The 'unofficial' history of London's television studios


Every so often, you run across a site on ‘the internets’ that you just have to share. This particular site came to our attention recently when we were taping the host segments at TC8 in BBC Television Centre with Moira Brooker (Judy, As Time Goes By) and Philip Bretherton (Alistair, As Time Goes By) for the upcoming Behind the Britcom: From Script to Screen special that will air in March 2011 on PBS.

Upon hearing that we were taping in the same studio where they taped the likes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, Are You Being ServedKeeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By to name a few, we started to inquire about the general history of Television Centre. Especially, now that plans are underway for the property sale of the historic studios and imminent move of much of the staff.

Martin Kempton, a former BBC staffer and current freelance lighting director who is working or has worked in virtually all London television studios, has put together an unbelievable archive site that covers the history of not only BBC Television Centre, but the old BBC studios, ITV studios and the numerous independent studios around the UK such as Shepperton, Molinare and Pinewood, to name just a few.

Billed as An Incomplete History of London’s Television Studios, the site includes not only text history, but schematics of most of the buildings including the infamous “question mark” Television Centre building, just enough technical explanations to make you dangerous and a host of links to other television history sites on the internet.

A quick glimpse of what’s in store if you go to the site is the story of how BBC Television Centre got its shape. “As the story goes, architect Graham Dawbarn came up with the design.  Given a fifty-page brief he retreated to a pub for inspiration and with a plan of the oddly-shaped site in his head he pondered on the problem.  How to fit eight to ten studios in this area – giving easy access to scenery and separately to artists, crew and audiences.  Gazing at it for a few seconds he doodled a question mark on an envelope and the penny dropped.  The shape was perfect.”

If you are at all interested British television production or just an overall comprehensive television history of this sort, bookmark it and visit everyone once in awhile. The hundreds of pages are totally overwhelming for one sitting so just use as a resource every so often if you have a question or for the next time you need some witty banter cocktail party trivia.