.

This was the inlay desk in TC4.  The picture is dated January 1961.  It was placed in the production gallery.  All the BBC's main studios had one of these.  They enabled clever wipes to be used or an early form of overlay using a luminance key.  The device seen in front of the operator here is a camera looking down at an illuminated screen.  You could place a piece of black card in the shape of, say, a flower and that could be used as a key for an effect in a dance routine.  All kinds of wipes were tried out.  A particularly messy one was to cover the screen with tealeaves and blow them off on cue.  You couldn't do that one again in a hurry.

Later, as the studios were colourised the inlay desks became more sophisticated to include up to three layers of CSO (colour separation overlay).  DVEs (digital video effects) were added as soon as they became available in the 1980s.  The BBC research department came up with an early version but this was soon superceded by boxes manufactured by companies like Quantel.  Top of the Pops usually tried these devices out first but within a few months every show was plagued with zooming, flipping and tumbling pictures for no good reason.

Nowadays wipes and overlay tricks are done by the studio's vision mixer (switcher) but extra boxes of tricks like DVEs are brought in and plugged up as and when required.  Most complex video trickery is now done in post production rather than in the studio at the time of recording.  Sadly. there's no place any more for the 'blowing the tealeaves across the screen' wipe.

 

TC3 and 4 were both originally equipped with black and white cameras but the Centre had been planned with colour in mind.  The studios were re-equipped in 1969 and 1970 respectively with EMI 2001 colour cameras.

Back in 1960 the original camera choice was interesting.  No doubt in a desire to support both major British camera manufacturers, half the studios - TC2, 3 and 7 - were equipped with Marconi MkIV cameras and the other half - TC1, 4 and 5 with EMI 201 cameras. 

I have been told a story by a cameraman of the period that may or may not be true.  He informs me that the EMI lens turret was designed for 5 lenses (although only four were fitted) and apparently was slower in changing lenses than the Marconi - particularly when going between ones that involved crossing the blank plate.  Apparently, for LE this was seldom an issue but for drama it could be crucial.  In a scene with two cameras taking over-shoulder 2-shots until the crucial dramatic moment when a close-up was called for, there might only be one second when the vision mixer cut to the other camera for the reaction shot before cutting back for the close-up.  If the turret was still turning then the cut would be forced to be late.  There was at least one drama director of the day who allegedly refused to work in the studio with the slower turret because it compromised his shooting style.  His plays or episodes of drama series had upwards of 500 shots in half an hour. 

True or false?  Any other opinions or memories gratefully received!

The EMI 203 four and a half inch image-orthicon black and white camera.  These were installed in TC1, TC4 and TC5.  Most were fitted with turret lenses as shown but some had early zoom lenses.  It wasn't until colour cameras came along in 1967 that every camera was fitted with a zoom lens.

(Thanks to Bernie Newnham for the image - for it is he!)

Studios 3 and 4 are almost mirror images of each other although oddly, TC4 is actually 1 foot wider than TC3 at 71 metric feet within firelanes.  The studios were equipped with the same design of long lighting bars as had been tried out in Riverside.  Each was initially fitted with two 2kW fresnel lanterns and two multi-bulbed fill lights although this was adapted for each production.  The lighting bars also at first had a parallel bar hanging a few feet beneath although quite how these were used remains a mystery!  The bars were spaced the same as in Riverside - 2 feet from end to end and six feet apart.  This wide spacing has frequently caused many a headache to lighting directors!  Although the bars were replaced with a new design in the 1980s the spacing remained the same.

Above is the original lighting installation in  TC4.  The rest of the first 'batch' of studios were fitted with the same long bars.  The lamps were simply hung on the bar rather than on rolling 'trolleys' and pantographs as they are today.  Of course, this is before the standard rig of two dual-source fixtures per bar was adopted.

Below is TC3 rigged for a typical gameshow in 2005.  We have almost gone full circle as hardly a single dual-source lantern is to be seen.  Nearly all have been derigged for this show (In It To Win It) which is lit almost entirely with automated lights.

These new studios adopted the dimming and lighting control systems that had been tried out at Riverside - Strand C-type consoles connected to variable resistor and auto-transformer dimmers, remotely controlled by an electro-magnetic clutch system.  The heat generated by hundreds of these dimmers must have been phenomenal.  Apparently, TV Centre was the first place to adopt normal mains voltage in the studios.  Previously a voltage of 130 volts (why?) had been used.  The BBC were also terribly proud of the fact that the lights in these new studios were 'remote controlled.' 

For someone who has become used to using automated lights like Vari*lites and Macs on various entertainment shows I found this claim somewhat surprising until I eventually found out what they meant.  It seems that these were the first BBC studios equipped with luminaires that had devices enabling an electrician to adjust pan, tilt, and spot and flood using a pole.  Previously, every lamp had been adjusted by an electrician working off a set of ladders.  I would hardly describe this as 'remote control' but seriously, this was a significant advance.  I can work with an experienced pole operator to set 100 lamps and be finished in two or three hours.  To do this using ladders would probably triple this time if not more.

This picture shows a 'lighting supervisor' operating a Strand type C console.  The white diagram on the wall is the geographic mimic which indicates to the operator which luminaires in the studio are lit.  Small bulbs are fed directly from the dimmers and glow in proportional brightness depending on the dimmer level.

All the studios were fitted with one of these mimics but only TC1 still has one.  The other studios now have a VDU fed from the console, not the dimmers, that is nothing like as clear to read.  It must have cost a fortune to connect around 1000 tiny lightbulbs for the mimic in TC1 - one to each dimmer.

Judging by the shape of the plan - this must be TC3.

One great advantage all the studios at TVC have over London's other TV studios is in the provision of motorised scenery hoists.  In monopole studios a few motorised hoists are sometimes available but these have to be carried into position and placed where needed in the grid.  Most scenery is therefore supported using hemp ropes and hauled up by hand.  At TV Centre this is hardly ever necessary.  Every studio has dozens of scene hoists that can be tracked into position and raised or lowered at the push of a button.  The hook is attached to a steel line that is fixed to the flattage or ceiling piece that needs to be supported.   This makes scene setting here much quicker, simpler and probably safer - and arguably gives designers more flexibility with their sets.  In TC3 and 4 each hoist was initially only trackable within a span of about 10 feet but during the last major refurb more were installed and they can track across the whole studio between the lighting bars.  This improved system was originally installed in TC1, 6 and 8.  TC1 has even more hoists, some capable of supporting immense loads.

 

Another area planned for the Centre was a film telerecording area beneath TC6.  It seems surprising now but videorecording was still in its infancy in 1960 and telerecording on film was a well-established means of recording programmes.  Apparently, the videotape area in the basement was not ready when TC3 opened and a couple of machines were installed temporarily in the shell of Pres B.  Even when complete there were only four, then four more videotape recorders in the basement for the first few years.  At first, film telerecording was carried out down the road at Lime Grove.  It is not clear whether the planned film telerecording area below TC6 was actually installed - any clues anyone?

 

The presentation area

As well as the main studios there were several other smaller areas completed at this time.  On the fourth floor in the central wedge between TC3 and TC4 was the main network control area for what was then called BBCtv and the planned second channel.  A corridor led from the lifts towards the back of the building and on either side were the control rooms, apparatus rooms, voice-over booths and from 1963 a small room containing the 'noddy' camera that could be remotely tilted up to look at the revolving globe logo and down to look at a clock.

Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly there was also a 'Big Ears' - a twin magazine caption scanner.

The noddy camera for BBC2.  This photo was probably taken around 1969.  Note the beautifully finished woodwork!  These days (if such things existed) it would be made of MDF with a lick of black paint if you were lucky.

At the end of the corridor was another control room on each side that looked into a pair of studios, side by side.  These were presentation studios and were known by all as Pres A and Pres B.  They had been designed for continuity announcers such as Michael Aspel, Kenneth Kendall, Judith Chalmers and Nan Winton but within a few years the BBC decided to adopt out-of-vision announcers.  Thus the studios became available for other uses.  They were quite small - at 32 x 22 metric feet wall to wall with a firelane crossing the middle.  This could never be obstructed!  It's not quite clear when in-vision announcements ended but there was a new intake including Meryl O'Keefe in 1963.

Pres A was the first to open in 1960 - Pres B opened in about 1963/4 with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  It was then converted to colour in 1966 and became the home of  Late Night Line-Up - a daily arts and topical discussion programme.  This studio thus became the home of the BBC's colour camera tests.  It is likely that the tests in studio H at Lime Grove ended around this time. 

The colour camera tests in 1966 initially involved three Peto-Scott (Philips) PC60s.  These were the cameras that had been chosen to equip the BBC's first colour OB units.  Later, a three-way test was undertaken using a prototype EMI 2001 (then called the 2000), a Marconi MkVII and a Peto-Scott PC60.  In order that the tests were fair, two of the cameras had a cue dot superimposed in the top left or right of the frame.  These were changed every night so the engineers watching at home did not know which camera was which.  They recorded their opinions and the results were later compiled.

This story has been confirmed to me as being true by an engineer who was involved and by the studio director who worked on the experiments at the time.  He later went on to direct the first colour shows in TC6 - themselves still very much an experiment.

The camera chosen to equip TC6 and TC8 in 1967 was the Marconi MkVII.  The reason for this choice is arguable and is discussed later on this web page.  (See 'A Potted History of early colour cameras.')

Pres A was converted to colour in 1968 (with Marconi Mk VIIs) and became the weather studio.  Between forecasts it was used to make trailers involving captions and slides with a voice-over actor in a nearby sound booth.  VT clips were played in and the people in the presentation department who made these trails became adept at producing very slick and professional-looking 'ads' for BBC programmes.  This was one thing ITV took many years to get right.  The ITV companies did not have an equivalent department or dedicated staff so their trails were much simpler - often nothing more than a caption voiced over by the continuity presenter.

The presentation area in the central wedge on the fourth floor in 1960.  None of this exists today.  As can be seen, the rooms on the left were opened first, those on the right were for the planned second channel.  Pres A is the room top left, Pres B on the right.  All the cueing and cutting from one programme to the next was done in the network control room on this floor.

Before the days of computers it was possible for the network producer to be quite creative in the way they went from one show to the next.  For instance, there was one individual who liked to do a slow mix from the BBC1 globe into the star field at the beginning of Star Trek Raphael Szynowski has written to me to let me know that the creative person in question was called Ken Laing.  Or at least, he told Raphael that he was.

Although the BBC soon went to out-of-vision announcers they did restore them for children's TV in the 1980s.  The tiny area used for this became known as the 'broom cupboard'.  After the great storm of October 1987 all power to TV Centre was lost except for the emergency generator that supplied this area.  Therefore, BBC1 was kept on air with the news coming from the broom cupboard - a very serious looking newsreader backed by a brightly painted wall and the remains of children's paintings that had been sent in to Philip Schofield and his puppet Gordon the gopher.

The exact location of the broom cupboard has been pointed out to me by Ian Trill, ace vision mixer who used to work in Pres during the 1980s.  He has reminded me that the network control rooms were moved to the areas at the bottom of the plan below, previously occupied by the sub control and international control.  The right hand room was for BBC1 and the area to its right was walled in to create the room where the voice-over continuity announcer sat.  There was a window between him and the main control room.  The announcer had a small mixer in front of him so that he could cut up captions etc as he spoke.  It was this tiny room that had a camera bolted onto the wall so that the Children's TV continuity announcers could be seen in vision. 

The Pres area a few years later when both studios and all control suites were operational.  Click on the image to see it in higher resolution.  The control rooms and other areas were moved about and reconfigured several times during the life of this vital part of the BBC.

Now this area is completely unrecognisable.  Note the thickness of the wall dividing the studios.  Even this has been removed.

