What do you think of when you hear those three letters? The BBC – The British Broadcasting Corporation. It does seem to conjure up images of the 1950s with men in their stiff suits and ties with a stuffy presence of the old boys club in charge of a public service broadcaster not only for the UK but around the globe. I have always been fond of the BBC. Something as British as cheese scones, strawberries at Wimbledon and Shakespeare. I do confess in my early teens, when I became a news junkie, I went through a phase of watching only Sky News. I hope I can be forgiven for my naivety at such a tender age, to not understand how news bias works. Sure the BBC can at times have a bias but it is more impartial than most. Plus I prefer the
Been attempting to plan a trip to the BBC Tour of New Broadcasting House for many months. Initially it was an idea for my birthday late last year but tickets seem to sell out fast and you need to book almost two months in advance, particularly if you want a choice in time slots. For Clive’s birthday I booked the BBC Tour for 10:45am on Friday 20th February, as a belated gift. It was a special birthday – he had only revealed his true age to me about two months previously and I had attended a celebratory dinner at The Peacock in Henton on Saturday 7th February.
Due to personal circumstances, I was quite sure that Clive would cancel our meeting in Central London and I would need to find another person (sixty plus) to take instead. However from the outset, he text me to not cancel the tour. This was not an option in any case, as tickets were non transferable and non refundable. As the day drew closer, it was going to be the highlight of not just my week and entire weekend. However it was to surpass all my expectations.
Waking up at 7am on a day off is actually a lie in for me, as I am used to waking up before 6am on weekdays to get into the office bright and early. I got ready and then headed to the train station, purchased my One Day Travelcard from the ticket machine and got to platform one with a minute to spare before the 08:32 service arrived promptly, to whisk me to Central London. From Paddington I took the Hammersmith & City Line to St. Pancras – King’s Cross to await the arrival of Clive on his first class East Midland service originating from Sheffield. The train was scheduled to pull in at 10:06am. Having navigated myself around the station and being aware where the East Midland trains were schedule to arrive and depart (upstairs) I headed to Starbucks for a large cup of tea. I was disappointed the member of staff whom took my order did not ask for my name on the cup. Although by pure coincidence the person in front of me in the queue was called “Andrew” but as he was ordering coffee (like 90% of the people around me) it was unlikely for our orders to get mixed up. I then made my way back up to wait for Clive and kept regular contact via SMS, while he probably had his fifteenth cup of complimentary coffee.
The train arrived early and I got off my seat to wait by the gates scanning all the commuters, looking for the 6 ft Mr. D. He arrived eventually and we acknowledged each others presence with a small salute. It was great to see Clive, for the first time since his birthday and the life changing news. I thought it best to clear the air and talk this through before moving on with our day. I had realised that I had not purchased a Zone 1 TravelCard for Clive, but thankfully had my Oyster Card which had plenty of credit for the few journeys we were going to make into the West End. The Tube Assistant app I had downloaded recently onto my HTC One M8 had a nifty feature to show which carriage is closed to the exit on your journey. Geoff will probably be annoyed but unsure if the Station Master app has finally arrived on Android. We made our way from St. Pancras to Oxford Circus which is just a five minute journey on the Victoria Line. We then had just a minute walk to be at the heart of the action. We were outside New Broadcasting House. Our tour was about to begin. First though we had to find the entrance. I asked a security guard in his high visibility jacket and was directed to the side entrance. We then had to go through an airport style security check of my coat and a full pat down with a magic wand by a security guard before we were given access to the building to join a long queue. We then had to check in and be given our BBC Tour lanyard. Our tour guides were Amita (also from Slough) and John. The group was a mixed bag with a handful of “adults” and then a teenage party who were all from a radio project at their secondary school but everybody was based in the UK. No language issues here.
