BBC Television Centre in London
BBC Television Centre at White City in West London is the headquarters of BBC Television. Officially opened on 29 June 1960, it remains one of the largest to this day; having featured over the years as backdrop to many BBC programmes, it is one of the most readily recognisable such facilities anywhere. It is the second oldest television studios in the United Kingdom after Granada Studios which was home to the BBC's great commercial rival for many years, Granada Television Manchester.
Radio 5 Live and most of the corporation's national TV and radio news output comes from Television Centre with most of the pre-recorded television output coming from the nearby Broadcast Centre at 201 Wood Lane care of Red Bee Media. Live television events from studios and routing of national and international sporting events still happen within Television Centre before being passed onto the Broadcast Centre for transmission.
On 21 September 2010, the BBC's Director of Vision, Jana Bennett, announced that the BBC will cease broadcasting from Television Centre in 2013. On 13 June 2011 the BBC announced that Television Centre was on the market, and that it was 'inviting bid proposals from people looking for a conventional, freehold property or those interested in a joint venture', suggesting that it may yet remain connected to the Corporation. The radio and television news departments will move to Broadcasting House in central London in 2011, the traditional home of BBC Radio, as part of an ongoing reorganisation of the BBC's facilities.
A sharp rise in local property values, sparked by the arrival of the nearby Westfield shopping centre, placed the building under threat, although it is now protected from demolition. Making the protection announcement in July 2009, the Government's architecture minister Barbara Follett noted that it was where Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers and Blue Peter first came to life: "It has been a torture chamber for politicians, and an endless source of first-class entertainment for the nation—sometimes both at the same time."
Like Broadcasting House, the much older headquarters of BBC Radio just north of Oxford Circus, it is a Grade II listed building. The building is four miles west of central London. The nearest Underground stations are White City and Wood Lane. The building lies in the parish of St Michael and St George, White City.
On Friday 1 April 1949, Norman Collins, the then Controller of the BBC Television Service, announced at the Television Society's annual dinner at the Waldorf Hotel that a new TV centre would be built in Shepherd's Bush. Transmissions at the time came from Alexandra Palace and Lime Grove Studios (from 1949), and had very few television transmitters. It was to be the largest television centre in the world. Riverside Studios in Hammersmith were used from 1954.
It was planned to be six acres, but turned out to be twice as big. On 24 August 1956 the main contract was awarded by the BBC to Higgs and Hill, who also later built The London Studios (ITV) in 1972. The building was planned to cost £9m.
When it opened, the Director of BBC television was Gerald Beadle, and the first programme it broadcast was First Night with David Nixon in Studio Three.
The building features a distinctive circular central block (officially known as the main block—but often affectionately referred to by staff as the "doughnut") around which are studios, offices, engineering areas and the new News Centre. In the centre of the main block is a statue designed by T.B. Huxley-Jones, of the Greek god of the sun, Helios, which is meant to symbolise the radiation of television light around the world. At the foot of this statue are two reclining figures, symbolising sound and vision, the components of television. (This structure was originally a working fountain but due to the building's unique shape it was found to be too noisy for the staff in the overlooking offices, and there were also problems with water leakage into the videotape area directly beneath). Even though there is a foundation stone marked 'BBC 1956' in the basement of the main building, construction had begun on the site in 1951. Over time various extensions have been added to the building to maximise the site's potential.
Increasingly the corporation has had to seek further accommodation elsewhere, such as the nearby BBC White City. This new complex comprises White City One, a 25,000 square metre office building, and the adjacent Broadcast and Media Centres.
The overall design for Television Centre, from the air, appears to be like a question mark in shape. The architect, Graham Dawbarn CBE (Norman & Dawbarn), drew a question mark on an envelope (now held by the BBC Written Archives Centre) while thinking about the design of the building, and realised that it would be an ideal shape for the site. However, an article in The BBC Quarterly, July 1946, proposed a circular design for a new television studio complex, several years before Dawbarn drew up his plans. The building was first commissioned in 1949.
The centre's studios are run by BBC Studios and Post Production, a wholly owned commercial subsidiary of the BBC. The studios themselves are numerous and varying in size. All studios are often abbreviated to initials, such as TC1 for Studio 1.
- Studio 0 - 117 square metres (1260 ft²) - Opened in 1989, it has produced a number of different productions including some for UK Play. It has been home to Liquid News between 2000 and 2002 and CBeebies invision continuity between 2002 and 2008. It is currently being used by BBC Research.
