The future of UTV’s former headquarters is in doubt. Developers want to knock it down and redevelop the site. Belfast City Council is set to decide whether to let them do this.
For the TV enthusiast there is an interesting question: is a building which played a big part in the history of broadcasting worth preserving for its own sake?
Whatever you think of UTV, there is no doubt that for most of the company’s history Havelock House was an important part of Belfast. Many former staff will have many happy memories of good times there, good friends and particularly enjoyable or important programmes.
There are two sorts of historic buildings. Some are historic because of their architectural merit or importance to a townscape. Others may be considered important because of what happened there. A former TV station can be either.
Many buildings which have played a major role in British TV history are long gone: Lime Grove, Thames TV’s Euston Road building, Pebble Mill. These were all landmark (but functional) buildings where many distinguished programmes were made.
Other buildings can find new uses. The redevelopment of Television Centre retained some major studios and facilities and the building’s most iconic vistas.
The historic part of BBC Scotland’s old headquarters – a beautiful building which was once a college – still stands but extensions built in the 1950s and 1980s were bulldozed.
Many former ITV buildings have gone. Anglia House and Yorkshire TV’s Kirkstall Road building are amongst the few still partially in use.
So is Havelock House worth saving? It would be safe to say it has never been noted on the outside for its beauty.
But that does not mean that an imaginative developer might not (or could not still?) have been able to come up with an idea which could have transformed the building and acknowledged its past or lovingly preserved some of it.
Ultimately though a TV building itself is just bricks and mortar. What matters is what was produced there. But if the building goes, it would be nice to have something on the site to acknowledge what once stood there and its importance to local life.
Meanwhile, it’s now 14 weeks since UTV adopted temporary ITV branding because of the pandemic.
The situation has now lasted longer than any major crisis to have affected the network before: broadcasting restrictions during the Three Day Week, the 1968 or 1979 strikes, the 1970 colour strike or local disputes.
Indeed there is no precedent in the UK for a major TV station adopting temporary branding for any length of time. Perhaps the nearest was in 1968 when an interim service bridged the gap between TWW and Harlech in Wales and the West?
Whatever happens as normality continues to return, that’s significant to the TV historian.
PICTURED: Havelock House, Belfast (late-2018). COPYRIGHT: The TV Room.