I’m on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire local radio today, talking about the closure of TVC. [UPDATE: Listen to the audio here.] And when they rang me about it yesterday, I was ecstatic because it means I get to pour out my grief and who else in the world would listen to me?
I’m kinda hoping you will. Because there’s this building, right, and it is massively important to me. Or it was. Shortly it’ll be three condos and a deli that aren’t all that likely to be important to anyone.
Important is a funny word, though. I don’t think anyone would’ve died without TVC in the world but there’s surely no one in the UK who hasn’t been touched by something made there. Surely there is no one in the UK who wouldn’t recognise TVC. You’ve already pictured it. Describe to me what the equivalent ITV building is. It’s called Network Centre and it’s on the South Bank in London. I defy you to picture the place. You might do better with Channel 4’a offices in Horseferry Road, London but I’ve been there and all I can picture is a slice of the front glass entrance. It’s very nice. It’s not TVC.
We don’t need to know where television is made – I’m secretly convinced that Sky TV is based in a Brigadoon kind of mystical place no one enters and no one leaves and anyway it is only visible once a century, unless it’s raining – and it’s not even true that all BBC television came from TVC. But you can’t make a place be memorable, you can’t design an intangible excitement into a blueprint, there is no process to get you affection in the bricks. So when you have this, when you have a building that matters, you can’t throw it away.
The BBC has thrown TVC away.
Usually you think there are two sides to everything, at least two, and that there are always good reasons for decisions even if you don’t happen to know what they are. Even if you disagree with them, you expect that there are good reasons that have convinced someone.
Not this time.
There’s money, naturally. And that’s a good reason for somebody in the deal but not the BBC and not us. There is something strange in the BBC property department these days. It used to just be that they’d lost their rulers and calculators. So every few years there’d be an announcement that all of BBC news, for instance, will move into TVC, White City or Broadcasting House, one of those. And fairly soon afterwards the staff would spot that these places are nowhere near big enough so only some go. I picture people walking in carrying packing crates, seeing the offices are smaller than expected, and doing a Scooby Doo doubletake.
But these days we have TVC being sold off for a Mars bar and we have the Mailbox in Birmingham which the BBC has on a long lease but it’s left there anyway. There’s a Campaign for Regional Broadcasting which has noticed that Birmingham and the Midlands contribute most to the licence fee and get the least back – by far – but foolishly they’re expecting the BBC to make television and radio. They’re not counting how much the Corporation must be spending on those empty Mailbox offices.
I love the network radio studio at the Mailbox. But I’ve not done much work there so perhaps I could never have the attachment I do to TVC.
I remember my first day in BBC Television Centre. Having lunch in the canteen and trying to look like I fitted in. Nodding sagely at my new colleagues and secretly going weeeeee because just below the window was the Blue Peter garden. Passing Clare Grogan in the corridor and going weak. Then going red because she’s so small she was much closer than I realised and had seen me whimper.
Watching studio recordings. The amazing sight of the scenery staff painting the studio floor so that it looked like wood for a set they’d put up later. Passing the TARDIS on my way to get preview VHS tapes. Eating the most gorgeous bacon sandwiches from a truck round the back of TC1. Seeing the doors of that huge studio open as you went by. Sleeping in a quiet office overnight. Watching the London fireworks with Angela on the roof of the TVC carpark as 1999 became 2000
Passing a drunk drama producer who yelled down the corridor that it wasn’t possible, that I just could not be as nice as I seem. I cherish that moment but do note I never got any work out of him. I’m going to try being nasty. Grr. How did I do?
I worked all over TVC and that work so often meant darting about everywhere else. I came around a corner once and found three editors talking about me: they were from very different parts of the BBC and while unexpectedly ending up on the same joint project had that moment unexpectedly learnt that I happened to work for each of them.
My first job of them all was at BBC Ceefax which, when I began in the 1990s sometime, was sharing an office with Newsround on the seventh floor. It was right at the top of the doughnut, the round area you can remember right now and may even have a memory of Roy Castle and a presumably record-breaking number of dancers in this circle.
For my first five or maybe even six months I would take the lift to the top floor, turn right and run the ridiculously long way to the Ceefax office. Then one day I went up there with a colleage and she turned left instead. Ceefax was just two doors down.
It was a warren. And if TVC seemed alive to me, I know it was barely an echo of what it once was. By the time I worked there it was being run down and studios were empty more often than not. So I can only imagine the heartbeat of the place in its heyday. Even in my day though, it still had a strong pulse.
The last time I was in BBC Television Centre was around August 2011. I interviewed James Bolam for my book about The Beiderbecke Affair there. Just the two of us having a cup of tea. It was in the audience reception, a big space that you were shown into if you came to see a recording. During the day it was also one of the many places there to eat. I watched BBC internal presentations about forthcoming drama in that space. A different drama producer completely forgot to meet me there. A friend whispered to me that she’d had an affair. And it was where the BBC shop was. You’re more interested in the affair now, I know, but I can only tell you about the books I bought in that shop.
Sitting there with James Bolam, I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d be in TVC. You don’t usually know these things but I did then and actually so did he. Maybe not so specifically, but he knew TVC was under threat and we talked about what a loss it would be.
It is a loss. It wasn’t perfect.
But it was perfect.