BBC Television Builds a New City 

31 January 2022


Radio Times Annual 1954 cover

From the Radio Times Annual 1954

TELEVISION CENTRE, Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush, London W.12, is already an address. Indeed, about two thousand letters arrive there every morning, and about five hundred men and women come to the Centre every day to work in their offices, their scenic studios, at their benches, and in their workshops. The studios are about five hundred yards away, in a separate building, in Lime Grove.

Within the next few years, the wing now completed will be dwarfed by further buildings. Studios are being added. By 1960, if things go according to plan, there will be seven fully equipped studios at the Centre, together with the multitude of installations, workshops, technical areas, make-up and wardrobe departments, rehearsal rooms, and the like which a television operation needs. When that happens, virtually the whole of the BBC’s Television Service will be under one roof.

The building now standing in Wood Lane is a scenery block, and it is the first (and relatively a minor) unit in the concept as a whole. It itself covers an acre of ground, and is comparable in pure size to, say, the Royal Albert Hall. By 1960 the premises will cover some seven acres. The site itself is almost twice as big again, leaving room for still further development.

The present scenery block came into use during the winter of 1953-54. It exists primarily, as its name suggests, for the design, manufacture, and supply of scenery. All the scenery has to be ferried down to the studios at Lime Grove. Eventually, of course, it will only need to be shifted into the studios at the Centre itself. The block also has a secondary purpose. It is to provide temporary house room for the directorate of the service and for its central planning departments, together with the heads, producers and staffs of several important programme and ancillary departments, among them the drama, music, light-entertainment, outside-broadcasts, and documentary departments. The two hundred offices at present taken up in this way will eventually revert to their legitimate tenants—the designers and craftsmen concerned with scenery.


Model of the Television Centre building

TELEVISION CENTRE, WHITE CITY: A model of what the 13-acre [52609m²] site will eventually look like


‘Television builds a new city’ is in no sense an immoderate title, and it suggests the sheer scale of the enterprise. ‘Television builds a new workshop’ would be no less accurate, and would suggest its purpose. Few people realise the astonishing demands made by a fully fledged television service. Thus, in terms of scenery demands alone, the seventy carpenters working at Television Centre used the best part of a million square feet of timber and building board during 1954. Every studio production requires some sort of scenery; not a few need highly complicated settings. The design department worked on about 2,000 productions during the year, a task which involved, for example, 6,000 finished drawings, as many captions, and 380 backcloths (to say nothing of 720,000 sq. ft. [66,890m²] of wallpaper!).


The corner of a curved building

TELEVISION CENTRE, WHITE CITY: Part of the wing already built


‘Props’ are part of the same story. Not a day passes in the life of a television service without demands being made for all kinds of articles, from automatics to antimacassars, from jawbones to pork pie hats. The property master supplied more than 250,000 props during 1954, some specially made, a few hired, but most of them from his large permanent stock at the Television Centre.


Men sit drawing at a row of desks

The caption artists’ room in the scenery block of the Television Centre. Six thousand captions are required each year


This sort of activity needs a lot of room, as well as a lot of care and skill. The part of the present wing given over exclusively to scenery (excluding the central departments, production offices, canteens and so on) is about the same size, in terms of cubic capacity, as Broadcasting House. It consists of a vast storage area, which is being drawn upon, added to, and slightly changing its appearance every day; and an equally extensive setting area, where sets are built, run up, painted, modified. Surrounding and opening out of these two central areas are the designers’ offices, metal workshops, scenic artists’ studio, papier-mache shops, plan-reproduction rooms, carpenters’ shops, dark rooms, and so forth.


A crowded store room

A corner of the properties store. More than a quarter of a million props were used during 1954


This workshop or city was designed by Graham Dawbarn. One of the difficulties of designing for television is that the medium itself is developing and changing so quickly. There is, accordingly, flexibility in the plan; but it seems highly unlikely that there will be major changes in the central architectural concept. The ring of studios will gradually come into being. The largest of the studios will be slightly smaller than the giant studio now being planned and designed by the National Broadcasting Company in California. The Centre as a whole is unlikely to have a competitor.



The activity behind the screen is no less extensive in departments other than design. The blunt statement that seven studios will be in operation at the Centre carries with it a huge complex of ancillary services. The business of telerecording productions, for example, is a substantial operation in itself, and it needs room, skill, and equipment. The Centre will not fail to provide the room and equipment—and, so far as human ingenuity can plan ahead, it will not fail to provide those twin and vital features for all the needs of television. The skill must come from the service itself. The architects and civil engineers can do no more than provide the service with its tools, well turned and nicely to hand.


Courtesy of BBC London


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