Scotland's Media Capital

By Glenn Aylett

Glasgow is a major media centre for both BBC and independent broadcasters, with new production centres currently under construction

While Edinburgh might be the political capital of Scotland, Glasgow has for decades been the country's media capital. BBC Scotland, STV and most Scottish newspapers are based in Glasgow, and for many years BBC Scotland and STV, most notably known South of the border for Taggart, have made important contributions to national BBC and ITV over the years. Until the English and Scottish transmitters split in 2001, STV's Scotsport and Arthur Montfort were also a familiar sight to English Border Region viewers.

Having never been to Glasgow before, and interested in the city's considerable media infrastructure, I set out to see STV at Cowcaddens and BBC Scotland at West End, and also to check on the progress of the BBC and STV's new studio centres being built beside the Clyde.

Sketch of Pacific Quay
An artist's impression of the entire Pacific Quay site (courtesy Gareth Hoskins architects)

Indeed rather like White City in London, Pacific Quay is set to become Scotland's media village, as it already houses ILR pop station Beat FM, which broadcasts from a converted Victorian building, and is not too far from the offices of the Daily Record, Scotland's most popular daily paper.

Scottish Television

STV has been central Scotland's ITV contractor since 1957 and, unlike regional ITV in England and Wales, remains steadfastly independent from ITV plc - even retaining its own regional idents and website - which is to be admired as other ITV contractors have been steadily reduced to the level of a local news service. As mentioned earlier, STV is best known in England for Taggart and the now deceased Highland soap Take The High Road, but at a regional level produces the popular Scotsport, which has been on air longer than Grandstand; the regional news magazine Scotland Today; programmes in Gaelic; local drama; political and children's programmes. In short, it is as if the past ten years of ITV never happened in Scotland, as STV is a fully-fledged regional station which retains large production facilities and its own personality. I decided to check out STV's studios, as far as security would allow, at Cowcaddens.

STV is part of the much larger Scottish Media Group which includes Virgin Radio, Grampian Television, the Glasgow Herald and Glasgow Evening Times as part of its media empire. Only the left side of the building is used for television production, with the main nineties extension in a courtyard at the top of Renfield St serving as newspaper and SMG offices. However, the left hand side of the building also contains a car park bristling with SMG OB trucks and company cars, guarded by a security man who showed a keen interest as I looked over the wall into the car park. Not wishing to indulge in a staring match with the security man, I decided to wander across to the main courtyard at the top of Renfield St. ( To add to the creative flair around STV, I noticed it was situated very close to the Theatre Royal and Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.) On the side door a large advert advised me this was the way to the studio for The People's Court, a networked morning show hosted by Carol Smillie where people settle minor legal disputes in front of an audience and panel. Not surprisingly at 1pm in the afternoon the door was locked, so I wandered up to the reception.

I entered the STV reception, which contained a huge widescreen television showing the News at 12.30, followed by a Scottish TV ident in St Andrews blue rather than the bland ITV1 idents favoured in England, and again nearly came a cropper with another security man who stopped me approaching a door which must have led into the studios. Apologising to the man, who was actually quite friendly, I told him I was a tourist from England who was doing a media project for the internet.

I was then pointed in the direction of the reception desk where a woman in an SMG polo shirt advised me briefly on the facilities used by STV, although she admitted she was no expert and guided me towards the website. STV currently has four studios at Cowcaddens and three OB trucks. The main studios are Studios A and D , B and C being used for continuity and daytime news bulletins. Studio A, used for The People's Court and entertainment programmes, is, as STV claims, the biggest television studio north of Manchester. It covers an area of 6000 square feet and is 60 feet wide and 88 feet long. The studio is fully digital and contains nine cameras. Linked to Studio A is a reception area and green room. Studio D is used by Scotland Today, Scotsport and Politics Now and is the studio most familiar to viewers in Scotland. This is a smaller studio than A and is fully automatic, the cameras being operated by remote control from a production area.

The central technical area is the nerve centre of STV. This contains two editing suites, a dubbing suite and a playout area, equipped with the latest technology and able to connect with any other studio worldwide in seconds.

STV is also the main producer of commercials in Scotland and has a Commercial Production Department. This was set up by STV in 1994 and produces over 400 commercials a year. Occasionally the Commercial Production Department produces pop promos and has won awards for its services to Scottish businesses.

However, the Cowcaddens site, which is not one of the more memorable buildings in Glasgow, resembling a seventies comprehensive school, is cramped and STV are to move to the Pacific Quay in Govan next year.

