Wave of nostalgia as BBC leaves Bush House

The iconic home of the BBC World Service was designed by Harvey Corbett and built in 1923 with further wings added between 1928 and 1935.

Last Updated: Mar 01, 2012, 11:55 AM IST

London: For almost 70 years, Bush House was
the base from where the BBC broadcast to the world in many
languages, reporting key events, but now a wave of nostalgia
has swept across generations of Indian and other journalists
as the BBC prepares to move out of the iconic building.

Located next to the Indian high commission in The Strand,
the imposing building hosted top leaders, celebrities and key
individuals from across the world as London-based journalists
well known to audiences in India and elsewhere interviewed
them.

For decades, the BBC Hindi Service was broadcast from Bush
House, reporting key events such as Indira and Rajiv Gandhi`s
assassinations at a time when the news media in India was
largely governed by perspectives of the state.

As part of the BBC`s relocation plans to cut costs, the
World Service will move from Bush House to Broadcasting House
in central London in early March. Financial compulsions have
already reduced the broadcasting languages to 27.

Rajesh Priyadarshi, who has been working in Bush House
since 1997, told PTI: "It hurts. It was not about brick and
mortar, it is the spirit of the building that I will always
miss. It will always be with me wherever I go".

Besides George Orwell and V S Naipaul, those who worked at
Bush House over the years included journalists well known to
its large Hindi and other language audiences in India, such as
Kailash Budhwar, Onkarnath Srivastava, Ratnakara Bhartiya,
Harish Khanna and Purushottam lal Pahwa and Achala Sharma.

The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service in
1932. It started its first south Asia division before India`s
independence when the Hindustani service was launched on 11
May 1940. The Burmese service began in September 1940.

Other language services soon followed from Bush House:

Tamil service in May 1941, Bengali in November 1941, Sinhala
in March 1942, Urdu in April 1949 and the Nepali service in
September 1969. Many journalists who worked at these services
feel a sense of emotional loss at the move away from Bush
House.

"Having spent 24 years at Bush House, I cannot imagine a
better home for the World Service. Its elegant structure
buzzed with the sound of different languages from around the
world. The building was a witness to the world`s events that
unfolded every day," Achala Sharma, who headed the Hindi
Service from 1997 to 2008, said.

Journalists recall that leading figures interviewed at
Bush House would stay on for informal sessions, including Ravi
Shankar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali, Shashi
Kapoor, Inder Gujral, T N Kaul, L K Advani and Qurratulain
Hyder.

Pervaiz Alam, a senior journalist at the Hindi Service,
said: "Bush House was synonymous with professionalism as well
as huge fun. Interestingly, in India, Bush House was so well
known that some listeners would write only `BBC Bush House
London` and the letter would be delivered at our desk".

"Almost every evening at Bush House was unforgettable.
Great poets, artists and politicians who recorded programmes
with us would stay back and join us for a drink in the famous
club." he added.

Indian journalists who have worked in Bush House for
several years include Pankaj Pachauri, currently the
communications adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The iconic home of the BBC World Service was designed by
Harvey Corbett and built in 1923 with further wings added
between 1928 and 1935. The quintessentially British building
was originally constructed for an Anglo-American trading
organisation headed by Irving T. Bush, after whom it is named.

It opened in July 1925, and was then considered the most
expensive building in the world, having cost around 2 million
pounds. Over a Celtic altar at the centre of the portico is
the inscription `Dedicated to the friendship of
English-speaking peoples`.

Over many years, all the BBC`s foreign language services
gradually moved to Bush House. It has broadcast from Bush
House for almost 70 years covering events that have changed
and shaped the world.

However, the BBC has never owned Bush House. Its owners
have been the Church of Wales, the Post Office and now a
Japanese-owned organisation, but for millions of listeners in
India and elsewhere it remains the building which mostly
represents the BBC.

PTI