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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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.


Essential discipline

… But in a statement defending the spending Alexandra Palace Trading Company said:

"In the context of attempting to secure this massive investment to restore the Palace, we think people will understand that associated costs on advisers, legal fees and other expertise is money well spent.

The figures from this pressure group conflate spending with several different firms of advisers in several different essential disciplines over several years. It would be bizarre to suggest that the senior management and Trustees would have gone into a £45million negotiation with a property developer without legal advice, or that the trust does not merit the best advisers in essential areas.

Such claims just show how those focused on a single issue don't 'get' what it is going to take to really save Alexandra Palace".
Statement made to Ham and High newspaper
10 April 2008


THE STATEMENT from the Alexandra Palace Trading Company, defending the blazing spending again comes from a unnamed spokesperson. The statement uses PR phraseology and almost certainly comes from APTL’s expensive public affairs company, Lexington Communications. This PR company specializes in crisis management and are themselves a big part of the burning of our cash (£182 k worth of smoke and rising).

Yet again, the AP Trustees hide behind anonymous spin doctors instead of taking personal responsibility for their decisions.

APTL-Lexington’s argument, in essence, is that the big spending is a sprat to catch a mackerel; that the millions already gone are justified because they will gain much more from the sale. If this was truly the context, the spending might make sense.

First, the sale price is reported to be a derisory £1.5 million – a sum never denied by APTL and a sum now well exceeded by the sale costs. Secondly, the “massive investment” intimated by Firoka has been variously reported as £75m, £55m and now £45 million (what is it?).

APTL knows how much of these fantastic sums, allegedly to restore the palace, that they have received so far: not one penny. All these figures are illusory and none of them will materialize.

Last year Firoka served notice that they reserved the right to withdraw without notice; not even a single penny of the agreed sale price was received. In their hearts, the members of the AP Board know the truth about the extent of good faith demonstrated so far by their ‘preferred development partner’.

What Lexington language cannot re-cast is the reputation, in Oxfordshire over many years, of the Developer-of-Last-Resort. The Kassam Stadium, the Oxford United Football club and the deal with Oxford City Council are all public information. If ordinary members of the public can Google about this, why didn’t our local Council exercise due diligence on the reliability and trustworthiness of their ‘preferred partner’?

Lexington would have us believe the Trust Board has behaved responsibly. Nothing could be further from the truth! We think people will understand this by reading the High Court Judgment and the latest set of Alexandra Palace accounts.

The PR company adapts the truth when they say “the figures [have come] from this pressure group". As Lexington well know, the figures were required to be supplied by law from Haringey Council. They were provided unlawfully late and only after formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Lexington insinuate that SAP have exaggerated the wasteful spending. They try to minimize the size of the bonfire by saying that the figures conflate spending over “several” years – as stated, these figures are for the 24 months to November 2007. They may under-represent spending on the fire-sale, because there will have been sale-related spending before and after this period. The extent of spending on APTL’s law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite is unknown and not included, because although asked for under the FoI Act, it was declined with flimsy excuse.

Lexington described the spending as being on “essential disciplines”. Interesting choice of words – would that be like the discipline the Council exercised over the Palace rebuilding costs in the 1980s or are we expected to believe that spending is now under strict discipline? The only discipline that is essential, is a flogging of the AP Board for wasting so much of our money!

Most of us would be wise to seek good legal advice if buying or selling property. It might be thought unsurprising that a PR firm raises in this context the subject of the need for legal advice.

It beggars belief that a PR company, even one specializing in crisis management, would have the brass neck to imply that in this case, the £800k plus spent on law firms, has been money well spent on the best advice and expertise.

Thanks to the Judicial Review, some of the veil of obsessive secrecy over the agreed Lease was lifted. We now know that this was a disastrous deal for the public who are the beneficiaries of the Trust. For all the protection we have, the Lease might as well have been written by the property developer’s lawyers (as it was) – and then simply signed by the Council without legal representation. That would have saved a lot of money. The £800,000 of lawyers’ fees bought us … nothing.

It would be interesting to know what Lexington has charged us – via the our charity – for their 120-word sound-bite of distortion, but we probably won’t see a breakdown to that detail. At our cost, Lexington send an spin-doctor to each Alexandra Palace Board meeting. Lexington will soon have a real crisis management job to perform on behalf of their client and it will be interesting to see how fast they can really spin!

Finally, the PR company misrepresents the role of the Save Ally Group campaign group whom they describe, not for the first time, using typical Lexington-language as a ‘single issue’ group. The mouthpieces of slave-owners probably described William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign as ‘single-issue’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a single issue, especially if it’s a good one. The main focus of SAP is to oppose the Council’s shameful deal.

However, SAP’s aims also include the preservation of the world’s first television studios (so casually abandoned by Haringey) and safeguarding the ‘Father’ Willis Organ and the Victorian theatre. And not least, to change the trustees away from the transitory local Councillors who have proved so inept over so long. SAP has already presented a positive alternative, The Way Forward.

The present managers are living in a detached bureaucratic-world where they seem to believe the amount of paper that they and their lawyers generate is equal to the likelihood of the Firoka fire-sale going through. It is those currently in charge of AP who do not “get it”, that giving away our charity asset to The Property Developer-of-Last-Resort, does not count as saving it!