Last Night’s Viewing: Tales of Television Centre, BBC4
The Great Euro Crash with Robert Peston, BBC2
When the BBC revealed that it would be moving out of Television Centre and handing over its doughnut building to a developer, the announcement was followed by a brief Twitter storm as various actors and media types shared their indignation.
Given the fury of the reaction, you would have thought that the Corporation had announced that it planned to euthanase Sir David Attenborough, rather than taken a tricky decision about an aging bit of its infrastructure. It was hard not to view Tales of Television Centre as a kind of appeasing gesture, acknowledging the sentiment that attaches to this particular bit of west London real estate and letting some old troupers hold an early wake. In keeping with the spirit of such things it was fabulously self-indulgent.
"Walking into Television Centre meant sparkle time," said Esther Rantzen, after a short montage of empty studios accompanied by echoey clips from BBC classics. But Esther's eulogy was easily eclipsed by Andi Peters: "I remember getting to TVC and them having my name on the gates," he said of his first day in the building, "and it was literally a religious experience." Still, let's be fair, it must have been fun to be there in the early days, when the BBC had an armlock on broadcasting excellence and there was a household name behind every door.
Happily for the producers of this film, countless producers before them had thought it a brilliant idea to use the building in self-referential gags. There seems to have been an entire sub-genre of comic business devoted to getting through the gates, which meant that memories of the commissionaires and receptionists could be lavishly illustrated with archive clips of everyone from Terry Scott to Pinkie and Perky turning up for work. Other anecdotes – about sexual bunk-ups in the dressing rooms and pot smoking on the set of Play School – had less direct illustration.
A different kind of programme might have seriously addressed the question of whether you got better television out of a pre-Birt BBC in which everything was done in-house. But this was more preoccupied with anecdote and fond remembrance, its stories fuelled by the fact that very few celebrities are immune to the glamour of other celebrities they haven't met before. So, Top of the Pops dancers recalled being starstruck by bands and actors, and actors recalled being dazzled by dancers – in Robert Powell's case to the extent of actually marrying Babs from Pan's People.
Brian Blessed – who appeared on an exterior balcony high above the central rotunda, like a hairy kind of Quasimodo – entertainingly pantomimed his envy of this coup: "Nice guy. But very skinny. Chin him when I see him." He also easily took the cup for most memorable anecdote, recalling how Huw Wheldon had dared him to scale the pillar and tie an inflated condom to the genitals of Helios the sun god. Fun that. But the final montage, in which all the contributors were invited to sum up the building in just one word, was close to insupportable in its sentimental cosiness.
The Great Euro Crash with Robert Peston was a slightly quixotic affair, given the events of the last few days – a bit like trying to paint a bus as it's going over a cliff. But for anyone who wanted to fill in the background before the vehicle hits the ground and the fireball engulfs us all this offered a useful historical survey, from the beginnings of the European Union to the shameless fudges by which governments ensured that monetary union could go ahead. The only slight problem was that any move towards specific detail also threatened to plunge any lay viewer into a fog of unknowing. Oddly, as a string of technocrats, politicians and financial bureaucrats passed across the screen, Peston's historical survey summoned thoughts of a very different account of pan-continental alliances and tectonic change. The only appropriate conclusion was "Winter is coming".
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