London-based writer with incurably itchy feet always looking for the quirky and curious
Published January 18th 2010
As a freelance journalist, I was immediately up for a behind-the-scenes tour at the BBC Television Tour, but, having done it, I'd say this is an interesting trip for anyone - especially TV lovers.
Now before we begin, understand there's no guarantee we will see any TV celebs' the guide advised at the start of the tour, only for our group, minutes later, to bump into Strictly Come Dancing stars Len Goodman and Lilia Kopylova, as well as a number of other names from the show. But, be warned, these sightings are not always forthcoming, so keep your fingers crossed.
You do possess some control over potential celebrity spotting, by carefully choosing which day you book your tour (pre-booking is essential) to coincide with your favourite programmes. Take note that news will be busier during the week while many popular programmes are filmed on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The tour kicks off in the News Centre, a complex hive of computers and news desks. Here you learn about cameras and news gathering, before moving onto one of Centre's eight large studios. These great black rooms are crammed with lighting, electronic switches, curtains and potentially half-constucted sets. It was quite an eye-opener to see the dingy, technology-crammed spaces that are transformed into the sets of some of our most popular television series including Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers and Blue Peter.
Next, you get the chance to see the smaller studios where the weather forecasts are made and - more fun - play with a blue screen. Wear a blue top and you'll be able to see yourself turn invisible. This is how The Thing was born in The Addams Family and it's also this technique which is used to recreate the Invisibility Cloak in the Harry Potter movies.
The final stage of the tour takes in the dressing rooms, a series of props from Doctor Who and Walking with Dinosaurs among others and the 'green room' - holding area to many big stars over the years. Apparently, whenever Elton John visits the 'Beeb', he requests a certain type of ginger biscuit while, more obscurely, Madonna once asked for a cardboard cut-out of the Pope - they ended up borrowing a spare wax Pope from Madam Tussauds!
The tour lasts for approximately one and a half hours and I'd advise thinking up a few questions about the BBC before you visit to make the most of your tour guides. Overall, this tour of a British institution is fairly basic, but still offers an exciting glimpse into a world that's usually out of sight.