Pebble Mill is not at one with Greg Dyke's BBC

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The Independent Online

The BBC is to close its main television studios at Birmingham's Pebble Mill - the most tangible evidence yet of the determination of Director-General Greg Dyke to make savings.

The BBC is to close its main television studios at Birmingham's Pebble Mill - the most tangible evidence yet of the determination of Director-General Greg Dyke to make savings.

The closure will cost 90 jobs and diminish one of the best-known names in British broadcasting. Following union anger the move could also lead to industrial action.

The corporation was quick to stress yesterday that it was not ending its commitment to Birmingham. It will step up location filming there and use productions from independent studios. It will also use the small TV studios for the regional news programme Midlands Today and continue to produce Radio 4's The Archers.

Nevertheless, the closure of the two main TV studios means the dimming of a name that is familiar to millions of viewers.

From 1973 to 1986 the programme Pebble Mill at One was broadcast from the foyer in the building, which also became the venue for the daytime programme Anne and Nick.

But it was Pebble Mill At One that went into the public consciousness. The daily magazine programme with music, chat and news was presented by Bob Langley and Donny Macleod. It became a model for later daytime TV shows and launched the career of the TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh.

BBC Resources Chief Executive Margaret Salmon told staff in Birmingham yesterday that over-capacity and changing production patterns in the industry as a whole meant that demand for studio facilities had changed dramatically.

Ninety staff will be affected, she said, but the BBC in Birmingham will still be employing more than 600 people on a wide variety of network, local and regional television, radio and online output.

The BBC's decision was immediately attacked by the broadcasting union Bectu, and by a Birmingham MP. As Carlton moved its main Central TV production centre from Birmingham to Nottingham in the Nineties, the BBC decision means that Britain's second city will no longer have any major TV studios.

Gerry Morrissey, the assistant general secretary for Bectu, said: "Our opinion is that the BBC's so-called policy of supporting regional broadcasting sounds very hollow in the light of this announcement. The future implications are that Birmingham will lose out on new programmes, which will be given to London."

Gisela Stuart, MP for Edgbaston in Birmingham, where Pebble Mill is based, said: "I've always been concerned that the BBC should continue their commitment to regional broadcasting. I'm not attached to buildings, so if management decide the Pebble Mill studios are no longer usable, then I have no problem with that. It's a question of looking at what will be left in Birmingham.

"I want to see production facilities in Birmingham - not just for regional news but for other programmes."

The daily game show Call My Bluff is likely to be one of the first shows to move to London from Pebble Mill.

Ms Salmon said: "Most of Pebble Mill's network production is location based; as a result, utilisation of these studios has halved in three years to around one-third of capacity."

BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said: "We have an absolutely solid commitment to continue commissioning network television production from Birmingham. But production techniques change and we have to recognise that.

"Closing studios does not mean cutting production. Since the BBC closed its studio in Bristol seven years ago, network production has nearly doubled, as well as increasing production for our digital channels.

"The BBC is not pulling out of England's second city. Now that we have a much clearer picture of production requirements in Birmingham, we are in a position to give output guarantees, which will give everyone more stability. It also means we can move towards a final decision on whether to refurbish Pebble Mill or relocate to a city-centre location."

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