New STV building - illustration
Artist's impression of Scottish Television's new Pacific Quay building (courtesy STV)

The Pacific Quay area of Glasgow is one of the fastest growing areas of the city. Twenty years ago this part of Govan was derelict dockland and certainly not the kind of place that would attract tourists. I walked here from Cowcaddens along a Clyde that now contains expensive apartments, restaurants and developments such as The Armadillo (a kind of exhibition centre that looks like the said animal) and the Glasgow Science Centre. It is perhaps appropriate that Pacific Quay with its emphasis on science and technology should become home to the new STV and BBC studios.

The STV building is still a shell covered in scaffolding, but when completed will be a five- storey building similar in design to the BBC studios next door. STV's 350 staff are expected to move to the new building, which STV claims is state of the art, in October 2006. While STV have not revealed whether the general public will have access to the new building, unlike the BBC, the Pacific Quay development looks far more exciting than the dreary Cowcaddens studios. The 63,000 square feet building at Pacific Quay will house all of STV's production and transmission facilities and will cost £ 20 million to fit out.

BBC Scotland

Due to time constraints, I did not get to see the BBC's Scottish headquarters at Queen Margaret Drive in the West End of Glasgow. Queen Margaret Drive has been the headquarters of BBC Scotland since 1936, after Broadcasting House the second oldest BBC building in Britain, but unlike Broadcasting House, it (with a couple of specific exceptions) is of little merit architecturally and is now seen as a difficult place to work in, lacks the infrastructure required for modern digital media, and is costly to maintain. Therefore, the BBC has decided to up sticks and move from the leafy West End to the banks of the Clyde - to a new £129 million complex at Pacific Quay.

Rendering of BBC building
How the new BBC building will appear, looking along the Clyde (courtesy BBC Scotland)

Like the Mailbox in Birmingham, Pacific Quay replaces the corridors and closed doors approach of West End - and Pebble Mill - with an open plan design that allows greater public access. Due to open in 2007, Pacific Quay has been designed by David Chipperfield Architects. The outside of the new building is completed; it is currently surrounded by a hoarding that announces this will be the new headquarters of BBC Scotland. The five-storey building, measuring 64,000 square metres and approximately 60 per cent bigger than the old studios, features a unique triple-glazing system and a BBC Scotland sign that will be visible all the way down the Clyde. The BBC, on its Scotland website, notes that the new building, "situated on the Clyde, opposite the SECC (Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre) and next to the Science Centre, … will be part of a stunning new development, and we hope our landmark building will provide an anchor for the whole Pacific Quay site." The opening of Pacific Quay in 2007 will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the launching of the QE2 on the Clyde.

Unlike West End, the new HQ will be far more accessible to the public. A large reception foyer will contain information points, a cafe, multimedia displays and a BBC shop; and regular tours are planned, although the BBC does not indicate whether the building will be as accessible as The Mailbox, where visitors can see inside some of the studios. However, Pacific Quay itself will be keen to encourage visitors. BBC Scotland controller Ken MacQuarrie states on the Pacific Quay webpages, "When we open our doors in 2007, we will welcome staff, audiences, communities and visitors to a purpose-built broadcasting and technological centre of excellence which will connect our centres, communities and audiences across Scotland."

BBC Pacific Quay: interior rendering
Artist's impression of the interior, showing the ‘street' that rises the length of the building. (courtesy BBC Scotland)

For staff working at Pacific Quay, the facilities will be far better than the old studios with stepped, open platforms leading down from the restaurant on the top floors, and terraces leading away from the platforms, rather than the cramped corridors and offices at West End. The BBC hopes the new building will improve communications and creativity, and will also provide "touchdown" facilities for BBC staff from Scotland and around the UK who are, for example, up from London for meetings, or spend large amounts of time away filming on location. Networked dramas such as Monarch of the Glen are now filmed entirely on location, and the nature of BBC Scotland as a single national entity means reporters could be in the Highlands for many hours before returning to Glasgow. Clearly the BBC in Scotland has made its new headquarters people-friendly, and the building should be pleasant to work in as well as eye catching.

When completed, Pacific Quay, which, as a recent BBC press statement puts it, is "digitally-equipped for national and international radio, television and interactive services", will put BBC Scotland at the centre of a unique riverside media community including both broadcasting and digital media production companies. It will act as the headquarters of BBC Scotland, the main production centre for BBC Television Scotland, and as the headquarters of Radio Scotland - although the BBC plans to continue using The Tun in Edinburgh (currently extensively used for political programming) and other broadcast centres throughout Scotland as well.

The whole Pacific Quay project marks another move forward for the Govan area of Glasgow, which 20 years was notorious for deprivation and crime. 1988 took the area into the limelight in a positive way, when it hosted the Garden Festival; today it is part of one of the most exciting architectural developments in Scotland. At last Scotland will have two broadcasting headquarters and a digital media centre of which it can be proud.

Images courtesy of Gareth Hoskins architects, Scottish Television/SMG, and BBC Scotland

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Article ©2005 Glenn Aylett

Compilation ©2005 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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