- Studio 1 - 995 square metres (10,250 ft²) — Opened on 15 April 1964 and is the fourth largest television studio in Britain (following The Fountain Studios' Studio A&B, MediaCityUK's Studio 1 and The Maidstone Studios' Studio 5), and is equipped for HDTV production (as are Studio Four, Studio Six and Studio Eight).
- Studio 2 - 223 square metres (2,400 ft²) - Opened in late 1960, it housed a number of comedy programmes such as That Was The Week That Was. It was not converted to colour and closed in 1969, with the space being used a storage, but reopened in 1981. It was used by BBC News until they moved in 1997, and has now played host to the Sport and Children's department. It was the main studio used for Blue Peter for the 2007 and 2008 series. The studio has been vacated following the move of both departments to MediaCityUK
- Studio 3 - 594 square metres (6,390 ft²) - Opened on 29 June 1960. It was designed as a drama studio and had panels and fittings that made it customised towards this purpose. The walls are also slightly thicker, so as to block out the noise from the Hammersmith & City line of the London Underground. It housed the first programme and was the first studio to be completed. It was upgraded to colour in 1969. It is current home to Harry Hill's TV Burp.
- Studio 4 - 585 square metres (6,300 ft²) - Opened in January 1961, TC4 is similar in design and layout to its neighbour, TC3. The studio was designed as a light entertainment studio and contains a rather unusual sound system called ambiophony. The studio was upgraded to colour in 1970 and to HD and surround sound in 2008. It was home to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.
- Studio 5 - 223 square metres (2,400 ft²) - Opened in August 1961, TC5 was used for the first half of its life by broadcasts from BBC Schools. There was an area adjacent to the studio that was used for schools programming that linked in with the studio. It was converted to colour c.1973, about the same time as schools broadcasts as a whole. It was closed briefly during the mid-1980s, before being reopened in 1987 following a two year refurbishment. The studio has since been the home of BBC Sport's programmes, but will be vacated in 2011 as the Sports department will move to MediaCityUK.
- Studio 6 - 598 square metres (6,440 ft²) - Opened in July 1967 to coincide with BBC Two's switch to colour television. It was the first to be equipped with colour cameras. The studio itself is a strange design: when originally designed it was to be split in 2 by a large removable wall, however this idea was abandoned. The remains of this idea can still be seen however in the layout, of a long, thin studio and in the lighting grid. The gallery for this studio was moved in 1993, with the old gallery now home to the BBC Red Button control room. Upgraded to HD in July 2008 and is the first 3D capable studio in the UK. Was home to children's programmes Live & Kicking and Dick and Dom in da Bungalow.
- Studio 7 - 223 square metres (2,400 ft²) - Opened in 1962 and has been used for a variety of programmes over the years. Was home to some children's programming such as Going Live!, before being home to BBC News in 1997. It is the home of the BBC Breakfast programme and the BBC News at Six bulletin, with other bulletins based at N6 in the News Centre. Will be vacated later on in 2011, following the refit of the extension to Broadcasting House, where the BBC News department and newsroom is moving.
- Studio 8 - 602 square metres (6,480 ft²) - Opened in 1967, this studio was noted as the best studio for television producers to use. It was the size that most programmes wanted and, building on the experience when building the other studios, was the best. The galleries and studios were laid out perfectly and in a layout producers liked. It has become the studio for comedy and sitcoms, due to audience seating arrangements and size. It was converted to HD in January 2007.
- Studio 9 - 84 square metres (900 ft²) - The building was built in 1955 and was originally a foyer area of the restaurant block, before becoming a store area. The store however was converted to a studio in 1996 for the use of Children's BBC. The location was highly convenient: it allowed the invision continuity to be relocated from the "broom cupboard" (Continuity Announcers booth) to a more roomier studio. The new studio also opened onto the Blue Peter Garden allowing presentation to take place there. The studio itself is an odd shape, and was used for invision continuity for CBBC until 2004, when they broadcast links for the CBBC Channel only. All invision continuity was dropped in 2006, and the studio was used for programmes such as Sam & Mark's TMi Friday and SMart. Following CBBC's move to MediaCityUK, the studio is expected to remain empty.
- Studio 10 - 111 square metres (1200 ft²) - Originally built as N1 in 1969, the studio was used for the BBC1 daytime news bulletins. Closed in 1998, when news bulletins moved to the News Centre section of Television Centre, and was renamed as TC10. Was used for some programmes by channel UK Play until the stations closure. Between 2004 and 2006 it was used for invision continuity for CBBC on BBC One and BBC Two, before being used by some programming for CBBC such as Level Up. Since Summer 2010, it has been the home of CBeebies. the studio is expected to be left empty, when CBeebies moves to MediaCityUK.
