Friday, 23 August 2013


This is one thing that I found was guaranteed to surprise any first-time visitors to BBC TELEVISION CENTRE: It had its own miniature branch of WH Smith on the ground floor.

TVC was so large and - until the opening of the Westfield mall, very underserved by local shops that its (relatively) captive staff and visitors must have ensured a steady turnover.

The mini-branch was - technically - run along the same lines as one of their travel shops (airports, railway stations etc.) which meant a similar mix of magazines, cards, stationary, paperbacks, nik-naks and sweets.  None of which were stocked in much depth and, certainly in the nik-naks and confectionary categories, frequently vastly overpriced.

The travel shop designation meant that sometimes they would participate in newspaper giveaway (usually DVD) promotions... and sometimes not.  It was handy to be able to just pop in and pick-up whatever the freebie was on the way upstairs to the office.  But potentially embarrassing if someone spotted you in the lift clutching 'the wrong sort of newspaper'.

The branch occupied a ground floor space opposite the ID Card/ Facilities Management office somewhat mid-way between the Reception area and North Hall lifts adjacent to Stage Door (aka the original reception... which we'll get to).

For the first few years I worked at TVC, there was a independent newsagent located in what amounted to (or seemed to me) to be little more than a converted cupboard in the same location.  I'm not sure what was adjacent to it but the space was expanded considerably when WHS rolled-up.  I recall that there was some controversy in the pages of ARIEL (the weekly staff newsletter beloved by the media as it usually provided a juicy tale of Corporation inefficiency or mice infestation that could be regurgitated, frequently uncredited, in the press on Wednesday or Thursday) when the previous independent newsagent was ousted.  I think it would be true to say that he had a better magazine selection.

Although they slowly shuttered over time (as choice increased and staff numbers diminished), the ground floor also boasted a hairdressers, a dry cleaners (I think!) and flower shop when I first joined.  The punningly-named "Auntie's Blooms" (see what they did there?) shuttered shortly after there was a change to the expenses rules which put the kibosh on using BBC money to pay for flowers for staff and contributors.


  1. I'd forgotten that WH Smith's and the controversy it brought.

    The old independent newsagents was a family-run operation, always very friendly and helpful. It was a real shame to see it shut down.

    To add insult to injury, my department was forced to rapidly leave our convenient basement office for "operational reasons"... that turned out to be repurposing the space as a storeroom for WH Smith's stock! Popped back there six months later to find the whole room full, floor-to-ceiling, with boxes of McCoys crisps while my colleagues and I were being shoved from pillar to post! At one point we worked in a corridor for almost a year! Awful.

    And, as you rightly point out, the WH Smith's was run as a "travel" branch with prices that bore no relation to the real world - which equated to a Twirl chocolate bar costing twice the price it should. Combatting the afternoon munchies became hideously expensive overnight.

    One last point - my memory is a bit fuzzy but wasn't there also a Travel Agent in that area around the same time as Auntie's Blooms, pre-2000? This was possibly relocated to where the ATMs were - across the walkway between the arms of the doughnut (studio 1/stage V)...?

    1. Wow! I had no idea that WH Smith had commandeered additional space as well. They already seemed to have storage space tucked away in rooms adjacent to the shop itself.

      That's one thing I loved about TVC... things - and people - were always moving around... If you didn't need to visit a department for six months... you'd go back and suddenly find they'd either rebranded or decamped to another part of the building.

      Or - worst of all - you'd discover they'd been dissolved in yet another round of restructuring. When I first joined, I spent many an hour in the basement I&A library. They had some great books about the history of broadcasting tucked away down there and it was a shame when it closed. I hope they kept the books!

      On my farewell tour I discovered the area behind the South Hall lifts which had previously housed the Digital Transmission Area (itself a relatively new fit-out) had been refurbished as the trendy-titled "Wedge". That made me chuckle.

    2. Oh... and the Travel Agent.

      That DOES ring a very slight bell as something I did see when i first joined in the year 2000. I have a TVC GUIDE published a year-or-two later and - when I find it again - I'll see if there is any mention in that. It might have vanished before then however.

      I don't remember it relocating although I do remember that the Cash Office was located next to the cash machines in the "horseshoe" area. I had to go there a few times to get money for shoots before there was a change of policy and we were all "encouraged" to get corporate credit cards. A fine idea but staff were personally liable for them which meant any snafu over payments and it screwed your personal credit rating. Plus, if I remember correctly, they were set so that any payments due automatically transferred from the holders bank account. As the lowest rung on the production ladder, and the least well paid, I didn't like the way there was an expectation that we'd foot the bill for a shoot. So I declined a card and we had to scrabble around for a senior member of staff to give us a cash advance on their card whenever we went out filming. Progress! Ha!


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