Sowerby and Luff write: Georgina and I were once invited to talk about comedy in a live interview for a drivetime show on local radio. The BBC doesn’t expect anyone from London to actually travel to any of its more far-flung outposts of broadcasting, so we were instructed to go to Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, where our programme contribution was to be linked down the line to a local radio studio.
When we arrived at Television Centre, the receptionist at the Stage Door took us to what looked like a cupboard in the basement. She punched a 4 digit code into a security lock, opened the door, pushed us inside, and scurried away like a sewer rat. We were greeted by a darkened, empty room with a microphone in the middle. On the wall was a sign. “Welcome to the BBC’s Unattended Studio,” it said. “Please follow these simple instructions.”
No studio engineer. No production assistant. No runner to bring us a nice cup of tea. Just a piece of faded A4 paper, gaffer-taped to the wall.
“First, switch on the power at the big switch next to the door,” it advised. Georgina hunted around, found the switch and activated it. A faint fluorescent light flickered on. “Switch on the microphone using the big red button in the middle of the desk.” I located the button. It had a Post-It note stuck on it which read, “Yes, this one.”
“Now, call the studio at the other end, and announce your presence.” Georgina picked up the phone. No dialing tone. She looked at her mobile, and I looked at mine. No signal on either handset. We were in the basement after all. Like Batman and Robin on a case, we dashed up to the first floor, and called the local radio studio on Georgina’s mobile. “Are you there already?” said the programme assistant. “The interview’s not for another 2 minutes!” God help us, we’ve always been over-eager.
“Just go back to the studio and wait,” she said. We legged it downstairs, but when we got back to the unattended studio we couldn’t remember the entry code to the door.
“Can you let us into the Unattended Studio in the basement?”, I asked the receptionist. She looked up from searching for jobs on Google. “Didn’t I just let you in?” she sighed. We explained.
“A minute later, we were back in the Unattended Studio, headphones on, waiting to go on the air, but we hadn’t had a second to go over what we were going to talk about, being too busy doing the jobs of a couple BBC studio engineers.
Georgina said she needed a glass of water. We looked around the room for something to drink. All we could find was a ten week old cup of coffee with something sinister and smelly incubating inside. G dashed upstairs to the coffee bar, but there was a long queue. She looked at her watch. We were on the air in thirty seconds. No time for liquid refreshment. She dashed back downstairs, and threw her headphones back on. Only the right channel was working. She gave the headphones a thump, and the left channel went off as well. I couldn’t hear a bloody thing either. I fiddled with the phono socket, on which was another Post-It note which read “Do not touch.”
Suddenly, the headphones spurted into life, at three times the original volume, taking out my right eardrum, and we heard the booming voice of a local radio presenter welcoming us to his show.
There was one final item on the checklist of stuff to do on the wall. It said “Make your programme contribution into the microphone”. So we did. Fifteen minutes later we were walking towards White City tube, wondering if we’d managed to say anything mildly intelligent on the radio, and understanding completely why it used to be such a good idea to have BBC staff working in BBC studios.
The Beeb are constantly in the process of laying off staff in order to make the corporation a more lean machine. Judging by this experience, we’d say they’re pretty damned lean already.