I'm a Brit, so I might be a bit biased, but I honestly think that BBC Television Centre is the most iconic TV building in the world.
As such, I was exactly the sort of audience that this recent BBC FOUR documentary was aiming for.
A decade after it opened in 1960, I grew up watching programmes that had been made at BBC Television Centre, with the building often appearing as itself. I've attended several programme recordings there as an audience member. Also the odd exhibition. Been past it on the train.
And just occasionally the BBC have even paid me money to do some work for them there, and I've got to spend my lunchhour wandering the concrete doughnut's corridors, realising I had been going around in a circle (same thing), and sitting on a bench out the front of TC1 looking up at both giant channel logos while eating my sandwiches. What's that? Why wasn't I patronising the infamous BBC canteen? Shyeah right, like I could even find it among the mid-1990s proliferation of Tea Bars. I would get lost looking for the back door.
(seriously I once got lost looking for the back door)
Most of my time working for Auntie Beeb was spent at one of the BBC's many other London sites, like… well, like their names will mean anything like as much. Some of them I'm squinting my eyes now to even recall. But my memories of the hallowed TeleCentre have definitely not been junked.
For about that building, my internal phone-directory of colleagues only had words of reverence. Well actually that's not true, there was plenty of angst about the electric lighting, the fountain that was turned into offices rather than fixed, and the long distance between newer departments who had to daily liaise with each other, but those arguably sound more like management problems in a different form.
I remember one day, back at my own site, overhearing two of my colleagues discussing it. One was from Australia, and the other somewhere in the Caribbean I think. They were gushing excitedly about how they had actually got to set foot in BBC Television Centre! "The amount that's gone on in that building…!"
I can't argue at all. Today I can scarcely believe that my own life has occasionally taken place in the Top Of The Pops studio, at Crinkley Bottom, and involved chatting to a helpful Chris Barrie in full costume as Gordon Brittas. (I was looking for East Tower, and was a bit lost) Yes, once I even got to legitimately examine the TARDIS console up close, read the script cues pencilled onto it, and operate the door control, which disappointingly seemed to be the only one that could move.
Oh I very occasionally got to do some admin in the basement (above the sub-basement) as well, but that's just not quite the same. Still, given that I was only there for the odd day at a time, and most of those merely for attachment boards and to help fill up studio audiences, it says a lot that I can remember as much as I can about that giant architectural question-mark.
Looking back, as well as my fondly-remembered colleagues, I'm also glad that I have so many memories of my friends from outside work being there too. Alistair, Rich, my venture scout troop, my mum and dad, Herschel… oh that's right, he spent more time there than I did.
The thing is, I think that most people who I worked with at the BBC despaired of the organisation's management. It was, after all, the 1990s - an era well after the end of BBCTV's golden age. To walk through my own site's reception every day and witness our national licence fee now being spent on churning out endless amounts of cheap daytime filler, when there was so much gold in the archives, was soul-destroying. In pursuing profit to the exclusion of all else, the BBC was slowly dying, and them upstairs seemed determined to make sure that it kept on getting deader.
To paraphrase, as one production colleague at the time agonised to me over the phone, "I think the BBC would be very happy to just stop making programmes all together. Whenever I approach them for more funding, they look at me with this attitude of 'What?! You want… more money to make… programmes?!???'"
As you may know, a while back the BBC actually convinced themselves to sell their world-famous headquarters. True story.
One very good reason why, was the decision to relocate the corporation's base away from the south-east to the more centralised UK location of Salford. I can see that logic, although I thought they were always saying they wanted to make more programmes in the regions too, like in London.
Another very good reason is that the old building's becoming a bit expensive to run. However again, that sounds like more disorganisation, especially considering the amount of money the BBC throw away in other areas, like half-million-pound bonuses for departing Director Generals a mere two months after they've started for example. I have a funny feeling that its new buyers will find a solution. Perhaps it'll even be the ex-DG.
Cold harsh mathematics is one component of entertainment. Another is soul. They need each other. However when the two become so out of balance that the one defeats the other, then success cannot last. And as this documentary proves, Television Centre has long been the soul of BBCtv.
