Who should open Pebble Mill?

Pebble Mill building circa 1970, copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

Pebble Mill building circa 1970, copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission













In January 1970 the Controller of English Regions, Patrick Beech wrote a memo to the Director General of the BBC, to discuss who should open the new Pebble Mill building.

Although Patrick says that he has, ‘no great enthusiasm for such functions,’ he feels that it would be fitting to make an ‘occasion’ of the opening, particularly to show that the ‘BBC is honouring its non-metropolitan pledges and of emphasising the importance of these production centres.’ He also felt that the staff would feel let down if nothing was done officially to mark the opening of the new broadcast centre.

In terms of who to choose to open the building, there was definitely a case of not wanting to be upstaged by other local organisations recently opened by members of the Royal Family. For instance, ATV had arranged for Princess Alexandra to open their new television centre in Birmingham in March 1970, and the Snowdons had opened the Cannon Hill complex a couple of years earlier.

The memo asks for the D.G.’s opinion on the matter, and suggests that feelers should be put out to see what availability of members of the Royal Family might have.

(Patrick Beech’s memo of 15th January 1970 is held at the BBC Written Archives)

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Gordon Astley: ‘………so who did the opening ?’

David Shute: ‘Princess Anne ! Princess Royal.’

Katheryn Shuttleworth: ‘She did the the official opening at Mailbox too. I guess wherever we end up next she’ll be invited to do the honours!’

Lynne Cullimore: ‘Pebble mill was great and I loved working there’

Cathy Houghton: ‘Not as soulless as the Mailbox.’

Graham Bentley: ‘I loved this place. Had the best atmosphere of any of the BBC buildings I ever visited.’

John Sayle: ‘I remember Pebble Mill. Always felt a bit soulless. A tad temporary. Just saying’

Malcolm Hickman: ‘Might have felt that way as an outsider, but they made more programmes there in one month that they now make in Birmingham in one year.’

John Sayle: ‘Appreciate that. Worked on some kids shows from there. Admittedly not long before they shu it down. Sad it’s gone. Like BBC Manchester, Oxford Rd. TVC Wood Lane too.’

Richard Taylor: ‘As an ‘outsider’ from Wales (and before that BH) I enjoyed working at Pebble Mill. It was so friendly, a lovely place to work. And I was quickly accepted. When the lease was secretly sold from under us I couldn’t work at the soulless mailbox so retired early.’

John Madin and the Donnellan documentary – Six Men

John Madin. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

John Madin. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission














In 1965, the maverick film maker, Phillip Donnellan, produced a documentary which featured the architect of BBC Pebble Mill, John Madin, amongst other prominent Birmingham men. The documentary was called Six Men – Portraits of Power in a Modern City.

The film was not universally popular, and caused John Madin some issues.

The filming was quite intensive, and involved Madin being followed round by cameramen for a three-week period, in order to capture a candid view of the architect’s working life. John Madin had requested that he would be able to see the finished film before broadcast, because of the need to maintain professional etiquette. However, this did not happen until very late in the day, and Madin was unhappy about his lack of editorial input into the film. He was frustrated that his repeated requests to see the commentary script, which was to be presented by the writer and broadcaster, Rene Cutforth, were not answered, until at 10.30pm on Thursday 25th March, when he was allowed to see the as yet unfinished script. Madin expressed concern about some of Cutforth’s remarks, but was told that he would ruin the programme if he insisted on these being omitted. Some changes were made to the script, but Phillip Donnellan proved very elusive, and in the end more changes were eventually agreed over the phone, as Donnellan was recording the commentary at a London studios, with Cutforth. The programme was transmitted with Madin still unhappy with certain views expressed.

But the matter did not end there. A local architect complained that the documentary was a breach of professional etiquette, in that it ‘advertised’ Madin’s work, and he referred the matter to the Architects’ Registration Council, who had the power to strike Madin off. A hearing was arranged for December 1965. Patrick Beech the Controller of Midland Region, was supportive of Madin, and explained in a memo that eleven out of thirteen of the accusations brought against Madin, were contained in Cutforth’s commentary, which Madin had not had any editorial control over.

Fortunately, the hearing was short-lived, with a decision being made quickly to dismiss the case. Madin clearly felt bruised by the whole experience.

(This blog was informed by letters and memos held at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham, in file M10/27)

Letter to the Director General

Cutting of the first sod ceremony, 7th April 1967

Cutting of the first sod ceremony, 7th April 1967













The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by Patrick Beech, the Controller of the Midland Region, to Sir Hugh Greene, the Director General of the BBC, in March 1967. The letter discusses the press release speech that Patrick Beech was writing, to be delivered by Sir Hugh Greene, at the cutting of the first sod ceremony, for the building of Pebble Mill, on 7th April 1967. Patrick Beech was using the speech to negotiate an increase in BBC Birmingham’s power, and ability to “sign the cheques”! He cleverly added his own thoughts and opinions into the section of the speech looking into the future of Pebble Mill. It is perhaps down to Patrick Beech that Pebble Mill became a lot more than “a warehouse for London”.

