It was, on reflection, the very last thing that BBC Scotland needed in its delicate talks with Glasgow Corporation over the acquisition of land in the city’s West End.

The BBC had been making good progress on an extension containing a sophisticated TV studio on the former site of a private bowling green and tennis club next to BBC Scotland’s Broadcasting House in Queen Margaret Drive.

The corporation also had its eye on a semi-derelict nursery garden next to the bowling green, but it had dragged its feet, allowing the housebuilder, Wimpey, to nip in ahead of it and buy the garden for £10,000, with the aim of building multi-storey flats there.

The Beeb, recognising its tardiness, began talks with Glasgow Corporation over the garden site. They dragged on for two years - and that was when Panorama intervened.

On Monday, November 18, 1963, the current affairs programme broadcast a special edition from Glasgow, on the back of a government White Paper on public investment in the UK. Its presenters included Richard Dimbleby and Robin Day, while journalist Michael Barratt introduced a film report about Glasgow’s youth. Barratt, who had attended Paisley Grammar School, knew Glasgow well, having begun his journalistic career on a bestselling Sunday tabloid there.

The Herald: BBC HQ in 1964BBC HQ in 1964 (Image: free)

The following day’s headlines showed how badly his report had been received in the city. “Lord Provost protests to the BBC’, ran the splash headline in the Evening Times.

The Lord Provost, Peter Meldrum, said he had received many complaints by telephone and letter about the “unbalanced nature” of the programme. He added that he had good reason to believe that youths had been paid to play the part of vandals in scenes that showed bus and other windows being smashed.

“I am not one to say Glasgow is perfect in every way”, Meldrum said. “We have black and white - but 90 per cent of our youth are all right”.

The paper’s report summed it up: “Shots of loafers pitching stones through windows, interviews in a billiard saloon with jobless teenage drifters who stay in bed all morning, close-up of broken-down slums and muddy back-courts, and a sombre skyline of unrelieved smoke and ugliness. This, we were told, is the Glasgow of to-day”.

The BBC “quite unwittingly nearly torpedoed the whole operation” - the talks over the nursery garden - with the episode, says the late David Pat Walker, a former BBC Scotland executive, in his book, The BBC in Scotland.

‘Transmitted live from a location on Clydeside”, he writes, “the programme not only painted the worst kind of picture of conditions in Glasgow, it also chose to illustrate some of its points by using film that was quickly proved to be faked. The city was outraged”.

The Beeb offered a formal statement of regret, but Meldrum was still far from happy. The story was quickly overtaken - not least by coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy later that month - and relationships between the two corporations cooled somewhat before harmony was restored. The BBC bought the site from Wimpey for £18,000 and work on the extension continued apace.

In any event, the plans for the new TV wing at Broadcasting House, Glasgow, had taken a long time to come to fruition - it was back in early 1953 that the BBC’s Civil Engineer had given the go-ahead for the development to start being planned. As Walker notes, local residents had objected strenuously to a change of use for the bowling green and tennis club, and it took nearly three years before a public enquiry, held in early 1956, found in favour of the BBC. The poor state of BBC finances played their part, too.

It was on June 10, 1964 that the wraps were taken off phase one of the extension at Queen Margaret Drive.


Peter Kelly obituary: actor and key figure at the Citizens

There's more to Scottish films than Trainspotting: 10 forgotten gems

Big Banana Feet was Billy Connolly at his funniest and fearless best

It was, says Walker, a “major bit of progress” for Scotland, with the hub of the new building being a well-equipped TV studio capable of hosting most major drama and audience shows.

The new studio, in Hamilton Drive, replaced the temporary BBC studio at the old Black Cat cinema three miles away on Springfield Road, Parkhead. And opening the new venture was none other than Peter Meldrum, the Lord Provost.

It was the first major TV production studio outwith London to be equipped by the BBC for dual-standard operation - either 405 or 625 lines.

Various issues had had to be addressed during construction - not least the sound of planes passing overhead as they approached Renfrew airport. The roof and the external walls were acoustically treated to keep out external sound, while two massive doors leading to an adjoining scene dock also shut out noise.

The studio floor also had to be able to withstand the weight of unusually heavy equipment. One, presumably theoretical, calculation used by the architects was that it could bear the weight of an elephant of an elephant standing on one foot.

BBC2 had been launched to acclaim in April 1964. Now, at the opening of the new Glasgow studio, Kenneth Adam, Controller of Television, said that praise for the new channel had been so “generous and understanding” that plans were being made to extend its coverage beyond London as quickly as possible.

In his book David Pat Walker records that the new studio, with its advance facilities, was quickly pressed into service for the making of classic serials for BBC2 - among them adaptations of John Buchan’s Witchwood and Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian.

Broadcasting House, at Queen Margaret Drive, served BBC Scotland exceptionally well for decades. Before the location was chosen by the BBC in 1935, it was one of a number of potential sites, all of them close to the then-current BBC premises on Blythswood Square. Walker’s book records that others included the Locarno dancehall on Sauchiehall Street, the Lanarkshire Bus Company premises on Pitt Street, and a block of buildings bounded by West George Street and Blythswood Square. The West End site, home to Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret College, won, and in November 1938 it began a brand-new chapter as Broadcasting House.

The Herald: The stunning interiorsThe stunning interiors (Image: free)

Eventually, however, as the staff numbers increased and the demands of modern-day broadcasting grew exponentially, the building began to show its age and its limitations.

By August 1998 it was being reported in The Herald that the old building was “hopelessly inadequate”, with little room for expansion, and that new, custom-built headquarters looked likely to be built at Pacific Quay.

The following January, the Herald said that Queen Margaret Drive had no future beyond the millennium, its configuration making it impossible to cope with huge structural changes that were needed while continuing its core function of broadcasting.

In October 2005, it was announced that the 5.3 acre site in the West End was being put up for sale, in advance of BBC Scotland relocating to Pacific Quay.

Ken MacQuarrie, BBC Scotland controller, said at the time: “This is a significant day in the history of the BBC in Scotland. We all have a fond attachment to Queen Margaret Drive and the surrounding community, and the building has served us well for almost 70 years. However, the accommodation is no longer fit for the purpose of broadcasting in the digital age.”