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Monday, 30 October, 2000, 17:01 GMT
BBC News goes 'home'

Broadcasting House:
BBC News is to make a move back to Broadcasting House in central London by the end of the decade - in many people's minds a return to its spiritual home.

The decision to relocate BBC News back to the heart of central London will doubtless have its stern critics.

Just three years ago, radio joined television news in purpose-built offices at the corporation's Television Centre in west London, a move which cost 41m. This did not accommodate the fast-expanding online news operation.

The BBC says the new move will cost licence-payers nothing, but its move out of the centre and back again is sure to be scrutinised closely.

The News Centre at White City: Distinctive but unfamiliar
But in one way at least, it is a highly appropriate move. Despite TV Centre being a well-known building, it has never been held in the same esteem as Broadcasting House.

To many people, the very image of Broadcasting House - like a cross between a valve wireless and an ocean liner - is the symbol of broadcasting. Although the building has remained the home of BBC Radio, it will once again become a powerful embodiment of news broadcasting.

The move to Television Centre resulted in reports of falling morale among workers who loved the atmosphere and convenience of Broadcasting House. Liz Forgan, the former managing director of BBC Radio, recently revealed she left the corporation in 1996 because she disagreed with the move.

'Long and deliberate investigation'

Work to build Broadcasting House, which started in 1928 and cost 650,000, was recorded in a style typical of the era, in the 1931 BBC Handbook.

The "petrified dreadnought" of the 1930s
"In the autumn of 1928, the BBC, after long and deliberate investigation, completed arrangements for the building of a new headquarters in London, to take the place of their Savoy Hill premises that were becoming quite inadequate for the service that they had in prospect."

A later sentence gives a indication of how times have changed.

Among the 20 studios, it said, there would be "a small apartment necessary for 'news'" - a far cry from the accommodation needed for the thousands of journalists working for the corporation today.

Damned awful

Asa Briggs, the BBC's long-time historian, recorded that early reaction to the building was mixed.

Damage done by the 1940 bomb to the Portland Place side of the building
A detective novel, Death at Broadcasting House, written in 1934 by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell described it as "a Worthy Edifice well fitted to the marvels it contains", and as a "Damned Awful Erection".

Another critic said it was a "petrified dreadnought"; yet another said it "rightly refuses to do its work and conduct its business in any kind of romantic fancy dress".

In the 1930s, it was thought of by staff as a refuge from the "world of business and struggle". Ironically, its place at the heart of London is one of the reasons many journalists were unhappy at having to move to Television Centre in west London.

[It is] half way between a girls' school and a lunatic asylum

George Orwell

In any case, the Second World War consigned any serenity to history, as the building came into the thick of the war.

A replica newsroom was built 50 feet underground in case of bombing. The precautions were worth taking; on 15 October 1940, a 500lb bomb landed in the music library, killing seven people.

Bruce Belfrage, who was reading the nine o'clock news as the bomb exploded, paused briefly as he heard it go off, and then finished the bulletin without stumbling.

A succession of bombs left their mark on the outside of the building. But like the first director general, Lord Reith, whose own face bore a deep scar from a war injury, Broadcasting House carried its wounds in dignified recognition of its role in the nation's struggle.

Eric Gill's Prospero and Ariel
Statues on the front of the building are of Ariel and Prospero, characters from Shakespeare's The Tempest. They are among the most famous works by the British sculptor and designer Eric Gill.

Rumour has it that on its initial inspection by the BBC's governors, they demanded that several inches be lopped off the manhood of the sprite Ariel.

Ariel was chosen as something of joke on the word aerial. But Gill himself was not completely amused by the joke, saying: "Comic, though, the BBC kidding itself that it may be likened to a prince putting the world to rights and its bally apparatus likened to a sort of heavenly spire."

In a piece of historial neatness, the corporation now uniformly uses a typeface designed by Gill - Gill Sans - as its house style.

Bush telegraph

As iconic as the image of Broadcasting House is to a UK audience, the name Bush House holds even more powerful associations for listeners to the BBC World Service.

Under the reorganisation, the World Service will leave Bush House in Aldwych, which has been its home since 1940, and join the rest of BBC Radio and BBC News at Portland Place.

Bush House is not owned by the BBC, and the lease was due to expire in 2005. However an extension has been negotiated to allow the World Service to remain there until 2008.

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30 Oct 00 | Entertainment
New era for Broadcasting House
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