Image Source: Telegraph.
Today was the BBC World Service's final live broadcast from Bush House, which stands at the geographic centre of London. The Service is moving to a new home at Broadcasting House. Bush House was designed by Harvey Corbett and financed by American businessman Irving T. Bush in 1919 (the latter was a tycoon descended from New Amsterdam settlers, not linked to the presidential family). The building was conceived as a trans-Atlantic financial trading centre, and was dedicated 'to the friendship of English speaking peoples'; there are two statues at the front portico representing Britain and America (photo here). Unlike the BBC World Service, dedicated to hard facts, the stories around the building and the broadcaster are loaded with symbolic signficance. Bush House anecdotes show how easily hard facts intermingle with metaphors and shape little interconnected worlds of culture.
Bush House opened on 4 July 1925. In 1929, it was described as the "most expensive building in the world." A product of Bush's hopes for increased international trade during the Roaring Twenties, the building lost financial tenants in the Dirty Thirties.
Bush House also began with some older lore: a Roman head (either dating to Roman times or a much later copy) was excavated under the southeast wing in 1930 (see it here) and the basement is said to be haunted by a female ghost.
The World Service operated from this location over the past 70 odd years, starting in 1940-41 after its earlier headquarters was bombed during World War II. At the time, it was called the BBC Empire Service, offering radio broadcast around the world on shortwave. George Orwell joined the Eastern Service there in 1941. In Orwell's famous 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the interior of the Ministry of Truth, according to the BBC, is partly based on Bush House, while the exterior is based on Senate House.
At Bush House, the World Service saw the ups and downs of news in the second half of the 20th century and early Millennium. In 1972, broadcasters read the news in 40 languages. The BBC World Service famously addressed the Eastern Bloc throughout the Cold War. In 1978, Georgi Markov, who worked as a journalist at Bush House for the Bulgarian BBC Service, was stabbed with a poisoned umbrella and returned to work after the incident, not realizing anything was wrong. He died three days later. The incident may have inspired the name of two 1982 DC comics characters (see my related post on Brion and Tara Markov, here).
You can see an employee's video, posted this week here, with some photos of interiors; the last 'Focus on Africa' broadcast from the point of view of the employees, here; last World Briefing broadcast from Bush House, also from the perspective of the employees this week; and 12 July 2012's last broadcast included a reminiscence about the building. There is a selection of the World Service's introductory music, here, including the tune Lilliburlero, which it sometimes uses and which was composed by Henry Purcell in 1689.