Caption for top photo

"Hello Radiolympia. This is direct television from the studios at Alexandra Palace!" *

THESE were the immortal words spoken to camera by Elizabeth Cowell and received at the big Radio show at Olympia, in West London. This was amongst similar test transmissions during August 1936, prior to the beginning of regular broadcasting just a couple of months later, on 2 November 1936.

Alexandra Palace was the birthplace of scheduled public, "high" definition television broadcasting in the UK and arguably, the world.

The American Modern Mechanix magazine of May 1935, described this as, England Will Broadcast First Chain Television Programs, to "Lookers".

BBC Studios A & B are the world's oldest surviving television studios.

YET in 2007, our People’s Palace was to be sold down the river by its very guardians – the Trustee – the London Borough of Haringey. The TV studios were to be destroyed with the connivance of the local council. Here is raw uncensored opinion and information about the scandal of the attempted fire-sale of our Charitable Trust’s asset, for property development. It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.

AFTER receiving a slap-down from the High Court (2007, October 5), two and a half years went by before the council finally abandoned its 15-year-old policy of "holistic" sale (i.e. lock stock and barrel). Then there was an attempt at partial sale ("up to two-thirds") to a music operator but without governance reform. To tart the place up for a developer, the council blithely sought about a million pounds towards this goal, a further sum of cash to be burnt.

THE local council has proved itself, to everyone's satisfaction, to have been a poor steward and guardian for over 20 years. Now, the master plan (below) developed under the new CEO Duncan Wilson OBE deserves to succeed.

It would be also be a big step forward to have a Trust Board at least partly independent of Haringey Council. 'Outside' experts would be an advantage. They'd likely be more interested, committed, of integrity and offer greater continuity. Bringing independent members onto the board and freeing it from political control would be the best assurance of success, sooner.


Original TV Studios vs. travesty of the TV ‘museum’

IN his letter published last month about the future of Alexandra Palace, the Chair of the Charitable Trust claimed, amongst other things:
“We are dedicated to ensuring that the main recreation goals of the project – namely: …, retention of the Willis organ and the television museum – are delivered.”
It is misleading to imply, as the Chairman did, that any television museum is being retained. No television museum exists. The real TV studios would either be demolished and/or used for other purposes – on the architect’s plans they are labeled as offices. No part of the so-called ‘museum’ would be in the famous studios. Since the Alexandra Palace Lease and related documents are still secret, what is meant by a television ‘museum’ we can only guess at. All we have to go on are Firoka’s architect’s concept sketches, see this web-page,

plus, that small part of the secret Project Agreement revealed in the High Court (in the case that quashed Haringey’s first attempt to ram through this shady deal). From Firoka’s plans, we see the studios are gone. As substitute for the world’s first television studios, off to one side, we see a square room of about 10% of the size of the real studios. Space for a mock-museum is given as a sop and if it ever got off the ground, it would in all likelihood be a short-lived affair.

Correspondence forced into the public domain via the High Court, includes a letter dated 13 February 2007 from the AP Trust’s Solicitor to the Charity Commission. This was more than five weeks after the end of the public consultation on the Lease. “This proposal [for ‘museum’ space] and the concept drawings has been incorporated into the agreed documentation.” Clause 9 (The Museum) of the still largely secret Project Agreement shows:

9 The Museum [this is a sop, fake, fiction and a travesty]

9.1 Having regard to the historic importance of the Premises as the first and former sole television broadcasting centre in England, the parties intend to allow the Museum Operator the opportunity of taking up an underlease of the premises … to accommodate a broadcasting museum and working recording studio (“The Museum”). The following provisions of this clause 9 are to apply accordingly as to the terms of the underlease and the premises to be available to the Museum Operator. [the TV broadcasting centre was not only first in England, but first in World. How generous of the parties to rent a room to a museum ‘Operator’ after destroying the original studios, currently owned by a charitable trust for the public in perpetuity]

9.2 The Landlord shall notify the Tenant of the identity of the Museum Operator as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event prior to completion of the underlease referred to in clause 9.1. [could lead to a rush to find any Operator]

9.3 The accommodation for the Museum is not to exceed 558 m2 [where does this precise figure come from? The area limit: (a) guarantees that any museum cannot later move to occupy the real studios, which are many times this size; (b) ensures any Museum cannot expand; (c) stipulates only a maximum area, (no minimum), and (d) suggests that the present place on the plans is not permanent.]
9.4 The Tenant shall provide the accommodation … to a specification agreed with the Museum Operator … [This is the strongest right enjoyed by the M.O. but Firoka is still in the driving seat.]

9.5 The underlease is to be offered for a term of not less than 15 years nor more than 20 years. [why 20 years? Will any TV museum be irrelevant after 20 years? Most retail leases are for 25 years. Does it perhaps mean that Firoka needs 20 years to amortize capital gains taxes? And then they want to be able to sell the whole building, without the ‘museum’? The 20 year maximum guarantees that Firoka will not have to tolerate any museum presence indefinitely.]

