Last updated May 2004
Broadcasting House is the
BBC's Corporate headquarters, and home of BBC Radio.
Colonel G. Val Myer.
Built in 1932, as the BBC's first purpose-built broadcast centre.
Situated in central London, in between Oxford Street and Regents
Park, and adjacent to Nash's All Souls Church.
Built of Portland stone; nine floors above ground, three below, with
a central heavy masonry tower originally containing all the studios, with
lighter steel-framed shell around it providing acoustic buffering.
It was badly bombed during the Second World War.
by two modern extensions in 1961 and 1995 - these have been demolished
as part of the new building development which will create a new state-of-the-art
broadcasting centre for the BBC in London.
building has often been compared to a ship, with its accentuated front section
bearing a clock tower and aerial mast.
Architectural Review of 1932 described Broadcasting House as the "new
Tower of London".
is strangely asymmetrical, which was not the case in the original
architectural design, but Val Myer had to adapt his first plan because local
residents complained about lack of light.
meant the building was symmetrical up to the sixth floor, and after that
the building was sloped back.
commissions adorned the building, notably the statue over the front entrance
of Prospero and Ariel (from Shakespeare's play The Tempest), by Eric Gill.
The boy Ariel
is naked, and the story goes that there were complaints about the size
of his penis - so John Reith, then Director-General of the BBC, ordered Gill
to amend it.
The building is Grade II* listed.
broadcast 'firsts' at Broadcasting House
- The first broadcast
was by Henry Hall and his BBC Dance Orchestra on 15 March 1932.
- John Logie
Baird tried out his experimental television apparatus in a studio in Broadcasting
House in August 1932.
- Radio 1 first
broadcast on 30 September 1967 was from Studio D on the first floor.
- Vivien Leigh
played Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 'A School for Scandal'
- On Christmas Day
1932, King George V gave the first royal broadcast to the Empire - Rudyard
Kipling scripted the broadcast.
- On June 18 1940,
General de Gaulle made a speech at Broadcasting House following his escape
from Nazi-overrun France, in which he rallied his compatriots to what would
become the Free French Forces.
- In the 1920s,
several London sites, including Dorchester House and the present site
of Grosvenor House were considered as a site for the new centre of broadcasting
excellence, before BBC civil engineer Marmaduke T Tudsbery happened upon
- The original
lease barred certain tradesmen from the site, including slaughtermen, sugar-bakers
and brothel keepers!
- It was the
first building in London to have artificially ventilated toilets.
- The cost of
building – as
reported in the press of 1930 – was £500,000
million by today's standards).
- On completion,
Broadcasting House featured 22 studios, one mile of corridors, 800 doors,
1250 stairs and 50 miles of electrical wiring.
- As the BBC
was regarded as a target for "fifth columnists and subversives",
Broadcasting House had a 24-hour police guard during the Second
House was painted grey during the Second World War to disguise it from
bomber attack but nevertheless it was bombed three times.
- During the
Blitz on 15 October 1940, a 500lb bomb fell on Broadcasting House and seven
members of staff died. Well-known newsreader Bruce Belfrage was reading
the 9pm News at the time – famously, he continued without pause,
for security reasons.
- On December
8 1940, a landmine exploded in Portland Place. The resulting fire raged
for seven hours and was described by the BBC's civil engineer as "a
scene from Dante's Inferno".
building has a bunker under it, built in 1942 following
the Blitz with walls that are 22 inches thick, to allow
broadcasting to continue should the building sustain
a direct hit.
- Winston Churchill
took to phoning the Broadcasting House duty office late at night or early
in the morning to comment on what was being broadcast.
announcers and artists lived and slept in the building, giving Broadcasting
House a siege mentality atmosphere. The Queen of the Netherlands was even
an overnight guest and trod on sleeping newsreader/journalist Alan Bullock
(later the historian Lord Bullock) lying in the corridor on her way to
answer the call of nature.
- Nearly one-third
of the BBC's pre-war staff went into the forces or other war-related work;
23 were taken prisoner of war and 82 were killed.
- On VE Day (May
8, 1945) Broadcasting House was bedecked with the flags of 22 allied nations
and floodlit for the first time in eight years.
- Famous spaces
include Room 101, purportedly the inspiration for Orwell's novel '1984'
(Orwell worked at the BBC during the 1940s). George Orwell called the BBC
at Broadcasting House: "A cross between a girls school and a lunatic asylum"
- In the original
building, each studio was designed and decorated to reflect the on air
content – so the religious programming studio, for example, had
an altar and other religious iconography.
- The studios
were within metres of the tube lines - it was normal practice for the Studio
Manager in B15 or 16 to say, 'can we just hold on - there's a tube going
past!' and wait till the rumble stopped!
- There was the
old 8A drama studio near the canteen that was particularly prone to taxi
radios which often broke through on to the programme circuits - though
this was always easily stopped as dramas were recorded.
four external groups of sculpture were commissioned to Eric Gill.
accepted the suggestion from the BBC that Shakespeare's Ariel, as the invisible
spirit of the air, might well serve as a personification of broadcasting.
two panels on the west front show "Ariel between wisdom and gaiety" and "Ariel
hearing celestial music".
panel over the entrance on the east side represents "Ariel piping to
panel over the main entrance shows Propsero, Ariel's master, sending
him out into the world.
the main reception is Eric Gill's Sower, a man broadcasting seed.
There is an inscription below - "Deus incrementum dat" (God giveth
the increase, Corinthians, Chapter 3, verse 7).
Broadcasting House was opened, the sculpture of Prospero
and Ariel above the main entrance caused controversy.
was said that "maidens are said to blush and youths to pass disparaging
remarks regarding the statues of Prospero and Ariel".
the Evening News of 23 March 1933, St Pancras MP G.G. Mitchelson,
who lived opposite the BBC, suggested to Parliament that the figures of Prospero
and Ariel were "objectionable to public morals and decency".
story goes that the sculpture was amended, at Reith's request,
but there is no hard proof of this.
Gill was born
in Brighton, the son of non-conformist minister.
to an architect in London, he became smitten with the world of calligraphy,
which he entered by attending classes given by Edward Johnston.
was profoundly influenced by Johnston's dedicated approach to work
and decided to join the world of the Arts and Crafts.
his lifetime he set up three self-sufficient religious communities where,
surrounded by his retinue, he worked as sculptor, wood-engraver, and
also wrote constantly and prodigiously on his favourite topics: social
reform; the integration of the body and spirit; the evils of industrialisation;
and the importance of the working man.
to Catholicism in 1913 and this influenced his sculpture and writings.
the 11 typefaces that he designed, Gill Sans is his most famous; it
is a clear modern type and became the letter of the railways - appearing
on their signs, engine plates, and timetables - as well as becoming the
brand typeface of the BBC, used on its logo and other corporate literature.
described himself on his gravestone as a stone carver.