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circle of life
by Dick Hobbs
B eing a simple
soul, I am
endlessly fascinated by ideas which
are the great new thing
one day, rubbished the next, and
resurface the day after as the next
In the 1960s, the BBC decided that it
was wrong to concentrate all its radio
and television production in London,
and established national and regional
production centres. The plan was that
everybody should get a bit of the fun.
In Birmingham, the UK’s second city,
the BBC was dotted around in various
buildings, so the decision was taken
to build a new production centre, in
Pebble Mill Road in Edgbaston. It
opened in 1971.
If you are as ancient as me you may
recall that, while Pebble Mill had
two perfectly serviceable modern
television studios, its most famous
productions were done from the foyer.
First a daytime magazine show then a
Saturday night music and chat show
came from the front of the building,
a fact made possible because when
they built the centre they had the wit to
put in camera points and microphone
multicores in lots of places.
I was reminded of this recently when I
had an excellent tour of Dock 10, the
studio complex recently built in Salford.
Why was Dock 10 built? Well, 20 years
ago the BBC “rationalised” its nations
and regions production centres.
Pebble Mill fell down because it was
badly built in poor-quality concrete,
and its replacement contained no
television studios, nor even a home for
Birmingham’s longest running radio
production, The Archers.
Then there was another change of
direction at the BBC, and moving
98 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 84 DECEMBER 2013
production out of London became
an issue of vital importance once
more. Despite the sneering of many
a politician and commentator, it was
decided to open up a major northern
centre. Which is what took me to Salford
a couple of weeks ago. Touring
the studio complex was absolutely
fascinating, and I am very grateful to
my hosts at Dock 10 for their time.
Three things struck me. First was
how busy the place was. There are
seven television studios so far at Dock
10, and the day I visited – a typical
Wednesday in December – six of them
were in production, two of them with
audience shows. The seventh was
being set for the next production.
I know, because I am hoping to borrow
one of the studios, that this is far from
unusual. The idea that no-one makes
television in studios any more is clearly
wrong, and the idea that no-one would
want to go to a regenerated quayside
near Manchester is equally wrong.
The second thing that struck me may
well be related to the ﬁ rst. Everyone I
met was really happy and really positive
about working in television, and in that
building. It might also be signiﬁ cant that these
people do not work for the BBC. Dock
10 is an independent enterprise, jointly
owned by a property company (Peel
Group, perhaps better known for the
Trafford Centre shopping mall) and
SIS the broadcast facilities company.
They are competing for business, and
a welcoming attitude from everyone
from CEO to audience wrangler is part
But most impressive is the technical
infrastructure. Building the studio
centre from scratch, the architects
put in lots of trunking and the systems
engineers ﬂ ooded it with ﬁ bre. You
can connect anything to anything at
any time without thinking about it.
Whatever a production needs it can
have. One of the shows being recorded
when I was there last was Mastermind,
and I was slightly stunned to discover
that as well as the live cut they also
record three or four iso camera feeds.
I still struggle to understand how you
could need to re-edit a show as rigidly
formalised as Mastermind, but that
was what the producer wanted so that
was what Dock 10 provided.
At the front of the building is a huge
piazza, and yes there are connection
points all around it. Unobtrusive
stainless steel pillars contain ﬁ bre
points. You simply wheel out a
termination box and can be routed to
any of the galleries. It means that you
can do a show that looks like an OB
but from the comfort and convenience
of a studio centre.
In the summer, for instance, a Gok
Wan fashion series was done from
the piazza. In the past it would have
been done with a truck from maybe
a shopping mall, and would have
been irritatingly inconvenient. This
was done out in the open with a huge
and enthusiastic audience, but with
proper dressing rooms and a canteen,
and with the director in a nice air-
conditioned gallery not a cramped
truck. Of course, the producers did overlook
the propensity for rain in Manchester,
but that was hardly Dock 10’s fault.
So what goes around comes around.
Just as Pebble Mill showed 40 years
ago, it is perfectly possible to make
television outside London. And if you
have smart technical designers who
provide ﬂ exible connectivity you can
use the space around the studios just
as imaginatively as you can the room