Magazine article The Spectator

House Proud

Magazine article The Spectator

House Proud

Article excerpt

Since I first became aware of it, I've always loved Broadcasting House in Portland Place. The first time I started work there I had to sit in a café down the road and gaze up at its magnificent white Portland stone art deco façade almost unable to grasp that I was now part of a building steeped in romance and broadcasting history. Of course, in time the realities of working in broadcasting knock much of the sentiment out of you, so that many years later, when I walked out of that heavy brass front door, I didn't give it a backward glance. I was just glad to escape some of the fools who were now in charge.

The building, though, retains a special affection in my mind -- its sometimes grubby and gloomy corridors, which felt like the passageways of a great liner, complete with thousands of wires contained in long tubes above your head.

Well, as David Hatch, a former extremely successful controller of Radio Four and once managing director of radio, reminded us in The Archive Hour: The Home of Radio on the same network (Saturday), the Grade II*-listed BH, as we always called it, is being gutted and reconstructed to take radio and television news and current affairs and the BBC World Service by 2011. Hatch nostalgically examined the history of the building he spent 30 years in.

The architect Val Myer designed it to resemble a New York skyscraper but many felt it was more like a large ship. It is without doubt one of the finest British buildings of the 20th century. It was built in 1932, and BBC staff moving from their ramshackle premises at Savoy Hill hated it at first. They missed their old building, which had seen the inventiveness required in creating a broadcasting station. One of those involved in the current development told Hatch that to the then newcomers to BH the building seemed cold, formal and austere and the sound insulation was poor.

The noise of the Bakerloo line underneath was never eradicated, nor was the mysterious driller and the frequent knocking sounds. Maintaining and rearranging BH seemed to go on all the time. Sue MacGregor said that to stop the noise during a programme she had to sign a 'knocking chit', which was then approved by the controller. By the time anything happened, the programme was over.

Hatch was able to confirm what many had thought a myth, that on Eric Gill's statues of Ariel and Prospero above the front doors Gill had carved a girl's face on the backside of Prospero. …

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