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Ghosts of Bush ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:51 UK Time, Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bush House


Bush House, for more than 70 years the home of the BBC World Service, fell silent on 12 July this year. Its programmes, currently broadcast in 28 languages, moved to the newly-extended Broadcasting House in central London. John Goudie visited the deserted and emptied building, shortly before it was handed back to its landlords at the end of November, for Radio 3's Between the Ears 


‘Clean sheets. Comfortable beds. Very nice ladies who would come and say “Yuri - wake up”.’  Late on a cold bright November morning, Yuri Goligorsky led me across the Bush House courtyard and down a narrow corridor to a locked door. This was the site of the Bush dormitory, long gone, but once a haven for night-shift workers: Bush was a non-stop radio operation decades before rolling TV news.

Yuri joined the Russian Service at the age of 24, and worked in Bush House for more than three decades. Early in his career, he abandoned the dormitory, driven out by what he calls the ‘incessant snoring’. 

Night-shift snoring - and the whispered entreaties of the dormitory staff - are just two of the millions of Bush House sounds that now exist only in the memory.  The towering central marble stairwells still possess a reverberation time more common in a cathedral. Robin Warren, a Bush studio manager, remembers the simple pleasure of whistling on the stairs and landings, and hearing the notes swirl and decay around him. For Najiba Kasraee, who broadcast to Afghanistan with the Pashto Service, the sound which most evokes Bush is not an old signature tune or studio announcement, but the resonant clack of heels on those marble stairs.

By November, Bush House was bare. Every microphone, cable, mixing desk, studio clock and red ‘on air’ light has gone, to be sold at auction. The newsroom and the maze of production offices, once the nerve centres of the building, have lost all identity. The clutter of daily broadcasting - the computers, headphones, maps, notebooks, newspapers, coffee cups – has disappeared. Discoloured patches on the walls reveal the past homes of photos and pictures. The auctioneers' catalogue lists them all - Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney, Henry Kissinger, Bobby Charlton and dozens more...

Yuri took me to the site of his first desk in the Russian Service. This office, he recalled, was defiantly smoke-filled even after the arrival of the workplace ban. 'I'm not going to cry,' he said, standing in the spot where he spent five years as a young broadcaster, 'but I am emotional. Probably I will never enter this building again.’

There’s no indication now that this low ceilinged room with a view of the Bush courtyard produced thousands of hours of radio for the Russian Service, from the days of Cold War jamming to the Putin era. Standing in the deserted reception area, broadcaster Michael Goldfarb told me that he couldn't think of another workplace that inspired such warmth or affection - and no other building in the world sounded like it. 




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