BBC Maida Vale Studios
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- British Broadcasting Corporation, Delaware Road, London, W9 2LG
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- Statutory Address:
- British Broadcasting Corporation, Delaware Road, London, W9 2LG
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- City of Westminster (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Recording studios, converted by the BBC in 1934-1935 from a roller skating rink, built 1909-1910 to the designs of Lionel G Detmar and Theodore Gregg.
Reasons for Designation
The BBC Maida Vale Studios, Delaware Road, London, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for its elaborate rendered Edwardian baroque frontage and the structural shell of the 1909-1910 building, which relate to its design as the Maida Vale American Skating Palace, an exceptionally large and ambitious design produced by noted commercial architects Detmar and Gregg; * for the studio layout and retained features from the 1934-1935 conversion and the 1952 acoustic retreatment conducted by the BBC’s Engineering Department, which demonstrate a sophisticated design for a multi-purpose recording space at a very early stage in the development of this building type;
* as one of the very earliest recording studios to be established in Britain, expressly designed to house the fast-developing technology of sound recording for radio broadcast, the original five-studio configuration surviving with early fittings retained; * as an early and important building associated with the BBC which has been integral to the Corporation’s radio output since the 1930s; * for its important place in British musical history, as a long-established and renowned studio which since the 1930s has captured and produced seminal recordings of some of the world’s most celebrated artists and performers.
The shell of the Maida Vale Studios dates from 1909-1910, the structure having been built as Britain’s largest indoor roller skating rink. The ‘Maida Vale American Skating Palace’, as it was known, was capable of accommodating over 2,900 people with features including a refreshment lounge, viewing galleries and an orchestral balcony. The ambitious scheme was devised by Louis Napoleon Schoenfeld, an American entrepreneur who had come to England in 1899. Seeking to capitalise on the craze for American-style roller skating in Britain, Schoenfeld established the American Skating Palace Company and developed plans for the large vacant site he had acquired on Delaware Road from the Paddington Estate. The established commercial architects Lionel G Detmar and Theodore Gregg were commissioned to produce designs in 1909 and they proposed a vast rectangular structure with an elaborate Edwardian Baroque façade for the long Delaware Road elevation; a popular style which would have been familiar from their more commonplace bank branch commissions. Classical figures and embellishments featured in their elevation drawings (including the head of Hermes, with his appropriate attributes of athleticism and speed, chosen to adorn the keystones of the arched rinkside entrances). Development progressed quickly towards the end of 1909, with plans approved by the LCC in November and construction completed by February. A grand opening attended by local dignitaries and a champion figure skater was held on 19 February 1910, but despite initial excitement, the rink immediately ran into financial difficulties as the enthusiasm for skating began to wane. The American Skating Palace Company was eventually wound-up in September 1912 and Schoenfeld was declared bankrupt.
Following the closure of the Skating Palace, the building passed through a range of short-term uses, including a period as National Insurance offices (from 1915) and later as a furniture store for the Office of Works. In 1933, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) saw the potential for the building to be converted into a recording studio complex. The Corporation’s existing London facilities at Broadcasting House (completed two years earlier), St George’s Hall and Waterloo Bridge were reaching capacity and new technically-advanced sound facilities were needed in order to improve recording quality and alleviate demand on other sites. Plans for the new studios were produced in January 1934 by the chief civil engineer at the BBC, Marmaduke Tudsbery. The conversion essentially required the complete strip-out of the former Skating Palace to create a structurally independent studio complex within the existing Edwardian shell. Some external alterations were also made, with rectangular Crittal windows replacing the lunette types to provide additional light for the offices at this level. The classical figurative embellishments above the entrances had also been removed at this stage. By October 1934, the orchestral studio (Studio MV1) had been completed, this being described at the time as the ‘biggest broadcasting studio in Great Britain’ in The Times (16 October 1934, p12). The inaugural broadcast was a concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with an audience of 120 seated in the gallery. Nine months later, four further studios were added at a cost of £50,000 (Nottingham Post, October 28 1935, p6) and built to the arrangement set out in Tudsbery’s original 1934 plans.