One of the trickiest jobs as a young and inexperienced cameraman was doing the 'weather pan'.  One camera had a locked-off shot looking at the Atlantic chart.  The weather man - Jack Scott, Michael Fish, Ian McCaskill etc. - then moved to a smaller chart showing today's weather.  This was being framed by another camera.  At some point he would take three or four paces right to the next chart showing tonight's weather.  Since there was no script and it was unrehearsed you had to take your own cue when to pan.  It sounds simple but was highly nerve-racking as there were many false moves as he might take a pace camera-right and stretch across the chart to indicate East Anglia or the weather in the North Sea.  Some individuals would move very briskly and if you were not careful he would leave you behind.  Of course, if you incorrectly started to pan too soon then you either had to continue and leave him behind or stop and pan back in a rather pathetic manner.  This, of course, is when he would notice that you had begun the move and as you panned back to the left he would leave the frame on the right.  You can imagine the various cock-ups possible on this, the simplest of camera moves.  At some point they all must have happened although never of course by me.  No really.  Honestly.

Jack Scott in front of the Atlantic chart.  (With thanks to the tech-ops website.) 

The charts were made of painted steel so that the magnetic symbols would stick to them.  (Sometimes, of course, they fell off.)  The isobars on the Atlantic chart were specially made by The Magnetic Rubber Company of Sheffield.  I kid you not.  They also manufactured the rubberised strips used to seal fridge doors.  Now there's a fact to impress your friends at parties.

 

According to a couple of sources, the floor of Pres B was used to house the first VT machines at the Centre when it opened in 1960.  Apparently, the videotape area was not ready to accept them.  By the time Pres B opened around 1964 the machines had long departed for the basement.

Pres B was used for a variety of simple shows over the years including The Sky at Night, Points of View and Barry Norman's Film '72 (and onwards) seriesIn fact, David Scott-Cowan has written to me to point out that a separate programme department was created to devise programmes that would fit into this tiny studio.  It was based in the 'temporary' wooden building - originally the builders site offices - that sat in front of TVC along Wood Lane during the '60s, '70s and '80s.  The programmes included The Book Programme with Robert Robinson and Did You See? with Ludovik Kennedy.

As mentioned above, around 1968 these studios were equipped with three Marconi Mk VII colour cameras each, which had previously been in use for a few months in TC6.  These were very, very long.  About five feet long in fact.  Add a cameraman standing behind each one and there wasn't much studio left.  All the more astonishing then that Pres B was the original home of the Old Grey Whistle Test.  It began in 1971 and occupied the studio one night a week instead of Late Night Line-Up.  If you ever wondered why they used bare studio walls as a set and the cameras never moved then just picture the scene:  A live band plus three enormous cameras squeezed into a space about the size of someone's living room.  It's a wonder there was space for whispering Bob Harris on his stool in the corner.

In the early '90s the weather moved to a purpose-built suite containing several studios elsewhere in TV Centre.  Pres A was then taken over by CBBC and used as a continuity studio - its original purpose.  In 1995 the BBC1 and BBC2 transmission suites moved two floors down to the old telecine area following that department's move to the post-production area in stage 5.  The old control rooms on the fourth floor were converted into continuity suites for the BBC's new digital channels.

Once Studio 9 was opened next to the Blue Peter Garden around 1996, Pres A was closed.  It seems very likely that Pres B also closed towards the end of 1996.  Alan Brett has written to me.  He works for a hospital TV studio and informs me that he was invited to go and help himself to anything useful from the old network control rooms.  Whilst there he looked in the Pres studios and on the wall was a setting plan for Barry Norman's Film '96.  It was dated 18th November 1996.  My guess is that this was the last programme made in the studio - unless, of course, you know different!

 

The network control for the two main channels moved down to the second floor, occupying the area previously home to telecine.  The old studio control rooms and associated areas were later converted into new digital continuity areas for BBC1 and BBC2.  Pres A and B remained as empty shells until 1999, when they were rebuilt with a mezzanine floor and converted into more transmission suites and technical areas, coming into service in 2000.

However, even this is no more and early in 2005 the whole playout department for all the BBC and UKtv channels moved to a highly secure and sophisticated purpose-built area in the new media village at White City, just down Wood Lane.  That operation is no longer run by the BBC but by a new company - 'Red Bee' - which was formed in late 2005. 

As far as I know, this suite of rooms has been unoccupied throughout 2006 and into 2007.  In Jan 2007 I explored the area and found that it has been completely transformed from the way the old control rooms and studios were originally laid out.  Even the wall dividing the two studios has been demolished - with only a couple of pillars remaining.  That must have been quite a job.  There are now a number of  rooms - one or two quite large - with smart carpet, glazed partitions and hardwood doors.  The only clue as to what used to be there is the area up the new stairs at the back onto the mezzanine floor that was built within the space occupied by the two studios.  Although this is now an empty office with suspended ceiling and carpeted floor, the shape and size of the old Pres studios can still be made out.  They seem very small.

 

As mentioned above, between 1996 and 1999 the transmission suites for BBC1 and BBC2 were situated two floors down from their original location.  Matt Phelps has written to me about his memories of this period...

'It was a 2 person suite - the Network Director and the Announcer, who sat in a glass booth off the left of this suite facing back towards you.  The big green digital countdown in the middle of the stack was the 'weather counter' which was fired from this position and could also be seen in the 'self op' weather studio.  If it went wrong, or you forgot to set it before a weather report, it usually sent the weather people into a fury! This room always stank of diesel fumes - especially in the Continuity booths - for reason that we never quite got to the bottom of during my 6 years there!'

Network control for BBC1 in 1998.  Sue Barker, reporting from Wimbledon, can be seen on the preview monitor.  The green 'weather counter' can be seen to the right of the clock.  The large handle on the right of the mixer is a fade-to-black control.  This was apparently known by all as the 'f**k fader' since its use by the Network Director would only be in dire circumstances and usually accompanied by that expletive.

With thanks to Matt Phelps.

 

TC4A and the puppet studio

The main phase of construction of TV Centre also included a couple of other interesting areas.  In the corner of TC4 was a soundproof door leading to a studio about 20 feet square called TC4A.  It had no equipment of its own but did have wall boxes with sound sockets connected to TC4's mixer.  It was intended as a small band room and was occasionally used for this purpose in the early years.  It could also be used as a stand-alone studio for simple single-camera interviews but although it was soundproofed it had no fixed production lighting facilities.  When the studio was last refurbished it was reduced in size and converted into a kitchen and food prep area for TC4.

Through a door in the opposite corner of TC4 was another small wedge-shaped studio - although somewhat larger than TC4A and quite a bit higher.  This was planned to be the puppet studio and it had connecting doors to the studios either side so cameras could be wheeled in to make recordings.  It had no sound or vision facilities of its own.  It did have a simple scaffold grid with lamps on pantographs but how they were controlled I have no idea.  It was intended to replace the old puppet theatre shed in the yard at the back of Lime Grove but was probably never used for this purpose after all.  By the time the Centre opened most puppet series made in the 1960s and 70s were on stop-motion film, not video (eg Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Trumpton etc) and were made by independent companies for the BBC so would not have been made at TV Centre.  As mentioned above, this area therefore probably became assigned to the schools television department, although what they used it for is not yet known.  TC5 was the home of schools broadcasting and the puppet studio had good access via a large door to this studio as well as TC4.

Around 1983 this little studio became the video effects workshop where post production work was done on shows like Dr Who and various other dramas using BBC-developed multi-level overlay and early digital video processors.  In the workshop there was space for a camera and a small blue screen as well as VT machines and a complex video mixing desk with loads of bolt-on toys.  However - its creation had been a long time coming...

Back in the mid 1970s a very small department of experts - who came to be called 'Electronic Effects Operators' had been formed - consisting of  Dave Chapman, Dave Jervis and Mitch Mitchell - under the management of Bob Wright.  They were used primarily to operate the inlay and overlay desks in studio galleries during the recording of shows.  However - they realised that some effects were best achieved after the recording.  In fact, you might say 'post-production' - although nobody called it that back then.

Previously, any video effects would have been done in the gallery at the time of recording.  Editing was simply that - making a final cut of the show.  Such things as colour grading for video material or any kind of video post production were almost unheard of back then.  Mitch describes how a typical effect was created...

'The Blake's 7 teleport effect with the white line was a hand drawn matte for instance so could only be applied to a pre-filmed sequence or after the video was layed down to tape.  These things were only possible after the availability of the video frame brought about by 1"C format and frame stores of which Quantel were the main UK protagonists.'

These complex effects were done in ordinary studio galleries whilst the studio floor was being used for a set and light day.  However, this wasn't ideal to say the least.  Mitch thought that it was 'nuts' to be using expensive studio galleries for this kind of work.  Also - some were better equipped than others.  He pressed hard to have a dedicated area created for this expanding area of TV production. 

The requirement was for a room containing vision mixing and video effect facilities, some VT machines and a camera with a small area of blue screen and space to shoot models and miniatures.  The old puppet theatre was the perfect place but despite management promises that it was about to happen it was many years before it did.  As well as the obvious issue of the cost of setting it up there is little doubt that the union had serious concerns about these individuals apparently doing the work of several separate specialists.  Remember that in the 1970s the unions in Britain were not known for their flexibility and willingness to embrace change!  In fact, Mitch and the others were all union members, had all been cameramen and were already in some ways doing the work of vision mixers. 

Anyway - sadly, after much frustration Mitch moved on in 1980 to do this kind of work for a newly created independent post-production company.  A few years after he left, the video effects workshop was eventually opened. 

A few other EEOs were created to join the two Daves - Robin Lobb, Adam McInnes, Nick Moore, Danny Popkin and Ian Simpson.  The work done in this little 'studio' was ground-breaking for its day and it was used not just for sc-fi programmes but also to 'paint' backgrounds on wideshots in dramas, add snow or other weather effects - in fact much of the kind of work done by very sophisticated CGI today.

 

Despite the success of the workshop, by the end of the 1980s things had moved on and video effects work was being done in post production suites either in the new stage 5 at TVC or independently by companies in Soho so the workshop was closed.  From 1991 this studio became part of the sport graphics area associated with TC5.

 

Completing the main block

The final part of this phase of the construction of  Television Centre was the completion and fitting out of studios 7, 1, and 6 - in that order.  This would finish the building as it was initially designed.  Further expansion along the spur was in the concept phase only and no detailed plans existed at that time. 

TC7 is almost exactly the same design as TC2 and TC5 (and also with long lighting bars) although it is a couple of feet longer.  Sources differ as to when it opened but it was probably in 1962.  According to the 1963 BBC Handbook (Jan 1963) it opened in 1962 but an IEE publication, 'The BBC Television Centre and its Technical Facilities', dated May 1962, states that 'TC7, as well as TC1 and TC6, will be gradually equipped and brought into service during 1963 and 1964.'  TC6 was a long way from being brought into service so maybe they were wrong about TC7 too.  Possibly they decided to postpone TC6 and wait for colour so TC7 came into service ahead of schedule.  Do let me know if you can add any evidence to confirm the date please.

Its design was very similar to the first four studios and the equipment fit was also along the same lines.  It originally had black and white Marconi MkIV cameras but was colourised with EMI 2001s in July 1968.

A typical production gallery in the late '60s - in this case TC7.  PA on the left, then director, then vision mixer.  Confusingly, the vision mixer is also the name of the equipment he or she operates.

Until the 1980s all TVC's studios had the BBC-designed 2-bank system with 8 inputs - each with a fader and button beneath.  This was a totally different operating philosophy from the commercially designed mixers (switchers) in use everywhere else in the world!

Nowadays, all BBC studios use the same vision mixers as in other studios - usually made by Grass Valley, Sony or Thomson.

The 'works block' was also finished on the east side of the site.  This was topped with a 13-storey office block - the East Tower - which was completed in 1964.  Although built at the same time as the rest of the main block it was not part of the original design and does not appear on any of the early models or drawings.  It seems like an afterthought and looks quite out of place with the rest of the site.  Its materials do not match those used on the other buildings and its design is typical of the type of bland office block of the period which seems surprising, given the unique nature and high quality of the design of the rest of TV Centre.  Not surprisingly, given its age and poor quality construction, it is now looking pretty tatty and in need of a clean up.

The LWT tower on the South Bank, albeit several stories higher, was built eight years later and is a much better design - nicely integrated into the rest of the LWT studio centre.  Indeed, it is its defining feature and still looks very good even today.  It is really disappointing that the East Tower did not achieve a similar effect at TVC. 

