It may be a concrete hell, but it suits me
So what if you can't find a good chardonnay or decent curtain fabric in White City? It beats Broadcasting House any day, says Roger Liddle
Tuesday 27 April 1999
The dissident view can be summed up thus: "It was lovely in BH. There were lots of wine bars and pubs and we could nip down to John Lewis at lunch time and browse through the soft furnishings. So civilised. And BH had character! Now we're stuck miles from nowhere in a concrete hell and there are next to no pubs and there's a huge council estate next door. Now, don't get me wrong; public housing is a terrific thing and the people are, I'm sure, charming, but is it absolutely necessary to have them living right next to our car park?" That's the gist, anyway, together with a frequently repeated assertion that the news centre in W12 has been "designed by someone with no experience of making programmes". No, really? You mean, like an architect?
Mine are somewhat heretical views; but then I never spent my lunch-times at W1 getting pissed or searching for curtain material. It's undoubtedly true that BH was surrounded by drinking-holes, each of which had its own specific clientele and purpose. The World at One drank exclusively at The Dover Castle; Today favoured The King's Head. There were pubs to go to if you wished to conduct a clandestine affair with a newsreader; pubs to go to if you wished to ingratiate yourself with management. There was even a pub - rather like The Chestnut Tree cafe in Orwell's 1984 - where dissidents gathered before being shot. Now we only have a couple: never mind.
Never mind because Broadcasting House was, in many ways, an appalling place to work. The cramped, sweltering offices; the continual building work; the dark (dank?) smell always present along our corridor, which I'm told came from the canteen but was redolent of an even less savoury source - and the vermin. In the old Today office I saw a mouse skitter across the floor and a woman stood on her chair and shrieked. And there were fleas; liberal, well-educated, middle-class fleas, perhaps, but fleas all the same.
The more substantive complaints were based around the fear that the BBC intended to merge programme and radio news teams and that the resultant programmes would be a homogeneous mush. But, in fact, over the last year the agendas of Today and Breakfast News have, if anything, diverged further. This, despite the fact that we work in the same office. And we get on with our TV colleagues just fine; we co-operate - to the licence-payers' benefit - in a way that would have been unthinkable just one year ago. Our initial assessment of the differences between us - they're better- looking than us, but more stupid - still holds, but despite that, it's a warm and growing relationship.
One thing, though; when television people pass you in the corridor they always give you these big grins, because they think you've recognised them because they're famous. Well, we haven't; you're not; stop it.
So, I'd rather not return to BH. There are still a couple of problems with our new home - too many guests refuse to come in for interviews and I'd like more privacy in our programme areas - but by and large, it's an improvement.
A few weeks before we left Broadcasting House, I sneaked off to the gents for a cigarette as usual, only to find the door sealed off with that red tape the police use when there's been a murder. I ducked underneath anyway and saw a quite breathtaking sight. A man in blue overalls was poking the ceiling with a long pole. Each time he did so, gobbets of ordure splattered down on to the floor, the walls and him. "Blocked up, innit," he said, and added, "Look at me! I'm at a party in half an hour."
So, BBC management - the Corporate Centre - is welcome to BH. And for my colleagues here, pining for John Lewis and a good chardonnay, I say don't worry; we'll find you a good local haberdashers - and White City is awfully handy for the Cotswolds, no?
The writer is the editor of Radio 4's `Today' programme
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