In 2005, for my 40th birthday, we took a trip to London. In addition to all the other great stuff to see and do in London, we were anxious to see if we could get a tour of the BBC. At the time, I had a great fondness for British TV and watched quite a few shows, but not as many as I do now. I guess now it’s an obsession. We found out that, yes, the BBC does offer tours of their facility. So, we booked one.
The BBC Television Centre is located very close to the White City tube stop in West London. It was opened in June of 1960 and is considered one of the most recognizable TV facilities in the world. It’s been featured in the background of countless British TV shows, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which was shot inside the studios.
I wasn’t able to take any photographs inside, so I just have a few of the outside. Unfortunately, you can’t see the unique shape of the building from the ground. It’s actually shaped like a Question Mark. Supposedly, the building’s architect drew a question mark on a piece of paper thinking that it would be a perfect shape for the site.
Our tour started at 10:45am. Our tour guides were Debbie and Ollie. They were very entertaining and very knowledgeable. There was a lot of walking involved, up and down lots of stairs, down long hallways. The facility is huge. Being in the TV business, I had a lot of questions to ask. Basically, they do things the same way they do here. Freelance production personnel are sometimes hired for shows.
The tour included the newsroom where BBC World News is broadcast and two studios, seen from up above through the lighting grid. Top of the Pops was schedule to be taped later that day to air that night. The crew was setting up the stages and prepping for the shoot. Dr. Who, Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous are among the many programs that were taped or filmed in the studios.
They had a silly little weather center demonstration with a blue screen. Several members of our tour stood in front of it and played weatherman.
We saw the dressing rooms and heard some stories about celebrities that had stayed there. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember what stories they told us, but I do remember they were about a lot of the “divas” that would come to perform. They would have outlandish requests for things. Not unlike the “only green M&Ms” rumors you hear about rock stars.
Then there was a wacky quiz program that the tour was involved in. I was forced to be a contestant. They showed clips of shows and we had to answer questions about them. No knowledge of the show was needed. Just an observant eye. What color was Nigel’s shirt in that scene? Stuff like that. I won. My prizes, a BBC coffee cup and pen. Woo hoo!
From what I’ve read, the tour is pretty much the same today. But they’ve added some props and memorabilia from BBC shows, including the Tardis from Dr. Who. If you’ve never seen a TV studio before, it’s kind of fun to see behind the scenes and learn about some of your favorite TV shows. I would recommend the BBC Studio Tour, if you’re ever in London.