The Maida Vale facility was a new specialist building type of the period and was influenced by pioneering concepts in studio acoustics. The requirements of the complex differed from the commercial EMI Studios at Abbey Road (1930-1932; Wallis, Gilbert and Partners) because the BBC needed a wider range of facilities for varied types of recording, along with additional tape storage and broadcasting facilities. The five original studios at Maida Vale, of which the essential arrangement remains, were designed for distinct principal uses. Studio MV1, the largest within the complex, was designed for orchestral recordings and was from the outset the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This space was capable of accommodating 119 players and the BBC Chorus, this in addition to the public gallery which could seat around the same number again. The studio included acoustic treatments to limit sound reverberation, with walls fitted with sound-absorbing building board and the floor mostly carpeted, save for a wood-block section for the orchestra. Studios MV2 and MV3 were designed as a pair; these respectively accommodated the BBC Military Band and the BBC Dance Orchestra, along with smaller sections of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These two studios were planned to be similar in volume and proportions but with significantly different wall treatments: whereas MV3 was designed with conventional flat walls with building board, MV2 took on an experimental form, with corrugated (or ‘zig-zag’) walls and an irregular coffered, geometric ceiling (in order to avoid the direct reflection of sound between surfaces). Studios MV4 and MV5 were also of similar sizes and proportions but the latter had a conventional rectangular plan, contrasting with the non-parallel walls in MV4 which formed an irregular quadrilateral shape.
The outbreak of the Second World War saw Maida Vale delegated as a standby centre of the BBC news service and the Symphony Orchestra relocated to Bristol and then later to Bedford. When the BBC’s Portland Place building was damaged by enemy action on 8 December 1940, the European Service was transferred to Maida Vale and news broadcasts were recorded in the repurposed MV5 studio. In the early hours of 11 May 1941, Maida Vale itself was the victim of a direct hit. This resulted in one fatality, a German translator working for the European Service, and damage to part of the wall and roof to the north-eastern side of the Delaware Road elevation, but the studios and most equipment survived. The resulting fire was extinguished and, as the incident report of 15 May noted, broadcasting was able to continue at nine o’clock the next morning (BBC Written Archives Centre: R42/146). Urgent repair work was undertaken to rebuild this section of the building and further critical work was carried out during the later war years. The BBC were conscious of the need to safely store over 60,000 ft of recording tape which had survived the raid of 1941 and, to these ends, Tudsbery prepared plans for a new store in the basement in 1944. At this time, rooms 17 and 18 (as marked on Tudsbery’s 1934 plan) were also converted to create a film projector room.
Three years after the war, in 1948, the Acoustics Committee of the BBC decided that Studio MV1 required ‘re-treatment’ to improve the quality of orchestral recordings. This followed some minor adaptations made in around 1936, which included the introduction of the organ and its moulded, tubular casement, along with a temporary orchestral riser at the east side of MV1; which is shown in contemporary photographs and also marked on a studio plan dated 1945 (BBC Written Archives Centre: R35/1,392/1); this change required the control/listening room to be repositioned beneath the gallery. The subsequent post-war work, completed in 1952, included the replacement of earlier building board with softer, more absorbent felt membrane wall panels and baffles to disperse sound reverberation and create a more balanced acoustic arrangement with improved definition. The BBC’s Building Department prepared the designs and the work featured in an article published in the Architect and Building News (28 February 1953, p269) as a new approach to measuring and manipulating sound reverberation as part of the architectural design process. Adaptation to studios MV2 and MV3 was also carried out around this time or relatively soon after, probably in the 1950s or early 1960s. The present banded plyboard panelling was added to Studio MV2 (as can be seen in photographs of early-1960s Beatles’ sessions in the studio) and the green, square sound-absorbent cladding, along with the distinctive diamond-lattice entrance surround and clock panel, all appears to have been fitted-out in MV3 contemporaneously.
