So long, New Broadcasting House
3 Dec 2011 0 comments. tbs.pm/2266
I was nine when I first stepped foot in the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in Manchester in 1987. Our class had been split into groups and we were doing projects on various topics. Despite not having any interest in it, I was in a group looking at sport.
As part of that we somehow ended up with the idea of writing to BBC Radio Manchester and its commercial rival Piccadilly Radio to ask if we could see a sport bulletin being broadcast. It must have made sense at the time.
Piccadilly never got back to us but Radio Manchester did and one Thursday after school a small group of us, our teacher and the odd parent or two, headed on the train to Oxford Road where we were given a tour of the BBC’s Manchester base. We were shown the orchestra studio where the BBC Philharmonic rehearsed and recorded and were proudly shown the stairs which Stuart Hall and John Mundy climbed every night in order to present North West Tonight (notably we weren’t taken upstairs to see the studio itself although at the time, just seeing the stairs was amazing enough!)
After being offered orange juice and biscuits, and an array of BBC Radio Manchester goodies (including a branded apron, car sticker and statutory photograph of Mike Shaft) we were led to a small radio studio where bemused presenters looked on as a small group of children gawped through the glass cubicle. Then, five minutes later, it was all over and soon we were heading back to Manchester Piccadilly and the the train home.
Twenty two years later I’d return to that building, this time in the employ of the BBC. I was working in London for BBC Red Button which, in the summer of 2011, was to be relocated to the MediaCity:UK development in Salford. Whilst I had decided not to move back up north, several of my colleagues did and in September 2009 an advance party arrived in New Broadcasting House.
With the team now running across two sites, almost inevitably there would be trips between the two offices which is why, two months later, I found myself stood on the hallowed steps of Manchester’s Oxford Street once more.
New Broadcasting House opened in October 1976. As it name suggests, it was intended to be a replacement for the increasingly cramped studios at Broadcasting House at Piccadilly Gardens which had opened in April 1929 (and would remain open until 1981) as well as providing a new home for the television production which had formerly been based in a converted chapel in Dickinson Road.
Despite it being a rather bland 1970s building, derided by many as a dark and dingy monstrosity, not fit for the modern age, stepping inside was a still a big moment for me. Whilst perhaps not a classic in architecture like Television Centre or London’s Broadcasting House, for me New Broadcasting House had always been an iconic BBC building. As a kid, we’d drive past on the nearby A57(M) and I could never resist a quick look out of the window at the large BBC logo on the front of the building, wondering what excitement was going on inside.
Even stood outside its now slightly grubby entrance, it felt magical; more so given the remains of an old slanted BBC logo can be seen under the modern BBC blocks. The remnants of a short lived blue and red “NW” logo from the 1980s also remains visible; the neon lights having burned themselves in to the building.
Shuffling myself nonchalantly through the turnstiles I wandered deep in to the building in the hunt for the small room my colleagues were based in. I eventually found them on the second floor, opposite the canteen and the BBC Club whose brass plaque gleamed with the news that it had been opened by then Radio 1 presenters Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley.
Later that day, and on several subsequent trips, I’d wander aimlessly round the building’s dimly lit corridors, taking it all in. Up there would be studio B, home to North West Tonight whose then presenter, Gordon Burns, would usually be found in the canteen just after he’d presented the lunchtime bulletin.
Down there, the network radio studios, home to Radcliffe and Maconie, Marc Riley and, of course, Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday. Along a corridor or two, a sign proclaiming that the door went through to the home of the long defunct Heaven and Earth Show, which was, at one point, based in Studio D; a small studio created for digital programmes. Further along, an old GMR sign reveals the BBC Radio Manchester offices.
And then there, of course, there was Studio A, former home to network TV production when it replaced the Dickinson Road studios. It was mothballed in 2000 when network production moved to Granada’s studios in Quay Street following the creation of a joint venture called 3sixtymedia. It’s last production was, ironically, not for television at all but for Radio 1. A temporary radio studio was built in the middle in order to house the
Mark and Lard show whilst their normal home was being refurbished; a giant Question of Sport logo looming in the background.
As it turned out Studio A’s closure was actually shortlived. High demand for studio facilities in the city lead to it being reopened a few years later with 3sixtymedia operating it as a flexible studio space for dramas, including the iconic Life On Mars.
New Broadcasting House was like a little mini-BBC. Religious programmes, light entertainment, current affairs. Local and national. TV, radio and what the BBC terms “Future Media” all sitting side by side. And in Studio 7, the greatest sign of this. Home to the BBC Philharmonic, how many office buildings could people say they’ve worked in where there’s a large full orchestra studio; it’s inhabitants playing away all day?
Wandering stary eyed, I’d make the most of it on every occasion. For just as I’d be leaving the BBC’s employment soon, so too would NBH, as the building is known to BBC staff. With the opening of the BBC’s new home in Salford Quays, New Broadcasting House would be emptied. The studios would be finally cleared; the offices quiet; the orchestra playing no more.
I never would get to see what was at the top of the stairs Stuart Hall once climbed nightly. Not likely would it be that I’d sit opposite to Gordon Burns whilst eating my fish and chips. After 35 years of broadcasting, the 5.4 acre site would find a new, non-broadcasting-related use after being sold for £10m to a company owned by an Iranian-born property mogul.
Maybe someone would even scrub off the remnants of old logos from the front. And with it would go a little of the magic of my childhood; the magic of the BBC.
During one of my final visits to New Broadcasting House, I wandered round happily with my camera. The full set of resulting snaps can be seen on flickr where you can also find the Transdiffusion flickr group.