TC1 opened on 15th April 1964. (I seem to remember watching a Blue Peter special on the day.)  It was of course equipped with monochrome cameras and would have to wait until 1968 before it was colourised using EMI 2001 cameras.  It was said to be the largest television studio in Europe although actually studio 5 at Wembley was and is much larger when it has its dividing doors open at 14,000 sq ft gross.  TC1 is 11,000 sq ft gross or 100 x 90 metric feet between firelanes and its size has proved immensely useful for all kinds of productions - most recently, shows like Strictly Come Dancing.

Originally it was going to have a section of the floor that could have been lowered with motors.  The official BBC book about the Centre published in 1960 states 'A pit is provided, fifty feet long by thirty feet wide which can be filled with water and will have above it a sectional floor that can descend to a maximum depth of 7 ft 6 ins.'  The idea went away before it was built but that part of the studio apparently still has a different maximum weight loading from the rest.  I can't think what kind of television production would safely be able to make use of a tank containing thousands of gallons of water and in the event I suppose others couldn't either.  I imagine that the problem of how to make the join in the floor so perfect that cameras could track over it without any disturbance to the picture also proved to be a bit of a headache.  It does indicate though that at the time of designing the building, cost was almost irrelevant and all they wanted were the best possible studios with the best possible facilities. 

One of the most celebrated programmes to come out of TC1 - I Claudius.  This picture was taken in 1976.  I can be fairly certain of that as I am the cablebasher on the far right of the frame.  (And that was a serious cable to bash, I can tell you.)  This series was the first I worked on when joining the BBC and I assumed at the time that the rest of my career would be spent working on programmes just like this one.  Ah well.

The others in the photo are Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Ian Perry on the camera and in the white T-shirt - Herby Wise, the director.

Note the panning handle on the camera is angled up at 90 degrees.  This was a technique used by Jim Atkinson, senior cameraman of crew 5, and it enabled the camera to be controlled more easily when crabbing and panning.  This technique of fluid camerawork with the ped always on the move and operating on a wide lens close to the action was pioneered by Jim.  It was very similar to today's fashionable use of hand-held or steadycam mounted cameras and was arguably 30 years ahead of its time.

TC6 is an interesting case.  At the time the shell of the studio was built it was intended to install dividing doors and two sets of galleries.  It is therefore rotated through 90 degrees compared with all the other studios and has its long wall running along the scenery runway. The idea of being able to split it was abandoned before the studio was fitted out.  The lighting bars in TC6 are slightly further apart along the centre line because the grid was designed to make allowance for the doors that were never fitted.  Because this studio is 'sideways on' people occasionally describe it as being long and narrow.  In fact it is the same width as TC3 at 70 metric feet and only two feet longer than the other medium studios at 92 metric feet.

The opening of TC6 was delayed until 1967 so that it could become the BBC's first colour studio.  BBC2 officially went colour in July of that year.  The first production was The Julie Felix Show.  (Remember her?  Just me then.)

The Julie Felix Show.  The first programme made in colour in TC6.  Looks fab doesn't it.  In those days they used fairy lights rather than Varilites.  (Sorry.)

Note the cardboard lens hoods.  The real ones had not yet arrived.  Also note the grey floor and brown cyc.

In the late '60s following years of experiments at AP and studio H at Lime Grove the BBC had drawn up a book of rules as to what was and was not acceptable to transmit in colour.  It was almost as though they didn't want too much colour on screen as it might alarm the viewer.  Hence, for the first few years the most popular colour for cycloramas and scenery in general was brown.  Lovely.

 

A potted history of early colour cameras...

It had been a long wait before a good quality, reliable colour camera was available.  In 1966 there were three main camera manufacturers:  Philips, Marconi and EMI.  The BBC carried out a three-way test over several months in Pres B using the programme Late Night Line-up.  Engineers in the studio examined their reliability - Marconi provided their own maintenance engineer, the other companies left it to the BBC ones.  Meanwhile, other members of the BBC great and good watched the pictures at home and made notes.  A decision had to be made urgently so that the first studios could be equipped in 1967.

 

Philips (under the brand name 'Peto-Scott') had its PC60 which was very good quality but perhaps a little soft - it had only three tubes.  Also, the company was not British - therefore at a disadvantage with regard to the BBC.  Nevertheless, two OB units were equipped with PC60s in 1967.

Marconi had its Mk VII which was much sharper, having four tubes.  This camera was designed in the mid '60s for the export market - in particular America - and with its lens bolted onto the front it meant that a wide selection of lenses could be used.  It was built using military-grade components and its electronic design was very advanced.  Ruggedness and reliability were intended to be key features.  The camera was sharp but its colourimetry was not liked by all - some described faces as looking sun-tanned, others simply thought that faces looked pink.  Someone has described the picture to me as looking like a black and white image with the colour added on top - which of course is exactly what it was.  Its luminance tube produced an image and the colour information from the other three tubes was superimposed. 

The main problem with the Mk VII was its weight and its length.  It was so long that the kind of camera moves used on studio dramas or light entertainment shows were not possible without using a separate assistant or 'dolly-op' to move the camera pedestal.  Peds had to have a larger diameter steering ring fitted but when the cameraman stood behind it he couldn't reach the ped with his feet.  Therefore he could not track or crab the ped in the usual way.

The third camera was the EMI 2000.  This camera was the nearest to the BBC's specifications.  In seeking sales EMI had worked very closely with the BBC to produce exactly what they wanted.  It was compact with an integral zoom lens so cameramen and directors loved it.  Its electronics were less advanced than the Marconi which supposedly made it easier to line up and maintain.  Its colourimetry was also closest to the BBC spec and (in its later incarnation, the 2001) produced very good flesh tones.  The 2000 (and later 2001) used a different technique from the Marconi Mk VII, using the green tube to produce the image whilst the luminance tube supplied only the fine detail information.  Perhaps surprisingly, this appeared more natural on screen in many people's eyes.

However - the only tubes that gave really good quality were Plumbicons - invented by Philips.  Naturally, they were reluctant to see other manufacturers use them.  Marconi got round this by selling cameras without tubes and asking the TV companies to order them direct from Philips which, surprisingly, they were willing to do.  Marconi had allegedly bought some Plumbicons for development purposes claiming they were for medical use.  According to a technical paper by an EMI man named McGee, EMI attempted to develop lead-based tubes too but found it too difficult to get the 'mix' just right and layer thickness uniform enough.  They were therefore forced to use much less sophisticated Vidicon tubes but these were nowhere near as good as the Plumbicon.  TV camera enthusiast Paul Marshall has written to me explaining the problem...

'I proved this for myself when I got the Marconi Coffin camera and the EMI (vidicon colour) 204 camera going for the NMPFT (National Museum of Photography, Film and Television).  Our 'scene', a red dalek, was perfect on the coffin, but the red sensitive vidicons just couldn't give a nice looking dalek (the blue and green tubes had so much red and infra red sensitivity that they always saw something through the crude dichroic and thus de-saturated reds.  Flesh tones were awful plus the low light shading, noise and microphony to boot!  Horrible.'

What happened at the tests is not 100% clear.  However, it seems more than likely that the results were a disaster for EMI.  The camera was clearly not as good as the Marconi.  The BBC engineers were dismayed as the camera designed to their spec wasn't the one that produced the best pictures. 

Something had to be done fast to be ready for colour to begin in 1967.  Reluctantly, the BBC ordered 17 Marconi Mk VIIs which, thanks to Marconi pulling out all the stops, were duly delivered on time.  These were installed in TC6, TC8 and one of the studios at Alexandra Palace for BBC2 News.  Meanwhile, EMI went back to the drawing board - persuaded Philips to sell them some Plumbicon tubes and spent months integrating them into the camera's design.  After a great deal of work they came up with a revised design - renamed the 2001 - ready for delivery in 1968.

However, I have also been sent an interesting email by Charles Hope - a retired senior BBC engineer - that casts a somewhat different light on this story.  He writes...

'At the time of this work, I was involved with the BBC Motoring Club (one of the many 'social' sections) and got to know the Head Of Designs Department (Neville Watson) very well.  He told me that everybody (Research, Designs and Operations) wanted to use EMI cameras but the Director of Engineering insisted the Marconi gave the best results.  In 1968, about a year after the Marconis had come into service, DE gave a major talk in the Theatre, fed sound only to all studios, in which he apologised for buying the wrong cameras.  He retired shortly afterwards.'

At first glance this seems to contradict the other version of events - but not necessarily.  Firstly, it would be nice to know a bit more about this rather surprising announcement and apology.  I would certainly like to know the exact words the Director of Engineering used - and exactly what it was he was apologizing for.  Perhaps for causing so much extra work by having to swap cameras round the studios so soon after they were bought.  However, he clearly felt at the time that he had no choice but to go with the Marconi.  Bear in mind that it does seem that the EMI wasn't as good in 1966 as it became a year or two later after more development work was done.  It is also frankly not very surprising that all those engineers wanted the EMI chosen if they had contributed so much to its design.

All this is most intriguing.  Can you shed any further light?

 

The author in 1976 with an EMI 2001 trying to look as though I know what I'm doing.

The picture was taken in studio A at the BBC's engineering training centre at Wood Norton, Evesham.

This print has been skulling about in the bottom of a drawer for 30 years and is a little the worse for wear.

Opinions differ strongly as to the relative merits of the various cameras of the day.  Those with ties to Marconi believe that their cameras were trashed unfairly by the BBC and that some sort of rivalry or worse existed between the Corporation and Marconi.  Interestingly, having seen this statement, a retired senior BBC engineer has written to me ...

'As a maintenance engineer in Central Area (later to become Television Network) we learned very early on to hate Marconi kit.  It was very unreliable!  Cameras, Picture monitors, Sync Pulse generators (I had the misfortune to have to commission one when on attachment to SPID) all failed far more often than other makes.  My former colleagues in what was Transmitter (Transmission) department had the same feeling about Marconi transmitters.' 

Of course this is only one person's opinion.  Other engineers may have had a different experience.  Certainly, there are several examples of Marconi MkVIIs in use by enthusiasts today who say that the cameras are reliable, well-built and still produce very nice pictures.  They sold very well all over the world - unlike the EMI 2001.  They were also popular OB cameras with some of the ITV companies.

However, the 2001 became the favourite of the BBC - both cameramen and engineers liking it and of course it remained in use for many years.  It was also bought to equip studios by most of the big ITV companies including Thames, LWT, ITN, Yorkshire, Granada and ATV.  They would certainly not have ordered it if they had not preferred it for studio work over the Marconi or Philips. 

Incidentally, I have been told by a retired BBC engineer of an apocryphal story concerning the time Granada was choosing whether to buy EMI or Marconi colour cameras.  It seems that the EMI was producing better pictures and when the man from Marconi came to try and improve results he is supposed to have said " A side by side comparison - that's not fair."  Actually, I think this tale says as much about the attitude of BBC engineers as it might about Marconi cameras.

The 2001 was not without fault however - arguably no more reliable than the Marconi and prone to noise in some examples.  It was also not good at coping with dark scenes in plays - noise, smearing and curious colour casts are to be seen in old tapes.  Its greatest strength was also its weakness.  Its integral lens made it unsuitable as an OB camera where lenses are often changed and overseas TV companies did not like it for the same reason.  Only two zoom lenses would fit it.  Its colourimetry was not liked outside the UK.  The subtle tones it produced - giving excellent rendition of faces - also made it appear cool and desaturated with some material.  In particular, most US companies did not like it at all.

Thus the original Marconis were removed from TC6 and TC8 after less than a year and used by the BBC where camera movement would not be an issue - in news studios and the Pres studios.  All the other studios were equipped with the EMI 2001.

 

Marconi and EMI each went on to develop a camera that was the opposite of the Mk VII and 2001 respectively.  Marconi produced the Mk VIII with its integral lens and much improved colourimetry.  In 1970 it was arguably the most advanced camera design in the world.  The BBC allegedly indicated that they were interested in purchasing 80!  Oddly, they actually bought only two - for a news OB unit.  One person who worked for Marconi has told me that he believes that the automatic line-up it possessed was not liked by the unions - fearing job losses - and the BBC did not want any industrial problems so avoided it.