“[I] enclose some ideas for 7th April for you to play around with. The “Past and Present” section is factual; the “Future” is strongly fringed with my own beliefs, which you may or may not agree with! I could, of course, have put it in a much more emphatic way, but have tried to leave it in such a way that you were not over-committed.

There is, of course, little argument about the regional position in radio, but in television – which the journalistic job is accepted – there are divergences of opinion about the extent to which we should do programmes “across the board”. I personally am convinced that we must, and, moreover, that we should be in the same editorial position in Television as we are in radio. If we can’t take the decisions – which means signing the cheques – here in Birmingham we shall be building no more than a warehouse for London at Pebble Mill. It will be a body without a heart.”

Patrick Beech

I found the original letter in a file about Pebble Mill held at the BBC Archives at Caversham. The file did not seem to have been viewed by anyone else, since it was lodged in the BBC Archives.

History of the BBC in Birmingham

photo by Ben Peissel, 2003, no reproduction without permission

photo by Ben Peissel, 2003, no reproduction without permission













History of the BBC in Birmingham

(taken from notes held at the BBC Archives in Caversham)


1922 Nov 15               British Broadcasting Company begins transmitting from rooms at the GEC Works at Witton. Managed by Percy Edgar and Pat Casey, it consisted of three room: one contained the transmitter, one was the office and the other was the 12x20ft studio.

1923 Dec 6                 The first ever Children’s Hour comes from Birmingham. Children’s circle established, proceeds of which were donated to West Midlands Children’s charities.

1924                            Witton premises too small. Moved to top storey of 105 New Street. One studio and a suite of offices.

1926                            New Street premises too small (and rat infested). Purpose built studios at 282 Broad Street acquired. Largest studio could accommodate a full orchestra and chorus.

1927 Jan 1                   British Broadcasting Company dissolved and the British Broadcasting Corporation constituted under Royal Charter.

1927                            Daventry ‘Experimental Transmitter’ replaces 5 IT at Witton.

1938                            First episode of Paul Temple attracts 7,000 fan letters.

1949                            Sutton Coldfield transmitter opens bringing television to the Midlands.

1951 Jan 1                  The Archers first appears on the Light Programme. Brookfield Farm was located in Studio 2 at Broad Street for 20 years.

1951                            BBC acquired the lease for Pebble Mill site.

1954                            Carpenter Road, Edgbaston became the new Broadcasting House.

1955 Dec 29                First Midland Region television studio opened at Gosta Green, Birmingham.

1956                            Gardening Club (now Gardeners’ World) began.

1957 Sept 30               First BBC Midlands TV News broadcast each weekday evening. 6.10-6.15.

1962                            Nightly TV magazine programme – Midlands at Six  

1962                            A model of proposed BBC Pebble Mill Broadcasting Centre was show to the press.

1964 Sept                    First episode of  Midlands Today presented by Barry Lankester and produced by Michael Hancock. News items were a football bribery trial, a new course on local government, Swedish sport and an item called ‘the body beautiful’.

1965                            Immigrants Unit set up by Patrick Beech to provide Hindu/Urdu programmes. BBC’s first bi-media department, making programmes for both radio and television.

1967                            First BBC Local Radio Station in Leicester.

1967                            Pebble Mill – first sod was cut by then Director General Sir Hugh Greene.

1970 Nov 7                 Pebble Mill began with Radio Birmingham, later became Radio WM.

1971                            HRH Princess Anne officially opens the new Pebble Mill studios.

1972-86                       Pebble Mill at One, presenters included Donny Macleod, Bob Langley, Ross King, Judi Spiers and Alan Titchmarsh.

1976                            Saturday Night at the Mill – live. All staged in either one of the studios or outside the front of Pebble Mill. The courtyard around the back was constructed into a mini ice-rink with a canopy area for if it rained when live bands were on.

1977                            The Horror of Fang Rock, only episode of Dr Who to be filmed here at The Mill. The set consisted of a lighthouse built in the studio, and it was the setting for a battle with an alien shape shifter. The story featured the one and only appearance in the series of a Rutan – seen in its natural state as an amorphous green blob with trailing tentacles. It was the fifteenth season of the series and the  Doctor at the time was Tom Baker. It was transmitted between 03/09/1977 and 24/09/1977.

1988 Oct                     Midlands Today became the first regional news programme to include a nightly sports section.

Invitation to the Cutting of the First Sod at Pebble Mill

2013-07-03 10.31.32













Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This invitation to the ceremony of the cutting the first sod at the new Midland Region Headquarters, in April 1967, was sent out to dignitaries and members of the Press.

The Controller of the Midland Region at the time was Patrick Beech, and Sir Hugh Greene was the Director General of the BBC.