Monday, 13 June 2011

Television Centre

That special twinge you feel when remembering the time you fell off your bike. That's the feeling. That's the feeling you feel when you remember the Dark Ages of television, when the BBC threw away priceless recordings because they weren't perceived as valuable at the time, with no thought of posterity. That faint wincing at a pain that is long passed, but still nasty to remember.

It was a ridiculous thing to do. We can talk about the gift of hindsight, but there was no justifying it. And it's good to know the BBC will never make that mistake again. I myself remember feeling a brief flush of immortality when I got my own series commissioned on BBC Radio 7, and I realised I had finally made it into the BBC Archive, the Great British cultural Ark of our age.

Times change. Things move on. And the BBC is moving to Salford.

I could launch off on a rant about its futility; I could ask what celebrities from overseas doing the publicity circuit will really bother to go all that way from London, where everything else is, but I understand the political necessity for the move, I guess. I am prepared to accept it.

But not the selling off of Television Centre.

What a futile gesture. And what a senseless waste of money. Why build new television studios when there are perfectly serviceable ones already in existence? But, more to the point, what cultural sacrilege.

Television Centre opened in 1960, and for over fifty years, it formed the great backdrop to a huge proportion of British culture. Television Centre is British television. I remember the first time I went there when I was about seven. My uncle was based there, doing clever backroom stuff (also a travesty, but let's not get into that now) and I remember my heart thumping with excitement at the sets in storage, the corridors, the breathless hush of transmission areas, the BLUE PETER GARDEN! I thought I would burst.

I didn't dream that twenty years later, I would work there full-time. And it took months to get rid of the adrenalin that flooded my chest every time I passed through Stage Door reception, where as a child I watched Noel Edmonds running about, or John Noakes, or, well, anyone on any show I cared about.

The point is, Television Centre, for generations of people now, has been the British Hollywood. It is the centre for Showbusiness. It is the hub. It is the place everyone feels they'll end up one day if they make it. I would like to see how many guided tours they manage to pack out at the new Salford centre. Or how many there would be of any other broadcasting premises anywhere. Granada Studios was a worthy contender for a while, and deserves respect. And should be rightly proud of its northern heritage. But in what other country does the biggest broadcaster operate from outside the cultural capital?

I am heartbroken. The BBC is carrying its cross up the hill, to the catcalls and jeers of its detractors. It's the same as the selling off of County Hall, or the shutting down of our libraries. It is a repellent all-for-show gesture that should give us all pause for thought about the surety of our cultural legacy for future generations.