Fans of the BBC's News 24 service should look out for a big surprise. I was cooling my heels at Television Centre, waiting to go on and do a quick piece about Microsoft's European anti-trust woes, when a Beeb member of staff appeared and ushered me into the basement. It's always salutory to know your place, but this seemed a little peculiar. Ah, said my guide as we trudged through the endless twisty little maze of passageways, all alike, we're redoing the main studio in preparation for a relaunch in a much more jazzy style. He looked me up and down. Good, he said, you're not wearing any blue.
You may remember some fanfare a while ago when the BBC said it had virtual studio technology. By painting the walls of a studio blue, it could superimpose backdrops of any digital image -- so it could broadcast programmes apparently set in Roman temples, on the moon, deep beneath the surface of the sea. A whole new vista of creative and exciting transmissions opened up.
So it's a bit of a shame to see all this wonderful technology being used to make a news studio look like... a news studio. In reality -- a rather cramped basement with concrete walls, a desk and tons of lights hanging worryingly close from the low ceiling. Behind the presenter, one wall had been painted blue -- and it was onto this that the BBC was superimposing an old picture of the newsroom currently being gutted and tarted up ready for the battle with Sky News.
There were a few problems. One was that all the lighting was so hot that extra air conditioning had to be installed, producing a considerable breeze. My hair and that of the presenter kept blowing in the wind: I suggested they changed the background image to a mountaintop or some lovely green field in the country. "Hm. Too Python," they said.
The other was that the electronics in the basement didn't quite work right and the various video packages that were supposed to cue up kept vanishing. But hey, the new studio will be perfect, right?
"If only they'd let us have a practice run," said a rather downcast studio bunny. Yep, it's been decreed that the first time they try and produce a programme from the new place will be when it goes live in about three weeks. No dummy runs. No test news. Just the red light and cue the presenter.
I suggest you get your recorders cued up. It could be quite newsworthy.