9.6 The rent of the premises is to be a market rent … exclusive of outgoings, service charges and insurance contributions … subject to rent reviews of a frequency according with current market conditions at the time of grant of the under lease. [any Museum would be set up to fail. These terms are intended to be so unattractive as to put off most would-be Operators right away. Yes, we are talking about what is now a Charitable Trust, the beneficiaries of which are all of us. As the real studios are demolished, Firoka will quietly wait while no Operator materializes. Until three years is up (see below). After then, even the sham Museum goes].

9.7 The underlease is to be on an interior repairing basis but subject to a pro-rated contribution to the cost of repairs maintenance and upkeep of the Premises (not comprised in an [sic] lettable area of the Premises) and recoverable by the Tenant by way of comprehensive service charge. [Firoka has in reserve all the power it needs to squeeze out any M.O. foolish enough to take on the underlease]

9.8 The underlease is otherwise to contain such other terms as are consistent in all material respects with the approved form of underlease referred to in clause of the Lease. [this clause, like most clauses in the Project Agreement, is still concealed from the public, so we do not know the approved form of underlease. Presumably it will contain standard terms relating to a commercial enterprise]

9.11 If no agreement has been reached with the Museum Operator within three years after the date of this Agreement, the Tenant having endeavored in earnest to do so, the Tenant will then be released from the obligations under this clause 9 which are to lapse accordingly. [Who will judge whether Firoka has tried to reach an agreement with a M.O in earnest? By setting impossible conditions, the whole notion of a Television Museum would probably not get off the ground. Firoka does not want it there because it is inconsistent with maximizing their profit potential.]

The Trust Solicitor presents this one-sided deal as evidence of how generous are the provisions for a TV museum. After reporting the failures of the Trustees to secure funding in the past, the concluding comment by the Solicitor to the Charity Commission is that

“In these circumstances it is quite impossible for the Lease to contain any covenant specifying the nature and type of museum or to ensure that it will have the resources necessary for its running costs.”

With these words and by setting strictly commercial criteria, the Alexandra Palace Trust Solicitor seeks to set in motion a sequence of events that step by step, will drive out anything tangible from the historic site.

Any possible Museum is tolerated by the grudging permission of Firoka who will hold several levers to force out the unwanted underlessee after an interval. The intention of the limited time, limited space and especially the reviewable market rent, is to give every chance for any Museum Operator to fail and fail fast. Firoka want their unloved Museum Operator-underlessee out, not immediately and not publicly but nonetheless out.

Our Council has gone along with all of this.

If, in the highly unlikely event – in spite of all the obstacles – of the Museum ‘Operator’ being a commercial success, then the backstop from Firoka’s point of view is that the underlease is for a maximum of 20 years (after which time, the Museum Operator would presumably be forced out anyway). This is possibly the timescale that Firoka are contemplating after which they want to be able to sell-on the entire building, once their capital gains taxes are amortized. Is this the best deal that our Council could achieve?

Hot-dog Concession or future UN World Heritage site?
It is bad enough for Haringey willingly to agree to the demolition of the BBC studios A and B, the world’s first. But even the ‘Operator’ of their token-gesture museum would be dealt with by Firoka on the same basis as the owner of a long-term hot-dog concession. At the end of this Council-approved process, to which they turn a blind eye, will be a ‘Heritage Facility’ which could be no more than a display board. Do we want a Haringey Heritage Facility or do we want restored historic studios?

Britain led the world in 1936 with the pioneer work that is such an influence in the lives of billions of people. To mark where it all began, if we are lucky, Firoka might permit us to have that display board in a corner, once any Museum Operator fails as it has surely been set up to do. Is this good enough?

Neither Firoka nor the Council have any genuine interest in history or preserving something truly valuable for the enjoyment of future generations.

The present Trustees …
“accept … that the TV studios are part of the national heritage. However the Trustees are without funds.”
If the Trust/Council had wisely spent the £100m of our money they used up, and had managed it well, the whole place including the studios would have been a gleaming, thriving facility for many years now and attracting tourists from around the world.

That the present Trustees have chronically failed to organize a solution for a site of such huge potential, is more a reflection on their imagination and competence rather than any inherent difficulty, apart from the conflicts of interest inherent with political appointments.

Simply because the present Council trustees have failed to find a workable solution does not mean that no trustees could find a solution. The present situation is untenable. Do we want political hacks as trustees or high-calibre experts with a genuine interest in AP? We don’t need a new Trust but we certainly need new Trustees.

The current trustees have always been compromised by the conflicting roles of their duties as Trustees to the Charity and their duties as Councillors to the Council. They love the Palace so much they cannot wait to wash their hands of it. The Save Ally campaign does not want to hand this immensely valuable facility on a plate to a developer but put it in the hands of Trustees who will preserve the studios and develop the place with enthusiasm for the benefit of all the public.