If, like myself, you spent countless hours in front of your television as a child watching programmes such as Tracey Beaker, Diddy TV, and Arthur then I can guarantee you would have been just as excited as I was to tour one of the many BBC studios we have in the United Kingdom. On the 10th of October, I joined a group of young people on a tour of Newcastle’s BBC Broadcasting House, Barrack Road, in the Spital Tounges area of Newcastle upon Tyne. The buildiJng itself is made up if a mixture of small offices, library recordings, and modern high-tech studios. BBC Newcastle employs around 200 staff with around 30 of these being permanent positions.
On arrival we were met by our tour guides who showed us where to sign in, offered us lockers to store our coats and bags, and gave us a tour lanyard. There’s something about being given a lanyard that makes you feel professional. We were made to feel very welcome and at ease as we were led through the infamous first set of doors on our journey of exploration. The first part of the tour was looking at the history of BBC Newcastle. It was fascinating to see the timeline across the walls; starting at 1922 and ending at 2011. I found a few interesting facts about my favourite childhood programs, like Tracey Beaker, was filmed in Jesmond until the spin-off show Dumping Ground came about and that Jaqueline Wilson’s tale of care-home kids is now being filmed in Walker. I was also surprised to learn that Byker Grove (1990-2006) is now owned by Ant and Dec.
We were then shown a cabinet showcasing important items of the BBC’s past; one of which was including the original sign that was put up when BBC Newcastle first relocated to Broadcasting House on Newbridge Street – opposite the Laing Art Gallery in the Centre of Newcastle. Prior to being the BBC Broadcasting House used to be a Lying-in Hospital for women who were pregnant / in childbirth and for years after the building was purchased pregnant women used to turn up at the doors of the BBC expecting to find a hospital there.
We then moved onto the library which holds around 45,000 recordings – as well as a Flexicart; which stores the last 90 days’ worth of footage. They keep this at hand for legal reasons and it can also be accessed from anywhere in the world via a BBC computer/account to be used in various venues/countries with permission.
From there, we moved on to our first studio of the day. Before entering, I had images of a large studio, one with plenty of space to get a decent sized group of people in comfortably to take photographs etc. This is not what the first studio was like at all, instead, we were ushered into a small room into a horseshoe formation in front of a grey screen (yes, you read that correctly; a grey screen – not green as I had also imagined.) Our tour guides explained the use of desk, camera and broadcasting equipment.
After learning about the setup of the grey screen camera and watching the screen in front of us change ‘live’ (pre-recorded live) backgrounds, I was asked to move to the centre of the room wherein we all witnessed my hair disappear into the clouds. This would be an opportune moment to inform you that my hair is a faded blue/green colour (I’m too poor to afford hair dye at the moment), and one of the tour guides took pleasure in changing the background to give me a bald head and experimented with various colours giving me a myriad of weird and wonderful halos.
We were then taken into the back of a warehouse type set-up where we were able to step onto the set of Hetty Feather – a program which I didn’t know existed but have since discovered is another of Jacqueline Wilson’s books about a baby girl abandoned at a Foundlings Hospital by her mother. We were informed that this set – like many – is made out of wood, plastic and various other light materials as it makes production cheaper, easier to construct and easier to transport.
At the end of this corridor filled with old scraps of furniture resembling a haunted IKEA, a large shutter door opened to reveal an entirely different atmosphere. The large filming studio where they present the news and is one of the biggest studios used for the BBC. We were introduced to Colin Brigg, BBC Newscaster who informed us that the studio can hold between 300 to 400 people.
Colin explained how he presents the news, sharing with us that behind his desk is an auto-cue pedal which is hidden from the viewers at home and that he finds it easier to pedal the news without his right shoe on. That’s right, folks; you heard it here first. Whenever you see Colin Briggs reading the news, he’s only got one shoe on. After this revelation, he discussed how much easier it is to cue his own writing on the autocue teleprompter and the appeared to take great joy in sharing his recommendations on the make-up that he uses. Ps ladies and gentlemen, he recommends ‘Chanel Bronzer’ as ‘it stops you from looking like an unforgiving white rat.’
For our final stop, we were introduced to the interactive studio where the sounds for radio dramas and sound effects for the news are recorded. The group of young people, my co-journalist Nicola and I, and workshop staff were able to play around with the equipment for a while – recording our own short drama and reading the news which was both recorded and played back to us at the end. Where was that Chanel Bronzer when I needed it!?
All in all, it was a very interesting tour full of enlightening facts, fun interactions, and humorous guides. For anyone interested in a career in TV and Radio, I definitely recommend attending the tour yourself. If for whatever reason you can’t make the tour in person but would still like to get involved; there are various links on the BBC website – and there are also plenty of opportunities to be on TV. If you’ve ever had the burning desire to be on Bargain Hunt, the BBC website is your new best friend.
Special thanks to our tour guides and Colin Briggs for their good natures and expertise.
Part 2 of Film & TV tours coming soon…