BBC chooses striking image for the millennium

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The Independent Online
BONG! CHAMPAGNE will flow and "Auld Lang Syne" resound as midnight strikes on New Year's Eve. Bong! Between Big Ben's chimes, revellers will see the first, inspiring TV pictures of the new millennium. Bong! And what does the BBC want to show us in these historic moments? The Ford production line at Dagenham.

The troubled factory - riven by pay disputes, strike action, and accusations of racism on the shopfloor in recent months - has been chosen as a potential setting for some of the live and quintessentially British scenes with which the BBC plans to fill the three-second gaps between the 12 strokes of midnight.

"Our images will show exciting moments that define Britain and say something about ourselves. It could be a newborn baby, people working, or more traditional images like Edinburgh Castle," says Avril MacRory, head of the BBC's Millennium Event team.

The Corporation is considering sending cameras to Essex for an outside broadcast from a section of the Ford production line that is operated by robots, she confirms.

Millennium night has provoked intense rivalry between all the major broadcasters, and detailed plans are expected to be kept secret until the eleventh hour, in some cases literally. ITV has handed over responsibility to ITN, whose spokeswoman Anne Were says: "We invented showing pictures in between the bongs, and we will live up to that."

She refuses to reveal more, although sources suggest ITN hopes to show the birth of a baby, as it happens. Sky News plans to chase the sunrise around the globe, but other TV stations including Channel 4 have yet to decide how to introduce the first few seconds of the year 2000.

Film director Michael Winner suggests they should start with Churchill "to remind everyone there was a time when this nation came close to being annihilated". But spy writer Nigel West insists the Millennium organisers are a bunch of "silly asses who've picked the wrong date. The real millennium is next year".