An awful lot of terribly sentimental bon voyages have been directed at TVC (Television Centre) since news of the building’s demise was made public with the sale to Stanhope Plc in 2012. An awful lot of crap has been said as well. One of the most important aspects of the first world class television studio, Television Centre, was its separateness. A television programme could be realised from its inception in the booze raddled brain of a wonderful imagination in the BBC bar, all the way to final broadcast without going outside. It was its own organic microcosm. No one is going to argue that the work that emerged from the ‘Doughnut’ wasn’t unparalleled, or that it wasn’t the BBC at its absolute finest. We all loved it. No one minded that Television Centre has spent the last 20 years looking decidedly old hat, that its 1960s windows, so full of bomb-proof glass and New Elizabethan promise, now look like the old-fashioned tired windows of a shopping centre.
But, wait. Too often the reporting around this closure of Television Centre has been inaccurate. Either that, or for the BBC, the story changed. In October 2007, when horror struck into the heart of every BBC soft southerner employee when they were told they may have to move to Salford, the BBC confirmed that they would completely sell the building and that ‘This is a full scale disposal of BBC Television Centre and we won’t be leasing it back.” Horror images filled the minds of people who love the BBC. It is a 14 acre prime West London site. For multiple use, it will contain retail, commercial and entertainment units. However, back in 2007, a leading commercial property agent, who according to the Reuter’s website, refused to be named, pointed out that the building would have an increased value if it had a government backed tenant in it at the time of sale, who chose to pay a long lease. (The article is called ‘BBC shuns headquarter sale-and-leaseback’ over at Reuters, if you want to read).
Perhaps the BBC took note of whoever this nameless commercial agent was. The BBC is, after all, a government backed tenant. When Stanhope Plc purchased the building last year for £200million, it was as a long leasehold. Stanhope have in effect entered into a partnership with the BBC and the Corporation will continue to have a presence on site. Not only will Stanhope own the building, but the BBC will be leasing back, (renting out) its own former space. Do note, that the long leasehold only has been sold, meaning that the BBC maintain control of the freehold. In 2014 parts of the BBC will move back in again. BBC Worldwide will take up residence there as will a hearty collection of post production offices and facilities. The BBC will also benefit from a undisclosed percentage of the building’s complete profits.
This is what is known as a “sale and leaseback”. It is when a company needs to sell its assets, but engineers to maintain access to those assets at the same time. “Sale and leaseback” contains tax advantages too, as monthly rental payments are off-set as an expense. Any broadcasting corporation worth its licence fee paying salt requires constant cash injections, in its efforts to modernise, to develop and to keep on top of the game. The BBC needs money. The only thing it has is assets and the one time it does something eminently sensible by arranging a sale and leaseback the whole twitter world of actors and producers and directors go completely bonkers. Oh, they all chorus! How could they! What idiots! Selling our darling television centre. Some quite intelligent people over on Twitter have gone barmy over this, because they haven’t really read the story, and they don’t seem to understand what will happen. Stage 4 and Stage 5 will revert to BBC offices, with Stage 6 becoming the anchor home for BBC Worldwide. Studio 1 has fully listed status. ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ will return to Studio 1 in 2015, whilst Studios 2 and 3 will also be leased back by the BBC. When they finally open, it will be after a vast cash injection from the evil, naughty, broadcasting killers – Stanhope Plc – who bought the place. The studio galleries will be updated, there will be new dressing rooms, better green rooms and a brand new rack of production offices for 1,380 employees. Of TVC’s 14 acres, 130,000 sq ft has been separated out as studio space. In other words, much of the BBC’s light entertainment and gameshow output will be based at Television Centre just as it always was. And before critics point out that there is no room for drama, might I remind you that the last drama to be shot there was actually ‘The House of Elliot’ which closed its cloche-hatted doors in 1994. The BBC drama output mostly comes from The Media Centre, a little further down Wood Lane.
Over at BBC Blogs, Anna Mallett produced an article the day the Madness concert was aired, outlining the future of the creative world at BBC TV Centre, because ‘some people think we’re leaving Television Centre’. Perhaps the publicity material on this has been so woeful that no one realised? Or perhaps the BBC chanced its arm, hanging on in there with Stanhope Plc until the pens were ready to sign the contract before demanding a revision of the deal? But why has no one written about this? Why are – and I can see that most of you are – readers looking surprised? How could we not know this, and instead endure luvvie barrages on Twitter casting the BBC in the role of enemy? Why are newspaper reports so damn stupid and inaccurate? Do people enjoy being mawkish about the idea of the BBC leaving Wood Lane? And why have a clutchload of well known writers and performers gone for the absolute jugular on this by casting the property company as the caustic, destructive, money-clutching force in this War of Art, when it is the same property company which is enabling the BBC to have a public profile, security and future at Television Centre ?
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every other Thursday, so the next update will be Thursday April 11th. We hope to see you then.