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unreliable and wholly unofficial history
BBC Television Centre...
grateful thanks to several current and ex BBC staffers
who have passed some fascinating documents and other information to me.
of this web page...
1 (scenery block)
2 (restaurant block)
3 (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5)
studio/video effects workshop
TC1, TC6, TC7
potted history of early colour cameras)
4 (the spur including TC8)
6 (including the studio
that never was)
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
when it came to re connect TVC to the national grid, the breaker
would not go in. It took several attempts before it held.
there were a few white faced people there that night.'
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.
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
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.
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...
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.'
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
famous back-of-an envelope doodle that started it all. Note
the year on the postmark.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
were confusing at all.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
- 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;
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
and TC5 are both 60 x 40 metric feet within firelanes and TC3 and TC4
are about 70 x 90 metric feet within firelanes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
or false? Any other opinions or memories gratefully received!
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.
to Bernie Newnham for the image - for it is he!)
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
by the shape of the plan - this must be TC3.
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.
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?
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.
perhaps not surprisingly there was also a 'Big Ears' - a twin
magazine caption scanner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.')
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
this area is completely unrecognisable. Note the thickness of
the wall dividing the studios. Even this has been removed.
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.
Scott in front of the Atlantic chart. (With thanks to 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.
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
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) series. In 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!'
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.
thanks to Matt Phelps.
and the puppet studio
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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.'
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
the main block
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
all BBC studios use the same vision mixers as in other studios -
usually made by Grass Valley, Sony or Thomson.
'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.
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.
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
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.
of the most celebrated programmes to come out of TC1 - I
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.
others in the photo are Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Ian Perry on the
camera and in the white T-shirt - Herby Wise, the director.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
the cardboard lens hoods. The real ones had not yet
arrived. Also note the grey floor and brown cyc.
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.
potted history of early colour cameras...
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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...
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
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.
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.
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...
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.'
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.
this is most intriguing. Can you shed any further light?
author in 1976 with an EMI 2001 trying to look as though I know what
picture was taken in studio A at the BBC's engineering training
centre at Wood Norton, Evesham.
print has been skulling about in the bottom of a drawer for 30 years
and is a little the worse for wear.
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 ...
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.'
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Thames I had experience of the Marconi Mk VIIs, EMI 2001s
and the dreadful Link 110s. 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!'
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
the reason, there is now no British manufacturer of broadcast
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!
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.
to the late '60s and the dawn of colour on BBC2...
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.
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.
Stewart has written to me with an amusing anecdote...
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.'
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
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.
Stewart has some more information on the 525-line capability of
'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.'
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.
Centre probably in 1960. TC1 is built but not fitted out.
TC8 has yet to be constructed.
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.
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.
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.
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
'80s to the mid '90s.
manufacturer, Strand Lighting, has not offered them for sale for
about 10 years now. Bizarrely, they and all the other console
a similar replacement but only consoles that very
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.
one of the many lighting console
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.
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.
curious saga of the QII
continue along this rather specialized lighting console tangent...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Centre showing the first section of the spur completed but before
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
colour of the elevation is quite striking and I wonder how it would
have looked when completed.
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.
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!
Jeff Naylor recalls more...
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
that some things never change.
planned TC9 at ground level. Click on the image for a larger view.
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.
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!'
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.
the area marked as lamp store and scenic store is now used as 'The Foyer'.
section through the proposed studio. Click on the image for an
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.
the lines drawn to indicate angles and possible positions for follow spots.
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.
large empty 'box' top left is an area that would have had
ventilation plant and other services.
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Centre reception the day after the bomb.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
series spanned years or even decades so I have noted them when they
started (or moved here from other BBC studios).
- here goes...
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
summary of each studio
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.
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
only series known to have been made here using VR. VR kit
removed around 1998 and studio used for The
Chris Moyles Show and
- daily shows for UK Play channel. From 2000 used for Liquid
for BBC Choice. From Feb 2002 became continuity studio for
CBeebies channel. Equipped with JVC KY-29D cameras.
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.
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 cameras.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
thanks to Mike Emery for collating much of the above information
you spot any errors or can fill in any of the blanks do get in touch!
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
next few years...
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
look at the present state of Television Centre...
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.
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.
- let's look at what will be left...
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.
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
hard to see how all this capital investment could be thrown away
when much of it will have to be replaced elsewhere.
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.
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.
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!