A BBC engineer on the other hand recalled to me that his memory of the camera was that the automatic line-up was prone to errors and that a conventional line-up was often required in addition to the automatic one.  I have also been told by another senior engineer of the day that 'The automatic line up created enormous problems because it couldn't be switched off!  Lens aberrations at the edge of the picture could result in the camera deciding that the tube registration needed adjustment even when on air.'  However, Paul Marshall has written to me with this observation... 'Oh, dear, of course you can, it's a switch in the automatics drawer with several positions, including 'off !'  The automatics were never perfect, that's true, but they weren't bad if the tubes were from the same batch, correctly oriented and the beam current set-up right.  The later, MkVIIIB had a pair of 'size corrector' pots that mopped up a lot of problems to do with through the lens v. diascope line-up.  Lenses for tubed cameras invariably had chromatic aberration and inherently the diascope doesn't.  Thus, there were width and height registration errors when you went back to the lens.  The pots compensated for this and things were much better.  I think this is what your chap is talking about.'  Reading between the lines it does seem to me that the automatic functions of the Mk VIII were perhaps not quite as automatic as Marconi might have led potential purchasers to believe.

Whether the Mk VIII was or was not liked by engineers, a cameraman who operated one told me that it felt odd in use - because the viewfinder and lens were offset.  In any event, the Mk VIII did very well in the export world so Marconi stayed in business.

EMI developed the 2005 after many years.  An ugly 3-tube camera with its lens bolted on the front was the result.  It was disliked by cameramen and engineers alike.  None were ordered for the BBC's London studios.  Within a short time EMI abandoned broadcast camera manufacture.  Meanwhile, Philips quietly came up with the LDK-5.  A superb camera with triax cable that became the workhorse of BBC OBs and TV companies all over the world. 

So in the late '70s the BBC were left without a suitable studio camera.  It was not politically acceptable to order a non-British camera to equip BBC studios.  They persuaded a little company that made CCTV security cameras - Link - to come up with a design.  The 110 was a soft 3-tube camera with integral lens that was not particularly liked by anyone but was just about acceptable.  Its physical design was not very sophisticated, as this experience from a Thames engineer indicates...

'At Thames I had experience of the Marconi Mk VII’s, EMI 2001’s and the dreadful Link 110’s.  The camera cable connector was attached to the chassis by 4 quarter inch, self tapping screws.  One day we noticed a couple on the floor and then spotted camera 1 tracking across the floor with its connector hanging in free air!'

The next design from Link that came along in the early 1980s was genuinely very good - the 125.  Most of the BBC's studios were eventually equipped with this camera.  Everything was fine until Link went on to the next generation - the 130.  This model was developed in the mid 1980s to the latest BBC spec.  A set of cameras was delivered to be installed in Elstree A.  The studio was due to open in 1989. 

Sadly, the 130 overreached itself in what it was trying to do with the technology that was available to the company at that time.  It attempted to have an automatic microprocessor-controlled line-up but failed.  Despite all the efforts of Link and BBC engineers they could not make the cameras work reliably.  Oddly, at the time Marconi had a perfectly good camera (Mk IX) that did more or less the same thing - except that apparently it worked!  For some reason, the BBC would not contemplate buying the Marconi.  Very odd.  Shortly afterwards Marconi, too, ceased broadcast camera manufacture.

Having already bought some lenses to fit the Link 130s they had ordered, the BBC were left with a problem.  They had to find a suitable camera that would fit them.  The answer was found in France, believe it or not.  In 1989, a set of Thomson 1530s - one of the last tubed cameras on the market, was purchased for studio A at Elstree.  Thus began a relationship with Thomson that was to last a decade.  4:3 CCD models followed by widescreen models were subsequently bought for almost all the BBC's studios over the next decade.  (The exception was at Elstree where the EastEnders studios use Philips LDK 100s.) 

Since 2004 Sony has become the manufacturer of choice, with almost all the TV Centre studios now equipped with E-30 cameras, although TC1 and TC8 were fitted with high definition HDC-1500s in 2006.

 

Some might say that thanks to BBC camera policy during the 1960s-1980s - EMI, Marconi and Link were all forced to give up involvement in broadcast television.  You could say that EMI and Link failed because they were too closely involved with the BBC and Marconi failed because it somehow antagonized them.  However, you can't have it both ways.  Can the BBC really be held responsible because it ordered or didn't order various cameras?  What is certainly true is that all these companies had to give up at some point because their latest camera could not be sold in sufficient quantities at home and abroad.

Whatever the reason, there is now no British manufacturer of broadcast television cameras.

If you were part of this process and can add any information - or of course if you disagree with any of the above I'd love to hear!

Golden Age Television Recreations is a company that hires working examples of old TV cameras.  Their website has some excellent images of most of the cameras mentioned above.  Go to their 'equipment for hire' page.

 

 

Back to the late '60s and the dawn of colour on BBC2... 

Of course, costume drama was a perfect subject for colour and the first made in TC6 was Vanity Fair, starring Susan Hampshire.  The series began in October 1967.

It had been decided that the two big studios 6 and 8 were to be equipped for colour and would open within a few weeks of each other.  It was also decided that TC6, 7 and 8 would share a common apparatus room but in the event this proved to be a nightmare for the studio engineers to operate.  Within a few years walls were built and each studio had its own separate area and dedicated engineers like all the other studios.

Roderick Stewart has written to me with an amusing anecdote...

'Studios TC6, 7 and 8 did indeed have a combined apparatus room as you describe, but by the time I worked there, they'd already put up Marley blinds to separate the areas belonging to each studio, because the original plan was not as practical as they'd thought. There was a common monitoring desk (known as the "Magic desk") which had been included with the intention of checking colour consistency between the three studios, but it was hardly used, and eventually dismantled, though one of the control panels was so integrated with the workings of other equipment that we couldn't disconnect it, so we just buried it under the floorboards where it could sometimes be seen glowing through the cracks between them.  It probably puzzled whoever eventually dismantled the studios for their next refurbishment.'

 

One other item of interest about these three studios - they were initially designed to be dual 525 and 625-line capable.  This came as a surprise to me when I discovered it as I would have thought that exporting programmes to the US was not a high priority in those days - unlike ATV at Elstree.  However, I have been informed by one of the engineers responsible for the installation that TC6 did indeed make at least one programme in 525-line NTSC which was subsequently converted to 625-line PAL by the BBC's standards converter.  The programme was a play - Charley's Aunt - starring Danny La Rue and made in 1969.  I have also been informed that at the time the studios were designed there were no 625-525 converters, only ones converting from the US standard.  (625-525 standards converters came a little later.)  Thus, to make a programme for export to the US you had to make it in 525 lines.  It also seems that one current affairs programme for the USA came out of TVC for the London contributions and was made in 525-line NTSC.

Interestingly, there were some problems using the 525 lines/60Hz system as the frequency sometime 'beat' with the studio lighting causing a flicker.  The lights were fed by normal 240 volt AC current which of course alternates at 50Hz.  (50 Hz means that the electric current alternates fifty times per second.)  ATV's studios at Elstree apparently got round this by using a DC feed to their lighting, which therefore did not flicker.

Roderick Stewart has some more information on the 525-line capability of these studios...

'There was one set of 525 line NTSC equipment which could in theory be assigned to any of the three studios at the flick of a switch, but I only ever saw it used twice, and each time it was a nightmare of clattering relays, followed by hours of diagnostics to trace which ones had stuck and which DC fuses had blown because the system hadn't been used for years.  Thinking about all the things that had to be switched, the pulse feeds to the cameras and encoders, RGB feeds from cameras to encoders, inputs to and RGBS outputs from rack mounted decoders to colour monitors, and feeds to a separate waveform monitor and vectorscope, it was amazing it ever worked at all.

Not only that but there was some relay logic intended as an interlock to prevent two studios from being assigned the 525 NTSC gear at the same time.  If it had been necessary to switch it every day there might have been some sense in all this complication, but in reality it was more trouble than it was worth.'

 

TC1, TC6 and TC8 were designed with a new short lighting bar system with one dual-source luminaire on a rolling trolley on each bar.  Each bar is only 4 feet long and spaced with their ends 3 feet apart.  (In TC1 this distance is 4 feet.)  Each row of bars is spaced four feet apart, rather than the 6 feet in 'long bar' studios.  This arrangement gives much greater flexibility to the lighting director.  Top light entertainment LD Dickie Higham used to have his own studio classification which baffled many a colleague (including me) until the penny dropped.  According to him, TC1, TC2, TC3 and TC8 were all 'long bar studios.'  The rest were 'short bar' ones.  He was, of course, referring to the distance from the studio to the BBC Club.

 

TV Centre probably in 1960.  TC1 is built but not fitted out.  TC8 has yet to be constructed.

 

Stage 4 was the construction of the first section of the spur.  In 1959, months before the building had opened, a meeting was held to discuss what would be included in the first section of the spur.  They decided that it would contain another medium to large studio - TC8 and the new news centre. 

Preliminary work began in 1963 and by 1966 the basic shell of the building was complete.  The occupation of the news area was postponed, however, by the World Cup.  The BBC, as host broadcaster, had to house the world's TV companies for the contest so the space was turned into facilities for them.  A temporary studio was built, equipped with EMI 203 black and white cameras, which following the World Cup was used as the weather studio whilst Pres A was being colourised.  Once this was over work could resume on equipping the studios and newsrooms.

The design of TC8 benefited from the experience gained working in the older studios.  It is said to be the most popular studio amongst many programme makers.  Its galleries are well laid out, the studio is slightly wider than the others at 72 metric feet by 90 metric feet and it was the first studio built with retractable audience seating.  This enables a greater floor area to be used than the other studios when an audience is present.  It also has the same short lighting bars as in TC1 and TC6.  It has a better ventilation system than the other studios, in which the cool air enters via vents distributed all over the grid.  The other studios use pipes spaced a few metres apart around the top of the walls that pump cool air over the top of the cyc.  I believe it is also the only studio at TVC in which no asbestos was used in its construction.  It opened in 1967 with Marconi MkVII colour cameras a few weeks after TC6.  The Marconis only lasted a few months and by April 1968 they had been replaced with EMI 2001s.

 

TC8 was also the first studio with thyristor dimmers controlled by a computer memory console - the Thorn Q-File.  This console was subsequently installed in TV Theatre and all the other studios at TVC except TC6 and Lime Grove D and E.  These three studios were equipped with the Strand MMS - 'Modular Memory System.'  This was a console with fader wheels rather than the motorized faders of the Q-File.  It had a slightly different operating philosophy from the Thorn desk which some liked, others not.   It was in fact the predecessor to the Galaxy - without question the best lighting console ever developed for TV studios.  Almost every studio in the UK is now equipped with one - they were available to purchase, in improving versions, from the early '80s to the mid '90s. 

Their manufacturer, Strand Lighting, has not offered them for sale for about 10 years now.  Bizarrely, they and all the other console manufacturers have not offered a similar replacement but only consoles that very few operators or LDs believe are as suitable for television as the old Galaxy.  Thus, these old lighting desks soldier on.  Spare parts are acquired from old consoles being replaced in theatres or studios all over the world.  Recently, the BBC even bought an old Galaxy from Russia.

When one of the many lighting console manufacturers have a new one for sale that is as good as a Galaxy then they will probably sell about 30 of them within a year or two.  Sadly, this won't be Strand.  They went bust in 2006 and part of what remained of them was taken over by an American company.

TC7 and TC8 were later equipped with a radical re-development of the Q-File called the 'Thornlight.'  It had obviously been designed by a committee and was in some ways rather clumsy to operate.  However, once you got the hang of it it was extremely flexible and I personally really got to like it.  These were later replaced by Galaxys, as eventually was TC6's MMS, until by the late 1980s the only studios still with a Q-File were TC1 and Television Theatre.

The curious saga of the QII

To continue along  this rather specialized lighting console tangent...

