Goodbye, farewell: Television Centre And Didcot A

Image from zoot.org.uk/

Image from zoot.org.uk

Icons: they come in all shapes and sizes.

And today in England we have said goodbye to two such iconic places.

One has been slowly leached of all its staff, each to a new base elsewhere; and at 5pm today, hordes left the other and no-one seems very sure what happens to them now.

The first, opened in 1960, is now a grade II listed building, in the parish of St Michael and St George, White City, about four miles from the centre of London. BBC Television Centre is a national institution because it has formed the backdrop to some of our best-loved TV moments: Top of the Pops, Morecambe and Wise, Dr Who; the list is endless.

But all things must end, and property prices have made flogging the building an absolute necessity. Stanhope, the developer, has bought the place lock, stock and barrel and plans to turn it into a hotel, apartments, shops and even some television studios into which the BBC will move when it is complete.

Meanwhile, hordes of BBC staff have been putting all their clutter in boxes and shipping it to Broadcasting House in Langham Place and Portland Place, bidding a wistful farewell to the buildings we all know like the back of our hands.

It seems a very long time since it was just a question mark on an envelope scribbled by architect Graham Dawbarn. Its great circular central building is affectionately known as the doughnut, wrapped about by an idiosyncratic curve of purpose-built blocks which have held all that is familiar for us British.

pic via lbhf.gov.uk

pic via lbhf.gov.uk

We will not forget the bombastic Jeremy Clarkson touring its corridors in a very small car; nor the children’s magazine series Blue Peter and its garden; we mourn the backdrop for Crackerjack, the kids’ Friday night programme of yesteryear, and the corridors which have hosted daleks and members of the Monty Python team alike.

It had its dark side. It has only been in the last year or so that shocking, deeply upsetting revelations have come to light about what went on in its rooms. That dark corridor has yet to be lit properly. Let us hope wrongs can be atoned, though lives have been scarred.

We will remember.

Yesterday, Madness – the band to hire if you are British and important – sealed the building and its history shut. For better or for worse, Television Centre is empty. Take a look at its deserted rooms and corridors here.

Yesterday afternoon, staff at another icon walked out for the last time.

But it has always received mixed reviews, for it is a great, towering coal-fired power station.

Didcot A is a landmark for the area surrounding Oxford for all the wrong reasons. As you drive past it is impossible not to be impressed by the sheer audacious scale of Didcot’s six cooling towers and a chimney which is still amongst Britain’s tallest structures.

Its design – I will own- pleases me. The great apocalyptic shapes rise up out of the green and pleasant land as some sort of post-parochial, industrial vision, a county set concrete nightmare straight out of a Russian propaganda poster.

It is uncompromising. How they ever got it built there in the first place baffles me.

It has been stormed and scaled by Greenpeace, and voted Britain’s Worst Eyesore by readers of Country Life Magazine. It is recorded in local f0lklore that on a radio phone-in for Radio Oxford callers flooded the switchboard. One outraged caller complained bitterly that it was just like ‘somewhere up North’.

Horrors.

Last night a laser light sign illuminated the station, which has been decommissioned due to the expense of making it comply with EU laws. The sign says: “Powering the nation, 1970-2013.”

Goodbye, Television Centre. Farewell, Didcot A. It’s been a blast.

In every sense of the word.

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19 thoughts on “Goodbye, farewell: Television Centre And Didcot A

  1. That’s a coal-fired power station? That’s what the cooling towers at all our nuclear plants look like. They are icons, unlike any other structures I can think of.

  2. When I lived in Abingdon in the late 70’s I could see the towers from miles away as I worked to work every morning. On a cold winter morning, the vapour from the towers would be lit by the sunrise and the effect was breathtaking – to me, the towers have always been a reminder of how beauty can be found in unexpected and strange places.

    Of course, in those days, there were no camera phones always at hand to record those unforeseen moments, and I always regret that I never managed to get a picture of what is one of my abiding memories of my time at Abingdon.

  3. Long ago I did my “organizational observation” at Television Centre, not the whole place, but I did get shown all around it before descending to the editing suite where a bit of everything also descended. Never to be forgotten. Thanks for linking it with Didcot A – would we return to those days when someone made decisions and the rest of us put up with it? Odd, I also like the view of the towers, iconic beauty, and Jan Rose says so too, as someone who lived under them.

  4. Kate, they say change is good, and I do have to agree, although at the time change can be a painful thing to go through. Being from the north, and living with a carbuncle just down the road that is remarkably similar to Didcot A (called Fiddler’s Ferry) I can only imagine how completely different the place would look if it wasn’t there. However, for the people involved in the closure, both closures, I don’t think all of them would see the change as good.
    Everything has it’s place in history; you’ve just described two that future historians should take a great interest in.

  5. I am reminded of the wind turbines that everyone loves to hate, and can’t help thinking that they are more acceptable than the huge iron grid pylons that stride across parts of our countryside linked by unattractive cables.

  6. I have a habit of forgetting the word that signifies remembering with affection things gone past. Whatever it is, I don’t have much of it when it comes to ugly buildings with bad memories for me. The BBC TV centre is as ugly as the road it’s in, and that road is ugly leading to horrid places like prison and football grounds. I must have missed the Didcot A through looking out the windscreen of my car and knowing that I was late as usual, wherever I was going. I’ve remembered what I haven’t got a lot of – nostalgia. I was sure it was neuralgia, but I’ve got a lot of that so I discounted it.

  7. Do you know, Kate, I was trained in the era of just such power stations. All that emanated from the cooling towers was steam! And for many power stations, the cooling water dripped into a pool still warm, and was used for breeding salmon – which were no doubt sold to help with costs.

    That was about 50 years ago!!!

    Dad

  8. Hard to say adieu to landmarks, and the people who work them. I do feel saddened when these changes come for the folks who are displaced by them and all the troubling things it may mean.

  9. Dear Kate, I know so little about England. Its buildings and landmarks. Its television and the likes and dislikes of its habitants. But why am I surprised? I really know little about my own country. There are so many places here in the States that I’ve never explored. The reasons I want to believe in re-incarnation are many but one of them is that I might explore other realms of being and thinking. Peace.

  10. Awww. You’ve written this so brilliantly that I think even I’m feel a little sense of loss! Wow! I do rather like the shape and design, and when it comes to nostalgic television, I do get a little misty-eyed myself. I don’t know all the television you’re referring to, but I do know Dr. Who! I’m watching favorite landmarks change here in California, too, Kate. I tend to mourn them when I see them go, even those I wasn’t particularly connected to in the first place. I think perhaps I feel it for those who have either lost jobs in the transfer or the notion that downsizing was the result of economic stress. You’ve memorialized the “doughnut’ was it? very nicely. 🙂

  11. I always think those Didcot cooling towers look totally out of place. At least they’ve been a good marker on the A34 as I sought the junction for our friend’s house.

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