"A BBC Experience" - Phil Collins appearance at the BBC as told by Stuart Barnes.

It all started with a bit of luck. I happened to visit the Phil Collins forum about 10 minutes after it’s webmaster, PCW, had posted a message regarding a competition to win some tickets for a BBC show titled “More All Time Greatest Love Songs”, with a guest appearance from Phil himself. I duly entered, crossed my fingers and left it at that.

The next day I returned to the forum to find out that I had been a winner and that details of how to claim my prize would be announced a bit nearer the time.

Sure enough, the day before the show, I received an e-mail telling where, when and how, etc. Messages on the Forum mentioned a meet-up whereby the competition winners would get together in a nearby pub beforehand.

The day arrived and I managed to give my boss the slip on my lunch break and I headed off across London towards White City, and the hallowed BBC studios. My circumstances meant that I was not able to make the meet up in the pub beforehand (‘was that his wife or his secretary?’ I hear you ask. My lips are sealed!), but from the way that the forum members were seated all together in the studio, I got the impression that the meet-up was successful.

On getting to the studios I joined a very long queue containing what turned out to be audiences for a couple of other shows as well as the show I was going to. Security at the BBC is on a par with an airport, complete with x-ray machine and metal detector. Whether this is a deterrent for terrorists or people with unauthorised recording equipment is open to question……!

Once inside the ‘compound’, we made our way to a reception area, or waiting room, if you like. This was a large café-like area geared up to hosting large amounts of people prior to going through to the studio areas. All around the room were large flat-screen TV’s showing the first “All Time Greatest Love Songs” show, presumably to get us in the mood. There was plenty of room to sit and chat and enjoy a coffee from the café, and also a small shop to peruse around (considering this was a BBC shop located on BBC premises, the prices for official BBC merchandise seemed to be unusually high).

After an hour or so of waiting around, a BBC official appeared at one of the doors and made an announcement “would everyone with the word “PRODUCTION” stamped in red on their ticket, please come forward; everyone else please stay seated”.
A quick check of my tickets revealed that mine had PRODUCTION stamped in red on it. I, along with the other holders of such tickets, went forward.

We were then escorted outside towards the main studio block, past the famous fountain. Funny thing that; when seen on TV (on programmes such as Blue Peter and Tomorrow’s World) the fountain area was always completely clear, empty in fact. Not this time. Today we were shown it’s true function. The fountain area has tables and chairs set up around it and is in fact used as a smoking area for BBC staff. Walking past the groups of BBC employees sitting around smoking made for an amusing site, compared to what they let you see on broadcasts.

Once back inside we were escorted to Studio 4, where the true value of our tickets revealed itself. We were shown to our seats. The Forum group managed to get themselves front row seats. The rest of us were in the couple of rows behind. This was going to be a close encounter. The stage was arranged with a small catwalk area jutting out in the middle, up to the fourth row. This effectively split the front rows into two sides. A few seats were in front of this area, but they were shared with a camera and it’s operator.

My own seat wasn’t exactly front row (fourth row), but being on the end, it meant that I was next to the corner of the catwalk area; still a very good position.

After we were seated the rest of the audience were let in and seated in the main area behind us.

My first impression of the studio was of it’s size. It was a lot smaller than I expected. Cosy is probably the best way to describe it. There were about 80 of us seated in the front section and no more than about 100 in the main section. Not very many people at all.
This then brings about a realisation; everything you see on TV is false. It is made to look good on TV, not in real life. A small studio can be made to look large by using lighting and camera techniques.

The stage and set itself was impressively lit, and was complete with lit stairway in the middle. This stairway highlighted the falseness of TV. It didn’t lead anywhere and it wasn’t used in the show. It did look good though.

Soon enough the warm-up comedian appeared and gave us the obligatory health and safety stuff about fire exits, and so on, interspersed with jokes.
This guy was actually quite entertaining and gave us a good laugh all the way through the show. During this time, roses were handed out to members of the audience, for use during the show.

After this, he announced the acts for the evening and then introduced the show’s host, Tess Daly.

She came on to the stage said a few words and then it was on to recording the show.
Adding to the ‘false’ aspect of the show, we were asked to ‘go mad’ for all the acts that were on the show, regardless of whether we liked them or not. That’s TV for you.

