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Speeches

Greg Dyke

Director-General


Speech given to the British Property Federation Conference


Newport, South Wales, 27 January 2003
Printable version

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Good morning and let me start by saying how pleased I am to be here.


Actually I could speak in any one of three roles – Director-General of the BBC; part-time developer of a number of largish buildings in Devon and Cornwall and finally property owner with a partner who feels deprived if we're not rebuilding part of our house every year.


In the latter of these roles, it's not often you get the opportunity to tell builders and developers what you really think about what they do – or more to the point don't do – so I couldn't resist your invitation to speak today.


But don't worry, I’m going to speak in my serious role as the head of the BBC.


I believe the buildings an organisation commissions, builds or lives in often tell you a lot about the sort of organisation it is. That's certainly true of the BBC.


The founding father of the BBC - Lord Reith - understood this dynamic all too well. Look at Broadcasting House, opened as the first purpose built home of the BBC in Portland Place in central London back in 1932.


What is unquestionable is the conscious emphasis on quality and authority - the Portland stone, the remarkable and famous Gill sculptures. When it was opened it was classic example of a 30s building.


Even today it's still impressive. Imposing even. It speaks of a self-confident organisation with a clear vision of its role in the world.


But not of today's world.


As a building its patriarchal, even frightening. It certainly isn't welcoming – look at the reception.


And the famous BBC Council Chamber with windows so high that no one can see in or out.


It personifies the BBC of another era, an era when institutions were accorded respect just because they were institutions.


Remember, it was built in an era when newsreaders wore dinner suits and were made to stand up to read the news. And that was for radio.


And BBC staff who were the guilty party in a divorce case were summarily dismissed.


But today we live, quite rightly, in a less deferential age and today the BBC needs buildings which connect with our audiences not buildings that frighten them.


Broadcasting House is in itself a national cultural icon.


But it reflects life as it was then – not the BBC we want to build today.


Jump forward a couple of decades from the opening of Broadcasting House and television had joined radio as a medium and Television Centre was built in Shepherd's Bush.


Literally and famously designed on an envelope - although as you can see it was the front rather than the proverbial back - Television Centre with its characteristic question-mark lay-out is also a classic of its era and style.


But in the last few decades the BBC – in common with many other organisations in the public sector – has lost its way somewhat with its buildings.


At some point in the late 60s or early 70s the emphasis seemed to shift – for understandable reasons – towards economy and thrift.


Arguably our buildings over the last 30 years or so have demonstrated an appreciation of price but not value.


Extensions have been built to both Broadcasting House and Television Centre – extensions so ugly that the original architects would have seen them and cried.


And here, just up the road from Television Centre, is the BBC's piece de resistance, a building which is known in the BBC as Ceacescu Towers – a description reflecting its similarity to many buildings constructed in post-war communist Eastern Europe.


This is the BBC headquarters in White City.


This was only built a decade ago and I find it little short of disgraceful that a public body like the BBC should have commissioned such a building.


And by the way, I don't blame the architects and builders for this.


It was all about a brief from the client - us - which was driven by considerations of costs above all else.


That's where so much of the public sector ended up in an era when any expenditure on the public sector, let alone public sector buildings, was frowned upon.


Thankfully that era has past.


Let me tell you a story about this building which tells you so much about so many public bodies.


Inside this horrible building is a courtyard, quite a nice courtyard actually. When I arrived at the BBC no-one was allowed in the courtyard. It had been closed since the building opened.


So not only did people have to work in this awful building, where even the room numbering system makes it impossible to find any room, you couldn't even go out on nice sunny days into the only decent part of the complex.


When I asked why was this the case I was told the magic words "health and safety". In fact you had to wear a hard hat to even venture into the courtyard.


But as I was the new Director-General and hadn't yet been worn down by years of BBC bureaucracy I decided to take it further.


I asked the fairly obvious question what were the health and safety risks? Silence. I asked again.


After a few months the message came back that there was no wheelchair ramp and we needed an extra fire door. That was it - a ramp and a door.


I never found out why people had been wearing hard hats for all those years.


So I put in the door and built a wheelchair ramp – not personally of course – and declared the courtyard open with a party for the staff working there.


The excitement at the party was amazing – one group asked me could we go on the balconies now? They too had been closed for ten years.


Another asked does this mean we can paint our offices a colour other than grey? Radical stuff.


And then I bumped into one of the building managers and told him all these exciting things. And what did he say? He said "look what you’ve started now".


When I joined the BBC three years ago I found an organisation which while robust in many areas was an unhappy place, lacking in that confidence which had so characterised earlier periods in the BBC's history.


One potent symbol of this was the buildings.


This was something which I saw at first hand when during my first three months - while I was still technically Director-General Designate - I went on a tour of the whole organisation across the UK.