- Studio 11 - 186 square metres (2000 ft²) - Originally built as N2 in 1969, the studio was used for the BBC2 daytime news bulletins. Extended in 1985 to include props store and lobby adjacent to studio, the studio became home to the Six O'Clock and Nine O'Clock News. In 1998, following the completion of the News Centre spur of Television Centre, the news moved out and the studio was renamed TC11. In 2002 it became home to Liquid News and in later years to the other BBC Three news programmes 60 Seconds and The 7 O'Clock News. It briefly played host to the domestic BBC News bulletins, while their studios were refurbished in 2006, before becoming general purpose. It is currently home to '.
- Studio 12 - 56 square metres (600 ft²) - Originally music store. Converted into studio in 2004, for CBBC programmes. Used for Sportsround for many years, but converted into presentation studio in 2006. Used for invision continuity for CBBC (now in front of green screen) and changed into current invision continuity studio in summer 2007. The set was transferred to a mini studio in the East Tower. The studio is now used by BBC Research.
- Pres A - 65 square metres (704 ft²) - Opened in 1960, this studio was designed for in-vision continuity for BBC One, however was only used as such for three years. Became weather studio, prior to the move to the BBC Weather Centre in 1990 (also in Television Centre), following which it was used by Children's BBC to supplement presentation from the "broom cupboard", and was used for slots such as birthdays and public holidays. Became full time home of Children's BBC in 1994 following the vacation of the 'broom cupboard'. Studio closed following CBBC's move to TC9 and the studio no longer exists.
- Pres B - 65 square metres (704 ft²) - Opened in 1964, this studio was designed for in-vision continuity for BBC Two, however the new channel did not use in-vision continuity for more than a few moths after launch. Became a general purpose studio housing small productions such as Points of View, Film and famously The Old Grey Whistle Test. Closed down in 1996 and the studio no longer exists.
In addition to these studios, BBC News used a number of studios for the frequent news bulletins. These studios have a different naming system due to their permanent usage and are not included on most studio lists, as they are unavailable for hire.
- N1 - Previously BBC One daytime bulletins. Became TC10
- N2 - Previously BBC Two daytime/nightime bulletins for BBC One/Two, BBC Business Breakfast/BBC Breakfast Time/BBC One o'Clock News/BBC News at Six/Six O'Clock News and BBC News Updates, Nine O'Clock News. Became TC11
- N3 - Small studio off main newsroom, before being made part of newsroom as a whole, separated by glass panels. Studio now not used.
- N4 - Studio has since become part of the BBC Bar.
- N5 - Originally studio for BBC Arabic Television service. Used for a time by the BBCi service. Currently not used.
- N6 - Currently home to BBC News at One, BBC News at Ten and home of the BBC News Channel.
- N7 - Name is not used for any studios to avoid confusion with TC7, which houses news programmes.
- N8 - Home of BBC World News.
- N9 - Formerly home of BBC World News, now used as a contigency when N6/N8 unavailable due to technical work & for EU/Local election coverage.
- N10 - Used by BBC Three to produce 60 Seconds.
The studios host a wide variety of TV programmes for a range of broadcasters, including Strictly Come Dancing, Harry Hill's TV Burp, Match of the Day, Later with Jools, Miranda, The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The Armstrong and Miller Show and 8 out of 10 Cats, as well as big complex live productions such as Children in Need and Comic Relief. Over the years they have been home to some of the world's most famous TV programmes including Fawlty Towers, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Blue Peter, Absolutely Fabulous, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and classic Doctor Who. Since the early 1990s however the studios have been home to few dramas – the last major drama series to be shot there being The House of Eliott, which ended in 1994, and the last single drama recorded was Henry IV, Part 1, in 1995. This was because drama production moved almost entirely onto film or single-camera video, and Television Centre is a video-based, multi-camera production environment.
In February 1996, the source of the building's electricity and heating was transferred to a European Gas Turbines (EGT) 4.9MWe Typhoon gas turbine Combined Heating, Power and Cooling unit. It included a 6MW Thermax air conditioning (cooling) vapour absorption machine (VAM). The £6m HVAC system reduced the centre's energy costs by 35%, and paid for itself within three years. A second turbine was added, without a second chimney. However in 2008, the BBC admitted that the energy system is only being used for emergency purposes as it became cost-ineffective to use full-time. Excess electricity produced at night has not been returned to the National Grid, as originally planned. In November 2003, the turbine's chimney's caught fire, effectively bringing TV output in the centre to a halt. Since the fire the turbines have not been regularly used.
