Sunday was a day largely devoted to the past of media. We divided the class into two groups. Everyone visited the following sites, albeit in different order depending on which group each was assigned to.
We toured BBC Broadcasting House, which has held much of the UK-based radio programming studios since the 1920s. The art deco delight, including sculptures by Eric Gill, was painstakingly restored as the first phase of a major construction project for the BBC. The second phase, an expansive, 21st century marvel built behind and along the side of the original building which will house much of the BBC’s television operations, is all but complete. The transition will be complete by mid-year, unfortunately too late for us to see it.
Sadly, when the new facility is completely online, tours to the old Broadcasting House will cease, even though a good deal of radio programming will still originate from there. So, while I’m sure future classes will marvel at the state-of-the-art technology within, they will miss the charm and history of Broadcasting House. Students were able to see the large performance hall where live radio concerts and plays are still produced daily, and where many BBC staffers were forced to sleep during the height of the Blitz. Students also produced their own mini radio drama, complete with sound effects.
The class also walked just north of Broadcasting House, to 84 Hallam Street, where American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow lived as he reported on World War II. In the past few years, a plaque has been placed at the flat, indicating how revered Murrow remains in England. Many still credit his broadcasts back to the States during the Blitz for alerting Americans to the mortal danger posed by the Nazis.
While one group was at Broadcasting House, the other toured Fleet Street, once the center for the British press but now with few remnants of its heyday. After some searching, we discovered “Magpie Alley,” a tiny spot a couple of blocks off Fleet, where tiles have been engraved with old photos, drawings and historical facts concerning the history of printing in the area. There are no markers leading you to the site, and if not for a fortunate Google search before leaving the hotel, we never would have found it. Several students mentioned how sad it was that the history of the area is so hidden.
The history of Fleet Street is more prominent at St. Bride’s Church, “the journalist’s church.” We managed to fit our visit in between church services, so students were able to spend a few moments at the journalists’ memorial, where candles and cards commemorate journalists who have died in the line of duty.
We completed our day with both groups gathering at Punch Tavern, just up the street from St. Bride’s, for a debriefing on the day, and for a reminder that we only have one more day in London. “Punch” was a satirical magazine that was particularly popular in the late 1800s. The staff became such regulars at the spot that the owner gave it the magazine’s name, which has stuck ever since. The decor remains largely as it was when the editors used to brainstorm (except likely for the 1970s-era ping-pong table in the back. Particularly notable are the color lithographic prints from the magazine that adorn the walls in the back.
Tomorrow, we witness the end of an era, as we tour the BBC television center in west London, which is due to shut down this spring.