Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Martyn Howe
Reviewed: The BBC Television Centre Tour
I like many others have spent hours reading books and absorbing DVD extras about this place. It was shortly after watching the Tales of Television Centre documentary that I discovered it was possible to go on a tour of the building. And so accompanied by a friend who has no interest in things TARDIS related, I took a day off of work and headed to London.
Leaving Wood Lane tube, there it is before you! The iconic birth place of so many TV programmes including Doctor Who. To quote David Tennant, BBC TV Centre is ‘more Hollywood, than Hollywood’.
Signs direct people on the tour, to the new reception at the right of the building. This is a typical modern glass affair with security screening not dissimilar from the pods from Spooks. It quickly becomes apparent that Doctor Who is one of the BBC’s main brands. A staff information sign advising how to escort visitors, is adorned with pictures of Pudsey Bear, Stig from Top Gear and Matt Smith as the Doctor.
Soon the tour guide’s arrive and we are issued with a tour pass. Our guides are a middle-aged man called Kevin, and a slightly older man called Eric. Kevin leads us back to out to the street and to security at the main gates, with Eric taking up the rear. This pincer movement would be repeated throughout the tour, with one leading, and one at the back ensuring that no one gets lost / wanders off.
Once through security the first thing that we see is the red Audi Quattro from Ashes to Ashes. Then it’s up some steps where the TARDIS greets us along with a large picture of Matt Smith. There is the opportunity for photos before getting to enter the building.
First it’s off to news. We sit in a meeting room with the working news department behind us. A ‘very’ brief history of the building is given, along with a talk about how news is about to move to New Broadcasting House.
Then we head off to see some studios, but not before passing through the old reception, which is now called the ‘Stage Door’. Looking rather out-of-place is a dark wood bar. It is explained to us that the previous day there was a party in reception to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who. This is of course not entirely true, as we now know that this area was being used as a set for the Mark Gatiss documentary.
I ask one of the guides if Doctor Who is currently being filmed at TV Centre and I am told that it is, but I they could not talk anymore about it. Then it’s off to Studio 1. This is just an empty studio. We are told that Z Cars was filmed here along with a lot of the William Hartnell Doctor Who’s – I don’t have the heart to contradict! In Studio 2 a Channel 4 quiz show set has been erected, but no one is working on it.
As we continue I glance into offices that are empty, and I imagine the days not too long ago when this place was full of people actually making programmes! We walk along empty corridors, and I can’t help but think that I am following in the foot steps of Barry Letts, Philip Hinchcliffe, and John Nathan-Turner.
Every now and again I see something that seems strangely familiar. We go past Bridge Lounge which is where, according to the John Nathan-Turner memoirs, the production team entertained British Airways, and persuaded BA to let them use Concorde for Time Flight.
There is the chance to sit on the Grandstand sofa in Studio 5. I look up at the lights and viewing gantry wondering if this was the studio that was closed off for the filming of Earthshock. (Actually it wasn’t as Earthshock was filmed in Studio 8)
There is a demonstration of CSO using the weather map and a visit to a very tatty old Blue Peter Set.
We go to a dressing room that we are told that many famous people have used.
However the place is virtually deserted and my initial excitement has strangely turned to sadness.
The last part of the tour is quite fun. Some of us get the read the news and take part in the Weakest Link.
Littering the room are some Doctor Who props: two Auton’s from Rose, a Judoon head from Smith and Jones, an Ood head and a well-worn Kryten head from Red Dwarf.
Finally it’s off the BBC shop. There is a new series gold Dalek in the shop, along with the expected Doctor Who merchandise.
For anyone with an interest in British television a visit to the Television Centre is a must, but if you expect to see anything of your favorite shows, past or present, then you are going to be disappointed. Most drama currently in production has been moved out to the regions – any remnants of old programmes have long since gone. In all fairness to the BBC, sets and props were never really made to be kept. Their life was intended to be just a few hours before a camera before being reused or junked and as Doctor Who fans we are lucky that many things from our favorite show have been preserved for exhibitions.
Never the less a visit to Television Centre can seem like a religious experience!
As we depart I discuss the tour with my companion. He thought that it was worth seeing, but not something that he would want to do again.
Personally I feel like I had just been to the wake of an old friend.
It was time for a drink…
(If you are interested in taking a tour yourself you had better be quick, BBC Television Centre is closing in early 2013, and tours will cease on 22nd February 2013. Tours can be booked online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/