Celebration and Farewell to Bush House
Next week BBC World Service celebrates 80 years of international broadcasting with a special day of programmes on the 29 February live from the heart of Bush House - the World Service headquarters.
The 80th anniversary website, which tells the story of Bush House and the World Service has been set up - there you can see historic pictures and listen to clips from programmes from the archive.
My colleague Anna McGovern who researched the 80th anniversary website, found a number of amazing documents and one of them caught my eye: a debate in the House of Commons about accommodation in Bush House during the WWII.
Notes taken there state: "Even the present accommodation, as the Minister has admitted, is grossly inadequate for these services. There is still a room, not large, in which 40 people have to try to work and I was told that one man who went there to telephone came out gasping for breath. There are far too many people for the cubic space available and there is no present hope of any change, expansion, or relief."
But before that, during the war time BBC Overseas Services were placed in even worse place - in a disused skating rink in Maida Vale. The notes continue:
"They were there five months, under almost continuous bombing. In the last Debate the Minister revealed that at that place they were not safe from bombing attack. As he has revealed that fact, I will tell the Committee some more in the hope that I can make it impossible that the place shall ever be used again. There was no building in London which gave less protection. Bombs fell all round. We knew that the services were a major target for Field-Marshal Goering. Two direct hits by big bombs, or one land mine, would have killed scores, if not hundreds, of these people, and would have wiped out our foreign services for months. The same lack of proper accommodation led to other even more serious results. It is very bad for the health of the staff. One key man has just resigned because he could not stand the strain. The conditions adversely affect output. I do not believe anybody doing that kind of work in such conditions could give more than 50 per cent of what he ought to do."
The full transcript of that hearing could be found here.
The 80th anniversary celebrations coincide with the first group of language services moving out of Bush House and back to Broadcasting House.
By this summer Bush House will be empty and the history of the World Service in this particular building of the West End will come to a close.
So the celebration of 80 years of international broadcasting is intertwined with the farewell to Bush House.
One of the programmes to be broadcasted on the 29 February has commissioned me to write a poem about Bush. Here's a preview:
From my childhood spent in a clay hut of a mountainous Uzbek village to my life in a Soviet Moscow in a shanty two-piece flat,
I used to dream of a grand house with a marble staircase.
That dream was quite regular:
Without any intention I dreamt again and again of that house with marble columns and stairs, leading upwards.
I read Freud, I read Jung, I read other interpreters trying to understand what does that dream mean?
A gypsy fortune-teller told me in Sverdlovsk: 'You'll have a grand house in your future, the house with marble columns and stairs leading upwards'.
My life is nearly ending, but living in an ex-council town-house I often think what about was that empty promise, that dream which never came true?
But dreams aside all of a sudden I realised that over the last 18 years almost a third of my life I lived in that house with marble columns and stairs in between leading upwards.
I haven't noticed it until we've been asked to leave it.
Bush House - the Noah's Arc of nations,
tThe runway where voices take off and fly over the Earth, the kingdom where echoes of dead are kept alive, the thinking brain, the watchful eye, the sharp tongue and the caring heart of meridians, Bush House - an English pub, an Uzbek chay-khana, a Spanish tavern, an African hut, a Russian kabak, where views and opinions fly around vibrating the globe, Bush House - a cold mirror in front of that old, beautiful and furious world...
A Bush House of my unnoticed but fulfilled dream...