Into the post-war years, demand on the five studios at Maida Vale increased. This was partially a result of restrictions on ‘needle time’, which limited the amount of recorded music BBC stations were able to broadcast (as imposed by the Musicians' Union and Phonographic Performance Limited). Radio output of recorded music was particularly affected between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, placing an additional emphasis on live sessions on BBC stations. In this context, studio MV6 was added in the west corner of the building adjacent to MV4, replacing a plant store. This was joined by MV7, the drama studio, which was installed next to MV6 in 1980. At around the same time studios MV4 and MV5 were remodelled with perforated wooden panelling and sound-absorbent furnishings. Additional acoustic baffles and ceiling panels were also added to MV1 and the control rooms and corrugated walls of MV2 were modified. As would be expected, recording equipment and technical apparatus have been continually updated at Maida Vale, particularly in recent years with the transition to digital recording. Acoustic treatments in the studios have also been adapted since the 1950s, with studios MV1-MV3 retaining elements of distinct phases of work from 1930s onwards. Several piecemeal alterations to non-studio parts of the building have been documented since 1945, including the conversion and adaptation of rooms 22 and 23 to provide new listening areas and a control room (1953), the reorganisation of the main entrance arrangement (1976), and the replacement of the roof cladding and end gables (1980). The street-level offices to Delaware Road and the canteen have been refitted in recent years.
Over the course of its history as a studio, Maida Vale has been used to record thousands of musical sessions, radiophonic pieces, news broadcasts, and dramatic performances for BBC stations. It has been the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra since 1934 and premieres of compositions by leading British classical composers such as Arnold Bax and Sir Arthur Bliss were recorded in MV1. Leading ‘big bands’ of the 1930s recorded at the studios, including regular sessions by Henry Hall’s band and recordings by the American bandleader Benny Carter and his orchestra in 1936, subsequently released as ‘Swingin’ at Maida Vale’ in 1969 on Decca. The studios have also been the centre of experiments with recording and sound technology, particularly exemplified by the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which was formed at Maida Vale in 1958 and continued to work from rooms 13-15 on the upper level until its closure in 1998. From the 1960s, the studios (particularly MV2, MV3 and MV4) were increasingly used for rock and pop recordings. The list of sessions from the following decades includes many of the most successful bands and artists in the world in the period. The Beatles, although most obviously associated with the nearby Abbey Road Studios, recorded 88 songs for BBC radio sessions between March 1962 and June 1965, including sessions at Maida Vale which were later released on the ‘Live at the BBC’ LP which was produced by George Martin for Apple/EMI in 1994. The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, BB King, David Bowie, Bing Crosby and a vast array of other internationally-renowned artists have recorded live sessions at Maida Vale. The studios have also been used to record early sessions of emerging artists or seminal cult recordings, some of the most notable having been recorded for John Peel between 1967 and 2004 (in a range of different locations, but mostly in studio MV4). The ‘Peel Sessions’ have since been described as ‘the most significant body of pop music that the studios produced’ (The Guardian, 5 June 2018).
Maida Vale studios celebrated 75 years of service to the BBC in 2009, a milestone commemorated by a series of concerts and live sessions across the BBC radio network. In June 2018, the BBC announced its decision to transfer all recording activity to a new purpose-built facility in Stratford by 2023.
Sound recording studio complex, converted 1934-1935 by the BBC from a former roller skating rink that was built 1909-1910 to the designs of Lionel G Detmar and Theodore Gregg.
MATERIALS: brick elevations, rendered to the Delaware Road elevation. Steel truss structure with corrugated steel roof and cladding to the end bays and south elevation.