To be honest I was shocked. While some of our London offices left much to be desired it was the local buildings around the rest of the United Kingdom which were the poorest.


In particular the state of some of the buildings endured by our people working in local radio - buildings which hadn't been touched since the late 60s and early 70s.


As you can imagine I used to comment regularly on the shambolic state of these buildings to the people I met - who by the way bore it all with remarkable fortitude.


They believed that was how it had to be in the public sector, just as the staff do in hospitals or the local authority.


More often than not they used to reply knowingly "If you think this is bad, wait till you see Stoke".


I should point out they meant our building in Stoke not the whole of the city.


When I did get to Radio Stoke, I can tell you it didn't disappoint and lived up to its billing.


Mind you I thought our worst building was Leicester – a building so bad that when we move out to our new building in 2005 I'm not even sure the local dossers will choose to move in.


So I resolved that as an organisation we had to do something about this and asked our Finance Director, John Smith, who is sitting over there, to lead a re-think of our whole approach to property.


I asked him to re-asses our priorities while not forgetting the costs (of course being the Finance Director there was never much chance of that!).


Thanks to the wonder of PFIs, and the fact that we owned many of our freeholds, we were able to form a joint venture which lets Land Securities finance a redevelopment programme using the value of the freeholds.


We discovered – or should I say John discovered as he is the only person who still understands the finances of our property strategy – that it was possible to rebuild many of our existing buildings and still spend very little more every year on the total property budget.


So in the past three years we have embarked on one of Britain's biggest and perhaps the most ambitious programmes of renewal – at no additional cost to the licence fee payer.


In fact it is so ambitious that if one day you read of my sudden resignation it will probably be due to the fact that it is too ambitious and I should have spent longer trying to understand the finances.


The only consolation will be that John would have gone the day before.


But behind the programme is a philosophy and I'd like to spend a few minutes now talking through both our philosophy and the progress we have made so far.


The story of the White City courtyard convinced me that the BBC would never fulfil its role as a public service broadcaster for the 21st century, as opposed to the 20th century, unless we could change the culture of the organisation.


As I said to all our staff in a nationwide telecast "just imagine" how great this place could be, "just imagine" what we could produce if only we could get rid of the crap, the cynicism, the people who tell you why you can't do things rather than tell you how you can.


As a gimmick to sell the whole change programme I invented yellow cards which said "Cut the crap – make it happen" which anyone can bring out at a meeting if nothing is happening. They are used quite regularly.


By the way, anyone who wants one can order them from John Smith at £5 a time. The money will go to Children in Need.


So about a year ago I launched an initiative designed to change the culture of the BBC.


Called Making it Happen it has the simple but ambitious aim of making the BBC the most creative organisation in the world.


Making it Happen is not a top down, nor a consultant-led process. It is owned and driven by people across the BBC.


In the 12 months since launch around 10,000 people across the BBC have taken part in a Making it Happen session – sessions which we call "just imagine" – and in which people talk about their feelings for their job, for the BBC and their colleagues.


Later this week I will launch the BBC's new Values document which is drawn from what those 10,000 members of staff told us.


And one of the central drivers for change in Making it Happen is a team drawn from across the BBC which is looking at how we bring real improvements to the working environment.


There's a simple belief underpinning this thinking: our ambition to be the world's most creative organisation begins and ends with the people who work for us.


The BBC's staff are among some of the most creative people I've ever met and they really believe in the organisation, its aims and ideals.


Every staff survey we do shows that the people working for us feel a real sense of pride in and commitment to the BBC.


Most of them joined the BBC because they saw it as an organisation which does something special. That something is public service broadcasting.


They are passionate about what they do and will unite around simple, inspiring ideas.


They are also capable of magnificent achievements when given the space and confidence to do so.


They are the kind of people who make The Office or devote years to producing series like Blue Planet or the Life of Mammals or who can bring history to life for millions of people with series like Simon Schama's History of Britain.


But these people need working environments which inspire and excite them. Not environments which oppress and depress them.


They need environments which expand their horizons not limit them.


Within "Making it Happen" the team driving the creation of these kinds of working environments is called the Great Spaces Group.


In the spirit of not-being top down I thought I would let them speak for themselves. A few months ago they made this short film about their plans and activity...


So far 150 people in six locations have gone through a one day event with the Great Spaces Bus.


More broadly, since we launched the Great Spaces project, over 1,200 people in 85 locations across the BBC including places as far afield as Nairobi have made proposals to improve their workplace which we have implemented.


So, let me try to sum up our property vision.


Firstly we want properties that are at the centre of towns, not hidden away in some industrial estate, properties which in particular are accessible to everyone, especially the public. It's their BBC not our BBC.


