BBC Wales Llandaff: Vaughan Roderick’s memories of Broadcasting House

Baynton House 1963

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Baynton House: a “Scooby-Doo style haunted house”

I’m probably the only person around at BBC Llandaff that can remember the building that stood here before Broadcasting House.

Baynton House, a ramshackle red sandstone Victorian mansion, seemed slightly spooky to me as a child, but if the original BH was a Scooby-Doo style haunted house, its replacement was straight out of Thunderbirds or Stingray.

When the new BH opened in the 1960s, everything about it screamed modernity with its plate glass walls, bare concrete pillars and sleek space-age lines.

Inside though, something of the old lingered on, as tweedy men with pipes battled it out with bright young graduates from Oxbridge and the University of Wales, determined to drag Wales kicking and screaming into the second half of the 20th Century.

Between them they built the closest thing Wales has ever had to a dream factory.

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Broadcasting House in the 1960s “screamed modernity”

The range of output in those early years was extraordinary to our eyes. C2, the home of television news for the whole of the building’s existence, also housed children’s programmes – Wales Today was regularly broadcast under the beady eyes of various teddy bears and gonks sitting at the far end of the studio.

Next door, the enormous C1 was home over the years to Ryan and Ronnie, David Lloyd George, Crimewatch, the entire population of Cwmderi and all those election and referendum night marathons.

Television was always slightly out on a limb at BH though. Radio sat at the heart of the building with its grandly named Concert Hall, home to an orchestra that seemed to change its name as often as it did conductors before becoming the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

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Studio 2 was the home of radio audience discussion programmes and panel games, while the drama studio was packed with doors, windows and much else besides, required when sound effects had to be manufactured rather than played in.

Back in the early days, with just a handful of TV channels and radio stations, people would watch or listen to pretty much anything and the programme makers were probably a bit freer to experiment than we are today.

It’s hard to imagine BBC Wales choosing to broadcast half-hour programmes of Anglo-Welsh poetry in peak time today, but back in the 1970s, that’s exactly what they did.

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Vaughan Roderick in studio in 1992

But then, those were the days when, as one manager put it, “the BBC sailed on a sea of Chablis”. Maybe poetry seemed like a good idea after one glass too many!

Ultimately though, broadcasting is about people, not buildings, and in its later years, BH had come to resemble one of those grand old ocean liners, limping along on one engine and where nothing seemed to work quite as it should.

For most of us, the excitement of the new

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BBC Wales Broadcasting House workers ‘felt like pioneers’

Grand Slam

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The reception area of Broadcasting House doubled as a Paris airport for the 1978 comedy Grand Slam

Loud swearing broadcast to the nation following a Gareth Edwards try and panic after a presenter passed out during a live radio show.

Sound engineer Richard Cobourne describes working at Cardiff’s Broadcasting House (BH) during its early years as feeling like “pioneers”.

“You almost thought, if something went wrong, it would be patched up without anyone noticing,” he says.

BBC Wales is leaving its Llandaff home of 54 years for a new city centre base.

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It was where a distinctive form of Welsh broadcasting was developed – with the BBC’s longest-running drama Pobol y Cwm originally filmed there and the reception area doubling as an airport for cult classic film Grand Slam.

National news output also started taking shape over the first decade and Mr Cobourne joined in 1974 at a time of great expansion, with BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru both planned.

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Vincent Kane with Good Morning Wales editor Brian Evans in 1968

His life is entwined with the building more than most.

He met and married “the boss’s daughter”, Sue, who also worked there, with his father-in-law Harry Hockley, the man sent from London to oversee the building of BH and his mother-in-law vision mixer Beryl Hockley.

One of his first jobs saw him running up and down the touchline with a fluffy microphone recording the sound for a Wales v France game in 1975, and trying to keep pace with Gareth Edwards as he scored.

“I shouted a swear word very loudly in celebration and later had a dressing down from the producer who said ‘you didn’t have to share that with the country’.”

“I went to apologise to [commentator] Bill McLaren, who said ‘don’t worry, you only shouted what three million Welsh people were thinking’.”

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The C1 studio gallery in the 1980s

He said there was a buzz, with people aware they were setting the daily news agenda for Wales – but described work as “very labour intensive”, with around 80 people in the audio department alone.

The C1 studio was “very high-tech”, operating seven days a week for shows such as sitcom Terry and June and drama The Talisman, while C2 was used for children’s television in the morning, with Wales Today and the Welsh language Heddiw in the afternoon.

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BBC Radio Wales presenter Mal Pope outside BH

“A lot of people ask why are they leaving? She was magnificent. Did a job when broadcasting was evolving on television and radio, no question. But regrettably, it’s no longer fit for purpose,” he said.

“When it was built, a video edit suite and a small house were a similar size. A camera took an hour to get in the right position.

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Welsh radio news bulletins and shows originally went out on BBC Radio 4
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