Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Happy 80th birthday World Service

Good grief, is it really five years since I sat in a Bush House office, penning a birthday greeting for a 75th birthday?

Yes, yes, I know 75 plus 5 equals 80, I just cannot believe it’s passed so quickly!

I can’t believe that it’s been five years since several hundred BBC staff and their better halves were invited to the O2 for a knees-up. It was by invitation only and, due to the demand for tickets, was done as a lottery; you applied (for a maximum of two tickets) and your names were – or in some cases, weren’t – drawn from a hat. It was actually the first time I’d been to the O2 site; I found it pretty impressive. Our evening of entertainment was actually in the smaller of the O2 venues – the O2 Arena I think – and apart from some excellent BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJ’s spinning some splendid toons, there was also live music from around the world including the terrific Tinarewan – a Tuareg band from the Saharan Desert area of Mali. There was music from The Clash too, which I’m sure made a family friend very jealous – he’s a big fan.

What a shame that the year in which this wonderful, world-uniting entity that is the World Service marks its 8th decade, is the very same year in which it finally vacates the building that it has become synonymous with. Yes, the lease is up, “really, honestly and truthfully, no messing around this time, dead and gone, not to be extended no more, no siree!”

It’s all rather inexplicable too, as Jeremy Paxman wrote the other day; “why, during these times of harsh belt tightening, has the BBC decided to move from the (comparatively) cheap lodgings of Bush House, to the excruciatingly expensive area of W1?”

Now, while I agree with JP wholeheartedly, the BBC have been planning this move for years – it’s one of the reasons for the gargantuan modernisation process at Broadcasting House. And, you can’t stay in one place on the basis of, “that’s how it’s always been”, or through a fear of change’.

Of course, the fact is that those halcyon, sepia tinged memories of men at Bush House, wearing their tweed, 3-piece suits, smoking Capstan full strength ciggies and generally looking all ‘yah, absolutely’, have all been consigned to history anyway – they were a part of the BBC’s ‘yesterday’. I’ve rambled in the past about the ‘special-ness’ of Bush House from a personal viewpoint, and I know for a fact, that people from many nations around the world, made special trips just in order to see the place, the building, the architecture, to physically touch the entity that, for many, kept them and their recent ancestors informed on the global goings-on, often learning about news from other parts of their own countries, via a shortwave frequency. I lost count how many times I was stopped at the main entrance / exit as I nipped out for lunch, by an individual or group, wanting me to take their photographs, while they stood together, some with their fingers in a ‘V for Victory’ sign, held proudly aloft.

You could tell it was a real ‘Mecca’ moment for them, if you’ll pardon the analogy.

Anyway, happy birthday World Service.

And all the best in your new guise – there are a lot of people hoping you’ll be the same old you, albeit from a shiny new location.

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