...a handful of' senior 'lighting and vision control supervisors' (console operators) at the BBC decided in the mid '80s that the Thornlight was rubbish and that the old Thorn Q-File was better than the Strand Galaxy.  There was, as it happened, a problem in re-equipping TC1.  It was due to have more than 1000 dimmers installed in its refurbishment and the software of the Galaxy could not apparently cope.  Thus, they persuaded the BBC research department to design a console that could control this many dimmers.  It was to be, in effect, a copy of the old Q-File using modern components and would be called the QII. 

It had only 99 files in its memory which for the kinds of shows that were being made in TC1 (Children in Need etc) was clearly inadequate yet the project went ahead.  It solved the channel number problem by including A, B, C and D on its keypad as well as numbers.  Some of the more junior operators like myself were concerned at what we would be losing compared with the Galaxy.  After some pressure, a modification was made to the design and a sub-master panel was included - a small victory.  

By the time the console was available and installed in TV Theatre and TC1 many of those who had pressed for its adoption had retired or were now LDs.  Thus a new generation of console ops had to make the best of this curious desk.  TV Theatre closed in 1991 so the only one left was in TC1.  Eventually, after console operators had struggled with it for nearly a decade one of the last Galaxies available was installed in TC1 in 2000.  Of course - all the dimmer numbers on the lighting bars had to be changed as there were no longer any 'A, B, C, D' dimmer numbers.  This was a huge task in itself!  An electronic patching system solved the problem with the amount of channels - as it could have all along.  Indeed, the same engineers developed an excellent one called 'Leopard' (can't change its spots - geddit?) at the same time as the QII.

This project was done with the best of intentions and looking back, it is very hard to understand what the people who drove the whole thing forward had against the Galaxy.  At the time, as a relatively new console operator I was perfectly happy with the Galaxy but I suppose I was won over by the enthusiasm of the project leaders.  A couple of TC1 studio engineers and a team of engineers from BBC Research Department spent years working to develop the QII.  For some reason, I was asked to demonstrate the prototype at the Institute for Electrical Engineers which was a little awkward as it was a very simple desk with no effects built in.  Indeed - its simplicity was said to be its main advantage.  I did a few cross-fades, ending up by cutting through a dozen cues as fast as I could accompanied by some music and everyone applauded.  Phew.

This really was the old BBC at its best and worst.  At its best because it put vast resources into creating something that no commercial company could supply and which it genuinely thought would provide the best solution.  At its worst because the project was essentially looking backwards not forwards, it must have cost a fortune, and clearly had no hope of recouping any of that through sales. 

 

On 20th September 1969 the two news studios on the 6th floor of the spur were opened. They were equipped with remotely-controlled Marconi MkVII colour cameras.  The news department had transferred to TVC from Alexandra Palace. 

Both news studios were originally about 30 x 40 ft but in 1984 N2 was enlarged to include the lobby area and prop store that was sited adjacent to the two studios.  It thus became about 40 x 50 ft but one end has a low ceiling.  N1 and N2 were closed in 1998 when the new news centre opened in Stage 6.  They became the 'property' of BBC Resources who renamed them TC10 and TC11 but that department could not afford to refurbish them so they were left unused for a couple of years.  More on these later.

 

During the 1980s the site was developed further.  Offices were built behind the scenery block which also contained the telephone exchange - hence it became known as the EBX block - and opened in 1982.  The multistorey car park for 964 cars just snuck in before such things became completely impossible for planners to agree to and also opened in 1982.  It was said at the time that planning permission had only been granted by the council on the condition that it would be used by those working unsocial hours.  Astonishingly, once opened many such people found it very difficult to obtain car park tickets and it appeared to be at its fullest between 09.30 and 17.30 during weekdays as indeed it is now.  Fancy that.

Yet more office space had to be found so a ring of prefabricated buildings were set on top of the scenery runway.  This became known as the 'periphery' and these offices containing 15,000 sq ft opened in 1985, blocking the view of the park previously enjoyed by those sitting on the terrace outside the BBC Club.  This view had been carefully planned by Dawbarn in the original design and was no accident.  Still - these were the 1980s and offices had to come first, obviously.

The Centre showing the first section of the spur completed but before stage 5.

Stage 5

In 1978 a steering group had been set up to examine what could be included in the project to complete TV Centre - in other words, Stage 5.  The 'Television Development Committee' chaired by Robin Scott would examine four or five possibilities.  (One of the intentions was that this final phase of construction would partly replace the existing facilities at Lime Grove and TV Theatre.)  Their conclusion was to construct stage 5 in two phases - the first would provide a new videotape area containing 100 machines (in fact it became 130) and accommodation for staff from Lime Grove.  The second phase would see the construction of a replacement for Television Theatre (TC9). It was assumed that the project would be complete by the mid 1980s.

In fact, construction did not commence until in January 1985 and the first phase was completed in February 1988.  It contained no television studios although at the time it was still assumed that the new TC9 would be built within a few years.  The huge task in designing the new studio was begun.  By October 1985 the plans were well developed - even to the extent of building a model in which acoustic tests could be undertaken.  The huge volume of the new studio - far greater than any other built by the BBC - was raising issues of reverberation within the building and the possible penetration of traffic noise.  Thus the research and detailed plans for TC9 gathered pace.

To support the weight of the new building, piles 100 ft deep had to be driven into the ground.  Its largest single girder is 22 metres long and weighs 12 tons.  Despite these superlatives Stage 5 is a monolithic brick-faced block that does not quite match the colour or style of the previous construction.  The back of the building is in my view particularly unsympathetic to the original design.

It includes the BBC post production areas on its upper floors.  No less than 130 VT machines were installed.  Rather different from the original 8 when TVC opened in 1960.  (The vacated basement was then rebuilt as - guess what? - a large open-plan office!) 

The move of the VT department to stage 5 did not take place immediately.  It is likely that they were waiting for a new tape format to be established before equipping all the suites.  This format was the D3 cassette.  Developed by Panasonic, the BBC was its first major customer.  A few suites were opened in 1991 and used for training but the big move to stage 5 happened in January 1992. 

The BBC's post production department had been created in 1989 - combining film editing with VT editing and sound dubbing.  This new department was - as its name suggests - more concerned with what happens to the programme after it has been made rather than during it.  From 1991, the new D3 cassette enabled each of the studios to be equipped with its own machines which were (and are) operated by the studio resource manager. 

The new VT suites in stage 5 thus became almost entirely used for editing.  In the late '90s as each studio was converted to digital widescreen, the tape format in general use was changed to Digital Betacam. This uses a superior component system of recording whereas D3 recorded composite pictures.  It has taken many years and several tape formats but with Digital Betacam we now have a recording system in use that in playback is indistiguishable from the original live pictures.

Of course, some might say that these days post production is almost as important as the initial recording of a production - at least, I imagine if you work in a post production company it's the sort of thing you might say.  Stage 5 contains suites with all the latest machines capable of manipulating pictures - many of them already HD capable.  The BBC is planning to go to a tapeless system of recording programmes very soon so everything will be stored on hard disk or on a server.  This will, it is said, speed up post production time and cut costs.

The new stage 5 included a music studio on the ground floor.  It was built to replace the TMS (studio H) in Lime Grove and was equipped to a very high standard.  It opened in July 1989 and was planned to have sufficient space for 40 musicians. It apparently had an automated Neve 48-channel sound desk together with 2, 8 and 24-track ATRs.  (I was previously mystified as to what these initials stood for.  It was more than a year before Aiden Lunn wrote to me to point out the obvious.  ATR stands for 'audio tape recorder'.  Doh!!!)

The main floor area was about 45 x 28 ft but it also had a very large control room, almost half the size of the studio itself  and a separate smaller soundproof 'loud' booth.  The whole studio is a floating box within a box construction.  The walls have variable acoustic panels that could be turned round for hard or soft surfaces, and it has a silent ventilation system.

Sadly, the music studio only had a working life as a sound studio for a few years.  With the new commercial way of working introduced in 1993 (snappily named 'Producer Choice') each studio had to bid for bookings in competition with those outside the BBC.  Despite its superb facilities it was priced too high and was therefore considered uneconomic.  It lay empty for nearly a year before the decision was taken to convert it to another use.

It closed as a music studio and was reopened after being converted into a virtual reality TV studio in the mid '90s.  This 'Free-D' technique had been developed by BBC Research Dept. and many people thought it would be very popular with programme makers.  The system allows actors or presenters to move freely in front of a blue screen whilst the camera can track, pan, tilt and zoom.  Hand-held cameras can also be used.  Sensors detect all these parameters partly by looking at 'targets' mounted all over the studio grid and automatically locks the background behind the artist.  This background can be a photograph or more interestingly a computer-generated 3D world.  Great idea but hardly any producers initially liked it or understood its implications and only a couple of series were ever made here using it.  (One quarter of TC4's grid still has these VR 'targets' mounted between the lighting bars as this studio has also been used for VR experiments.  TC1 was also fully equipped for Fightbox and Elstree D for the series Bamzooki.)

Shortly after the studio closed as a sound studio, the control room was converted into a dubbing suite.  Thus it was not available to become the new vision and production control area.  At one end of the main studio is a timber bridge running across the room's width that was originally intended to be used for musicians.  A single control room for sound, vision and production was constructed beneath it.  This effectively reduced the studio's length by about eight feet.  A basic floor-mounted lighting truss was constructed within the studio - the ceiling would not take the weight.

The studio had a name change.  It was considered unwise to call it TC9 as the BBC policy in the '90s was to close studios, not open new ones.  Senior BBC management might not understand.  Therefore it became TC0 ('TC zero') which also had a nice 'virtual' ring to it.  After the VR equipment was dismantled it was used as a conventional studio for a digital channel (UK Play) to make the Chris Moyles Show, to be followed by another daily show - Phone Zone.  Later it became the home of BBC Choice's entertainment news show - Liquid News.  When this moved upstairs to what had become TC11 the studio was occupied by the presenters of the CBeebies channel, who are still there. 

Incidentally - the old sound control room was itself turned into an ad-hoc TV studio for a kids live interactive puppet series called Nelly Nut in 2004.  This has since formally become known as TC12 and for a while was the home of one or two CBBC programmes including Sportsround.  It is now the continuity studio for CBBC.

Around 2000 an area on the ground floor of stage 5 previously used as the lamp store was converted into 'The Foyer'.  (The lamp store moved to the scenery block).  The Foyer is a large area capable of holding two studio audiences - about 650 people - before they make their way to their studios.  It contains a licensed coffee bar and also a BBC shop selling merchandise.  It took many, many years for the BBC to realize that an audience that had been kept waiting outside in the January rain for half an hour or more before coming into the studio would not laugh as loud as one that was nice and warm and had had a glass of wine.

The Centre following the completion of stages 5 and 6.  It's pretty clear that several architects were involved in the design of each section of the spur.  I wonder what Graham Dawbarn would have thought of what they did to his original building. 

Personally, I think the original spur and stage 5 are particularly disappointing but the design of stage 6 is much more in keeping with Dawbarn's design.  It contains several details and features that echo the main block and its mass is far better balanced.  It's still a shame that the bricks are not the same colour!

Stage 6 was, as we have seen, very nearly a superb television studio that would have been the envy of the whole industry.  Nearly, but not quite.  During the '70s and '80s the entertainment department had been putting pressure on the BBC's senior management to construct a new studio in the remaining space at the end of the spur at TVC.  It would replace Television Theatre but would be far more flexible in its use.  It was to have a floor area about 98 x 85ft wall to wall but with the addition of large audience rostra on two levels.  (Somewhat larger in both length and width than LWT's studio 1).  The BBC producers were fed up with the way that LWT's big shows looked so much more impressive than theirs made in TC8.  Even TC1 didn't look as good once you filled it with the usual mobile seating.

This model was built during the 1980s to show how the new TC9 would look when completed.  What is notable about this is the extraordinary detail of the model itself!  It alone must have cost thousands to make.

The colour of the elevation is quite striking and I wonder how it would have looked when completed.

