Under a rare beautifully sunny London sky for this time of year, last week, London Shoes ventured out to the far west of the west-end district – for the specific purpose of viewing a magnificent building, which in my opinion – is one of London’s most unappreciated and undervalued architectural masterpieces:-
“Broadcasting House” – in Portland Place-London W1 – the long-time head-office of the BBC.
Broadcasting House is located in the iconic street of Portland Place, just a couple of mins walk from Great Portland Street tube station (on the Circle/Hammersmith & City/Metropolitan tube lines).
This iconic landmark was built in a fashionable ‘art-deco’ style and was opened in 1932 – as the BBC’s first purpose built home for its radio broadcasting (no TV’s back in them days).
At that time the building was commonly referred to as the new ‘Tower of London’.
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) became, and probably still is, the most recognisable news corporation on this planet – an institution and brand that is immediately known anywhere throughout the world.
Broadcasting House is built of Portland stone and consists of 12 floors – 9 above ground and 3 below.
Its rooms are heavily buffered with sound proofing materials, to control the acoustics and unwanted noise when broadcasting – especially the noise (& rumbles) from the Bakerloo and the Victoria Line tube trains that run underneath the building.
The buildings front section has a distinctive clock tower and aerial mast.
On 15th March 1932, the very first official radio broadcast was transmitted from the Broadcasting House building – it was a performance by the top band leader of the day ‘Henry Hall & his Band’.
Embossed into the buildings original Portland stone structure, are a number of statues – all of which depict a connection to the Broadcasting House building and the activities undertaken within it.
These statues are the characters ‘Prospero’ and ‘Ariel’ from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” – in which Prospero was a magician and a scholar, whilst Ariel was a ‘spirit of the air’……the air being what radio waves transmit on.
During WW2 Broadcasting House was hit twice by German bombs – killing 7 employees. Following these bombings the building had to undergo some extensive renovation works.
It was recently revealed that in the early 1980’s MI5 had a secret room within Broadcasting House, which its officials used for the purposes of vetting BBC employees – for national security reasons.
In 1981 Broadcasting House was (quite rightly) granted official Grade II Listed protective status.
In the early 2000’s the building underwent massive renovations, where all the old post-war extensions and other annexes were demolished and replaced with a completely new ‘wing’ which was formally opened in 2005.
In 2012, this new part of the Broadcasting House building was officially named the ‘John Peel Wing’ after the legendary late DJ/presenter ‘John Peel’ (one of my all-time fav radio DJ’s).
John Peel joined BBC’s newly launched Radio 1 back in Sept 1967, having previously been a prominent DJ on the unlicensed Pirate Radio ships.
When opening the ‘John Peel Wing’ the director-general of the BBC described it as “a fitting tribute to a man who personified so much of what the BBC stands for” !!!
Today the John Peel Wing of Broadcasting House is the home of BBC Radio 1 & Radio 1 Xtra.
On the roof of the Broadcasting House extension is a cone-shaped glass structure called ‘Breathing’ – a memorial to all the journalists killed in the line-of-duty.
This memorial was officially opened in 2008 by United Nations Secretary ‘Ban-Ki-Moon’.
At 10pm every day, and in line with the broadcasting of the daily BBC News – a column of light shines from the ‘Breathing’ statue, 3,000 ft up into the night sky.
BBC News – BBC World Service – Radio 3 – Radio 4 – 4 Xtra – Arabic TV – Persian TV plus many more TV and radio broadcasts are transmitted from Broadcasting House studios today.
Most people will be familiar with and immediately recognise the backdrop against which the BBC News is broadcasted on a daily basis – this studio within the building was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 2013.
Within the large piazza area of the Broadcasting House extension, there stands a statue of author ‘George Orwell’.
On the wall behind Orwell’s statue, is an inscription taken from his famous novel ‘Animal Farm’:– “If liberty means anything at all – it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
The George Orwell statue was officially unveiled in 2017, and stands there as a representation for ‘call for free speech’ – a philosophy the BBC claim that it has always advocated.
Another of Orwell’s classic novels ‘1984’ famously makes mention of ‘Room 101’ – a torture room.
Between the years 1941-43 George Orwell worked for the BBC as a journalist, and was based at Broadcasting House in Room 101. He hated job and the BBC as an institution, and it is believed that this room heavily influenced the inclusion of this fictional room in his book 1984.
Today – Broadcasting House is one of the largest live broadcast centres in the world, with facilities including 36 radio studios, 6 TV studios and 60 edit/graphic suites, and it houses BBC Radio, News and World Service.
So – that’s Broadcasting House for you – in my opinion, a magnificent architecturally structured building with a wealth of important and influential history.
In the next street to Broadcasting House, Great Portland Street – there stands another iconic BBC building – notably “Wogan House”.
99 Great Portland Street used to be known as Western House and in 1953 it was leased to the BBC on a massively long lease.
In 2016 the building was officially renamed as ‘Wogan House’ after the legendary BBC presenter Sir Terry Wogan who used to broadcast his famous Radio 2 and other radio programmes from there – and who died earlier that year.
Today – Wogan House is the home of BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music, plus many other smaller radio broadcasting platforms – and also located within the building is a bar, restaurant & gym for all the BBC employees and their guests.
So – heading off east towards home, I stopped off for a quick cuppa at the mainline London-Liverpool Street station terminus – a station whose large concourse, at whatever time of day, usually resembles a rugby scrum with like hundreds of NZ rugby players heading towards you doing the Hakka – but in today’s Covid19 virus London, in what looks like being the ‘new normal’ for some considerable length of time – this stations large concourse is now almost totally deserted – very sad to see, and very concerning.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog