Farewell to the Concrete Doughnut?

Far sadder than Ming Campbell’s departure, though perhaps no less inevitable, is the report that the BBC is planning to sell Television Centre, whereupon it will no doubt be knocked down and replaced with housing.

As a child raised on Going Live and Blue Peter, I find this extremely sad to contemplate: it’s an iconic building and really ought to be listed. But all the old BBC facilities are going the same way: Pebble Mill has been replaced by the Mailbox in Birmingham, and New Broadcasting House in Manchester – the third and probably least marvellous in the BBC’s trinity of English Concrete Monstrosities – is due to be knocked down when the new facility in Salford is ready. Big new BBC buildings have also been opened in Cardiff and Glasgow recently, and no doubt elsewhere too.

The move to Manchester is no doubt partly responsible, but only partly. The main problem is that television programmes are no longer made like they were in the 1960s when TVC was built. Digital editing has rendered the traditional “multi camera” format for drama obsolete, while high quality lightweight cameras make recording large amounts of a programme on location viable now in a way that it never used to be – hence the Monty Python “this room is surrounded by film!” sketch.

Indeed, it goes deeper still: TVC’s set-up used to be, as I understand it, that programmes would be shot in a studio, but actually recorded to videotape, or to film, in a separate suite in the basement. It seems weird now, but that and many other facets of its original design (albeit often now amended) have left TVC looking hopelessly out of date, and being used for fewer and fewer productions. It now seems to be more economical simply to rent out studio facilities as required, and shift the permanent things like news out to other BBC buildings.

Of course, the BBC has always had multiple studio facilities in London: Lime Grove was closed amid some fanfare in the early ’90s and the Corporation used to own Ealing film studios. Even so, a BBC without TVC is an idea that will take a heck of a lot of getting used to. I really must try and get in there for a look round before the bulldozers move in…

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