Today is a sad day for British television. With reports that the BBC has sold off its iconic Television Centre home, the wellspring that produced shows as varied as Blue Peter, Top of the Pops and the original Doctor Who, an era has ended. As this cradle of creativity passes into the hands of a property developer for the princely sum of £200m, levels of nostalgia for the good building and the productions nurtured there will we justifiably high. As such, we felt it fitting to contribute our own recollection of our time at BBC Television Centre, however brief that proved to be.
It was Easter, 2009. Months before, as a 19-year-old student, we had won the BBC Blast Comedy Bursary for our short film, Sensitivity. We had attended the award ceremony, received our trophy of etched glass, and had seen the film projected on the massive screen at the BFI Southbank’s National Film Theatre. That was the first part of the award. The second, considerably more desirable part of the prize, was a £3000 bursary to write and direct another short film, mentored by an industry professional. As winner of the comedy category, my mentor was Micheal Jacob, then Creative Head of the BBC College of Comedy and Executive Producer of smash hit BBC1 series My Family. So it was that now, as a 20-year-old man, I was travelling down to London, speeding through the country by train, gripped with apprehension, towards my first ever production meeting. It could not be at a more auspicious venue: BBC Television Centre.
Waiting in reception, I spied Christine Bleakley, then of The One Show. The glamour! After waiting nervously I was escorted upstairs by the BBC Blast project assistant, who would liaise with me and make sure I was keeping on track with everything. Up we went in those ancient lifts, up to a floor that looked identical to the one we had just left. We meandered around the confusing corridors, till we arrived at last at Micheal Jacob’s office, greeted by a smiling face and outstretched hand. I was at ease.
The meeting itself was pleasant and fun. It must have lasted about an hour. It is the details one remembers; being sat on a sofa. A desk filled with bits and bobs, including Elbow’s latest album, The Seldom Seen Kid (this augured well; it was, and may well still be, my favourite album) and I remember, perhaps erroneously, green walls. We talked of time scales for delivery. My university course would finish in May, so I would be free from then. I was asked about, and spoke of, my upcoming university final film, one which sadly went unmade, and remains so. I said would like to shoot in Birmingham if possible, as I did not know London. Did I have any initial ideas? I did. Sensitivity’s success lay in its roots in my own experiences, my over sensitivity to noise during film viewings. I was thinking about lateness as a subject, something I can’t stand. Eventually, this idea was junked. So were several others. But during that meeting the seeds were sown for the film that would become The Interviewee. From there it would bloom into an RTS nominated short film, and I into its nominated as Best New Talent director. But we weren’t to know that at the time. We shook hands, rode the old lift down from its identical floor to its ground floor duplicate, and, with goodbyes said and followup meetings arranged, I left BBC Television Centre. Pleased, relieved, and, without knowing it, unlikely to ever return.
In the annals of such a storied building, this is but a footnote. A footnote of a footnote. But to us it was a footstep; a small one, perhaps, but one towards the career in film and television we have always dreamed of. Television Centre may be just a building, but to us and many others privileged enough to walk its corridors, it will remain much more. Rest In Peace, BBC Television Centre!
To honour its memory, please take five minutes to watch the film that would eventually emerge from that meeting, our BBC funded comedy short, The Interviewee: