An afternoon with BBC Tours

This afternoon we ducked out of the rain and into BBC Birmingham in the Mailbox to join one of their guided tours.  Not only were we now dry and sheltered, we were about to embark on a fun 1 hr and 45ish minutes of behind-the-scenes BBC history, facts and interactive fun.

Our group of around 15 comprised of aspiring internet radio journalists keen to see the inner workings of this renowned broadcaster, hardcore Archer’s fans eager to see their idols, and us – we were there on a fact finding tour, so we could report back to you good people.  Excitement mounted as we first passed through a security sweep and then into the corridors of BBC Birmingham...


Firstly I must issue a public health warning - If you are a fan of the Archer’s on BBC Radio 4 you may need to get a medical before embarking on this tour, you need to check that you are of sound health as the excitement may just be too much for some to handle.

As I have already mentioned we took the tour with a big Archer’s fan, who had booked for her birthday; she was in seventh heaven and as we were led past the Archer’s green room, I am glad it was reasonably empty as we walked past as I think CPR might have been required!

Today the Archers were recording their record breaking show (it’s the longest-running radio drama in the world - it started in 1951!), and I might advise that if you want to step inside their hallowed studio then book your tour on a day they are not recording as today this was off limits, but I guess it’s a pay off between seeing the studio or the possibility of seeing the cast?

But first the tour began with a glimpse into the world of local and national radio with a peek into the studios of BBC WM and the Asian Network.  This was an ideal location for the young radio journos to get an insight into the equipment and practices of the big boys, and they were suitably impressed.

Next up - time for a shot ourselves, as we were invited to partake in a radio drama - you can hear our attempt here, I’m quite rubbish (far right in the plaid) but I’m sure you’ll agree the young radio broadcasters have a genuine talent for this - and don’t be put off if you are a little shy, you can participate in the recording by adding the sound effects – you’ll be surprised at some of the items that are used to get the required sounds!

As we wondered the corridors of this working building some familiar faces, and in the case of the Archer’s, voices could be seen; part of the excitement for me was who you may bump into.  We saw Nick Owen as we started the tour, a bit later I thought he was behind me, but this turned out to be a cardboard cut out.  We wouldn’t have known it (except for uber fan) but I think we encountered a few Archer’s cast members also, but as they are only identifiable by voice who could say. Not I.  Dr Who fans will also be delighted by some of the props on display throughout the tour, including some monster masks including an original Cyberman mask and a life size Dalek.

As we were led further into the building we arrived at the BBC Midland’s Today studio, it was fascinating to see how small it is.  The wide-angled lenses they use really do add a lot of width to what you see on you telly.  It was also, might I say, a bit scruffy, but again this de-glamorisation of the whole TV process is really rather interesting.  Here we are in front of Shefali Oza’s weather map – later on we’d get a go at this ourselves.

I really enjoyed sitting in the gallery, staring at all the buttons, knobs and TV screens, I occupied the position of the person who turned the key from regional to national news, (the keymaster if you will) exciting times.  Also if you have OCD you can also synchronise your watches/phones to the clock in this room, as I have been told it is very accurate indeed. This nerve centre of broadcasting was one of the highlights for me and you could really sense the tension that would be palpable in this darkened room during a live broadcast.

The tour ended with the opportunity to try your hand at broadcasting a news and weather report yourself in front of a green screen.  This was a job only for the brave – and being a plucky bunch we got the ball rolling. 

Here you can see Louise’s attempt at a news report...

And here we have Ellie presenting the weather...

I found it amusing that as soon as they stepped in front of the camera they started speaking the Queen’s English, very poush indeed!  I think they did a great job though and I’d certainly give them a graveyard shift, I’m thinking perhaps 3-4am ish. After you have made your recording you are given a code so you can access your clip on the internet for 7 days to show your friends, or on the other hand perhaps not!

We were really impressed with the interactive elements of the tour and packed with facts, our knowledgeable guides were well versed in their BBC lore. Aspiring journalists, TV & radio fans and those interested in broadcasting will relish this tour; it has something for all ages and is terrific value for money.

Like the BBC’s mission statement this tour informed, educated and entertained.  Lord Reith would be proud!


Paul (6/6/14)



Book your BBC Tours tickets here


Tuesday and Thursdays 17:00 and 19:00
Saturdays 12:00 and 15:00


Adult £9.25
Concession (aged 60 or over) £8.50
Student £7.50
Child (under 16 years) £7.00
Blue Peter Badge holders: only available to badge holders aged 16 and under (with a badge and badge winner's card) when accompanied by a full paying adult – free by calling their group booking and access requirements line.


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