Objects from the BBC Collection - Art
Statues of Ariel and Prospero
Over the front entrance of Broadcasting House stand the statues of Prospero and Ariel (from Shakespeare's last play The Tempest), by Eric Gill. Prospero, Ariel's master, stands 10ft tall and is depicted sending Ariel out into the world. Ariel, as the spirit of the air, was felt to be an appropriate symbol for the new mystery of broadcasting. After Broadcasting House was opened and the statues were installed (1933), concern was voiced about the size of the sprite’s genitalia. A question was tabled in the House of Commons, but the popular story, that Gill was ordered to modify the statue, is not substantiated.
Helios, the sun god of Greek mythology, is a 3 metre high gilded bronze figure designed by TB Huxley-Jones. It symbolises the radiation of television light around the world and stands the centre of the BBC Television Centre courtyard above what used to be a fountain. Below the fountain bowl are two reclining figures which represent sound and vision.
In the main reception at Broadcasting House is Eric Gill's Sower, a man broadcasting seed. The statue, made of English marble (Hopton Wood Stone) stands 8ft 7 in tall in a niche by the doors leading to the artists' lobby and studios. A pedestal supports the statue, and bears the inscription "Deus Incrementu Dat" ("God giveth the increase", Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 7). The art collection also includes a Gill sketch of the work.
Gilbert Bayes friezes in the Radio Theatre
Gilbert Bayes (1872 - 1953) was commissioned to create 12 friezes for the walls of the Concert Hall in Broadcasting House. The carvings on the western wall are of classical scenes such as poetry, dancing and music. Those on the opposite wall depict modern scenes. Bayes, who studied in London and worked in France and Italy, is best-known for his Queen of Time (1908), which supports the clock above the main entrance of Selfridge's in London's Oxford Street.
John Piper mural at BBC Television Centre
This mural was commissioned by the BBC, as part of the original design for Television Centre (completed 1960). John Piper chose deliberately abstract visuals for the mural, and wanted it to be indivisible from the fabric of the space: 'It does something physical towards uniting decoration and architecture; because it is, in itself, a building material part of a wall and one with the wall'.
John Piper (1903-1992) was a prolific painter, war artist, and stage/set designer is considered to be one of the most significant British artists of the 20th Century.
Bust of Petra in the Blue Peter Garden
Bronze head of Petra, the Blue Peter dog, located in the Blue Peter garden. Petra made her debut in 1962. She was given her name after a viewers' competition, and she lived, according to the inscription on her plinth, from 1962 - 1977. But in fact she died after just one transmission. The programme's producers hurriedly found an identical replacement, and the swap remained a secret for many years to avoid upsetting the young audience.
Broadcasting House cigar box
1932 marked the 10th anniversary of the BBC, of Reith's stewardship and the completion of the flagship Broadcasting House building. To mark the occasion the Board of Directors presented Reith with a cigar box in the form of a sterling silver scale model of Broadcasting House (built in 1932). The base is inlaid with all the signatures of the directors. The box was made by royal silversmiths Garrards (in their earlier incarnation) and would have required considerable work and expense. The box was donated to the BBC by Reith's family in 2004.
Postman Pat original illustration
This is an original illustration by the artist Joan Hickson, who was responsible for transforming the Postman Pat TV character into a drawn character suitable for use in children's books. Joan Hickson was born on January 16 1929. She studied fine art at Brighton College of Art and later taught at Woodbridge school in Suffolk. She worked on Children's television from the mid sixties and created an animated series about Joe, a little boy who lived in a transport cafe (BBC, 1965) and then How Do You Do (BBC, 1977). She first became involved with Postman Pat in 1982 when she worked on the comic strip featuring him in the BBC children's comic Buttons. From 1985 she illustrated the first books written by John Cunliffe.
