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Anecdotes of Bush House

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:10 UK time, Friday, 16 September 2011

Last week I announced a new project to my colleagues here in Bush House, the BBC World Service headquarters. Here's that announcement.

Dear colleagues,

As you all know by now, by the end of next year we have to have left Bush House - the building that's been home to the World Service for the last 70 years.

The great history of Bush is coming to an end. But as one famous philosopher said: 'Humanity should part with its past cheerfully'. So should we.

As the World Service Writer in Residence I'm collecting anecdotes about life in Bush House, which could be published as a book. Everyone of you must have at least one funny story (if not more).

Don't keep it to yourself, email it to me. If you are too shy, you can send it under a pen-name.

The format is free, but it should be an anecdote.

Snazzy titles are also welcome. The deadline is the end of October this year.

Let's celebrate the legacy of Bush House with a witty, funny, joyful and cheerful book, written by all of us.

Soon after the announcement I started to receive contributions from my colleagues and I would like to share some of them.

Most active were the studio managers. Here's a piece from Kate Howells.

When I was a studio manager at Bush house in the mid 1980s, we used to cheer up our long nightshifts by sometimes agreeing to come to work in fancy dress.

When the theme was 'vicars and tarts, a World Service announcer came as a cardinal and chased a friend of mine, dressed as a vicar, all round studio C21.

One night the dress code was 'pyjamas' and in a flimsy night-dress I went to work on 24 Hours (the predecessor to Newshour).

Sometimes there was the chance to sleep for a few hours in a dormitory in the basement of the NE wing when you were doing this shift.

I was working with a colleague who had a mini teddy bear and toothbrush in his top dressing gown pocket. When we got to the studio the current affairs producer looked worried, and said 'You can't go to bed yet, we've got work to do.'

These two anecdotes are also from the studio manager Barry Mitchell.

A newly-trained Bush studio manager was concentrating on his live broadcast one day, when he became aware that someone had slipped quietly into the cubicle behind him and was watching him.

It went like this:- "Who are you?" - "Curran" - "What do you want?" - "Just having a look" - "Where are you from?" At this point the intruder made a triangle with both thumbs and forefingers, saying "BBC?" while tapping its apex. It was in fact Charles Curran, the BBC director general!

One day, I was approached by my boss, Brian Matcham in the Studio Manager's common room, who said "Barry, we've changed your schedule a bit, could you put the Bulgarians on the air - Oh and keep your wits about you."

This I did, noting that the announcers were not quite their usual selves. On returning, I asked Brian what that was all about. "Haven't you heard? the dissident broadcaster, Georgy Markov has been killed with a poisoned umbrella while crossing Waterloo Bridge, and there was just a chance that the Bulgarian Secret Service could invade the studio." "Why did you send me" I asked. "Well, I've always regarded you as a bit of a gangster, and if there were any problems, you were the best one to deal with them!"

Some of the anecdotes are quite nostalgic and personal like this one from Lisa Robson, who works for the BBC World Service Trust:

When Alan Johnston returned to Bush House after being kidnapped in 2008 he addressed a large crowd of World Service staff. He was standing on the very grand set of stairs leading down into the car park where the listeners assembled. I was so moved by his strength and humour that I remember that moment every time I pass by. ‬ ‪

Andrew Whitehead sent me a poem written in the mid of '80s by Andrew Moreton, who used to work in the Newsroom. Here's a fragment from the poem called 'God rest your merry SDEs' (I think that SDE stands for Senior Duty Editor).

God rest your merry SDEs,
Some news has come along.
Our own Bob Jobbins
Has been kidnapped in Hong Kong.
We use a quote from Austen Kark,
But has his first name wrong.
Oh, next week you'll be back on NAB,
Oh, next week you'll be back on NAB,

God rest your merry SDEs,
There's worse to come we fear.
The copytaster's drunk again
And Princess Margaret's here.
The shiftsleader has just rung
She's got a poisoned ear.
Oh thank God you knock off at half-past three, Oh thank God you knock off at half-past three.

Bush House has had a great many language services at one point or another, and so I would like to finish with an anecdote from our own Central Asian service.

In the early '90s when the service had just been set up, we used to translate quite a lot of news from English.

The Newsroom's usual way of writing the stories at that time was never to mention names in the first sentence, ie 'The President of Russia has met today the President of the USA.

Mr Yeltsin and Mr Clinton discussed the issues...' etc... So once on a night-shift an Azeri colleague who worked for our Central Asian Russian programme received some news from the Newsroom: 'A member of the Kyrgyz Parliament - Jokorgu Kenesh has died today at the age of 48' and started to translate into Russian: 'A member of the Kyrgyz Parliament - Mr Jokorgu Kenesh has died today at the age of 48'.

But the second sentence was quite confusing, because it went: 'Mr Mambetov had a fatal accident in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.' So the Azeri colleague looked at the third sentence, which made perfect sense: 'The member of Parliament was doing so and so, he was well known for this and that, etc...'

'What is this Mr Mambetov doing in the report?!' - the colleague thought with a certain deal of irritation. 'These Newsroom writers know nothing about our countries and muck up everything!' - she continued her rage and irreversibly changed Mr Mambetov for Mr Jokorgu Kenesh, not suspecting that Jokorgu Kenesh which translates Supreme Council was the name of the Kyrgyz Parliament.

Thus that night the entire Kyrgyz Parliament was buried alive by the innocent colleague.

For all its magnanimous seriousness Bush House is a funny place, isn't it?

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