PLAN: long rectangular plan running parallel to Delaware Road, divided to provide seven distinct recording studios. The double-height studios and their associated storage spaces, lounges and control rooms are set beneath street level (lower ground floor) with access via a main set of stairs at the north-west end. The studios form what can be described as a ‘box within a box’ (planned in order to reduce external sound interference), with recording areas separated from the external walls by a network of narrow corridors which have additional sets of stairs leading to the upper level. The western half of the building is occupied by studio MV1 (the largest), along with MV2 and MV3, which form a pair and are set square to MV1. On the east side of this are MV4 and MV5, also forming a pair, although with differing internal wall arrangements. The later-inserted studios at the east end are MV6*, on the south side of the building, and the MV7* (drama) studio and its associated store areas to the north. At street level (upper ground floor), a series of offices* run along the Delaware Road side and the canteen* occupies the north-west end.
EXTERIOR: the rendered principal elevation extends for over 140m along Delaware Road. This is styled in an Edwardian baroque manner, akin to other types of commercial entertainment venues of the period. The main entrance to the former Skating Palace (at the west end) has an elaborate, symmetrical composition. This rises slightly above the parapet line of the rest of the elevation and is composed of a broad arch framed by piers with lion head consoles and draped garlands. Above is a stepped, corniced pediment with a central cartouche and bordered signage panel which is framed by scrolls and extravagantly ornamented with garlands and festoons. The entrance itself is recessed beneath the arch, with a tiled platform leading to replacement double doors and an inserted access lift. The underside of the arched entrance has coffered panels and a large original leaded fanlight is retained. The entrance is flanked by two pairs of Crittal windows with lobed surrounds.
There are four further entrances to Delaware Road. The three of these that originally served as rinkside entrances have arched doorways set under stepped pediments featuring garlanded keystones; each with a central winged head of Hermes framed by channelled rusticated piers. A fourth entrance (the second from the east) is plain, this having been inserted at the time of the conversion by the BBC. Between the Delaware Road entrances the elevation is comprised of channelled rusticated bays evenly divided by piers. The windows, all rectangular Crittal types (introduced in 1934 in place of the original lunette windows), are regularly distributed across the elevation to light the offices at street level.
The south elevation and the end bays are of utilitarian form, with plain engineering brick and corrugated steel cladding. The roof, which was repaired in 1980, is clad with corrugated steel, with a raised section to the pitch which has a run of ventilation panels.
INTERIOR: the main entrance leads through to a reception area, with a corridor to the east and stairs to the north which lead down to the lower-ground floor and give access to studio MV1 via double doors. The broad set of stairs have 1930s balusters with wooden handrails to the sides. Above the entrance to MV1 is a large, fitted Art Deco-style clock, part of the BBC’s original design (matching examples at Broadcasting House). At the top of the stairs, in the north-west corner of the building, is the modernised canteen*. The ground-floor level corridor* which runs parallel to Delaware Road leads to the offices*; these are mostly in their original configuration, although are all fitted-out to standard specifications, with suspended ceilings simple partition stud walls.
At lower-ground level is a network of corridors connecting the studios and the various attendant store areas. From the corridor to the south side of MV1, elements of the original 1909-1910 steel roof truss structure can be seen which bear the maker’s mark ‘Appleby – Frodingham’. The doors, fittings and studio signage to the corridors and auxiliary rooms at lower-ground level vary in date; several of the doors with port-hole windows are from the 1930s (examples being shown in early published photographs of the studios) and the studio lights to MV2 and MV3 probably date from the 1950s or 1960s. It is clear that there has been no comprehensive remodelling of the building and therefore internal fittings from various phases of work are retained in these service areas.
