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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

8 - Lime Grove: The Promised Land


LIME GROVE WAS a far-flung corner of the BBC's empire, way out beyond Shepherd's Bush Green. It was rumoured to be dangerous territory, inhabited mostly by West Indian immigrants and Irish navvies. The pubs, crowded with rough trade, were no-go areas; the BBC Club, however, was always full. ‘Lime Grove’ sounds pleasant enough but there were no lime trees in evidence by the time I arrived in April 1958, only dull late-Victorian terraced cottages on both sides of an equally dull street, not a patch on London's bustling West End where I had been working for the previous two and a half years. What made Lime Grove unusual was the presence of a film studio complex, custom-built by Gaumont in 1932 and taken over by the Rank Organisation during the war. The Wicked Lady, starring Margaret Lockwood, was made here in 1945, the same year that Yehudi Menuhin (whose biography I was to write forty years later) tested for the role of Paganini in The Magic Bow – a part eventually assumed by Stewart Granger, who was indisputably less gifted as a violinist but had a more impressive track record as a thespian. The BBC, bursting at the seams when housed at the even more remote Alexandra Palace in north London, moved to Lime Grove in 1956, creating four television studios and a sound suite as well as a rabbit warren of offices and cutting rooms. It was to be BBC Television's HQ for a decade, supported by a pokey little studio off Kensington High Street, where the Tonight programme originated in 1957, and by the Riverside Studios, next to Hammersmith Bridge, on the site of another former film studio complex owned pre-war by the film star Jack Buchanan. Hancock's Half Hour was made at Riverside and so was Rudolph Cartier's 1959 production of Verdi's Otello, which famously broke down on transmission so that for several minutes the only sound that could be heard was not of opera but of the production secretary meticulously calling the shot numbers over mute images of the performers singing their hearts out. It was a true disaster.