Detailed plans were drawn up over several years for this new TC9.  It was to have a grid height of 72 ft (TC1 is 'only' 45ft high) which would enable scenery to be flown on counterweight systems.  There would be a permanent audience rostra seating 400 which could be extended with moveable 'wings' and the studio would have its own foyer, make-up, wardrobe and scenery handling areas.  There was even to be a large band room with its own control room - oddly duplicating the new music studio in stage 5 which was almost exactly the same size. 

Senior lighting directors were consulted about such things as follow spot positions, the type of grid and the inclusion of an infinity groundrow trough.  Apparently, one of the many problems to be overcome was how to create this trough whilst still leaving enough headroom in the news department garage beneath!

Cameraman Jeff Naylor recalls more...

'One addition to the plans for the New TV Theatre was for a remote-head camera crane such as a Louma - I distinctly remember the plans from a meeting where I discussed where it could be mounted and the compromises it would force on the lighting rig, in particular the followspot positions - as I wanted to hang it over the edge of the Circle! '

I see that some things never change.

The planned TC9 at ground level.  Click on the image for a larger view.

Wood Lane is bottom right and the music studio top left is the current TC0 (although it was actually built a slightly different shape.)  Its sound control room is now TC12.

The line down the centre of the plan indicating the left wall of the studio denotes the limit of construction.  Everything to its left was built - everything to the right remains a 'what if!'

The adjustable side audience units in the theatre are shown with dotted lines.  The floor area of the studio would have been somewhat larger than TC8 but with the addition of two tiers of audience seating.

Incidentally, the area marked as lamp store and scenic store is now used as 'The Foyer'.

A section through the proposed studio.  Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Note the two tiers of seating and the side 'boxes.'  To get an idea of scale, the cyclorama on the right which is shown dropped into the trough is marked as being 36ft high.  Only the largest studios today have tracks for a cyc of just 30ft height.  The height of the grid over the studio floor is 22m which is an astonishing 72 feet!  This would have enabled huge scenery units to have been flown out of sight.  The man shown on the gantry on the right is at the height of a grid in a 'normal' studio.

Note the lines drawn to indicate angles and possible positions for follow spots.

The cars indicated at the bottom are in the underground car park.  It can be seen that the groundrow trough would have reduced the headroom in that area in the car park.

The large empty 'box' top left is an area that would have had ventilation plant and other services.

 

The idea was to close TV Theatre and transfer Wogan, or the show's successor, to the new studio.  It would also of course be available for other big Saturday night shows.  There is little doubt that this studio would have been the best equipped LE studio in the country and would have been much in demand today for big gameshows and music shows.  Sadly, despite all the work done on the project it was abandoned very soon after Michael Checkland became DG.  The studio had been enthusiastically supported by Bill Cotton but it was cancelled within a week of his retiring from the job of Managing Director of Television in 1989.

It was becoming fashionable with some around that time to declare the age of the big TV studio over.  Also, the new director general and his assistant John Birt were introducing far more stringent financial control over all the BBC's costs and expenditure - so with accountants rather than programme makers running the BBC the project didn't stand a chance.  If only construction had begun a few months earlier it would almost certainly have ben completed and now be the busiest studio at TV Centre!

Instead, TC1 - which was due to be refurbished - would be given a more fundamental refit, with built-in retractable audience seating and redesigned stairs with a new glazed foyer area at first floor level for the audience.  After nearly three years work the 'new' TC1 opened in January 1991 but was not a patch on what might have been.  I imagine that the managers of BBC Studios wish they now had that 'nearly but not quite' studio with its huge audience and plenty of floor area to rival Fountain or TLS studio 1.  (Of course, they could still refurbish Elstree D!)

The legacy of the old plans can be seen in the rather oddly shaped curved podium that extends from the base of Stage 6 towards the Horseshoe carpark.  This was part only of what was going to be the ceremonial entrance to the new theatre leading in turn to the foyer on the first floor and taking audiences into the main studio auditorium at the back of the seating (as happens in West End theatres).  There was even an idea for LED lights announcing tonight's performance displayed around the semi circular facade above the entrance doors.  Stage 5's rear elevation makes a bit more sense too when the original proposals are understood.

So what did become of stage 6?  Well, it became the BBC's News Centre.  It was opened in July 1998 by (some might say appropriately,) Sir Christopher Bland.  It seemed a good idea to John Birt to bring radio news away from Broadcasting House in central London to join TV news several miles away at Television Centre.  Guess what?  The journalists didn't like it.  They still don't.  So Greg Dyke gave the go-ahead to rebuild much of  Broadcasting House to take the radio news back there as well as the TV news.  When they all leave in a couple of years time there's going to be a lot of empty offices and news studios at TV Centre.  What will become of them?  Who knows.

Stage 6 was also finished off with a new reception area complete with Henry Moore sculpture (now removed), facing Wood Lane.  It all looks very smart.  The old reception became the 'stage door' and is still often seen on shows such as Jet Set.  Stage 6 opened in July 1998 and the Real IRA tried to blow it up in March 2001 with a taxi parked outside.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt.  Although the damage looked superficial (one assumes that such an attack had been foreseen) it took about two years before the scaffolding came down and an even stronger bombproof wall of glass was revealed.  Oh - and you're not allowed to park outside any more.

TV Centre reception the day after the bomb.

 

Of course, building has continued at TC for the whole of its life.  Individual rooms and whole floors have from time to time been gutted and rebuilt.  Studios too are given refurbishments every few years - although there certainly isn't the money available now to carry out the major work that used to be done every 10 years or so.  The running of the building itself was taken out of the BBC's hands in 2001 and became the responsibility of a company called Land Services Trillium.

The early days of this new operation were sometimes not as smooth as they might have been.  A studio resources manager has told me a story that cannot possibly be true.  Allegedly, shortly after Land Services Trillium took over, he phoned the new number to ask for the air conditioning to be made cooler in the studio he was working in.  He was connected with an office in the north of England.  The operator requested the studio's 'room number', what floor it was on, the address of Television Centre and various other details.  Finally, he was told the job number and informed that the work would be carried out next Tuesday.  Thankfully, I believe this and other similar teething troubles were ironed out within a few weeks.

In July 2006 the contract to supply facilities management passed to a company called Johnson Controls.  I haven't yet heard whether they can adjust studio temperatures faster than next Tuesday.

 

The programmes...

It would be impossible to list every programme ever made TVC - some are probably best forgotten anyway.  (Little and Large, anyone?)  What I shall foolishly attempt to do here is to list by decade a range of typical productions.  They are in no particular order.  I am bound to have missed some really obvious ones.  Where I know it, I shall indicate the studio in which it was made.  It's worth pointing out that although some shows almost always came from the same studio others moved about quite a bit, depending on available space.  TC3, 4, 6 and 8 are all about the same size so a show designed for any one of these will fit in another.  Where I have indicated a studio it doesn't mean that it didn't also use others.

There are quite a few where I haven't put the studio even though I have a pretty good idea.  For instance, TC8 has for years been the favourite studio for sitcoms but unless I am sure, I have not noted it here.

Some series spanned years or even decades so I have noted them when they started (or moved here from other BBC studios).

Anyway - here goes...

1960s

The Wednesday Play (many highly regarded individual titles), Play For Today, Softly Softly, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Compact (TC2), The Forsyte Saga (TC4 - last b/w drama), Vanity Fair (TC6 - first colour drama), Steptoe and Son, Not Only...But Also, Till Death Us Do Part, Dad's Army, That Was The Week That Was (TC2), Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life (TC2), BBC-3, The Lance Percival Show, Tomorrow's World, Frost Over England, It's a Square World, Morcambe and Wise (TC1 and TC8), Sykes (also at Riverside), Harry Worth, The Dick Emery Show (TC8), Marty (Feldman), The Liver Birds, Meet The Wife, The Rag Trade, All Gas and Gaiters, The Likely Lads, Marriage Lines, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Spike Milligan's 'Q', Top of the Pops (TC2 briefly then all large studios), International Cabaret, The Black and White Minstrel Show (TC1), Jackanory (probably every studio at some time), schools programmes (TC5), Ask the Family (TC5), Top of the Form, Call My Bluff (TC2, TC5), Points of View (Pres B), The Sky at Night (moved here from Lime Grove to Pres B and the corner of several other studios), Holiday '69 and onwards (TC5)

1970s

Elizabeth R, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I Claudius (TC1), Pennies From Heaven (TC6), Play of the Month (TC1 usually), Play of the Week, War and Peace, Testament of Youth, The Pallisers, Churchill's People, BBC Shakespeares (TC1 mostly), Telford's Change, Professional Foul, The Duchess of Duke Street, The Flying Dutchman (opera - main set in TC1, orchestra in TC3), Hansel and Gretel (opera - main set in TC1, orchestra in TC3), Dr Who (moved to TVC from Riverside and Lime Grove - used most large studios), Blake's 7, The Two Ronnies (TC1 plus others),  Are You Being Served?, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Open All Hours (TC8), Citizen Smith (TC8),  Up Pompeii!, Porridge, In Sickness and in Health (TC8), The Les Dawson Show (TC8), Rentaghost, The Goodies, The Good Life (TC6), The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Not the Nine o'Clock News, Fawlty Towers, Jim'll Fix It, Blankety Blank (TC8), Parkinson (TC8), The Old Grey Whistle Test (Pres B plus others), Butterflies, To The Manor Born, Play School (TC7), Blue Peter (TC1, 3, 4, 6, 8), Grange Hill (various studios before moving to Elstree in 1985), Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (TC7), Film '72 and onwards (Pres B)

1980s

The Chronicles of Narnia, Tenko, Lord Peter Wimsey, Performance (TC1 usually), Marie Curie, The Ginger Tree (TC4 - first HD drama series), Juliet Bravo, Bomber Harris (TC6), Yes Minister (TC8), Only Fools and Horses (TC8), Bread (TC8), Hi-De-Hi, Blackadder, Russ Abott, Alas Smith and Jones, 'Allo 'Allo (some series), Birds of a Feather (series 1), May To December, Just Good Friends, Ever Decreasing Circles, Three of a Kind, Children in Need (TC1), Noel Edmunds' Late Late Breakfast Show (TC8), The Paul Daniels Magic Show (TC8), Lenny Henry Show (TC8), Victoria Wood as Seen on TV, French and Saunders (TC8), A Bit of Fry and Laurie (TC6), Bob Says Opportunity Knocks (TC8), Bob's Full House, Saturday Superstore (TC7), Going Live (TC7), Double Dare (TC4), Chucklevision, Newsnight (TC2, then TC7), BBC Breakfast (TC2 then TC7), Crimewatch UK (most studios at some time), Watchdog (TC2 and 5)

1990s

The House of Eliott (last multicamera studio-based drama series - TC1), One Foot in the Grave (TC8), The Fast Show, Absolutely Fabulous (TC8), Rory Bremner (TC6), Knowing Me Knowing You, Saturday Night Armistice (TC8), The Thin Blue Line, The Brittas Empire (TC8), As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, Never Mind the Buzzcocks (TC6), I'm Alan Partridge (TC1), Shooting Stars (TC7 for two series then TC1), They Think It's All Over (TC6), Live and Kicking (TC6), The Stand-Up Show (TC7 then TC6), Terry Wogan's Friday Night (TC1), Ruby (TC2, TC4), The Full Wax (TC1), Comic Relief (TC1), Auntie's Bloomers (TC8), The National Lottery Live (TC8) The Late Show (TC7), Later With Jools (TC1 and TC3), Noel's House Party (TC1), The Generation Game (Jim Davidson version - TC4), Bodger and Badger (TC7), Run the Risk (TC1), Grandstand (from Lime Grove to TC5), Match of the Day (from Lime Grove to TC5), 2000 Today (TC1)

2000s

My Family (series 1 only), 2 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (TC8), The Crouches (TC8), Lee Evans - So What Now? (TC8), Dead Ringers (TC4), Catherine Tate Show (series 2 & Xmas special - TC8), Little Britain (TC1 & TC8), Swiss Tony (TC8), National Lottery Stars (TC1), TOTP (returning from Elstree and Riverside to TC3), Distraction (for C4  - TC1), Boys and Girls (for C4), Without Prejudice? (for C4 - TC4), Friends Like These (TC1), Wright Around the World (TC4), In It To Win It (TC1, TC4, TC6, TC8), Jet Set (TC4), Eggheads (TC6, TC3, TC4), The Keith Barret Show (TC8), Friday Night With Jonathan Ross (TC4), Liquid News (TC0), Come and Have a Go, Hard Spell, Strictly Come Dancing (TC4 then TC1), Strictly Dance Fever (TC1),  X-Change (TC2), The Saturday Show (TC6), Dick and Dom in Da Bunglow (TC2 then TC6), Mock the Week (TC8), Level Up (TC10), The Soap Awards (for ITV1 - TC1), New Paul O'Grady Show (for C4 - TC6 and TC8), 8 out of 10 Cats (for C4), Grownups (TC8), That Mitchell and Webb Look, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria (TC1), The Charlotte Church Show (for ITV1), Any Dream Will Do (TC1)

It's interesting that TC3 seems to be so poorly represented above.  Some of those programmes above without a studio indicated almost certainly were made in TC3 but I can't confirm that.  During the '60s and into the '70s it was a favourite studio for dramas - the titles of individual plays are sadly forgotten.  During the 90s it was not converted to digital widescreen due to lack of funding so was often empty.  Since about 2002 it has been the home of TOTP (until 2006) and Later With Jools.