This retrospective about the building then, is packed to bursting with stars of yesteryear recalling anecdotes of how much they loved the old place too. Almost no celebrity declined to be interviewed on the subject (John Birt not really being a celeb), and the affection that they retain for the era that the place facilitated is palpable. That said, I did think the Goodies were conspicuous by their absence.
TVC was never a second home for me, but it was for many of these entertainers, and with such an absolutely stellar collection of clips (eg. Doctor Who meeting Captain Zep in 1982 above), their memories synched wonderfully with my own, partly as an occasional Senior Library Assistant, but mostly as a viewer. After all, despite the subject matter and interviewees, this doco is squarely aimed not at insiders, but viewers like me who usually saw the building from the outside, and on a screen.
Despite internal BBC cynicism, the worldwide effects of all the pleasure that that building helped to generate are incalculable. The world is a very different, and I hope better, place for it.
I could go on and on about that building. Today I still sometimes have dreams about getting lost again among those corridors, escalators and lifts that spoke with the same voice as the BBC1 globe. But now these people have said it all for me, so maybe I should just leave it to them - the BBC's self-appointed witnesses both for itself, and against…
Jools Holland: "It is, without question, the greatest purpose built studios in the world."
Susan Hampshire: "It's an icon. It's like Big Ben. It's like the Houses Of Parliament. It's like St Paul's."
Griff Rhys Jones: "… this will always be the building that is British television at its best."
Maggie Philbin: "I knew all about TV Centre because I used to watch Blue Peter as a child."
David Attenborough: "It was the biggest tailor-made television centre in the world."
Roger Bunce: "The dynamics work. The two ring roads to bring the scenery and the technical equipment, the inner corridor that funnels the artists from the Dressing Rooms through the Assembly Areas into the Studios via Make-Up and Wardrobe - everything arrives at the right place at the right time."
Matt Baker: "Everything here is solid. Y'know with television now, everything's kind of has a life of about five years really, but this place, was built to last."
Maggie Philbin: "I think part of the magic of this building is that you, you saw strange, incongruous and, and weird things every single day."
David Attenborough: "The difference between it and the factory was every bit of output was different. The range of programmes that came out was extraordinary. I mean in TC1 could have full-scale opera going on… and then there would be the daily dramas that were going on… er, comedy shows, audiences coming in… and it really throbbed."
David Attenborough: "Because it was live, and there was always live things going on, it gave the place a fizz."
Biddy Baxter: "The beauty of working at Television Centre was that everything was on tap. Lighting, design, make-up, if you were short of anything during rehearsal, you could whiz round to Small Props and bring something in, or whiz round to Make-Up. It all facilitated getting the shows on the air."
Bobby Warans: "We didn't really have things called budgets, whereas now they nitpick over fifty quid."
Esther Rantzen: "This building embodies the paradox in the BBC of jazz hands and therm [sic], you know, smart suit."
Jonathan Powell: "You would come for the kind of screaming mayhem of studios and the Light Entertainment Department or the Drama Department where basically everybody shouted at each other all the time, and then you'd open up on the sixth floor [management] and there would be a swish and it was silent… You can hear yourself walk, people spoke in whispers, it was like you'd sort of gone to Heaven or something."
Janet Fielding: "Do you know, when we worked here, we used to say, 'You know, they won't be happy - the administrators - until they've closed down all these studios, and this whole complex can just be admin.'"
Biddy Baxter: "I was given a complete brush-off, and I was told 'You're treating this as if it was a place for entertainment!'"
Penelope Keith: "All that's changed, and certainly the inside has changed radically and um, it seems awfully corporate to me now."
Penelope Keith: "Well, the thing that I find rather ironic is the fact that what used to be 'Main Reception' where one arrived, was given one's dressing room with the key, told where to go, and there were always actors buzzing around, now actors are as rare as a snowball on the equator and yet they have changed the name to 'Stage Door'."
Griff Rhys Jones: "It is my guess that, in a very short time, they'll be making a programme in which Penelope Keith will return to restore this building so that the BBC can return in splendour to where they belong."
Ah well. That's Producer Choice for you.