by Freelancer Peter Brown
A delegation of five CIOJ freelance members visited the BBC Television Centre in West London in early August, where they toured the studios and were given an insight into the way the corporation runs its news operation before sitting in on a live transmission.
The CIoJ Five who gathered at the BBC Centre on Wednesday 3 August were Freelance Division Treasurer Tom Caldwell, Hannah Valize, Hugh Mooney, Stuart Coleman and yours truly, following negotiations between freelance committee member Vivienne DuBourdieu and Lorraine Dance, VIP Visits Manager, BBC Tours.
Delegates were met by Adrian Lacey, himself a broadcaster and presenter, who conducted the party around, starting off by pointing out Studio One which is used for Strictly Come Dancing. After that it was a short walk into the star dressing room, the most lavish and largest in the complex.
Marvellous insights into who has used the dressing room came from Lacey, who, pointing to some stalls, revealed that Sir Paul McCartney had refused to use the luxurious facility.
“Sir Paul McCartney doesn?t come in here because those stalls are real animal hide, something he has objected to,” our tour guide said.
“Those who have used it are Cilla Black, Tess Daly, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Joan Rivers and Lionel Ritchie. “Sir Bruce Forsyth doesn?t normally use this. His is closer to the studio, nearer to the stage, so to speak, in the old theatrical tradition.”
In the walls . . ?
Soon afterwards, we found ourselves standing in the cavernous 8,000 square feet that is Studio Eight, known best for its comedy, having been the location for the making of iconic shows, such as The Two Ronnies and the Morecambe and Wise Show.
“Because of the immense history of this studio, it is famed for its comedy,” Lacey revealed. “Modern comedians like Catherine Tate insist on using this studio. It seems they really do think that some of the comedy will rub off on them from the walls.
Another show done here is Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Other shows are of a much more serious nature, such as Crimewatch and Watchdog.”
News from around the world
With the time ticking towards 1800 hrs, for the CIOJ party that meant the opportunity to sit in on the Six o’Clock News on BBC One but, before that, we were whisked into the frantic newsroom, which has 1800 journalists working there –not all at the same time – even though it seemed like it when our party visited.
It is here that all news is gathered for the BBC websites as well as radio and television news. It is a hive of activity where stories from around the world are tasted, and camera crews and reporters located and dispatched to the breaking news of the day. In one section staff booked lines for global feeds and transmissions.
But the big rush to beat the time was the breaking news story of phone hacking claims by Sir Paul McCartney?s ex-wife Heather Mills. Assignments editor, Claire Gibson had been brought to London from her Birmingham base to coordinate the events of this ongoing story.
This was the time that we saw the real technique of the BBC news department, working for all sections of its media.
“Newsnight found out about Heather Mills making these claims and it was a breaking news story when we decided to go for it,” Gibson told us. “We have a deadline of five pm for the national news bulletin and it?s going out on PM on Radio Four and the Six o?Clock News.”
On the way to the gallery for the Six o?Clock News, Adrian Lacey arranged for us to have a look into the studio of News 24, although our guide told me that here at the Beeb they like it to be called the BBC?s News Channel. Anyway, whatever it is called, we had the opportunity to stand on the studio floor watching Jon Sopel presenting and handing over to a sports reporter.
To the epicentre . . .
Time was not on our side and we were whisked away to another world – quite literally.
It was eight minutes to six and the barrage of screens in front of us carried live pictures from many parts of the globe. At one point, studio director Chris Cook was busy chatting to reporter John Simpson live in Cairo on the events that had been taking place in a courtroom, where Egypt?s former president Hosni Mubarak had been pushed into court to answer charges – in a hospital bed.
Meanwhile, presenter George Alagiah, OBE, was discussing the script with the production team and suggested he was not happy with the wording that said a young woman in Australia had a bomb tied around her neck. “We don?t know at this stage that it is a bomb, it may be a hoax,” he proposed. “We should say a ‘suspected bomb’.”
He won the argument.
Then it began: “Run eleven,” Cook called out. “Have John Simpson ready. John, do we have a wind-up? George asked if you were at the court, you were, weren?t you?” “Yes,” replied Simpson.
Yet after 30 minutes of mayhem in the gallery with a very calm Alagiah at the helm, it suddenly all went quiet.
The CIOJ party was then shown the actual studio, which had the Breakfast programme set in one corner and told that, originally, this very studio had been used for children?s shows including Multi Coloured Swap Shop, starring Noel Edmonds.
Even after several hours at the Television Centre in Wood Lane, watching the ten o’clock news on BBC One was a must. At least the CIOJ Five are now aware how it is all done.
Story: Peter Brown© 2011
Photos: Stuart Coleman©2011: www.stuartcolemanphotography.co.uk