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Behind the Scenes: BBC at Epic Studios

“A fascinating time…”

Epic Studios was buzzing with life earlier in the month, when the BBC recorded their EU Referendum debate. It’s not until you see behind-the-scenes that you can begin to understand exactly what kind of organisation goes into producing television. The EU show wasn’t particularly complex on the grander scale of things; but from autocue operator to director, lighting assistant to presenter, 37 people contributed to its success and preparations started days before the event.

Lighting rig Epic Studios

As a researcher for Epic Studios, I was able to move around the studio, gallery and green room, watching highly skilled BBC and Epic Studios crew in action as the show unfolded before my eyes, I took the opportunity to talk with some former staff from the studios who were present, about our building’s history. While microphone checks were performed, lighting altered and scripts were run through, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to chat to BBC East producer Patrick Davies, who explained that he had come in for the day purely as an observer.

Patrick Davies BBC at Epic Studios

Having worked in the building as a broadcast journalist on the Anglia TV news from 1995-2001, Davies (pictured above with BBC floor manager Bob Clements and Epic Studios’ operations manager Kris McCarthy) was visibly happy to be back in the building, soaking up the atmosphere and remembering his time here in the 90s. As rehearsals went on in the main studio and guests began to arrive, I took him for look around the old news rooms and gallery and listened as he reminisced about his time at Anglia News. He told me how things had changed since he worked at Epic and recalled running into the production gallery with video tapes, hoping there would be enough time to get his VT (Video Tape recording) ready for airing before the news went out that night.. Back then, most journalists had their own crew. They would focus on getting the pictures while journalists wrote the accompanying words. Nowadays of course, in terms of news reporting, there are fewer people doing more work – you don’t necessarily have your own camera crew. It’s often the case that reporters will go out, shoot, edit and write for a news piece themselves, with very little help.

BBC at Epic Studios

Before leaving, Mr Davies introduced me to Bob Ledwidge, now regions editor at Westminster but previously Head of Regional Programmes at Anglia TV (formerly based at Epic Studios).

“When I was working here, this was probably the biggest studio outside of London, other than maybe Manchester,” he told me. “I did quite a lot of regional shows and audience shows here in the 90s. Anglia was doing 11hrs of regional programming a week – which is an awful lot of programming! Of course that’s all gone now but it was a fascinating time. Epic Studios used to be a bowling alley of course… a cinema until 1962 then a bowling alley.

Old Mayfair Cinema

“Afterwards, Anglia TV (and Anglia news – which I personally never worked for) was based here. But for most of its life this was a big studio for big productions! It could also be divided up, so you could have 3 sets for 3 different shows at once. The 2 smaller studios became the news studios – and they were the first virtual reality studios in the country for news! So Anglia news, both East and West, used to come from here.”

I asked him what his role was on the EU Referendum Debate show but he explained that, like Patrick, he was here just for the experience of being back at Epic Studios: “Deborah said if you can on Sunday, pop in, so I came along”, he smiled.

“Lovely to be back at Epic Studios”

I was struck by the professionalism and graciousness of those who had joined us for the day. Everyone I spoke to, willingly gave up their time to tell me something positive of their experience in television production or our studios specifically; happy to share their stories and experiences Current staff clearly aren’t the only people who see Epic Studios as a special place.

Stewart White, Deborah McGurran & Andrew Sinclair

The show went smoothly, despite emotions obviously running high on both sides of the debate.
Once recording was complete and the last audience members left the building, I asked producer Deborah McGurran and presenter Stewart White (shown above sharing a joke with Andrew Sinclair during rehearsals) how they felt things had gone:

“You’re always slightly at the mercy of the audience with this type of thing”, Deborah explained. “You can never be sure that they will turn up – but we had very little drop out here tonight. It was a big audience and they were a lively audience! It was very nice to get that size of an audience into a studio this size. It just gives you a better range of opinion and people.”

TV studio behind the scenes

You look at the panel and realise how motivated they are as well, that’s the other thing! There was a lot of passion here tonight,” added Stewart.

They were both here last year for the 2015 BBC Election Debate Special, so I asked them how it was to be back.

“It’s lovely to be back at Epic Studios”, said Stewart. “It’s a great facility, perfect for this kind of event, and we’ve been really well looked after.” Deborah nodded her agreement and I walked away a happy blogger, with a great note to end the day on.

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