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Newsletter, October 2008 (Issue 173)

London Museum / BBC TV

We arrived at the London Museum at 11.15 am which gave us time to tour around the Museum, have lunch and look around the Barbican. Refurbishment of the Museum will not be complete until 2009, so some areas were not open to us but there was still plenty to see. One section, entitled 'London before London', shows how the Thames was once a tributary of the Rhine before changes in climate and sea level led to the configuration we know today. Animals found nowadays only in the tropics once roamed the Thames valley and were much larger than their modern counterparts. There are strange reminders of an earlier landscape with the remains of yew trees dating back to 2,500 BC still visible at low tide at Erith.

Most of the 47,000 Roman objects in the Museum were recovered in the course of building operations in the city - one outcome of World War II bombing. Another bombing was poignantly marked with a Tribute Book in memory of those killed in the London bombings of 7 July 2005. 'London's Burning' is about the Great Fire of 1666. Although barely a dozen people died, the disastrous destruction of 4/5ths of the city changed it for ever. So who were the villains? (Answer: amongst others, the carters who charged extortionate rates to ferry people's possessions to safety.) Who were the heroes? (Answer: perhaps surprisingly King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York, who endangered their own lives to help the fire-fighters.) This is worth exploring on the Museum's web site (www.museumoflondon.org.uk).

When we arrived at the BBC Television Centre we were split into two groups. We sat at the very table in the News Centre where the running order of all BBC news programmes on television and radio is determined, while we watched dozens of journalists working on their stories from VDU screens. Newsreaders are not just presenters but journalists who research and write 80% of the material they read, working on shifts 12 or 14 hours long.

Studio 3 is vast, with walls and roof numbered at two-foot intervals to give the co-ordinates for plotting positions of scenery, microphones and lighting. Erecting or striking a set normally takes only about an hour, but for 'Come Dancing' a sprung floor must be installed; that takes about six hours. Other programmes broadcast from here include 'Fawlty Towers' and 'Blue Peter'. ('Blue Peter' is 50 years old this year, and we were shown the famous garden which is somehow smaller than it appears on TV.) For some shows a studio audience of 350 is required. At the touch of a button, seats in rows emerge from the back wall. We were told that if they don't laugh or applaud when they're supposed to, another button will send them back into the wall (perhaps!). The BBC uses these big studios much less now, so they hire them out - at 40,000 an hour - to anyone who can afford them (even ITV).

The weather studio is barely a fully automated cupboard, where camera and lighting levels are adjusted automatically for individual forecasters. Meteorologists have blank screens behind them so they must learn how to point to the mirror images on the teleprompter in front of them. They are the only broadcasters to get a clothing allowance - to the dismay of journalists. In the Green Room guests waiting to appear relax in comfort. Most ask for coffee or tea, but if they want champagne they are invited to bring it themselves.

Our tour was concluded by a visit to an 'inter-active' studio where four gallant volunteers from the group read the news and took part in 'Name That Tune'. We were entertained and enormously impressed by the sophistication and the human touch of 'our' BBC.

Chris and Chris Pawsey

    Front cover of issue 173 Cover, issue 173

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