Secondly we want properties which are fun, which are entertaining, where we can put the individuality back into personal space.


Thirdly we are in a fast changing industry so we want technologically enabled flexible space so we can stay at the cutting edge of our business.


And finally we want quality architecture which will stand the test of time. I don't want anything to be built in my time as Director-General which I will be ashamed of within a decade. No more Ceacescu Towers.


We don't have to build new buildings; we're very happy to be tenants in other people's wonderful buildings – but we do want them to be buildings which inspire.


This then is the context for our deal with Land Securities Trillium to manage our property portfolio. At its best this is an absolute win-win for us.


It saves money which can then be spent on air and on screen.


And incidentally let me tell you that we've reduced the total amount of money spent on the BBC's overhead by £200 million a year in three years and all of that is now being spent on programmes.


LST are also our partners in the re-development of the White City complex, which is a great example of the partnership at its best.


Not only does the management partnership enable us to do much more with the building than we could have done in previous years, its also currently six months ahead of schedule - a source of even more savings!


Over the next few years over £2 billion will be invested in our property portfolio.


But while we will be working with our partners to gain maximum bang for our buck we will also strive not to repeat some of the mistakes of the last three decades.


So, if Broadcasting House and Television Centre were iconic of the BBC in their age - the confident solidity of the 30s and the optimistic modernism of the 60s - we now need to look for the similar symbols for the 21st century and create buildings which reflect the values and ethos of the modern BBC.


At a local level, this can be seen in our new Open Centres.


Piloted two years ago in Radio Lancashire in Blackburn and now rolling out across the UK these Open Centres represent both a new service and a practical symbol of an open accessible organisation.


Based in local radio station offices they are designed to give a welcoming shop-front style access to a range of BBC services - for example on-line learning opportunities - as well as involving the community directly in the broadcasting operation.


Look at the change here in Sheffield. Here’s the old building…


And now the new place…


Similarly the new production studios for our internet and interactive operations BBCi in the historic setting of Bush House, on The Aldwych, are literally transparent.


And the redevelopment of our White City complex in partnership with LST I mentioned a few moments ago will create public spaces as well as offices which while never breaching security (important now more than ever for a high profile public body like the BBC) will put the BBC in touch with its local community in a way which Television Centre for all its strengths simply can't do.


Incidentally, the development will have the added benefit of hiding the monstrosity of Ceacescu Towers!


Pretty impressive as you can see.


I must say that I and my immediate team are looking forward to moving there later in the year when to accommodate the redevelopment of Broadcasting House we will leave central London.


On the same site we also hope to build a major music centre – which will provide both a concert venue and a base for the BBC's remarkable orchestras.


As I have already said, we are determined that all our new building projects will be special and have impact.


They will make a difference to the people who work in them and the communities who live around them.


This will be true of the BBC solus developments like White City or the truly remarkable Pacific Quay, our planned new Scottish headquarters in Glasgow.


But as I've said it's not just about projects we lead and develop for ourselves.


The same ambition will apply when we choose to move into developments owned by others - like the Mailbox in Birmingham and our new base in Norwich.


I believe that these are great examples of buildings the BBC will share with the communities it serves.


But perhaps the clearest statement of all is the redevelopment of our historic home - the original Broadcasting House. Our vision for Broadcasting House is genuinely ambitious.


Of course it will be functional. At its heart will be a flexible state of the art broadcast centre fit for the technological challenges of the digital age.


It will house the largest broadcast news centre in the world. It will maximise the use of space, allowing us to consolidate our four major London sites into three and so saving money.


It will also be built to last - we insisted that it pass the 50 year test.


But our plans go much further than that.


By blending the best of modern architecture and building technology seamlessly with the existing Broadcasting House we want to create something really special.


Something which represents both our respect for our heritage and our passionate faith in our future.


It must also be a great place to work - somewhere which attracts the best people because they want to be part of something special and then enables and inspires them to great things.


It will absolutely be a symbol of the sort of organisation we want to be.


The "new" Broadcasting House will represent today's BBC in today's Britain.


Like the old Broadcasting House I hope it will be a national landmark, an iconic building.


Let me sum up.


As one of the nation's great cultural institutions the BBC has a responsibility to apply the same creative rigour and ambition which we apply to our programmes to our buildings.


And that's why we are being bold and confident so that we contribute once again to the nation's architectural and cultural heritage.


We're well underway.


We have already completed and moved into new local headquarters in more than 20 locations across the UK – from Truro to Aberdeen, from Guernsey to Bangor – with another 30-odd in the pipeline.


Oh, and by the way, Radio Stoke finally moved into a new building last year and I was delighted to be there to open it – along with the Princess Royal of course!




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