“The Hollywood of television”: BBC celebrates Television Centre’s 60th anniversary

With previously unseen archive release



As Television Centre approaches its 60th birthday, a new archive of previously unseen images has been released by the BBC offering a behind the scenes glimpse of the building and landmark programmes made there.

Seen by many as “the Hollywood of television”, this collection depicts how Television Centre nurtured and housed the creativity, technical ingenuity, and glamour that helped usher in the new era of entertainment of the 1960s and 70s, securing television at the heart of British culture.

Designed by Graham Dawbarn and officially opened on 29 June 1960, BBC Television Centre was the first purpose-built centre for television production to be conceived, and one of the largest and most technically advanced production hubs in the world.

The images, painstakingly and sympathetically restored by the BBC Photo Archive team and held in the BBC Archive Centre, include never before seen photographs documenting the art of programme-making at Television Centre over the years. Images include rare backstage views of historic programme sets such as Dad’s Army, Top Of The Pops, and Steptoe And Son, and many still popular BBC programmes including Newsnight, Strictly Come Dancing and Blue Peter. Photographs in the collection also capture the construction and architecture of the iconic building harking back to 1949, as well as unique insights of the BBC employees - from technicians to messengers - who kept operations running and brought the building to life.

Throughout its rich history, BBC Television Centre was a hive of activity which played a part in major cultural events, hosting programmes such as the Eurovision Song Contest, numerous general elections, classic dramas and comedies such as Doctor Who and Absolutely Fabulous, and the longest running children’s TV series in the world, Blue Peter, as well as many others.

Initially built with eight studios, with the largest being Studio TC1 at 10,800 square feet, BBC Television Centre had seven floors of offices, scenery blocks and engineering workshops. The images released detail how it was at the helm of international public service broadcasting, marking major milestones in television history such as developments in colour television.

Responding to the changing nature of broadcasting and as part of wider efficiency plans, Television Centre was sold by the BBC in 2012. Now, two of the BBC’s commercial divisions have residence within the site, preserving its rich history and continuing the legacy of this iconic home of British television. BBC Studios, the BBC’s principle commercial arm, moved into the re-modelled Stage 6 section of the building in 2015, while BBC Studioworks, the studio operating arm of the BBC, redeveloped Studios 1, 2 and 3, and reopened the doors to all the major broadcasters and production companies in 2017.

Available alongside the unseen photographs, are a range of BBC History archive interviews from BBC staff giving inside accounts of life at BBC Television Centre. These include a first-hand account of the atmosphere in the building ahead of major events from newsreader Sophie Raworth, and a retelling by engineering operations head David Earle of the night Television Centre was targeted toward the end of the IRA’s mainland terror campaign.

Professor Jean Seaton, BBC Historian, says: “These photos of Television Centre - never seen before - show the elegant modernism and ambition of a building that was the largest television production centre in the world when it went up. The wide building which nestled in a corner of West London can be seen being built, planned, and then rising up natty with its ‘holes’ (the architect got the idea from tin-tacks in a sheet of paper) and distinctive lettering.

But it wasn't brutal modernism - the photos show it full of a kind of heady optimism. Known affectionately (or acidly) as The Doughnut - a kind of globe - it was mysteriously labyrinthine internally.

The photos also show what a hard-working, adaptable building it was. It is not just the iconic pictures of Election Nights and Noel Edmonds but it is the lovely ladies in the canteen and the space station programme control room and the sense of a building humming with purpose. Every corner of it was used, including the much loved and very small Blue Peter garden.”

Andrew Moultrie, CEO of BBC Studioworks, says: “Our Television Centre facility is thriving and remains dedicated to what it has always been famous for - creating unforgettable television. Our studios have retained their rich heritage with original features preserved in their design, but they’ve been advanced and upgraded with leading technology and ancillary facilities, providing a premium hub that’s fit for production today and for many years to come. We’re proud to be operating from one of the most iconic TV studio locations in the world and are committed to ensuring we remain a key contributor to the UK’s outstanding creative sector.”

Find out more about the history of BBC Television Centre below.

For a virtual tour of the studios and production areas as they looked just before the closure of BBC Television Centre in spring 2013, see below.

Source BBC One

June 29, 2020 7:05am ET by BBC One  


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