Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Big-spending BBC and England’s extravagant World Cup set piece

Talk is hardly cheap: (from left) the BBC's Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Lee Dixon

As the World Cup circus leaves South Africa, the BBC will balance the cost of its coverage against viewing ratings.

The cost of the World Cup is as yet undetermined. However, the extraordinary lengths to which the BBC went to provide a studio for Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, and Alan Shearer gives us another revealing insight into how our licence fees are spent.

The studio in which Lineker hosted the World Cup coverage had panoramic views of Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the football stadium.

Only now have we been made aware of the extraordinary amount of time and money that was spent on ensuring that Lineker and his soccer panel were comfortable in their seats and that we the viewing public had a 360 degree view of Cape Town.

I think every member of the BBC Trust — the body which acts as a watchdog for the Beeb’s spending — should be put in a darkened room and asked to watch a rather revealing film (broadcast by the BBC last week) which explains how Lineker’s studio came to be built.

I am not making this up, because the BBC itself broadcast the information with interviews from the executive producer and designer of the set.

Take a deep breath.

The World Cup studio took three years to build. In 2007, the BBC sent the producer and a technology man to Cape Town and they looked around the city for an appropriate location.

Their chosen spot? The roof of a Cape Town hospital, the maternity ward in particular.

According to the producer, this provided a panoramic view of Cape Town, and allowed the BBC to have a backcloth of Table Mountain on one side and the new soccer stadium on the other. Unfortunately, the maternity ward roof was pitched.

Therefore a special platform was required to ensure a flat foundation and floor for Lineker’s studio. The fact that the BBC chose a hospital for its studio also meant that its representatives had to address the South African legislature. A special lease was required, as were assurances that the mothers giving birth in the New Somerset Hospital would not be disturbed.

This, as you will have guessed, added to the costs.

We do not know what cost was incurred in agreeing the lease and preparing the groundwork for the studio’s assembly. We do know that the BBC had to go to the expense of building an outside lift to the maternity ward roof, so that our soccer pundits would not enter or disrupt the hospital.

Then came the actual construction of the studio on such an exposed site.

Apparently, it had to be pentagonal to ward off the strong winds which blow off the Cape.

It also required special tinted glass applied to all the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Table Mountain and the World Cup soccer stadium.

Amid all the build-up to the match between England and Germany, we were not aware that the British Broadcasting Corporation had gone to Berlin to have its studio designed. According to the producer, the German company concerned makes conservatories, but he says they did a great job on the World Cup studio, making a model in Berlin before constructing the real set in Cape Town.

Maybe there was no alternative, but is it not a little surprising that no company in South Africa, England, or indeed Northern Ireland could have been considered for this task?

Of course, the construction of the BBC’s World Cup studio is small beer compared to paying £6m a year to Jonathan Ross, or to the undisclosed salaries given to many other television and radio performers. However, it does seem to be another example of the malaise of extravagance which still persists within the BBC woodwork. And there’s more.

Did you notice that when Lineker, Hansen, and Shearer spoke, in the afternoon or in the evening during the World Cup, the backcloth changed from a view of Table Mountain to one of the floodlit soccer stadium?

That was brought to you at considerable additional expense.

The studio with its pentagonal walls and tinted glass on top of a specially constructed platform, leased from a South African hospital and only accessed by a new outside lift, was set on a revolving turntable base, the complexity and cost of which the BBC hierarchy may care to question when the final bill arrives from South Africa.

What was the total bill? And was it really a prudent use of the public purse? Perhaps the BBC Trust will investigate and let us know in due course.

But given that a Berlin conservatory company struck it lucky with the BBC in Cape Town, Germany won more than a soccer match the day they walloped England.

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