While we waited, we could look into the bowel of the building. You will know this part of the building, you see if briefly at the start of every main news bulletin and on the hour on BBC News (formerly known as BBC News 24). This was perhaps the highlight for me, as I have always had a great admiration for everything the BBC does from a news perspective. Sure it is far from perfect but it is a news source, I and million others come to rely on a daily basis. Eventually our tour began and we were taken on a brief security briefing before being shown part of the live news from a big screen. Simon McCoy (he of paper ream fame) was presenting along side another presenter, whom I could not identify but will check the schedules. We were then taken to see The One Show studio, before being whisked across to the Radio Theatre to take part in a play. Clive volunteered to do the sound affects while a five of children took speaking roles. I recorded the video but hit the file limited, so will need to work some video editing magic to join the two clips together and upload to YouTube.
As we made our way through the 1930s art deco building, the former entrance to Old Broadcasting House, we were shown some memorabilia. One was the original microphone that would have been used by George VI for his “Kings Speech” during 1936. There was also the original speakers used by His Royal Highness to broadcast the first ever Christmas Message to the people of Great Britain and the Empire (now Commonwealth) in 1932. We were asked if anybody knew who had written the speech for the monarch – a member of the school group, a 16 year old boy responded with Rudyard Kipling – he was of course correct. We were amazed at his knowledge and when probed as to how he knew this information, he responded with the most confident line I have ever heard, “Well I’m an expert in the BBC”. Now just consider this for a moment. You are on a BBC Tour on BBC premises with staff with extensive knowledge of the history of the organisation and you come out with not just the answer to a question but the reason why you have this fountain of knowledge. I wish I had been as committed to the broadcaster at that age. The moment took me back, what was I passionate about now at the tender age of 33 – approximately 17 years senior to this intelligent young man. (Double the amount of time he has been alive). This is something to consider for another time.
Our tour ended with a brief interactive element – volunteers were requested, those whom had not taken part in the radio play. Two people to present the news from auto-cue and then after a brief training video from Carol Kirkwood on how to present the weather. Again I recorded elements of this and will upload to YouTube.
BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the organisation, never to miss a marketing opportunity had a small shop next to the cafe which is where the tour ends and we had a brief look at some of the merchandise before planning the rest of our afternoon. We had more than six hours to kill. Before leaving we decided to have a hot beverage at the Cafe Nero which lives opposite The One Show studio. The barriers had been erected now and there was a strong security precence, passes being checked. We opted to grab our drinks and sit outside to look out for any famous faces. Inside, Robert Peston was getting a drink and being on autopilot as I was but in a rather lower volume I said out “Robert Peston” to Clive but Robert noticed as he picked up his drink and turned around and smiled at me and then went back to his chair and his notebook. Sitting outside we spotted a number of people including Richard Osman from quiz show Pointless, Tim Willcox news correspondent (wearing peach trousers or jeans) and finally from BBC Radio 1 (a station I am now far too old to listen to) Greg James. Although I have to confess for Greg James I had to do some Google image searches to confirm he was indeed the person we saw walking out with his girlfriend to probably grab some lunch.
The original plan had been to head to the British Library so I carry out some research on my grandfather whom fought against the Japanese in the Burma Campaign of World War II. However on contacting the Asian and Oriental Studies department, no records of the Army Officer were found and I have been referred to India. The office in New Delhi have yet to respond to my e-mail but I am not expecting a reply. Particularly with a government department using GMail to host their e-mail account. We then went ahead with out follow up plan which was to explore St. Pancras Station and in particular the Grand Midland Hotel, now fully restored to it’s 1860s spender. Little did I know the exclusive afternoon we would have.
Do you remember the music video to Wannabe? Yes by the Spice Girls around 1996. The start of the video was shot here in the Victorian staircase of The Grand Midland Hotel. After walking around some of the corridors, we made our way down to The Chambers Club. Little did I know that this is where we would spend the rest of the having a late lunch, catching up with my good friend and mentor whom I have now known for over twenty years.
This blog post is dedicated to Diamond Geezer. Over the past thirteen years I have followed his daily posts covering various events and locations but predominately the things to see, hear and do in and around the capital. Of course he completed this tour back in May last year. His one image on FlickR is much better than my collection from my mobile and I have the utmost respect for somebody who has the ability to write a fresh post everyday and care to stay fully anonymous in our celebrity centric world.