On the drama front, there were a number of easily forgotten series that came and went and several striking single plays that often appeared under the banner of 'Play of the Month', 'Play for Today', 'Performance' etc.  Again, during the '70s and '80s the BBC were famous for their traditional Sunday teatime dramas - often of Dickens' work.  These were usually made  in TC3, TC4, TC6 or TC1.  The amount of drama made in these studios gradually faded during the 1980s until only a handful of series were being made by the turn of the decade.  With the ease of shooting using digital video on location and the improvement in the quality of super-16mm film all drama was being made using a single camera on location or in film studios by 1994 - or was being shot in its own dedicated studio like EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.

Incidentally, there is a lack of mention of music specials with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Jack Jones, Sammy Davis Junior etc. although I do remember there seeming to be a constant flow of such programmes - especially during the seventies.

One final thought.  Call me a grumpy old man but cast your eyes over the typical shows made each decade and are you thinking what I'm thinking?  For the first 40 years there were several great programmes made each decade that defined their time.  Of course, each decade has had its long-running successes that carried over into the next one - including the '90s into this one - but I can't help thinking that the current decade looks awfully thin.  Where are all the popular sitcoms?  (Actually, most comedies shown on BBC channels are now made at Pinewood or Teddington.)  In fact, some of the most successful shows made at TVC in the past few years have been made for Channel 4.  Interesting - very interesting.

 

A summary of each studio

Measurements are in metric feet (30cm) and relate to working area within firelanes unless there are no firelanes.  I have highlighted the dates when cameras were replaced.  Over the years technology has moved on.  It has followed this pattern:  monochrome, 4-tube colour, 3-tube colour, CCD 4:3 colour, widescreen colour, digital widescreen colour and finally high definition.  The BBC has installed HD cameras in TC1 and TC8 but other studios will doubtless follow over the next few years.  The BBC have officially declared an intention to transmit all new programmes in HD by 2010.  This will coincide with analogue switchoff, releasing the spectrum needed to transmit HD channels on Freeview.

TC0

45 x 28 ft wall to wall.  Originally built as music studio.  Opened in July 1989.  Closed around 1995? and converted to 'virtual reality' studio renamed TC0.  Record Breakers Gold only series known to have been made here using VR.  VR kit removed around 1998 and studio used for The Chris Moyles Show and then Phone Zone - daily shows for UK Play channel.  From 2000 used for Liquid News for BBC Choice.  From Feb 2002 became continuity studio for CBeebies channel.  Equipped with JVC KY-29D cameras.

TC1

100 x 90 ft.  Opened in April 1964 with EMI 203/6 cameras.  Converted to colour with EMI 2001 cameras in 1968.  During '70s used for several operas and major dramas like I Claudius and BBC Shakespeares.  LE included Black and White Minstrel Show and Morcambe and Wise Show.  Closed for major refurb and asbestos removal in 1988.  Re-opened in Jan 1991 with Thomson 1542 CCD cameras (first at TVC).  QII lighting console installed.  96-channel stereo sound desk installed.  Control galleries completely rebuilt.  New 384 seat audience rostra fitted.  Lighting hoists all replaced.  Cameras replaced with digital widescreen Thomson 1657D cameras and lighting console changed from QII to Galaxy in 2000.  In 2003 VR 'targets' fitted in grid for Fightbox VR series - also used for general election.   In summer 2005 sound desk converted to 5.1 digital audio ready for high definition.  TC1 is used for all kinds of shows from comedy:- I'm Alan Partridge, Little Britain - to LE: - Strictly Come Dancing, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? - and major event programmes: - General Elections, Comic Relief, Sports Personality of the Year and Children in Need.  This studio staged the live final of ITV's Kids' Stars in Their Eyes in March '06 when Granada's studios in Manchester were closed for some months due to asbestos scare.  TC1 was fully equipped for high definition in August 2006 with 10 Sony HDC-1500 cameras and HD monitors in refurbished production and lighting galleries.

TC2

60 x 40 ft.  Opened in 1960 with Marconi Mk 4 cameras.  Home of weekly soap Compact and satirical comedy shows like That Was The Week That Was throughout '60s.  Not converted to colour so closed around 1970.  Used for storage of  audience seating units throughout '70s.  Re-opened in 1981 with Link 125 camerasBreakfast Time and Newsnight moved here in 1987 from Lime Grove.  Probably equipped with Thomson 1542 cameras around 1991.  News dept moved to TC7 in 1997.  Basic widescreen refurb in 1998 with Thomson 1657s.  Since Jan 2002 used for daily X-Change programme on CBBC channel.  This programme ended in March 2006 after 2,032 shows.  The studio was officially closed at the end of March as asbestos was said to have been discovered in the air conditioning system.  However, it was used for one or two programmes in summer 2006 with a temporary AC plant.  It was then decided to reopen the studio after all so removal of asbestos began in August 2006.  The cost of removal is said to have run into millions of pounds.  It reopened in Jan 2007, temporarily as the Sport studio whilst TC5 has its asbestos treated.  It will be available again for general programming from the summer of 2007.  This will be an interesting addition to BBC Studios' portfolio.  They have not had a medium/small studio to offer general clients for a number of years as all three of these studios have been permanently tied up with Children's, Sport and News.  Once News moves to BH in 2010 and Sport to Manchester in 2011 all three studios may be available again.

TC3

90 x 70ft.  Opened in June 1960 as drama studio (very 'dead' acoustic) with Marconi Mk 4 cameras.  Colourised in 1969 with EMI 2001 cameras.  Major refurb in 1985 - Link 125s installed at same time as new Grass Valley 1600 28-input vision mixer.  Galaxy console and 541 new dimmers installed.  New lighting hoists fitted.  Permanent retractable audience seating installed.  Asbestos treated in 1988.  Thomson 1542 CCD cameras installed in 1992.  These only 4:3 PAL so work reduced during 1990s until digital widescreen refurb in 2001 for return of TOTP.  Galleries also rebuilt at this time and sound facilities upgraded to be suitable for several live bands on the same show.  No cameras purchased but Thomson 1657 widescreen cameras 'borrowed' from other studios when required on a daily basis.  Red assembly converted into 'Star Bar' for use by TOTP.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  Later With Jools now uses this studio but since 2004 using HD cameras via an OB unit.  Further work on asbestos removal is due to begin from the summer of 2007 leading to closure for several months.

TC4

90 x 71ft.  Opened in Jan 1961 as LE studio with variable acoustic ('ambisonics') and small band room (TC4A).  Initially equipped with EMI 203/4 cameras.  During '60s was favourite studio for sitcoms.  In 1967 was the studio used to make all but one episode of The Forsyte Saga - the last major drama shot in black and white.  Colourised in 1970 with EMI 2001 cameras.  £2m major refurb in 1983.  Link 125s installed.  Galaxy console and new dimmers installed.  New lighting hoists fitted and permanent retractable audience seating installed.  Grass Valley 1600 vision mixer fitted.  Asbestos removed around 1988.  Thomson 1542 CCD cameras installed in 1992.  Major refurb to digital widescreen in 1995.  Galleries rebuilt and new Thomson 1657 cameras installed.  Galaxy Nova console installed.  VR 'targets' installed in quarter of grid for VR shows but hardly ever used.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  New sound desk and vision system to be installed summer 2007.  TC4 is used for all kinds of programmes but gameshows in particular have been a regular booking for the past few years.

TC5

60 x 40ft.  Opened in Aug 1961 with EMI 203/4 cameras.  During 1960s was home of schools television, although other programmes made here too.  Last studio at TVC to be colourised with EMI 2001s, probably in 1973.  Later equipped with Link 125s during 1980s - precise date not yet known.  Major refurb in 1991 to become sport studio.  Lighting gallery converted into second production gallery enabling two programmes to be run from different ends of the studio simultaneously (on BBC1 and BBC2).  Studio divided by thick black drapes. Lighting gallery moved into old prop store and also remote camera controls fitted enabling a reduction in the size of the camera crew.  New graphics area built in old puppet studio/video effects workshop.  'Virtual' green screen sets used for several years.  Thomson 1657 widescreen cameras installed around 1995.  Around 2001 new 'real' permanent set built on two levels to be used by all sport programmes.  New set design in 2005.  Further work on asbestos removal or treatment discovered to be necessary in 2006.  This began early in 2007 and is still underway.  Sport due to return to the studio when asbestos removal is complete in summer 2007.

TC6

92 x 70ft.  In original plan was to be two studios divided by doors but this was never actually done.  Opened in 1967 as BBC's first colour studio.  Cameras were Marconi Mk VIIs but were changed in 1968 for EMI 2001s.  In 1977 replaced with 3-tube Link 110s with Varotal lenses.  (Very prone to blue flares!).  1988 closed for 10 weeks to remove asbestos.  1993 reopened after major refurb as analogue component studio.  Thomson 1647 Sportcams installed.  First refurbishment done under new commercial 'cost-effective' regime.  Most things left out of the work on cost grounds were put right within a year or two.  (However, this remains the only studio not to have cups on the lighting hoists that enable them to be raised or lowered using a pole.  This adds significant time and inconvenience to finelights.)   Gallery suite moved downstairs to ground floor after 'new customers' - independent production companies - requested this.  (Old gallery suite on first floor is now 'red button' interactive control room for digital TV channels.)  First studio to have all colour monitors fitted in production gallery.  (Previously, only the transmission and one preview monitor had been in colour!)  Galaxy Nova installed.  New Calrec Q-series sound desk with 60 channels.  Upgraded to digital widescreen in 1998 with Thomson 1657s.  Gallery monitors replaced.  TC6 was home of Saturday morning kids' TV from 1997-2006 with Live and Kicking, The Saturday Show and Dick and Dom in Da Bunglow.  Also very popular with independent production companies.  Never Mind the Buzzcocks a regular booking since 1996.  TC6 received TC8's 2-year old Sony E30 cameras in August 2006.  New sound desk installed summer 2007.

TC7

62 x 40 ft.  Opened in 1962.  Originally Marconi Mk 4 black and white cameras but equipped with EMI 2001 cameras in July 1968.  Home of Play School from 1968 when it moved here from Riverside until 1988.  Refurbished in 1981 with Link 110 cameras with Schneider lenses (much nicer than Varotals.)  Replaced with Link 125s from another studio in about 1992.  In 1994 Thomson 1647s installed and a major refit carried out which included rebuilding and enlarging the gallery suite in preparation for it to be used for news-related programmes.  TC7 was home of Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore, Going Live and early series of Live and Kicking before News dept took over in 1997.  Converted to digital widescreen around 2000.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  Will be vacated by News dept in 2010 when they move to new studios in Broadcasting House.

