We started off in the Media Cafe, where Head Chef Tony showed us some of the new dishes being developed for groups visiting the BBC. I can say, hand on heart, that my Scotch egg was the best I have ever eaten, and the beetroot humous was to die for - all the dishes were incredibly tasty, freshly made and good value.
There’s a shop for handy Christmas-stocking fillers and that elusive Dad present, and a life-size Dalek and Dr Who telephone box plus an Eastenders backdrop for die-hard fans. Our guides were superb - witty, informed, clearly spoken, and with just enough anecdote to entertain rather than overload. We looked down on the huge floor below, full of journalists working at desks, with screens loaded with incoming news stories (photos not allowed here), and over to the right, the BBC News studio familiar to viewers. On our left one of the weather forecasters was speaking live to an unmanned camera. These weather-warriors are the only people who speak without an autocue - a feat of memory and nerve. We spotted Gavin Esler chatting to a colleague, and Fiona Bruce checking her report before going live later. The integration of the World Service means that when there is a crisis, as with Russia and Ukraine lately, country experts can be brought into the studio very quickly. And at the back of this floor are the desks that deal with photos and reports being sent in by the public - a recent development but valued by the BBC.
We went on to see the beautiful piazza, with a cafe on one side and, at the end, All Souls Chuch and the Langham Hotel. Apparently, celebrities staying at the Langham sometimes travel by car to arrive at the One Show studio for an interview, because of the waiting autograph-hunters. Lady Gaga recently took half an hour to reach the studio as she greeted fans in the intervening few hundred yards! We saw the studio, sat on the famous green sofa, and were then led on to the BBC Radio Theatre before being given an opportunity to take part in a mock-up news broadcast and radio play.
The original Broadcasting House was completed in 1932, and the Art-Deco reception was completed in 1939. I wonder if my father walked through it that year? I have a photo of him recording a show called Time to Laugh, 9 June 1939,* less than three months before Britain went to war on 3 September. The microphone is a pre-cursor of the iconic BBC version, created in 1934. Our guide told us of some of the history of the BBC, and how many world leaders, writers, artists, and musicians have passed through its doors, apart from all the hard-working employees that have contributed to our listening experience. In a nice connecting thread, Eric Gill, the artist who sculpted the statue on the front of Broadcasting House, also created the font which is now used in the BBC’s logo.
I believe that a visitor of any age would love this tour - schoolchild to nonagenarian - from the historical nostalgic parts to cutting edge new technology. One of our group had been round BBC Television Centre in the past, and half expected this tour, covering BBC News and Radio to be comparatively dull, but on the contrary, she found it fascinating. BBC TV may be spread throughout the regions (tours available at these centres too), but there still beats the original heart of the Corporation at Portland Place - Auntie is alive and well!
The tours are there to offer the British people an opportunity to see how the licence fee is spent delivering unparalleled multi-media news and radio entertainment (plus the One Show, of course!). Tourists are welcome too, of course. There are many around the world who have benefited from the BBC World Service, and there are large numbers of fans in our English-language-Big-Brother the USA who highly value the unique voice of BBC Radio. The BBC website is also a rich cornucopia of resources. I know millions of us rely on and trust the BBC, more than any other organisation, to tell us what is happening in the world with a high a degree of accuracy.
If you care about our BBC, please do pick up your pen, mouse, or phone and take just a little bit of your time to give our government your views. We are in danger of allowing apathy to contribute to a sad diminishment of this great and hugely important part of our national culture - For what to do about it, see the Save our BBC website - saveourbbc.net Please act before it’s too late!
*Presented by Van Phillips with James Hayter
Van Phillips and his two
Orchestrations by Van Phillips. and Alf Ralston
Produced by Vernon Harris