The studios on the lower-ground floor are individually described in turn below:
Studio MV1: the orchestral studio is by far the largest of the seven at Maida Vale and is the only to integrate a formal public gallery, which is positioned at the north-west end. This retains 1930s tiered, theatre seating and an original steel guardrail and handrail. Access to the gallery is via two double-doors with original curved surrounds, set to the sides of the seating. The studio floor has two sections of wood-block flooring. The lighter section is original and this marks the position in which the orchestra would be seated, whilst the darker-stained ‘apron’ section was added as part of the 1952 acoustic re-treatment. Other elements of this 1952 work can be seen in the simple dado-level plyboard panelling and some of the perforated suspended baffles and acoustic panels to the side walls and the back of the gallery. The arched ceiling to the studio has seen some modification in order to accommodate cabling, additional acoustic baffles and lighting rigs. The west end, beneath the gallery, houses the control rooms (converted from an artists’ room and waiting room). These are divided by a central entrance as originally configured. At the east end of the studio is the curved, tubular casement for the organ with its shuttered chamber (for volume control), added in around 1936. The section of fielded panelling to the front of the organ casement is a post-1970 addition.
Studio MV2: the experimental corrugated wall and coffered ceiling form of this studio largely remains as originally arranged in the 1930s. The banded plyboard panelling, which matches the type used in MV1 was added as part of the 1952 phase of re-treatment. This arrangement has been adapted on the east side (lower level) where the control room has been extended (converting a waiting room). A section of replacement panelling has been fitted here around the inserted control room window. A full-height projecting section in the centre of the south wall supports a wide panel integrating a clock and signal lights; probably added in the 1950s or 1960s on stylistic grounds. Lacquered wooden floorboards are fitted throughout.
Studio MV3: this forms a pair with MV2, being of the same proportions and arrangement, albeit with differing acoustic treatments. MV3 was refitted at some stage around or after the 1952 phase of work. It has distinctive green square acoustic panels with full-length curtains to reduce sound reverberation. The studio retains its diamond-pattern dark and light wooden-block floor, probably also a 1950s feature, with rows of metal fixing points for studio equipment. The control room (west side) has been extended with a lattice structure built around the wide window. Above the control room window is a plaque that commemorates Bing Crosby’s last recording having been made in MV3 on 11 October 1977. The south wall has a projecting structure with lattice cladding that supports a broad panel with a clock and signal lights, matching that in MV2. The ceiling has a series of acoustic blocks separated into rows with lighting rigs suspended between.
Studio MV4: originally built with non-parallel walls as an experimental arrangement, this was thoroughly remodelled in around 1980 with a rectangular form and an enlarged control room (west side). A mezzanine gallery and a glazed isolation booth with canted walls were introduced as part of the remodelling. The walls have soft furnishings set beneath perforated wooden panelling, which is also applied to sections of the ceiling.
Studio MV5: this was also remodelled as part of the work of around 1980, with the studio divided into two sections. A small recording area with a tapered form occupies the west side. This has full-height matchboard panelling and a series of perforated wooden panels (matching those in MV4) to its west wall. The east side of the studio is occupied by a large control room which can also be used to serve MV4.
Studio MV6* (an additional live room, which has been decommissioned) and MV7* (the principal drama studio since 1980) are later additions to the complex and are excluded from this List entry.
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest, however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.
THE EXTENT OF LISTING AND EXCLUSIONS
The special interest of the BBC Maida Vale Studios lies principally in the external form of the building and, internally, in the recording studios and their associated spaces rather than in the other administrative, storage and service rooms throughout the building. The ventilation block to the south and the boiler/plant extension to the north-west gable end, are excluded as outlined on the attached map showing the extent of listing.
Within the building the listing covers the main entrance area leading to the stairs down to the lower-ground studios, all parts of studios MV1-MV5 (including control rooms and storage areas set between the studios) and the associated lower-ground corridors connecting these studios. However, all other internal parts of the building, including the ground-level offices to Delaware Road, the canteen and the later-added studios MV6-MV7 are not of special interest and are specifically excluded from the listing.
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. The ventilation block to the north-east and the boiler/plant extension to the south-east gable end, as outlined on the attached map showing the extent of listing, are excluded from the listing. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.
End of official listing