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Television Centre prepares for September return

The old BBC TV studios in west London are part of the UK's cultural heritage and, after some doubt about their future, are being redeveloped for the 20th Century

The Tower of London. The Houses of Parliament. St Paul’s Cathedral. All historic London landmarks that give the capital much of its character and tourist appeal. More recently these have been joined on the skyline by the London Eye and the Gherkin and Canary Wharf office buildings. At the same other, equally historically or culturally important edifices have been demolished – Earls Court Exhibition Centre is a notorious example – or, like Battersea Power Station, left to rot before eventual regeneration.

There were fears Television Centre (TVC) in White City, west London faced a similarly uncertain future. Opened in 1960 as the BBC’s main TV production facility and management base, the characteristically circular building – designed by architect Graham Dawbarn, who apparently based the shape on a question mark – was home to many of the broadcaster’s most famous and highest rating programmes for over five decades.

From the 1990s onwards, the BBC was under pressure to cut costs, and TVC, as a prime piece of real estate on the outskirts of central London, was always a likely candidate for sale and redevelopment. The formal decision to do this was made in 2007, coinciding with the BBC’s commitment to move many of its shows and operations to MediaCityUK in Salford.

In 2012 TVC was sold to property development company Stanhope PLC for £200m. It was vacated a year later, with the majority of studio production moved to either MediaCityUK or Elstree, where BBC Studios and Post Production – now rebranded BBC Studioworks – has been using both its own studios and sound stages at Elstree Film Studios.

Stanhope planned apartments, offices, a leisure centre and a hotel for the site but it was also decided that television would continue to be part of a location with such a long connection to the medium. That commitment is now becoming a reality, with a ‘new’ TVC due to reopen in September. While construction continues on the site in general, the studios are now approaching completion and equipment has been selected for installation in the coming months.

Of the original eight studios, TC (Television Centre) 1, 2 and 3 have been retained and refurbished. The other five were demolished. Scott Talbott, a sound supervisor with BBC Studioworks who knew the old TVC well and will be working at its successor, says anyone familiar with the layout of the former building will not immediately recognise the new arrangements. “The orientation of the galleries has swung round by 90-degrees,” he says. “They are all now facing the same way towards the studios.”

Talbott explains that the original studio shells are being reused, while the associated technical areas for sound, lighting and production have been remodelled. “The acoustic treatments are the same,” he says, “but the door seals have been replaced. Because there will be residents on site there is an issue with noise. But the studios are sound proofed and although the housing is fairly close there are two levels of acoustic spaces within the building. We’ve done numerous checks and tests because we want to be good neighbours.”

The installation is, in Talbott’s words, “in the final stages of planning”. The studios and galleries were being rewired and, at the time of writing, almost ready for the technical fit-out. The main audio equipment choices have been made: Studer Vista X digital consoles will go into the sound galleries of TC1 and TC3; the audio area of TC2 is to receive an existing Vista 5 that had previously been used at studios in Bristol for game show Deal Or No Deal.

BBC Studioworks has an established operational method and layout for its audio galleries, notably at Elstree and Salford. As well as the main Studer production mixing system, these areas feature a submixer for sound effects and other additional sources. This is known as the ‘grams’ desk, which, up to now, has been a Studer OnAir 3000 console. TVC will have the recently introduced Glacier modular, customisable control surfaces. The grams area, which will be standalone, with its own operator, and behind the central Vista, is to also offer two CueLogic SpotOn playback machines and a Pyramix digital audio workstation.

The TVC studios will be supported by a post-production department, as well as dressing rooms, production offices and green room areas.