diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fancy a tour of Broadcasting House? The BBC runs them daily, allowing access inside the corporation's 1930s HQ and the much more recent extension. Book in advance, stump up £13.50 for the privilege, and you could be looking round tomorrow. I looked round yesterday.

Certain parts of Broadcasting House you can look around for nothing. The curving outside with its embedded artwork, for example. The interior of the Radio Theatre, so long as you've got a ticket for a show. And the Caffe Nero in the courtyard outside, where you might brush shoulders with somebody vaguely famous. Don't mock the latter - yesterday the actual Paul Weller was sitting outside with a cup of coffee, looking a lot more tanned and a little more wizened than I remember. But to get inside properly, within the hallowed sanctum of W1A, you need a ticket.

Tours start at the Media Cafe, which is behind one layer of security so not just anyone can get in. It's shrunk in size since my last visit a few months ago, but still offers a fine view down into the heart of the news machine, and that's before the tour's begun. In fact it offers a better view of the BBC News Channel newsdesk than you'll see later from the official viewing platform, plus a close-up of the spot where Carol & Co present the weather. Try not to stand too near the entrance else you'll hear the full introductory spiel from the guide on the previous tour, and then again with yours fifteen minutes later.

Part one of the circuit takes you through the inner security perimeter to stare down over the newsroom again. This time you'll have it properly explained - the home/foreign divide, the control rooms at the back, the camera that might be broadcasting you live to the nation right now, etc. They may look like just another collection of office workers with mugs of tea tapping into computers, but between them they keep millions across the world informed. And then it's back out to the public bit for the first interactive segment of the tour. There are two of these, where participants are invited to step up and "make programmes", in this case reading the news and weather. If you'd enjoy the opportunity have a go and take selfies, it's ideal. If you were hoping to see a bit of more of the building on the tour, afraid not.

Next stop, Radio 1! Or at least the Radio 1 entrance, which is separate across the piazza, past a legion of BBC staff out smoking. The true target is The One Show, for a look inside the studio where the teatime stalwart is filmed. It's a lot smaller than you'd expect, as you'd expect, and the sofa looks a little tattier too. Only tours departing before 3.30pm get to enter, because after that Matt and Alex and the crew move in. But it's nice to slip inside a TV studio to see the lights, the scenery and the automated cameras, not least because you won't be getting inside a radio studio any time soon.

And finally to Old Broadcasting House, first for admiration of its Art Deco reception, and then to the Radio Theatre. I'd never been upstairs before, so enjoyed the look down across the stalls, and the chance to listen to the tube trains rumbling regularly underneath. I could have done with more detail of the architecture, but I sensed the guides pitch their presentation towards the general composition of each party, so we got iPad shots of Emeli Sandé instead. A final chunk of interaction follows, with several volunteers required to record a brief radio drama complete with sound effects. Again it's fun, but ratchets up the feeling that this is more of an experience than a tour.

The tour of BBC Television Centre was better, to be frank, but you can't do the tour of TVC any more so this will suffice. A lot seems to rest on how good your two guides are, and at least one of ours was excellent. But they're held back by not really being able to give you a tour of the building, just a few semi-public spaces and one tiny studio. I guess I'm fortunate in that I'd seen a lot of this before, hence I'd strongly recommend trying to get free tickets for the Radio Theatre, and probably one of the less popular recordings. But if you'd like an insight into how your licence fee is spent, maybe spend a small fraction of it on a tour of Broadcasting House.

Other BBC tours are available: Salford, Birmingham, Norwich, Bristol, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast, Cambridge, Truro, Coventry, Blackburn, Lincoln, Northampton, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Plymouth, Ipswich, Middlesbrough

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