Eddie Mair: my first day at BBC's New Broadcasting House

"On this day my priorities were: 1) learning how to adjust the chair that was shoving me forward like a pushy mum; 2) learning how to get the wi-fi to work; and 3) finding out how to open the drawer under my desk."

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Eddie Mair: my first day at BBC's New Broadcasting House
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"I felt like I was flying a plane with dark glasses on." I’ve no idea whether being in charge of an aircraft in shades is dangerous. Logic suggests it might be but that photo of Tom Cruise in Top Gun suggests it’s tickety-boo. The quote is from a PM editor on our recent first day in New Broadcasting House and she didn’t say it in the spirit of Kelly McGillis.

(There is a boring but necessary potted history that you could make more palatable by humming Berlin’s Take My Breath Away to yourself while reading it: in 1998 BBC Radio News programmes were turfed out of their spiritual home at Broadcasting House in central London, to the wilds of BBC Television Centre in west London. Late in 2012 we moved back to a rebuilt extension to BH known as New Broadcasting House.)

The date of the move had been in our diaries for months but when it came it was as shocking to the system as a surprise. I had airily waved away anxieties about the impending upheaval by saying, “Look, we’re just making a programme from a different place. How hard can it be?”

Well, for starters, I got lost. Sadly, this is all true. I knew our studios were on the third floor, but on that first morning I completely lost my bearings. Instead of locating my shiny new desk, I wandered for several minutes through some BBC World offices. I saw Allan Little in the distance and mouthed: “Where am I?” Moments later as I lunged at yet another unfamiliar door, I think I was moments away from stumbling into the live studio for a BBC TV show going out in Arabic.

Arriving at my desk entirely by accident ten minutes later, I chose not to tell colleagues about my inability to navigate a well-lit office. I began to get on with the task in hand. On a normal day this would be reading papers, chatting through editorial strategies with the editor and debating whether Homeland is all that. On this day my top priorities were: 1) learning how to adjust the chair that was shoving me forward like a pushy mum; 2) learning how to get the wi-fi to work; and 3) finding out how to open the drawer under my desk. The glamour of it all.

I realised I would look a complete tit if I spent much more than 30 seconds adjusting my chair. In the end I was like a ‘40 years of Page 3’ reunion. Casually at first, and then increasingly frenetically, I fiddled with the bottom of the ergonomic delight, searching for the knob, lever or handle that would let me tilt the back of the chair out of its deeply uncomfortable angle. Eleven times I found the lever that lowered the entire chair almost to the ground, and eleven times I hauled myself back up to the standard sitting position.

How hard could it be? My hands fumbled round the underside of this threatening new chair but I only ever found the down lever. By some miracle, I realised the large booklet tied to the side of the chair with string that had been getting in the way was instructions on how to use the chair. Leaning over awkwardly at first to read it, then sensibly untying it to read conventionally, the drawing on page 152 directed me towards the tiny lever that solved the problem.

It had only taken ten minutes. Next: the wi-fi.


Eddie Mair co-presents iPM on Saturday at 5:45am and hosts PM Mon-Fri at 5:00pm on Radio 4.