What do you do with one of Britain's most iconic buildings, BBC Television Centre which closed for business in March 2013? Sell it and lease some of it back is the short answer. But the details of de-commissioning and facilitating a re-birth proved an interesting story which was outlined at a Southern Centre evening in Basingstoke in September by Lynden Potter, Andrew Wheeler and Andrew Fullerton, members of the BBC team responsible for the process.
The Centre opened in June 1960 and its cultural associations are well known having been home to the likes of Blue Peter, Monty Python, Only Fools and Horses and Children in Need to name but a few. But is was also the base for the BBC's International Control Room, a world wide communications hub which was only moved elsewhere at the end of last year. Knowing smiles from the audience greeted news of the scale of what the de-commissioning team dealt with. Twenty-two satellites, over seven thousand circuits, miles of cabling and giddy over-patching from the past meant cable cutting could continue long into the night. Some links, often the ingenious product of long gone engineers, were undocumented making many individual switch offs an act of faith carrying the possibility of losing Washington for two hours or the i-Player feed to the home counties.
Financially the BBC has done well out of the project. Apart from re-distributing over four million pounds worth of TV Centre kit around the corporation it sold the site for £200 million to developers Stanhope but retains a share of future profits. Stanhope plan to provide TV studio facilities, a hotel and around 950 homes. The BBC will lease three studios and space for BBC Worldwide. There will be public access to the famous frontage making a space as big as Trafalgar Square and across the road there are plans to develop Westfield 2 on one site and outposts of Imperial College on another.
The audience, many of whom had spent part of their working lives at TC came away impressed by the possibilities for the future.
By Gordon Cooper