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Television Centre was built on the site of the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. A large public fair, its intricate white buildings and waterways gave rise to the area’s name of White City. Attracting 8 million visitors, the exhibition was constructed to celebrate the signing of the Entente Cordiale, an agreement of cooperation that marked the end of nearly a thousand years of conflict.
With the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy, the 1908 Olympics were relocated to White City as part of the Franco-British exhibition. Historically, these, the fourth ever modern Olympic games, set the standard length of a marathon for the first time – the finishing line of which can still be found marked out at White City Place.
“The largest, best equipped and most carefully planned factory of its kind,” Director of the BBC, Gerald Butler described Television Centre on its completion in 1960.
One of the most notable artists working during the Mid-century Modern period, John Piper was asked to create a mosaic for the Main Lobby. Piper worked across stained-glass windows, tapestries, book design, fabrics; seen here with the tens of thousands of individual ceramic tiles that created the Grade II listed mosaic that has welcomed television talent for over half a century.
Television Centre broadcast its first programme on 29 June 1960. The “First Night” show included music from The Toppers and R&B vocal harmony group The Silhouettes, as well as the Irving Davies Dancers, and The Derricos – a high wire acrobatic act.
HM Queen Elizabeth II visited Television Centre in 1961. After six years of construction, she toured the £12m complex and its seven studios – designed to produce about 1,500 hours of programme material a year – where she watched the filming of children’s show Crackerjack, met the crew and visited the wardrobe and make-up departments and scenery block.
Three years after opening its doors, the science fiction series that pioneered “hiding behind the sofa” viewing, Doctor Who, is first filmed at Television Centre in 1963.
Forever at the centre of moments of national significance, this is Television Centre’s set for the 1966 FIFA World Cup, where commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme famously proclaimed “they think it’s all over! It is now.”
A young Sir David Attenborough leaning on the railings at the top of the Helios Courtyard – “My first day was in the early ’60s. There was so much live recording…there was this fizz.”
Originally filmed onboard a ship on the Mersey, the first show for young children soon transferred to the new Television Centre, where, with presenters Valerie Singleton and Tony Hart, it developed many of its essential elements – the famous badges, “here’s one we made earlier” pieces, appeals and ‘totalisers’, pets and plucky presenters – here showing Simon Groom, Janet Ellis and Peter Duncan.
With its vast studios and technical capabilities, Television Centre gave rise to large-scale broadcasting, whether the elaborate sets of Doctor Who, or the party atmosphere of music shows Old Grey Whistle Test, Top of the Pops and Later… with Jools Holland.
Appearances at Television Centre have charted the careers and transformation of the music industry’s biggest names, such as Coldplay and Beyoncé.
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