By Guy O’Connell
Thousands of BBC staff are heading to Fitzrovia in one of the biggest influx of office workers seen in our area in decades. Broadcasting House was built in the 1930s and became the famous face of the BBC, with many early stars living and socialising nearby.
Over the years, the broadcaster spread to sites across the capital including Television Centre in White City, and Fitzrovia became home to the best-known voices in radio. BBC types have long been spotted in pubs, restaurants, and shops and long queues of fans can often be seen outside the headquarters of Radio One on Clipstone Street.
When Terry Wogan signed off from his breakfast show on Radio 2 a photo of him on Hallam Street made the national papers. Hundreds more photographs hang on the walls of restaurants nearby showing stars over the years.
But now the number of media workers is set to expand dramatically in one of the biggest changes in years. Some of the biggest stars in TV are moving into the newly-expanded building on Portland Place to join the radioheads who are already working there. Over the next few months, Fiona Bruce, Jeremy Paxman, Huw Edwards and radio news presenters too will relocate from West London and TV Centre is being sold off.
In all, the move will bring thousands more office workers to Fitzrovia and should offer a new market for some businesses whilst residents closest to the new building will swap long months of construction noise for busier streets and pavements.
From the five floor newly-built glass and marble office block of Fitzrovia News, we sought out some views from BBC people and restaurateurs.
“I’m really looking forward to going back to Broadcasting House where I presented Woman’s Hour for many years,” said Martha Kearney, host of the World At One on Radio 4 and Newsnight Review on BBC 2.
“It will be great to catch up with lots of old colleagues but I am worried that I will end up a lot poorer given all the lovely shops, restaurants and pubs nearby.”
At nearby Sergios on Great Titchfield Street, they’ve seen many stars come and go. “Dionne Warwick came in last week, and for many years Anna Wing who played Lou Beale in Eastenders became a family friend,” says manager Kostas Georgiou. “I’m very happy the BBC are returning in force, they were our customers before they went to White City. My grandfather used to serve them and many saw me as a little boy here.
Like the nearby Efes restaurant, Sergios is decorated with the signed photos of the stars. “My favourite is Englebert Humperdinck – he is very loyal and has become a friend. The celebs like to be treated just like anyone else, so we’re cheeky with them, and they come back.”
At the family-run Efes, they’ve been serving Fitzrovia for thirty nine years. It was known as a place where ITN and BBC newsreaders would sit at adjacent tables – fierce rivals on the screen, but friends in food.
“There’s a historic link to the BBC. We are like the mother place for them,” said one waiter. “We felt the loss of the BBC as customers and for years they’ve been talking about moving back. If the time really has come this year, we will always have a welcome for them here.”
But some staffers at the broadcasting giant are sad to leave the famous old TV Centre. “My own personal view,” said Evan Davis of Today and Dragons’ Den “is that White City beats the West End now that Westfield exists… [but] when I reacquaint myself with life in the West End, I’ll see new golden opportunities there.”
For years residents have lived side by side with the BBC, and now it’s expanded on our doorstep. One local put it this way: “We’ll soon learn if bigger means better and if they end up as six thousand good neighbours or as those rather annoying ones who think they’re above everybody else.”
Here at FN we’re always ready to help out with the news if they’ve not got any at the BBC, and for the price of a small drink, our writers can be lured into the many pubs and restaurants of our home turf to discuss things.