Tales from Bush House
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd January, 2014
The 20-odd years I spent working in Bush House as a freelancer for the BBC World Service were undoubtedly the happiest period of my diverse journalistic and writing career. The place was in some ways like an Oxbridge graduate college, only with the added verve of immediacy, in that its occupants were producing and broadcasting news and current affairs material, as well as cultural output, in over 40 languages, as well as the 24-hour English language service. There were some brilliant men and women working in the place, as well as some who were a little bit crazy. The windowless canteen in the basement, where people sat wherever there was a space at a table, was one of the most convivial and stimulating eating places I have ever experienced. Like many, I was saddened when Bush House closed down — though I had long since moved on — and the World Service and a much reduced group of language services was integrated into New Broadcasting house. So it was an excellent idea of a small group of former Bush House employees to invite past colleagues from Central Asian language services and other sections to send in short reminiscences, with a special emphasis on amusing anecdotes. The result, Tales from Bush House (Hertfordshire Press) is an engagingly eclectic collection that will bring many a smile of recognition to those of us who worked in Bush, as well as lifting some of the veil of mystery that surrounded it in the minds of millions of listeners round the globe. Much emphasis is put on the mishaps and near-disasters — particularly in the days when programmes were put together on tape, sliced with razor blades — and the bumps in the night in the dormitories in North East wing, as well as memories of such oddities as the Lamson Tube, Bush’s equivalent of the Paris pneumatique system that sent petits bleus whooshing to their destinations around the compound. But due tribute is also made to the huge respect with which the World Service was and to a large extent still is regarded, not least by listeners in countries where there is no free media on which to rely.