How This Famous BBC Address Was Transformed

By Claire Wotherspoon Last edited 12 months ago
How This Famous BBC Address Was Transformed

"London W12 7RJ."

For a 10 year old girl, growing up in rural Yorkshire, it seemed impossibly glamorous and unimaginably distant.

Magic days

It was the address you'd use to correspond with Andi Peters in the broom cupboard, send Going Live a postcard with an answer on the back and, of course, send your letters begging for a Blue Peter badge.

Who'd have thought that 15 years later, I'd be living in the same postcode as that hallowed address, and even spend several years working at the BBC — where my staff pass gave me access to the donut-shaped halls of TV Centre whenever I fancied?

Who'd have thought that 15 years later, I'd be living in the same postcode as that hallowed address?

I've now lived in Shepherds Bush for a decade and the transformation the area has seen over that time has been incredible.

Nowhere is the scope and speed of change more visible than on Wood Lane, the one-time beating heart of the BBC, and now a bustling centre of development.

Home of the Olympics

It's an area throbbing with history; in 1908 White City hosted both the Olympics and the Franco-British Exhibition. (It is strange to think that two of the sites that have hosted the London Olympics, now have Westfields.) After the games ended, the stadium that remained was used in both the first and second world wars, and the White City Estate — a huge social housing development — was built upon the land where the exhibition venues once stood.

The Westfield era

I arrived in Shepherd's Bush when Westfield was still under construction. Wood Lane was, for the most part, the site of industrial space, including the inconveniently-located Royal Mail sorting office to the east, and BBC buildings and the White City estate to the west.

There was little sign of the area's former glories — save for a plaque commemorating the 1908 Olympics.

The Franco-British Exhibition of 1908

Then Westfield opened its doors. If this was an olde-timey Pathe film clip, things would start to speed up and the picture would magically begin to render in colour. Perhaps it's best to imagine that in your mind for the next few paragraphs.

Whatever your opinion of Westfield (journalist Andrew Gilligan calls it "cloned and white-owned", countless others flock there every weekend in their droves) its arrival in 2008 has undeniably attracted more investment to this once overlooked enclave of west London.

Wood Lane entrance to Westfield. True story; the incongruous brick warehouses were used as a location for the filming of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The BBC ups sticks

It's not just the shopping centre itself that changed the tenor of the area, but the infrastructure and investment that followed it. A new Hammersmith & City line station directly opposite TV Centre — part of the agreement between the local council and Westfield — connecting Wood Lane to the heart of London. (A previous Wood Lane station on the Central line was closed in 1947, after White City station opened close by.)

It wasn't long before the ramifications of its newfound desirability and accessibility had lasting impact on the face of Wood Lane forever. In 2012, the BBC controversially sold the iconic TV Centre to the property developer Stanhope. The building and surrounding area is now being redeveloped as flats and retail space — billed by the developer as an opening up of TV Centre to the public. The new site will feature a branch of private members' club Soho House, up to 950 new homes and office space.

Plans for TV Centre redevelopment. Photo credit: Stanhope, AIMCo, Mitsui Fudosan UK

No one can be blamed for scoffing at the idea of this public institution being sold off piecemeal to people who would perhaps themselves have scoffed at the idea of living in Shepherd's Bush, not 10 years ago. At least the sale keeps the Beeb afloat for the time being. There's also an indie cinema and, in a nod to the building's history, new, entirely renovated TV studios.

The gentrification of Auntie doesn't stop there

Another formerly BBC-owned site on the north east side of Wood Lane was snapped up by Imperial College and is now the home of their new £1bn campus. Imperial are still in the planning stages for a further phase of development on the site, demonstrating their long-term commitment to the area and an ambition to make Wood Lane a tech hub to rival San Francisco (or words to that effect).

The Imperial College campus; Alicia Keys might describe it as a concrete jungle

The BBC's 'Media Village' campus, just up the road from TV Centre, has also been sold on, revamped and renamed White City Place. BBC staff remain on site but have been consolidated into fewer buildings — paving the way for other media and creative organisations to join them.

There's a combination of pleasure in seeing the area finally getting the investment it needs, and a feeling of loss of ownership of Wood Lane.

I ask a few BBC staffers about what they make of their former office being transformed into a housing complex in which one bed flats are selling for £700,000. It's fair to say there's a combination of pleasure in seeing the area finally getting the investment it needs, and a feeling of loss of ownership of Wood Lane.

Nicole Taylor, a former Communications Manager for the BBC, explains the area had seen highs and lows during the time she’s worked there but ultimately has a bright future ahead: "The cranes and construction of the past months have signalled an exciting new era for the area.

"We've seen rooftop bars, art installations and new organisations setting up shop. The Soho House development will undoubtedly change the face of the neighbourhood but bring with it a new confidence and investment in this wonderful, under-explored corner of London."

The rooftop bar

One of the most surprising new developments is the opening of Pergola on the Roof, a new rooftop bar on top of the former BBC staff car park.

Quite literally in the building BBC newsreaders would have once parked up before addressing the nation, the bar now caters for well-heeled drinkers who line up patiently on the pavement waiting for a table.

The author (left) at Pergola on the Roof

Imagine Frank's in Peckham, but for people in raspberry coloured trousers from Fulham buying £30 bottles of prosecco. It's an undoubtedly sleek and well-designed space which brings a totally different vibe to Shepherds Bush's drinking scene when it opens for the summer months.

Imagine Frank's in Peckham, but for people in raspberry coloured trousers from Fulham buying £30 bottles of prosecco.

It is perhaps harder to be nostalgic about the idea of Terry Wogan's parking space. And given I've personally had one or two great nights out here (see image above), on the whole Pergola is a boon to Wood Lane and its surrounds.

A once very dreary Esso has now been given a new lease of life as Here After — a community art installation

A boozy stalwart

One stalwart of Wood Lane, present throughout the area's upheaval, is Albertine Wine Bar, situated at 1 Wood Lane since 1978. If you've never been, you need to; it's a charming French-style wine bar with old oak church pews for seats, which now boasts two floors of dedicated dining space. It was the bar where EastEnders was commissioned, and allegedly, where Albert Square got its name.

Allegra McEvedy, the owner of Albertine, tells me about the bar's colourful history. Set up originally by Allegra’s mother, the bar was named after a character from a book by Proust, her favourite author. Originally founded as a direct response to complaints from BBC friends at the lack of a decent watering hole nearby, Allegra, with the financial backing of friends and family, brought it back under family ownership in 2016.

The arrival of Westfield hasn't impacted the bar as much as the longer term gentrification of the area, says Allegra: "The crossover between people who go to Westfield and Albertine isn't huge. On their busiest Christmas shopping day we were dead. And I don't mind that to be honest. Westfield is useful but the impact on us ends there."

In the 1970s we'd have a lot of lunchtime trade with BBC staffers having lunch and a glass of wine or two.

That said, she says, the bar's clientele is noticeably younger and more middle class now. And it's clear that Albertine offers a something to West London's young professionals that they can't get elsewhere: "In the 1970s we'd have a lot of lunchtime trade with BBC staffers having lunch and a glass of wine or two. Now we're busy after work with people in their 20s and 30s who want somewhere that's an alternative to a pub, with great wine and that's independently owned. What more could you want?"

With Westfield soon to open the doors on a second development here, Albertine may yet bear witness to even more changes to Wood Lane over the decades to come.

Last Updated 21 February 2018