The comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb were star guests on BBC 1's Breakfast programme yesterday, sending the show's publicists into overdrive. The pair's interview with presenters Sian Williams and Charlie Stayt was posted on Breakfast's website and discussed on its Facebook page and Twitter account.
But there were no official tweets about the hottest subject being discussed yesterday by the show's staff – that Breakfast is to be uprooted from TC7, the studio it uses in Television Centre in London, and relocated to Salford, outside Manchester.
Not until James Laidler, a producer in charge of "all things social media for BBC Breakfast" tweeted that there was an "awful mood in office today". It "emerges Breakfast is very likely moving to Salford by 2012 and we'll have six months to decide if we go too". The bad humour was a result of the "compressed timescale of relocation", he said, not because of a dislike of Salford.
The BBC has briefed staff on the likelihood of a move north but said yesterday that no final decision had been taken. "We've always been clear we want to move other output north and this is part of a range of options," said a spokesman. It is understood that BBC management is very keen for the move to happen.
Other sectors of BBC output that are earmarked for relocation to Salford are the sports and children's departments and parts of Radio 5 Live. Some 1,500 BBC staff are due to relocate next year and will make flagship shows such as Blue Peter and Match of the Day in the North-west. But Breakfast could provide a more visible reminder that the corporation's national output does not all emanate from London.
"If BBC Breakfast were to move to Salford, viewers could really start to notice that the BBC was making more of its programmes in the North," said Torin Douglas, the BBC media correspondent. "Breakfast runs for three hours a day on BBC 1 – and the Salford Quays waterfront and new buildings could provide a highly visible backdrop for the programme."
News of the likely relocation was received well in the North-west of England, where the presence of Breakfast would be seen as an important signal of the BBC's commitment to the Media City that is being created on a 220-acre site at Salford Quays. But persuading the programme's famous guests to travel far from the capital will not be easy, as ITV show This Morning found when it broadcast from Liverpool.
Producers of breakfast radio and television are accustomed to sending early morning taxis for interviewees, but an appearance on Breakfast might in future necessitate a journey north the night before and an overnight stay. BBC stars – such as Mitchell and Webb – frequently visit the Breakfast sofa to plug upcoming shows but may not be willing to give up so much time for the sake of publicity. It remains to be seen whether Williams, Stayt and other star Breakfast presenters such as Bill Turnbull will be prepared to follow the programme north.
The proposed move also comes at an interesting time in the early morning television ratings battle. GMTV, which has been taken into full ownership by ITV, is undergoing a transformation and was last week rebranded as Daybreak, ahead of the introduction of its new presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley.
Daybreak is to be broadcast from new "state-of-the-art" studios and is promising to put an emphasis on "distinctive, credible journalism", making it a more direct competitor to Breakfast, which brands itself as "the UK's favourite morning programme". Having seen the success which Chiles and Bleakley enjoyed in making BBC 1's The One Show an unlikely hit in the early evening schedule, the corporation's senior executives will be fearful of the threat they pose to Breakfast, especially if staff at the BBC show are uncertain of their futures.