Olympic torch: BBC greets flame and Sir Bruce Forsyth

Sir Bruce Forsyth pulls a pose for BBC 2012
Image caption Sir Bruce Forsyth joked with a crowd filled with BBC staff before he ran with the Olympic flame in White City

BBC staff turned out in their thousands to cheer Sir Bruce Forsyth and the Olympic torch at the finishing line of the first London Games - at the corporation's White City headquarters.

The veteran entertainer joked that he had paid his gas bill as he was passed the flame by Antoine de Navacelle de Coubertin, a great grand-nephew of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern-day Olympics.

Sir Bruce, 84, struck some familiar poses , danced a few steps with the torch and called out his famous catchphrase: "Nice to see you, to see you, nice."

He said he enjoyed watching the Olympics on a black-and-white television the last time London hosted the Games - in 1948 - when he was 20.

"I remember it well because even then I loved sport and I'm looking forward to every minute of everything that's going to happen in the next three weeks," said Sir Bruce.

The BBC's Media Village stands on the site of the stadium used for the 1908 Olympics .

But apart from an inscription on the ground marking the stadium's finishing line and a plaque on the wall, there's little to suggest this was the site where Team GB won a record 56 Olympic gold medals.

Image caption Media Village was a field when George Auckland started at the BBC in 1969

The White City stadium was demolished in 1985 and turned into BBC offices.

An inscription on the white line reads: "This is the site of the finishing line of White City Stadium which hosted the 1908 Olympics."

'Improv on the finish line'

The response to the torch relay from BBC staff was unanimous.

George Auckland, 64, who worked for the BBC for 42 years before retiring last year, said it was a fantastic moment as he watched from a prime spot nearby as Sir Bruce took the flame.

"This was a large field with a BBC car park and during the time I was a producer if we were struggling with a script we'd come out here and do a bit of improv on the site of the finish line," said Mr Auckland.

He was a producer for BBC Factual and Learning and came to watch the relay pass through Media Village with his son George, 20.

"Brucie carrying the flame is wonderful - he got the audience that we never could!"

Image caption Mark Thompson said it was a dream come true to be director-general as London hosts the Olympics

For his part, outgoing Director-General Mark Thompson described it as a thrilling and incredibly emotional day for everyone who worked at the corporation.

The BBC had been connected with the Olympics since before World War II and had just agreed terms to cover the Games into the 2020s, he said.

"We've backed the torch relay right from day one, it's been a great and inspiring success all over the UK, but it's very moving now that it's come back here to the BBC itself," he added.

Mr Thompson, who will be replaced by George Entwistle after the Olympics, added that it was a dream come true for him to be director-general as London hosts the Olympics.

As for the choice of Sir Bruce as torchbearer, unlike the question-mark over who will light the cauldron at Friday's opening ceremony, there was little argument among the crowd.

Mr Thompson described Sir Bruce as "the perfect champion for this moment".

Buzzy feeling

Image caption The BBC Worldwide Staff Choir serenaded the crowds basking in the sunshine

Edward Brody, a BBC employee who works on Strictly Come Dancing, which is hosted by Sir Bruce, agreed.

"There's not really anyone on the landscape at the moment who's more deserving of the tag national treasure than Brucie - or rather Sir Brucie - so it's great that he was the one that got to hold the torch in front of all of us," he said.

Tessa Matchett, head of communications for BBC Worldwide's global channels, added: "Looking around and seeing how many people are out here just goes to show how important this torch relay is - while coming to support one of our big presenters."

On a roasting hot afternoon, staff vacated their desks in their droves to celebrate the moment in the sunshine.

Image caption Tessa Matchett said the size of the crowds showed how important the torch relay was to the BBC

They were serenaded in the Media Village by the BBC Worldwide Staff Choir in the last performance of its summer season and in front of its biggest-ever crowd.

"We wanted to go out with a bang - and we weren't disappointed," said conductor and BBC Worldwide ethical sourcing manager Kevin O'Neill.

"There was such a great, buzzy feeling around the Media Village.

"We wanted to reflect the Olympics with an international programme of French, South African, American - and of course British - music and then we finished off with a rock-pop mash-up that we hope contributed to the party atmosphere."

Hacks feeling the burn

Joana Shoniwa, project support manager for BBC 2012, said she had watched the torch relay on a screen for the past 69 days and seen it as a pleasant, but distant event.

"Seeing it in the flesh at White City completely changed my attitude, it was a more moving experience than I had expected," she said.

"It suddenly made me understand why this torch was so important."

Image caption Stephen Smith struck a hack's torchbearer pose in front of the plaque

"That small and fragile flame really embodies so much.

"And maybe I imagined this but it felt as though all the negativity about the Games had gone, and everyone was standing together.

"I felt so proud to be part of a nation and city hosting these amazing Games."

Newsnight culture correspondent Stephen Smith described it as a "very special moment" in the careers of all BBC staff, complimenting Sir Bruce on his torchbearer's white tracksuit.

Himself resplendent in a blue and red Team Newsnight tracksuit, Mr Smith added that the programme was hoping for a podium finish during the Games.

"It's going to be frenetic, it's going to be punishing," he said.

With tongue firmly in cheek, he declared: "They make all this fuss about Wiggins and the Tour de France, but it's really the journalists who are going to be feeling the burn - and my heart goes out to them."