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Heritage row erupts over FCBS’s vision for BBC studios at Alexandra Palace

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Conservationists have hit out at plans by Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) to convert one of the world’s first TV studios into a broadcast-themed visitor attraction

FCBS’s has drawn up plans to transform the east wing of Alexandra Palace into a new interactive visitor attraction showcasing the site’s broadcasting history.

The structure – which is now derelict – was formerly leased to the BBC and became home to the world’s first regular public television service in 1936.

Campaigners have criticised FCBS’s plans which would see the BBC’s early alterations removed and original parts of the Grade-II listed Victorian palace restored.

Plans to restore a colonnade running the entire length of the building – which had been bricked-up by the BBC – have also been likened to destroying the World War II Nissen huts at Bletchley Park.

Architectural historian Stephen Games told the BBC: ‘There’s an essential difference between a museum and the place itself. In a museum you have an empty box and you fill the empty box - here the place itself is the exhibit.

‘We’re talking about the equivalent of a World Heritage Site. A lot of people from around the world are going to want to see it, and what they’ll want to see are the studios themselves. But you won’t be able to see them because they’re going to be wrapped up in partitions, covered in video screens and filled with display cases.’

The plans – submitted to Haringey Council by the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust – were backed by the newly-appointed chief executive of Historic England Duncan Wilson in his previous role as chief executive of Alexandra Palace.

The £2.5 million scheme is the first phase of a masterplan by Terry Farrell to restore the iconic Grade II-listed building which is currently only 60 per cent open to the public.

During the nineteen thirties, the BBC transformed two large coffee rooms on the ground floor of the east wing into a transmitter hall while private dining rooms on the first floor were converted into studios. Each studio was separated by an area for control rooms and film scanning equipment.

The rooms on the other side of the corridor – which originally served as cloakrooms, china and glass storage and service rooms – were converted into dressing rooms.

The whole conversion from Victorian pleasure wing took less than 14 months and allowed major technological breakthroughs which put the BBC at the forefront of the broadcasting industry.

The studios have lain disused since 1981 when the last broadcasts were made. Since then the asbestos-ridden vaults have been left to decay and many of the original studio fixtures having been removed.

Parts of the studios which remain include the original producer’s control gallery which is listed as being of ‘historic interest’.

According to the regeneration plans, the gallery will be retained along with some large wooden scenery doors and porthole windows into the studios. The rest of the space would be however remodelled.

FCBS defended its proposals, stating that: ‘the significance of the BBC Studios resides in the evidential and historic values of what was developed here rather than any specific architectural significance’.

 

 

 

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The problem is that there is almost no historical evidence for 'what was developed here' - these were live broadcasts, not recorded save for a few photos and scant footage. All you can present therefore is an evocation of the atmosphere and conditions in which a group of dedicated enthusiasts jostled within the restrictions of the space to create the new medium of television. On paper, at least, I query whether the FCBS plans achieve this. Besides, if not bothered by 'specific architectural significance' why insist on restoring the colonnade, and thereby removing what evidence remains?

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