Then, almost without any delay, the PC Band were introduced. They took to the stage. The fact that there was only one drum kit on the stage, and the fact that it was set up right-handed signalled that PC would not be playing drums on this occasion.
As soon as the band were on the stage and in position, the man himself walked onto the stage.
Again, the value of the seats became apparent. Here I was only a few feet from the stage, and only a few feet further from PC. After a short introduction, the floor manager announced that ‘we’ were recording. The audience went wild and PC went into his first song; Against All Odds. Here’s where I am going to get a few people's backs up. Being so close to PC, I could see that he wasn’t wearing any earpieces; you know, the ones he uses on tour. This coupled with the fact that the backing track he was singing along to was the original version of the song, meant only one thing; the ‘M’ word. Miming (shock, horror). At the end of the song all the women threw their roses at Phil, as per instructions. As soon as the cameras stopped rolling the ladies were almost climbing over each other to get their roses back so that they could throw them at him again in the next song.

The first song over, Tess Daly joined Phil on stage for a chat link between songs. She asked him about how romantic he was and he gave a long answer referring to the notes he and Orianne wrote to each other and the fact that he has kept every one.

Next up, a Fender Rhodes electric piano was carried on to the stage and the next song was cued up; One More Night. Whilst waiting for the crew to start recording, PC started chatting to the audience. He acknowledged the Forum members, much to their delight. Someone managed ask him how the baby was. "OK. He sleeps every now and again!", was the reply.

Again, the lack of earpieces, the lack of mains and audio leads into the piano, and the drummer playing his kit when the actual drums on the record were all electronic meant that this song was also mimed. Hey, it’s only TV, it’s not real.
This didn’t detract from the fact that we were a few feet in front of the person we were here to see.

After the song had finished PC stood up and said, “well, if that’s it, then I’m off home” or words to that effect. It was said as a joke and we all took it that way.
He then walked across the stage to the Forum members and shook a few hands and was even grabbed for a few kisses by some of the more enthusiastic female members.
And with that he walked off the stage back to his dressing room.

Now, here is where I suppose I should be ending this article.
However, such was the event that I feel I should write a little something about the other artists that performed.

Next up was Girls Aloud, minus one member due to sickness. They stood on the stage whilst make-up artists fussed around them, and technicians angled a couple of large fans at the base of the stage towards the girls heads, for the ‘flowing hair’ effect.
On came the music and they started singing (I’ll Stand By You originally done by The Pretenders). I’ll say that again. Singing. Yes, they sang live. The main difference to that was that the floor monitors had mostly voice in them, as opposed to music. Just to hit the point home, the last few lines of the song were sung acapella.

They ran through the song twice and then they left.
More technicians bustled about to get the set ready for the next artist. Whilst we were waiting we were handed glo-sticks, short plastic sticks with a luminous liquid inside, activated by 'snapping' them (similar to what the army uses....). We were supposed to use these in the next song.

Once we had all got our glo-sticks, the next artist was introduced; Bonnie Tyler. Yes, she performed Total Eclipse Of The Heart. As with Girls Aloud, she sang this live. Actually she belted it out rather well. The mood was enhanced by the use of pyrotechnics on the stage.

Last up was Il Divo, who can be best described as a more polished and prepared version of those four lads who made it to the X-Factor finals. The moment they walked onto the stage, the people (99% women) sitting on the opposite side to me went crazy. PC had his forum members present, so did they and they didn’t mind who knew.

Looking smart, yet trendy in their tuxedos, without ties and with their finely chiselled features, the stood around looking good until the cameras rolled.
Then they stood around looking good and sang. Yep, this lot did it live as well. Credit to them, they can sing, even though their act wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Two takes of Un-break My Heart and My Way later and it was all over (and this was only half the show; the rest being recorded on another day).

We all were shown out of the studio, back around the fountain and back to the reception area past a queue of kids waiting for the Top Of The Pops studio to open. None of that lot looked over twelve years old, let alone old enough to be out on their own at night. I must be getting old!

Last up was a visit to the BBC shop. How could I visit the home of the Teletubbies and not come home with a few goodies for the kids? See my previous comments on prices.
Suitably fleeced I headed home happy, having had a great time.

Big thanks to PCW for setting the competition/arranging the tickets.