Tales of Television CentreBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 - By John Bowman and Marcus
By John Bowman and Marcus
A documentary telling the story of BBC Television Centre is to be aired next month with contributions from many people associated with Doctor Who.

Tales of Television Centre has been produced and directed by Richard Marson, who is a former editor of Blue Peter and who wrote for Doctor Who Monthly/Magazine between 1983 and 1988.

BBC Television Centre has been the main studio complex of BBC Television since it opened in 1960. In 2007, the BBC announced its intention to sell the site by the end of 2013 and to relocate its operations to various centres around the UK. BBC Radio Five, BBC Children, and BBC Sport have already relocated to Salford Quays, BBC Drama is based in Cardiff, and BBC News will move into a new state-of-the-art building in central London over the next year.

In its early years, Doctor Who was excluded from the new modern facilities at Television Centre (TVC), with the studios only available for occasional recordings. Doctor Who usually had to make do with limited facilities in the nearby Lime Grove or Riverside studios. From 1964 to 1969, around 56 black-and-white episodes were recorded at TVC, the first being episode two of The Aztecs, The Warriors of Death, which went before the cameras in Studio 3 on 8th May 1964.

Once the series moved into colour, TVC was the almost-exclusive home of Doctor Who. Except for one short foray up to Birmingham to record Horror of Fang Rock, every studio-filmed Doctor Who story from Doctor Who And The Silurians onwards was recorded at TVC during the classic era.

As well as Doctor Who, TVC was also home to some of the best-loved British television programmes of the past 50 years. Comedies such as Dad's Army, Are You Being Served? and Fawlty Towers were made there as well as dramas such as I, Claudius, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Elizabeth R and every single Shakespeare play. Shows such as Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies and Strictly Come Dancing were recorded alongside programmes such as Blue Peter and Top of the Pops, which saw the centre graced by such stars as The Beatles, Abba, and The Osmonds.

Tales of Television Centre will feature reminiscences from many former star names of Doctor Who, including Peter Davison, Katy Manning, Louise Jameson, Janet Fielding, Waris Hussein, June Hudson, Graeme Harper, Brian Blessed, and Sarah Greene. It will also feature Doctor Who-related moments from studio recordings.

Marson told Doctor Who News:
The documentary was commissioned last summer and I started working on it in September, with production concluding in April. We were lucky to have such a lengthy production period because there was a huge amount to do and a very small team of three!

We shot interviews with nearly 60 contributors, both stars and staff, although inevitably a handful didn't make the final cut or feature only briefly. This is no reflection on the quality of what they said, more that certain themes emerged and perhaps they had less to say on these subjects. Happily, the BBC have decided to archive everything we shot - both the interviews and the Steadicam and GVs, all of which were shot in glorious HD. Archive purists, like me, will be pleased that the 4:3 material is presented as such, with borders made from some of TVC's distinctive mosaics.

It was also important to remember that we were trying to tell the story of the building and what happened there, rather than too much specific detail about programmes as such. The other concern was to make it accessible to the many people who will have perhaps some sense of the place but not of the specifics. It couldn't be too 'in'.

One thing I was really determined to do was to let the contributors carry the narrative - in other words, to dispense with having a voiceover. I felt that these have become very hackneyed and sometimes the danger is that the voiceover is almost sneering at the archive material Come Dine With Me-style, and I didn't want that approach. We were lucky to be able to shoot the interviews over a long period of time, as this meant we could quote previous contributors so that we could get reactions and comparisons from others.

There are actually two versions of the programme - a post-watershed version and a pre-watershed version. The former has various adult words and anecdotes, whereas the latter has these replaced with some additional material and archive. Two for the price of one!

On the archive front, we were hugely helped by three key people who will be familiar to anyone who loves the superb Doctor Who DVD range. Andrew Martin at BBC Information and Archives put in a huge amount of work, as I was determined to use as many moments as possible from studio recordings and Christmas tapes, and to locate rare behind-the-scenes material. Jonathan Wood, who graded the programme, also helped locate material, as did Ralph Montagu. Inevitably, some material couldn't be cleared or was just too expensive, but by and large I am delighted with the richness and variety of the archive.

Inevitably, the commission was fuelled by the news that the BBC is planning to leave TVC altogether and, indeed, is in the process of doing so. Every week, another chunk seems to close down. It's poignant for anyone who worked there for a significant period of their career and so, inevitably, this raised a lot of comment and opinion from our interviewees. However, I did feel strongly that it would have been wrong to focus too much on this aspect. It is there but very much towards the end. The programme is a celebration, and the focus is entertainment rather than to raise questions about the whys and wherefores of the sale.

It was a huge labour of love - I myself spent the best part of two decades working at TVC and it was a real privilege to get the chance to say goodbye to it in my own way. I just hope that people really enjoy it and that it helps put their own memories of this eccentric and unique building - home to so much of the best in British TV - in perspective.
The 90-minute programme is to be broadcast on BBC Four on Thursday 17th May at 9pm, and a special preview screening, hosted by Marson and Greene, will take place at the BFI Southbank two days earlier on Tuesday 15th May at 6.10pm, with many contributors and former members of BBC staff present. Click here to book tickets.

The pre-watershed version will be shown whenever the documentary is scheduled before 9pm. A DVD release is, however, unlikely because of rights issues.
(With thanks to Richard Marson)

FILTER: - Special Events - Peter Davison - Broadcasting - BBC