About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

When I was just a snotty wageslave on the third floor of your luxury apartment block

BBC TV Centre on Wood Lane, London W12 - as it was, just before the BBC vacated it back in 2012. Now it is embarking on a new life as the centrepiece of a new "Live, work, play super-hub" with luxury apartments going for upwards of half a million for a studio flat (not that sort of studio, fool!)
You might have noticed recently how one big new property development in west London has grabbed loads of headlines - the rebirth of the former BBC TV Centre at White City as a so-called  "live-work-play super hub" .

Yep, that 1960s snail-shaped building, home of Blue Peter, Top of the Pops, Dr Who  and a host of other 1960s, 70s and 80s TV blockbusters, is now the big round jewel in the crown of an £8 billion development of luxury flats, hotel, restaurants, shops, gyms, cinema, etc. Like Nine Elms or Stratford, but on a smaller scale, it's another of these "city within city" projects we're having to get used to.

As I read this article, I felt a bit sad as I spent a lot of time in this building back in the mid-80s. And unlike its future occupants, I was being paid to be there.

And then it dawned - it was not just TV Centre, half the places I have ever worked in are now - or are being turned into - luxury apartments.

By some odd coincidence that's actually probably quite normal in this town, at least four of the buildings I worked in over  a long and undistinguished non-career are now seen as the most desirable of residencies for these groovy new Londoners with loads of dosh.

Bonkers, or what?

Last time I went into the BBC TV Centre in W12 was a few days before I walked out of a very strained and painful job as a reporter on the BBC's staff newspaper, Ariel.

Spring 2014: the retreating BBC and incoming developers
 advertise public meetings to outline the proposals for the
big change of use of this building, which seemed so modern,
even futuristic, in 1961 and seems so quaint now....
It was a weird job, being a sort of parish pump hack for an organisation packed with award-winning journalists. They liked to refer to Ariel as Pravda, and all who worked there were obviously management-fed apparatchiks.

At the time of then director-general John Birt's first round of cuts, I can remember attending a programme launch up on the hallowed 6th floor of TV Centre. I bumped into a well known reporter on a flagship current affairs programme, who asked me what I did.

 "I'm a reporter for Ariel", I said.

"You should be ashamed of yourself", he replied.

Well, soon after that (but not for this reason) I was out of there.

It was not the first or the last job I've walked out of, and I always have regrets. The BBC then was a fascinating, ghastly place, full of internal agonies, but TV Centre was a sort of 20th century Gormenghast. You could disappear in there, into the depths, where there were workshops and labs and people creating the most extraordinary things.

Meanwhile, the new lords of this Birtist era, the explicators of the world, the not always that young marble giants of youff  TV, strutted around in their Jean Paul Gautier creepers and red linen jackets and leather miniskirts and crumply dark blue Armani suits on the 6th floor gyratory system, the inner circle of BBC heaven.

The Erno Goldfinger designed Alexander Fleming
 House at Elephant & Castle is now a block of
private and very desirable apartments, known to
some as "Metro Central Heights". 
Now, presumably, that dreaded sixth floor circle of hell, that corridor of lost dreams for most, no longer exists. Instead that whole floor will have been carved up into a handful of the most desirable apartments in the development.

The occupants will be able to gaze over the rail tracks to the Westfield  Shopping Centre and ponder which luxury items will be next on their shopping lists. Just like lead characters in an unwritten sequel to JG Ballard's High Rise.

So odd - but then it struck me that this is not the only place I've worked that is now a desirable
residence.

Former DHSS building: Alexander Fleming House

My first proper job, after doing A-levels at the local tech college, was as a Clerical Officer in the DHSS headquarters in Elephant and Castle.

I worked on the third floor of Alexander Fleming House - a modernist block designed by Erno Goldfinger.

At the time it seemed enormous,  but now it looks tiny, dwarfed by the garish monster-blocks sprouting all around this once cheerful, cheap, scruffy transport hub of south London.

The building where I spent 18 months or so as a lowly clerk in a cheap brown chalk-stripe C & A polyester suit, is now Grade 2 listed. I enjoyed my time there, even though it meant traipsing up and down to the sixth floor with missives for the Oxbridge-graduate fast-track trainees who buzzed around minister Keith Joseph's office.

The office in which my boss, an amiable ginger-bearded Glaswegian, would offer me a Friday afternoon swig of malt whisky from a brown paper-bagged bottle, is now probably the cherished, minimally furnished living room of a million-pound plus apartment.

Once an overheated forcing-house for IPC's weekly
magazines, the former King's Reach Tower in Stamford
Street has now grown another 12 storeys and is open to
all bidders with a million or two to spend on a new flat.
Poor old AFH. Its name has changed to something far less distinguished: Metro Central Heights. Yuk, how feeble can a name be? Perhaps the developers were correctly forbidden to suggest any connection with someone as great as the discoverer of penicillin. But they've still won, by getting their mitts on a building designed by Erno Goldfinger in London SE1 - that is, in the gasped-ver Zone 1.

But as a recent visit confirmed, the conversion of former office space to high-end residential has been reasonably sensitive, with little or no change to the outside appearance.  In fact it all looks a bit like Goldfinger's other big tower blocks - a nice piece of social housing. Except the people living here have paid through the nose for their flats.
Which is presumably all a testament to the power of the Grade 2 Listing.

The towering inferno: IPC Magazines, SE1

Later on I got a job with IPC Magazines in Stamford Street. I worked in Dorset House, opposite the IPC magazines HQ, Kings Reach Tower.  We sometimes went in there for meetings and lunches.

Last year, it underwent more than the usual transformation. Not only did it turn from business to residential, but the developers added a dozen or so new floors on the top. The whole lot is now up for grabs, with the usual developer's bollocks on the hoardings at street level.

Fortress Wapping

Then, much later on, and with a certain shame, I went to work in Wapping for a certain Rupert Murdoch.

He sold us lot off down the river in 2006, and soon after sold the whole of that unsavoury site which - however fascinating its pre-Murdoch past - will forever be known as Fortress Wapping.

Probably the most hideous dump of all those early 1980s buildings in London, the News International hq was fascinating for having its own print works and a raised newspaper distribution centre on the second floor.

Huge trucks circled and penetrated the building, loaded up with copies of the Sun and the News of the WOrld, then zoomed off down the Highway to connect with the M25.

In 2012 Murdoch finally sold the entire 15-acre site to Berkley Group, for a reported £150 million.

Back in 2014, the Evening Standard gleefully reported how people were scrambling to buy up the first
of around 1,800 flats on the site, going for upwards of £740,000 for a one-bedroom flat. Well, I worked in their bedroom for 10 years. In total I might have earned £280,000 in that period. It was good money at the time but it wouldn't have bought half the flat now.




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