In February 2008 (with a subsequent amendment in that November) English Heritage requested listed status for the Television Centre's scenery workshop, the canteen block adjoining the Blue Peter garden, and the central building. Previously, under a long standing deal between the BBC and English Heritage the building was not listed, to allow the BBC to make regular changes that are necessary in a broadcasting centre. In return, if the Corporation ever left TV Centre, it agreed that the fabric of the building would be restored to its mid-60s state, and English Heritage would then list notable features. On 17 June 2009 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport decided to list at Grade II the Central Ring of the building and Studio 1, noting in particular the John Piper mosaic, central drum with its mosaic tiles, the Huxley-Jones gilded statue of Helios, full-height glazing of the stair and original clock in the Central Ring.
It was announced on 18 October 2007 that in order to meet a £2 billion shortfall in funding, the BBC intends to "reduce the size of the property portfolio in west London by selling BBC Television Centre by the end the financial year 2012/13", with Director General Mark Thompson saying the plan will deliver "a smaller, but fitter, BBC" in the digital age. A BBC spokeswoman has added that "this is a full scale disposal of BBC Television Centre and we won't be leasing it back"
In 2011, subject to building work completion, all BBC News, national radio and BBC World Service broadcasts will be moved to Broadcasting House in central London. The building is planned to have the largest live newsroom in the world.
Television Centre has suffered from a number of power cuts which have affected normal broadcasting; however, these are not seen as a systemic problem. One such power cut caused the launch night of BBC Two, on 20 April 1964, to be cancelled; programmes began the next day instead.
One such large power failure occurred on the 20 June 2000 at approximately 17.00 BST. This power cut affected the whole of Television Centre resulting in many services, such as BBC Two and BBC Radio 4 to fall off the air, and BBC News 24 went off air before being relocated to the BBC's Westminster studios. The 6 O'Clock news didn't broadcast and troubles were experienced in the South East region, as Newsroom South East started later than planned. The fire alarms went off at Television Centre later that day, leaving only a skeleton crew. Eventually many programmes returned, albeit in different locations: Newsnight was presented from the main news studio with intermittent technical problems. The failure was due to a substation in Shepherd's Bush and normal services on the BBC were resumed to following day.
On 4 March 2001, a bomb was placed outside the news centre of Television Centre which exploded, with no fatalities. It was attributed to the Real IRA and culprits were eventually captured. The front of the building suffered moderate damage as a result, but was repaired before too long. The bombing at the BBC was the latest in a line of attacks from the Real IRA.
Just before 0800 GMT on 28 November 2003 an electrical fault caused some equipment to overheat which set off fire alarms. Although there was no fire the fault did cause widespread power cuts and prevented backup generators from providing alternative power. Again, all output was affected with services transferred across London to alternative studios. For example, both the One O'Clock News and BBC News 24 broadcast for much of the day from the BBC's Millbank Studios,<ref name=Chaos/> and the morning radio shows the Today programme and Five Live's Breakfast fell off air for 15 minutes.<ref name=Chaos/> This power cut came on the week prior to the relaunch of News 24, which was postponed for another week to ensure that all problems had been remedied.
For Question Time on 22 October 2009, the BBC had sparked controversy, heated public debate and strong protest when the British National Party leader Nick Griffin was invited onto the programme for the first time. BBC Television Centre had its security breached with around 30 anti-fascist protesters storming the reception area in protest of Griffin's appearance. Further protests continued around the centre's ground, with several hundred protesters gathering outside. Police and security staff were forced to close gates leading into Television Centre and form barriers to prevent any further breaches of security.
- Television Centre BBC Press Office, May 2004
- BBC TV Centre sale looks unlikely The Guardian, 8 March 2005
- Future of BBC TV Centre in doubt BBC News, 11 January 2007
- BBC Television Centre may be sold for £300m Telegraph, 13 October 2007
- Decision to sell BBC Television Centre signals end of an era Mail Online, 18 October 2007
- BBC icon for sale? TechWatch, 6 March 2008
- Row brewing over listing of BBC Television Centre The Guardian, 27 June 2008
- BBC Television Centre sale at risk as English Heritage considers listed status Telegraph, 29 June 2008
- Listed status bid for BBC centre BBC News, 29 June 2008
- Unofficial History of BBC Television Centre TV Studio History