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Later... leaves the building

Exec producer Mark Cooper pays tribute to TVC, as Later… moves out after 20 years.

Tonight, 30 November 2012, BBC2 transmits the last Later with Jools Holland from BBC Television Centre with a cast including star siren Lana Del Rey, exciting new talents like The Weeknd, Tom Odell, Tift Merrit and Palma Violets and legends like Soul II Soul and Nona Hendryx. Of course the actual filming and the transmitting of Later Live took place this Tuesday as cast, crew and a lively audience marked the end of Later…’s twenty happy years here in Shepherds Bush with as much great music as possible.

After 20 years, 41 series and more than 275 shows -  not to mention 80-plus live editions since we went live on Tuesday, April 1, 2009 - Later… is comfortably the longest-running large studio show still in production at BBC TV Centre. Well it was until Tuesday!

It made for an emotional show for us and for the artists, who I think could tell what the occasion meant to the production team. The Weeknd, Tom Odell and Palma Violets had never appeared on television before and we tried to make them feel as welcome as all the acts who’ve passed through our scene dock doors.

‘We never had Top of the Pops,’ explained one of Palma Violets who are barely pushing twenty, ‘This is the show we’ve grown up on and we can’t believe we’re here. It’s a bit weird.’

Many of us who work on Later… have been there since the beginning in October, 1992, when Later with Jools Holland began as a late night spin off from The Late Show. Our esteemed host, director Janet Fraser Crook, sound supervisor Mike Felton and myself have been constants while many of the camera crew, sound, sparks and floor team have worked on the show for many years. Series producer Alison Howe is the Ronnie Wood of the production, joining as recently as 1998.

The show has grown with a remarkably steady and committed production team, mostly encouraged by but sometimes merely surviving succeeding BBC2 controllers.

A child of TVC

Later with Jools has always been a remarkably challenging show to deliver technically with six or seven bands and pretty much the whole expanse of the studio lit, first by the late James Campbell and latterly by Chris Rigby and his team.

Add the PA, the monitor systems, the set, the sound cabling, the cameras and cable bashers roaming the floor and you’ve got what felt for the first few years like an accident waiting to happen. The fact that Later has evolved so steadily, staying true to its musical enthusiasms and taste but growing all the time as a studio production is largely down to the patience and skill of Janet and Mike and the whole production team.

Alison and I know that Later…thrives on musical diversity and adventure, and that means constantly challenging the production team with the variety and size of the line-up. Recent large challenges include Damon Alban’s Gorillaz and Peter Gabriel’s 40-plus New Blood Orchestra, in each case one act alongside five others.

When Later began we were able to draw upon a whole skill bank that existed in Television Centre that had grown up with the place. Mike Felton has worked there since the 1960s as had camera supervisor Gerry Tivers, who finally decided to retire four years or so ago when the Hootenanny ran over two and a half hours.

Gerry was there on Tuesday to witness the end of an era and for the first time had the pleasure of sitting in the gallery behind Janet watching her direct his replacement Eric Metcalfe and his team.  Eric not only leads the crew and the close-ups but accommodates Jools’ intros as he roams between artists and across the floor while enthusing to camera.

Later is truly a child of TV Centre as the show grew to use every corner, cable and light of smaller studios like TC7 before moving into bigger rooms like TC4 and then often sharing TC1 with Strictly.

Later has become something of a living, breathing institution for musicians and viewers alike, and so is TV Centre. Our titles have always begun with Jools driving into the Horseshoe Car Park and passing through Stage Five with a wink to yours truly sleeping on the sofa, a ‘warm prop’ waiting for a taxi home.

In the first version of the titles Jools was told ‘You can’t park here sir, it’s a restricted area!’ Of course Jools has always parked outside the studio as the fancy takes him but it’s true we felt like upstarts when we began, taking over the BBC and the studio and the staff to pile in the bands and make some noise. Now the one-time upstarts feel like some of the last to leave the building.

‘Don’t it always go/That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ sang Joni Mitchell although never, sadly, on Later. It’s clear however that many who work at BBC TV Centre can already feel what they, the many visitors and the talent that comes to the place as though to a shrine, will be missing. TV Centre currently feels more like a TV set than ever before, emerging as a key player and location in Strictly, the titles of News 24, in those  circular BBC1 idents and in many other current TV productions.

Later’s Future

We have been looking at studios and other locations all around London since the summer. Later with Jools Holland will have a new home come next spring which is both a challenge and an opportunity.  A parking lot won’t replace TV Centre according to the memos and we hope to be back in a refurbished studio in a couple of years. Our last shows on Tuesday at TV Centre started or finished with Soul II Soul’s anthem, Keep On Moving. So we will but on the way I want to pay tribute to this magical, musty and increasingly deserted home of television, the wonderful musicians who’ve come through our doors over 20 years and the production team who’ve loved every moment of what we’ve made here. It’s not a restricted area at all.

Mark Cooper is executive producer of Later with Jools Holland

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