Tales of Television Centre Review: “Well Done Us!”

TALES OF TELEVISION CENTRE: Thursday 17th May, BBC4, 9pm

It seems awfully big headed of the BBC to broadcast an hour and a half long documentary about itself, complete with fawning talking head interviews from the likes of Andi Peters. Surely it’s like if Bono were to compose a song highlighting the importance of U2 or if Dan Brown were write a book about the mystery of Dan Brown. Obviously those two examples sound entirely plausible, now that I think about it, but my point remains.

The documentary in question focuses on the wonder that is Television Centre, a historic building of great cultural significance, we’re told. Andi Peters, for example, describes his first visit there as a religious one, although it’s unclear where Ed the Duck fits into this profound experience. Peters is not alone, of course. Other interviewees happy to share their favourite Television Centre memories include Sir David Attenborough, Joan Bakewell, Jeremy Paxman, Sir Terry Wogan, Griff Rhys Jones and Brian Blessed.

According to television executive Sir Paul Fox, the place absolutely reeks of television history. In fact, the stench is so unbearably historic, that the musk left from such programmes as Dad’s Army, Top of the Pops and Doctor Who refuses to dissipate even to this day. But it’s not just the building’s potent history that makes Esther Rantzen eyes run; it’s the building’s design too.

It looks like Tracy Island from Thunderbirds, we’re told, its design is so powerfully unique and wonderful that, over the years, it’s even been plagiarised. Jeremy Paxman knows this because he’s seen a very similar looking building in “Zimbabwe or somewhere like thatâ€?. You know, one of those foreign countries that are notorious for ripping off British architecture. Zimbabwe or France or something.

There are moments in the documentary that are surprisingly quite touching. There’s a story, for instance, about the one-armed man who used to man the entrance gate, and it’s a shame that we don’t get to hear more about unique, behind the scenes characters like this. Instead, much of the programme is made up of mostly uninteresting memories that merely distract from what’s made the building such a fascinating place.

Television Centre obviously means a great deal to television veterans like Sir David Attenborough and Sir Terry Wogan, and its history is indeed impressive. But the anecdotes shared here just aren’t particularly insightful. It all just seems terribly exclusive. That’s not to say that the documentary is particularly bad; it just all too often crosses the fine line between relevant and shamelessly self-congratulatory.