By Mark Bridgewater
Firstly let me explain a bit about myself. I am a fan of Urban Exploring, call it a hobby. What it involves is visiting an old / derelict building and documenting it through photos. I love history and call me weird, but I love ‘spooky stuff’. In my time I have visited many asylums, hospitals, factories and of course a certain studio. My first recollection of the studios was way back in 1991. I remembered the coloured railings on Broad Street. Apart from that to me it was just a building. My next run in with the studios happened in January 2008. I got offered the chance of a tour around the place by a friend and I jumped at it.
Arriving at the building I forgot just how big and impressive it was. The weird thing about the place that caught my eye, was that every floor was lit up. From the outside it could just been still sending out the shows we all love. Once inside, our first port of call was Central House. The main office building on Broad Street. There was a mound of rubble sitting where the reception desk still stood proud. The Central Cake logo was on the wall, still intact and a glorious plastic map of the areas Central served. I then went across a walkway into what was the old staff canteen. Although the roof was now missing you could still see its purpose with the tiles dotted about.
We then went down a old decaying corridor that smelt of damp and had fungus on the floor. The corridor had pictures dotted about on the wall still, of shows that were made in the studios many years ago. We then made our way in to studio 1, the biggest of the 4. Such shows as Bullseye and Blockbusters were filmed here. It was amazing. We could see into the galleries and they were still lit up like they would of been 11 years ago. We then made our way into Studio 3, the home of Tiswas and ATV Today. The first thing I noticed was the spiral staircase. This led up to the galleries and even further up to the lighting grid. The view from the top of the lighting grid of the studios was just amazing. From here we entered the galleries. They were just like they would have been in 1997 when the studios closed for good. Buttons , sliders and knobs everywhere. I pushed them all in the hope that the jingle from the ‘cake’ ident would kick in, but no luck.
By this time we had hit our 3rd hour in there and only seen 2 floors and we had got lost 3 times, this place was immense. We then headed down to the ground floor. This is where the viewing theatre was. What a room this was, straight out the 80′s with its pink neon lights and 80′s décor, like something from ‘Ashes to Ashes’. The projection room was still kitted out although now missing the projectors, everything else was still in place. Across the corridor is what was the Central Goods room, the floor was littered with Central carrier bags and Central badges. There was a CITV stand in here with a photo of the late Mark Speight plastered across it.
By this time we had spent about 5 hours in there and was ready to call it a night but don’t leave just yet. There is more to come…
The studios now had a grip on me, I wanted more and more I got! Another night and another visit in wet February we were once again blessed with visiting the studios. This time we explored Central house some more and to our surprise found plans for the whole studio block. They were in amazing condition. We still got lost though. Back in the main studios we now headed up the stairs into unknown territory. The 3rd floor was home to Studio 4, a blue room used for weather and CITV, where Gary Terzza and Debbie Shore once sat and entertained me for years. The staff lounge was also here it overlooked the scenery bay. Walking in you could just imagine the staff smoking away talking about the editing that was just done or the filming. By now the fourth floor was shouting for me and who was I to let it down?
The fourth floor had many treasures, for one it housed the Commercial Transmission Unit. This was where all the adverts were picked and played out from. Two massive Sony machines outputting hundreds of adverts every week all controlled from the Network presentation room across the corridor. In this room was a window which led into Studio P, the presentation studio where Central greats like Mike Prince once sat. We then found ourselves on the roof. It gave us amazing views of Broad Street, Birmingham and the newer studios on Gas Street. We could see most of Birmingham but Birmingham could not see us. It was a thrill.
Back inside we went down stairs to a different area where once again we found ourselves in new territory. We later found out this was called The Exhibition Hall, originally built as a hall for the exhibitions and other functions, but it never fulfilled that role. Shunned by ATV it was later converted into offices and workshops by Central. The graphics department was here and you could imagine the workers with a pencil behind there ears drawing up idents and logos. Many of the shows had offices here like The Cook Report and other broadcasters had offices here too. ITN, Reuters and Sky all boasted office space here. Studio N was here too. This was once the music studio maybe home to Central in house record Label Rainbow records?
I visited many times over the next 18 months, viewing new places like the service tunnels and other offices, something new every time. In August 2008 the studios started to get stripped and asbestos removed. A visit soon after showed just what had been done, the whole place was stripped. No more switches or lights to play with, just cold concrete now. But June 2009 brought new life into the studios. The BBC had decided to use Birmingham in their TV show Survivors. The studios once again were in use, albeit it was not a studio it was dressed up like a hospital. Signs had been erected and a crushed ambulance was placed at the back of the complex. With Max Beesley running down the ramp and explosions happening the place was back in its element. Filming wrapped up and once again the studios stood alone, unloved and unused…