Beechgrove House

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Beechgrove House (officially known as 'Broadcasting House, Aberdeen') was home to the BBC's Aberdeen offices and studios from 1938 to 2000, replacing the Belmont Street premises it had occupied since the start of broadcasting in the city in 1923.

Development

By 1936, Aberdeen was unique among Scottish stations in being the only one still housed in its original premises. The BBC had been in Belmont Street since the station's inception in 1923, but having since outgrown the property it identified new premises at Beechgrove Terrace in the King's Gate district of the city.

Beechgrove House was a three-storey building, containing around 22 rooms, many of them so large they were eminently suitable for studio and office purposes. The building, which was the residence of Councillor T. Scott Sutherland, stood in its own grounds. Part of the grounds had been developed by Cllr Sutherland as a housing estate, but it still had policies extending to about two acres and it was these that were purchased by the BBC.[1]

Approval was given by the town council on 21 October 1936, but on condition that the building must be used for studio purposes only and not as a transmitting station. The BBC had no intention of using it as a transmitting station, but given the residential area it was perhaps sensible of the council to include this provision.

By June of 1937 work had still not begun.[2]

The development went hand-in-hand with the construction of a new transmitter at Redmoss, replacing the original one at Claremont Street.

'Broadcasting House', as the BBC renamed it, came into use on 14 November 1938, and the old premises in Belmont Street were given up.

Studios

"Large orchestral studio at BH, Aberdeen, 1938"
The large orchestral studio at BH, Aberdeen, 1938

Four studios were constructed in the main building, variously used for talks, drama, gramophone recitals and effects. A fifth, larger studio (46x36x24 ft) was built adjacent to the north-east of the property in an extension wing. As with the new Broadcasting House in Glasgow, the studio walls were lined with sound-absorbing panels of rock-wool to improve acoustics. The orchestral studio also featured an open-grille ceiling inlaid with gauze to absorb sound waves.

Special care was taken to have the drama and effects studios acoustically 'dead'. The effects studio incorporated all the properties required to provide backstage effects for plays and talks. Included was a tank for marine effects, wooden flooring to provide the sound of footsteps and a hollow cupboard fitted with bell and knocker on the door to give the effect of a house door being opened and closed. Most of the effects, however, were on recorded disc and played out on six turntables.[3]

Opening ceremony

Over 100 guests from various spheres of life attended the opening ceremony of Beechgrove House, which was broadcast live on Friday 9 December 1938.

The ceremony opened with a prayer of dedication by the Rev J.K. Wilson, moderator of the Presbytery of Aberdeen. The director-general Frederick Ogilvie then stepped forward to deliver his opening remarks. "The purpose of this building," he announced, "is to ensure that the very special and valuable contribution which Aberdeen and the North-east of Scotland can make to our programmes is given the chance which it so well deserves."

The Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, 'Lady Aberdeen', then formally opened the new station, making reference to the part which her late husband played in the inauguration of the old studio 15 years ago and talking about the hopes that wireless might stem the drift from country to city. "That drift, alas, goes on," she remarked, "but how immeasurably brighter and fuller has country life been made!"

Lord Provost Mitchell twitted the BBC about having kept Aberdeen in the background for a time, but added that he rejoiced to see their repentance taking practical form.

In thanking the speakers, the Scottish Director, Melville Dinwiddie, expressed the hope that the new building will put on the air everything that is best in North-east entertainment — the a reflection of the hard life of the Buchan farmer, the strenuous fight of the fishermen who gather the harvest of the North Sea, the results of the keenness for learning which had enabled that district to give so much to the world, and the humour — right hearty, good clean humour — that is the byword of Aberdeen entertainment.

The Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society's orchestra gave a performance after the opening ceremony, and Mr J. B. Dalby broadcast on the organ of St Machar's Cathedral. There then followed a variety programme, compared by Alan Melville and featuring artists who had been associated with broadcasting since it began in Aberdeen 15 years prior. They included Rab the Rhymer, the Morgan Brothers, Jimmy Ross and Bill Thomson, Dorothy Forrest, Arthur Black, Addie Ross and Harry Thornley and his Modern Music Masters. Afterwards the guests were conducted on a tour of inspection over the building.[4]

New building

In the early 1990s the BBC began to look at future options for its Aberdeen premises. One of the early options considered was to share Grampian Television's Queen's Cross site, but this was rejected as uneconomic in 1994. The BBC then narrowed the choice down to redeveloping the Beechgrove site or starting from scratch on a new greenfield site. The former option was favoured and developers were invited to tender with suitable redevelopment schemes, all of which would mean the demolition of Beechgrove House. Although it is was a listed building, planning permission was required to demolish it. The Beechgrove Garden moved to a 2.5-acre garden at Brotherfield, six miles west of Aberdeen.

BBC Scotland's controller, John McCormick, said: "Looking over the 10 years, we thought it was better to develop a new centre which is purpose built which will be able to take advantage of new technology and which is a bit more open and friendly as a broadcasting centre." [5]

References

  1. 'Studio for BBC: Beechgrove House to be purchased', Press and Journal, 22 October 1936, 8.
  2. 'New BBC premises: work may be started soon in Aberdeen', Press and Journal, 19 June 1937, 8.
  3. 'Up-to-date studios in Aberdeen', Press and Journal, 3 December 1938, 8.
  4. 'Assurance by chief of BBC; Lady Aberdeen opens new Aberdeen studios', Press and Journal, 10 December 1938, 8.
  5. 'BBC decides to stay put at its Beechgrove Garden site', Glasgow Herald, 4 November 1995.