TC8

90 x 72 ft.  Opened in 1967 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  Replaced early in 1968 with EMI 2001s and was first studio in UK with these cameras.  Designed as LE studio and the only one at TVC to have retractable audience seating designed from the outset.  First studio with Q-File lighting console and Thyristor dimmers.  In 1978 fitted with Link 110 cameras.  A new sound desk was installed in 1981.  Link 125s ex TV Theatre installed in 1991.  Major refurb including rebuilding of gallery suite completed in November 1994.  (The visitor's 'well' in front of the monitor stack in the production gallery was removed.)  New widescreen Thomson 1657s installed.  This was the first serial digital widescreen studio at TVC.  Sound desk and dimmers not replaced at this time and major headaches caused to both sound and lighting departments for several years until eventual upgrading about five years later.  New Sony BVP-E30 cameras installed in 2004.  TC8 has been the favourite studio for comedy for many years and dozens of sitcoms have been made here.  After TC1 it has the largest working floor area when the audience seating is in use.  Equipped with Sony HDC-1500 high definition cameras in summer 2006 and full HD installation completed in January 2007.

TC9

Was at one time to be the name of a new TV Theatre to be built as the second part of stage 5.  Plans abandoned in 1989.

Today's TC9 is an irregular shape, about 30 x 30ft average dimensions but also has a corridor and small seating area which can be used for interviews.  Converted from old make-up store on the ground floor of the Restaurant Block in 1996.  Fitted with Thomson 1647 sportcams which had been in use in Pres A for a year or so.  Used as continuity studio for children's programmes on BBC1 and BBC2.  Converted to widescreen in late '90s.  In 2004 became continuity studio for CBBC channel and CBBC on BBC Prime.  The studio was no longer used for CBBC continuity from late 2006.  The studio is still under long-term booking by Children's dept but from the winter to early summer of 2007 was mostly unused.  However, from Sep 2007 it will become the new home of Smart and TMi.

TC10

30 x 40 ft.  Originally news studio N1 - opened in 1969 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1981 replaced by Bosch KCP 60s.  In the early 1990s replaced with Ikegami HL79s.  Closed in 1998 when news moved to stage 6.  Renamed TC10 but not refurbished due to lack of funds.  Eventually reopened with JVC KY-29D cameras in 2000 for UK Play channel to use for The Phone Zone which then became TOTP@Play daily afternoon show.  This channel closed down in September 2002.  From 2002 - 2004 was used as VR studio.  During this period was also used to make new version of Treasure Hunt for Fremantle.  From 2004, TC10 was used for presentation and continuity for childrens programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 replacing TC9 in this role.  From April 2006 daily Level Up show based here.  This replaced X-Change on CBBC channel.  Level Up ended its run in Sep '06.  It is not known what has been in the studio since - if anything.

TC11

50 x 40 ft.  Originally news studio N2 - opened in 1969 with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1981 replaced by Bosch KCP 60s.  In 1985 the lobby area and props store between N1 and N2 was taken over by this studio and its size increased - although this addition has a low ceiling.  This was the home of BBC1's flagship  9 o'clock News.  In the early 1990s cameras replaced with Ikegami HL79s.  Closed in 1998 when news moved to stage 6.  Renamed TC10 but not refurbished due to lack of funds.  Opened again early in 2002 with JVC KY-29D cameras when Liquid News moved here from TC0.  60 Second News set built in the low-ceilinged end for the new BBC Three channel which replaced BBC Choice in Feb 2003.  Liquid News ended in April 2004.  The studio was then the home of BBC Three's 7o'clock news.  This was axed in December 2005.  The studio was used early in 2006 as a temporary news studio whilst the main studios in Stage 6 were being refurbished.  It is not known what this studio is currently used for.

TC12

About 30 x 20 ft.  Originally built as control room of music studio.   First used as TV studio in 2004 for interactive CBBC show Nelly Nut.  Later used for other CBBC shows including Sportsround.  Up to 2 cameras are borrowed from TC0 as and when required.  From late in 2006 became the continuity studio for CBBC using a CSO (chromakey) backing to overlay presenters on top of graphics.  This much simpler presentation has thus replaced TC9.

Pres A

32 x 22 ft.  Opened in 1960 as monochrome studio with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  Originally intended as in-vision continuity studio but only used as this for a few years (until at least 1963.)  3 x Marconi MkVII colour cameras installed in 1968 ex TC6.  Became used as weather and trails studio.  Link 110s installed around 1980.  Weather left to go to new purpose-built weather centre in TVC around 1990.  Thomson 1647 Sportcams installed in early 90s.  Used as continuity studio for children's programmes until closure in 1996.  Cameras moved down to TC9.  Was never converted to widescreen.  The studio no longer exists.

Pres B

32 x 22 ft.  Opened around 1964 as monochrome studio with EMI 201 vidicon cameras.  Originally intended as in-vision continuity studio for planned second channel (BBC2) but never used for this purpose.  Colour tests with 3 Peto-Scott (Philips) PC60s, then 3 different cameras in 1966.  3 x Marconi MkVII colour cameras installed in 1968 ex TC6.  Used for a number of small shows including Late Night Line-Up, Points of View and Barry Norman's Film 'xx series.  Famously, the original home of Old Grey Whistle Test.  Link 110s installed around 1980.  Due to fewer and fewer bookings the studio closed around the end of 1996.  The studio no longer exists.

with thanks to Mike Emery for collating much of the above information regarding cameras. 

If you spot any errors or can fill in any of the blanks do get in touch!

 

I am of course aware that there are a number of news and weather studios distributed around the building.  However, these do not come under my self-imposed remit of only including studios around London that make a range of different programmes.  I know I have included the old news studios N1 and N2 above but only because they then became used for general entertainment programmes when they were renamed TC10 and TC11.  Also, frankly, I don't wish to include any information here that some people planning unwelcome acts might find useful.

 

The next few years...

I previously had a fairly upbeat section here about what the next few years had in store for TVC.  Sadly, I'm not quite so optimistic now. 

 

In January 2007 the BBC heard that the license settlement for the next six years would be below the rate of inflation.  The move of Sport and Children's departments to Salford from 2011 has been ring fenced as has the commitment to pay for digital switchover.  The new trust has stated that it does not intend to see programme standards eroded.  Thus, they have to make some significant savings elsewhere.

In 2007, BBC Resources is due to be sold to a private company.  This consists of Studios, OBs and Post Production.  The Costume and Wig Store is currently part of Resources but is apparently being treated separately from the rest of the sale.  My understanding is that the remaining three parts of the company will be sold off as one business and not divided (but this is not definite).  Both the Studios and Post Production divisions are based at TVC so this does present an interesting conundrum.  Who will buy BBC Studios and/or BBC Post Production if there is the prospect of Television Centre being sold off by the BBC?

The reason this is now a possibility is that a leaked document stated as much early in January 2007 - if the license settlement was too low, which of course it did indeed prove to be.  There was also allegedly a comment from someone in senior BBC management that Television Centre was 'an analogue dinosaur in a digital age.'  If this ill-informed comment did indeed come from someone senior in the corporation then the BBC truly does have serious problems. 

This attitude that studios are from a bygone age and no longer needed has been made many times over the past few decades and each time has been proved wrong.  For a certain kind of television programme a studio is simply the most efficient and therefore cheapest way it can be made.  Furthermore, the studios at TV Centre happen to be the best equipped in the UK.  They have the smartest and best fitted-out digital production galleries and they have the most up to date cameras.  The two largest studios are fully HD equipped including 5.1 sound.  If TV Centre is an 'analogue dinosaur' then heaven help all the other studio centres around the country.

 

Let's look at the present state of Television Centre...

Stage 6 is currently occupied by Television and Radio News.  This department is due to move to Broadcasting House in central London around 2010.  The weather department is also due to move to BH at about the same time or soon after.  From 2011, Sport and Children's departments are due to transfer to Salford Quays, in Manchester.  News, Sport and Children's departments currently have regular bookings in TC0, TC5, TC7, TC10, TC11 and TC12.  Blue Peter too has been using a large studio one or two days a week for most of the year but is due to start using the much smaller TC2 from summer 2007.  Late in 2006 the Children's department ceased using TC9 for continuity and the studio lies empty.

No BBC channels currently play out from Television Centre.  This is now carried out down the road in the new media centre at White City by the private company Red Bee.  Thus, from around 2011 a fair amount of current and recent activity will no longer be happening in this building.  One can see why at first glance the Centre seems to be in decline.

 

However - let's look at what will be left...

The Post Production department in Stage 6 will still be there with many millions of pounds-worth of superbly equipped state of the art editing suites and machines.  And of course the studios will remain.  TC1 and TC8 have just been refurbished and are now the most advanced high definition studios in the UK.  TC3, TC4 and TC6 have relatively new equipment and cameras and could also be converted to HD quite simply.  TC6 received a new sound desk in July 2007 and TC4 will also get a new sound desk and vision system in the late summer of 2007. 

The smaller studios - TC2, TC5 and TC7 again have all been refurbished relatively recently.  TC2 has returned to service following an asbestos removal programme that rumours state cost millions.  Similar work has been carried out to TC5, and TC3 is being similarly treated - leaving all the studios free of asbestos contamination.  There are also the small studios around the building - TC0, TC9, TC10, TC11, TC12 that would make very nice bases for digital channels in the way that Teddington have done with their small studios.

It's hard to see how all this capital investment could be thrown away when much of it will have to be replaced elsewhere.

Contrary to popular belief, TV Centre is not grade 2 listed.  However, it is on a local authority list of buildings of merit, also sitting within a conservation area - the aim of which is to 'preserve and enhance the setting of Television Centre and White City Station'.  This would almost certainly make its demolition very difficult to get past the planners - with it being turned into a retail park or a housing estate, as some prophets of doom have suggested.

 

My personal prediction is that sadly the BBC may indeed have to sell the site off - but hopefully as a working television and 'media' centre.  Thus it would no longer be part of their portfolio, which would please the accountants, but would operate as an independent operation.  There are many offices around the site.  Some of these could still be occupied by the London-based BBC production departments but others could be let to independent production companies or even to businesses unconnected with the industry.  After all, Teddington shares its site with Haymarket Publishing.  It would for example be very easy to separate off Stage 6, the present news headquarters, from the rest of the building and it could become the HQ of any major high-profile company or even - as some have suggested, a hotel.

The current timetable is thought to be as follows:  an invitation to bidders will not now be published until July 2007 at the earliest, with the sale of BBC Resources being completed before the end of the financial year in March 2008.    Meanwhile, the future of TV Centre - which is inextricably linked to the future of Resources, is unlikely to be settled by the BBC Trust until September this year.

 

Certainly - to simply sell off the building for redevelopment would be a PR disaster for the BBC as well as causing all kinds of problems for the industry as a whole.  There simply are not that number of large studios elsewhere that could absorb the work, and post production facilities too would be swamped if the BBC's department were to simply close.

One also has to ask what the role of the BBC will be in the next few years.  If it is to become a publisher, like C4, then it doesn't need lots of production offices and other facilities.  However, the declared aim is still to have 50% of the BBC's programmes made in-house, 25% by independents and the remaining quarter open to bids by anyone.  If the corporation is to retain its drama and entertainment programme-making departments in London then these have to be based somewhere and this building is the obvious place.

Sadly, previous decisions by the BBC have not always made complete sense so all we can do is wait to see what transpires.  2007 will certainly be a critical year in the history of this building.

 

 

An apology - firstly for all those errors which are almost certainly still sprinkled throughout the above.  I shall do my best to put them right when I discover them or when somebody contacts me with the facts!  Secondly - I am very aware that I have almost completely ignored sound in all my comments about studio equipment.  It's not that I'm not interested, rather that I am far better informed about cameras and lighting and frankly there is very little information out there about which sound mixer was installed in what studio and when.  That's my excuse anyway.

 

Many of the above images are taken from old out of print books and documents.  However, I am particularly grateful to Bernie Newnham and his superb BBC tech ops history site on www.tech-ops.co.uk.  Many happy memories have been rekindled by reading it all.  Yes, all! 

I have shamelessly 'borrowed' a few stills from the site but I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the operational history of TV  It's much more interesting than this one!

 

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