Broadcasting House

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Though frequently critical of the BBC’s programming and its growing monopoly of British musical activity, Brian was plainly fascinated by the phenomenon of broadcasting, as here:

We recently accepted an invitation to visit the new headquarters of the BBC - Broadcasting House, Langham Place,W. This enormous lozenge-shaped building has long been seen in process of forming by concert-goers bound for Queen's Hall; now the staff has entered into occupation, and broadcasting has taken over a bigger and wider stage with ever-increasing possibilities. It is impossible to restrain one's enthusiasm for the wonderful enterprise which has made this new Broadcasting House possible, the interior of which seems to radiate the spirit of venturesome and eternal youth.

We have spent many happy hours in the studios of Savoy Hill, listening to broadcasts of rare works whose message has been sent out to the most remote and isolated listeners. The romance of broadcasting is the most fascinating of all modern studies, for there is so much - one might almost say its vital essence - which is still unrevealed. But the practical side of broadcasting can be best appreciated by reflecting on the early years at Savoy Hill, with its small number of studios, contrasted with the new Broadcasting House, which contains twenty-two studios. Perhaps an engineer can best appraise the ingenious scheme which gives air, heat and light to this vast building; but we are mainly concerned with its musical possibilities, and the musical activities which were in operation at the time of our visit…

We found ourselves in a studio listening to Henry Hall and his band rehearsing for the evening vaudeville; while in a nearby room tests were continually being made of the rehearsal in order to obtain the best possible transmitting results. We saw studios occupied by dramatists and by various orchestras,- one by the theatre orchestra, another by an orchestra conducted by Mr Hely-Hutchinson and a larger studio by an orchestra directed by Sir Landon Ronald. This last studio, called the Concert Room, is by far the most imposing…

Of many astonishing things the layman meets, perhaps the most baffling to understand is the 'control', which is operated by a controller and regulates or corrects the broadcast of any artist or orchestra; for no broadcast is good enough to be given out in its 'raw' state. The so-called 'perfect' performances are all due to this expert control.

Of the sumptuousness of the furnishing arrangements, we can say but little. There is a lavish display of colour, obtained by various types of lighting, producing effects which we had not previously seen. There is also considerable use of mirrors and black glass.

From The New Broadcasting House, an unsigned article which Brian authenticated as his work a couple

Musical opinion, June 1932, p. 771