At 8pm today, Thursday 12 July, the final news bulletin went out from Bush House, the home of the BBC World Service. For more than 70 years this art-deco building was the beating heart of the BBC’s overseas services and a bastion of press freedom around the world.
From here King George V addressed the Empire in 1932, Charles de Gaulle defied the Nazis, and legions of émigrés sent news in dozens of languages to the unmistakable introductory strains of Lilliburlero, its signature tune. (Among those who worked there was Ishak Nengah, formerly of the NST, who had a stint with the BBC Malay service.)
Tomorrow, the World Service will work from a new home in corporate-land, bereft of the inscription at Bush House that says “Dedicated to the friendship of English speaking peoples”. The building, commissioned to commemmorate Anglo-American trade, now has Japanese owners.
It’s not the end of the World Service; it will continue in its new buidings with a curious role reversal. Its parent, the BBC, enjoined by a motto that reads “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation” speaks mainly unto its own nation of licence-paying Britons, while the World Service, no longer under the a motto dedicated to the English-speaking, will continue to speak unto nations, funded by a Foreign Office grant.
Few of the millions of its dedicated listeners around the world will complain or care or are likely to notice, whether glued to crackly shortwave broadcasts or via FM local feeds. Its famous “rich mix” of programmes (half of them based on the Guardian from the sound of it), correspondents reports, and live coverage, complemented by an unparalleled range of foreign-language services will continue to keep them satisfied, giving the World Service unmatchable clout (the spirit of the lord and the Foreign Office willing).
For the house-bound everywhere, whether by choice or circumstance, the World Service was indeed the world brought home.
Unsolicited testimonial from a satisfied customer