WW2 gift from Denmark
This Royal Copenhagen porcelain vase was presented to the BBC by the Danish State Broadcasting Corporation in 1946, as a token of gratitude for BBC Danish broadcasts during WW2. The vase was painted by Thorkild Olsen (1908-1968), one of the foremost artists from the Royal Copenhagen factories. The vase was apparently moulded five times to achieve the perfect mould; after which, the earlier four moulds were destroyed so that only the perfect one remained. After WW2, the BBC also received similar gifts of thanks from the Netherlands, France and Luxemburg, for lifeline broadcasting.
The Poet tapestry
In April 1949 the French government presented the BBC with a large tapestry, Le Poète (The Poet), which was hung in Broadcasting House. It was designed by Jean Lurçat and made by Messrs Aubusson, on behalf of the French people as a thank you for the BBC's wartime broadcasting. Lurçat is said to have developed the design from verses of a poem, Liberté, by Paul Éluard. The Manchester Guardian said, at the time of the presentation, that the image represented a member of the Maquis, hidden in a leafy grotto, receiving a carrier pigeon and a fish, "symbolic of the information which arrived by air and from couriers who landed in submarines!"
Watercolour of the future Television Centre by Graham Dawbarn
In the 50th anniversary year of Television Centre, the first ever, purpose-built television building in the world, we showcase the architect's original visualisation of the centre. The BBC's quest for a new site on which to build a purpose-built centre for television began almost immediately after WW2 ended, in 1946. Progress was slow, however, and it was not until the early 1950s that plans evolved. In 1956 Frank Weemys, produced this watercolour of what the building might eventually look like, hinting at the space age design and glamour that would characterise the centre. The picture was exhibited in The Royal Academy exhibition of 1956.
Portrait of John Reith
Early in 1933 the Board of Governors passed a resolution congratulating Sir John Reith on 10 years' service, and they proposed that he accept an oil painting (to be commissioned) of himself. The original would be for him, and a replica would hang in Broadcasting House. Oswald Birley (later Sir Oswald) was chosen for the task. The original has hung over the fire place in the Council Chamber in Broadcasting House for many years, although during the refurbishment of the building it was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. The replica is in a public gallery in Scotland. Earlier Birley, who studied under Marcel Baschet in Paris, had painted King George V for the National Museum of Wales.
Television Rehearsal by Harry Rutherford
One of the earliest paintings to depict the new world of television, "Television Rehearsal" was painted by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985) in the late 1930s and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1939. It shows a costume drama in mid production at Alexandra Palace. Harry Rutherford was an unusual artist, who worked across fine art, commercial illustration and topical cartoons. He was introduced to the new world of television when he was working on a cover illustration for The Listener. An enterprising BBC producer then asked him to illustrate the TV show, Cabaret Cartoons as an on set illustrator. Then, following WW2, he hosted his own children's TV show, Sketchbook, pioneering art live on TV.
'Breathing' is a 10 metre high (33 feet) inverted glass spire, rising from the fifth floor roof of the new East wing of Broadcasting House. The sculpture is by Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa, and is shaped like a listening glass, reflecting the artist's interest in a building which is 'a house of sounds'. During the hours of darkness the cone is lit so that it glows; then in tandem with the 10 o'clock news bulletin, a fine beam of light projects 900 metres (3,000 feet) into the night sky. Importantly, the sculpture stands as a very specific memorial for the many news reporters and crew - both BBC and non-BBC - who have died while on location for their work.
Bust of Henry Wood
A bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944) is mounted in the BBC foyer of Henry Wood House. Research continues on the identity of the artist, but the piece should not be confused with the 1936 bust of Sir Henry Wood by Donald Gilbert which is loaned to the BBC by the Royal Academy of Music for display at the Prom concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. Henry Wood conducted the first Proms season in 1895, and then made the Proms his life's work and for many years was the sole conductor. The BBC took over responsibility for the Proms in 1927. Queen's Hall, home of the Proms for many years, was destroyed in the London Blitz.