Throughout this series, we’ll celebrate some of the biggest names in entertainment who enjoyed a close connection with the legacy of TV Centre over its fifty year reign as the home of British television. However, very few have enjoyed such a long and emotional relationship with the famous building than the iconic actress and broadcaster Sarah Greene. Born into theatre and entertainment as a result of being the daughter of the celebrated actress Marjie Lawrence; an acclaimed theatrical star who is cited as the first person to appear on ITV in September 1955. Therefore Sarah’s earliest memories of TV Centre are associated with spending quality time with her father as they watched her mum appear in some of the most popular television drama of the time. So her relationship with Britain’s famous TV factory began at a tender age, making it all the more significant as her own career flourished.
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Following in her mother’s footsteps, Sarah trained as an actress and found herself in a whole host of BBC Sunday night dramas from Friday People to Doctor Who. Just like her mother, Sarah discovered the daunting experience of acting from a TV studio and although unlike the rustic sixties, it wasn’t live but the strong nervous energy was the same. At this stage of her career, the young actress never considered doing anything other than performing and the lure of broadcasting seemed a long way off her radar. Therefore throughout her early career TV Centre came to represent the many accomplishments in her vast repertoire. Yet thanks to TV Centre, her career was just about to metamorphose in dramatic ways.
Sarah’s reputation as an actress encouraged her to appear on the radar of many executives at the BBC and in 1980 she auditioned to become one of the new presenters on the flagship BBC children’s juggernaut Blue Peter. Since its very conception, the series always thrived on the ability to hire stars from stage and screen to capture the audience’s imagination. Together with fellow actor Peter Duncan and broadcaster Simon Groom, Sarah was able to fulfill the theatrical side of the show which had been a popular feature of the Noakes, Singleton and Purves era. This was her first presenting role and quickly developed a magical rapport with Duncan and Groom which hugely benefited the quality of the show. This trio were more than fellow presenters and forged a strong bond throughout their Blue Peter tenure.
Such a dynamic and ambitious children’s programme demanded a creative and focused editor to steer the ship and make the show bespoke to its target audience. Joining Blue Peter during the mid sixties, the legendary Biddy Baxter became the heart and soul of the show, overseeing everything from making the models for the “Here’s one I made earlier’ sections to directing. Sarah learned so much from Baxter and maintains that her career as a broadcaster is virtually as a result of her work with Biddy. To Sarah, she was so much more than merely an editor, she was a director, a props creator and more importantly a vital ambassador for children throughout Britain. With a fundamental belief that the desires and requirements of the audience should be paramount, Baxter was extremely passionate about the values and identity of Blue Peter and was willing to fight for them. For over three years, Sarah thrived upon this family atmosphere which was a vital grounding for the rest of her career.
The decision to leave Blue Peter coincided with Sarah’s offer from editor Chris Bellinger who had replaced the great Rosemary Gill and was spearheading the latest Saturday morning children’s entertainment offering Saturday Superstore. Joining the show during the second series alongside Mike Read, John Craven and the late Keith Chegwin, this was when Sarah realised the true power of television in creating communities. Every generation of audience believes that their primitive years of TV entertainment was the golden age and always have an emotional attachment to those television landmarks which defined their childhood. Sarah believes that this is true of the children of the eighties and feels lucky to still be synonymous with this time in British television. Yet her association with Saturday mornings wasn’t over yet.
In 1987 the BBC decided to call time on Saturday Superstore as pop culture was changing and it became necessary to follow the fads and fashions of the day. An explosion in the pop world resulted in a subtle shift in youth orientated television as audiences were looking to engage with their favourite pop stars. This was the start of the MTV Video generation and television was forced to embrace the new era of celebrity culture. First broadcast on Saturday 26th September 1987, Going Live united the talents of Sarah and TV newcomer Philip Schofield who had previously worked for a New Zealand station. Sharing a mutual passion for TV, as soon as Sarah met Philip they reached their potential for on screen chemistry. With the firm belief that they had just been given the best job in the world, this partnership was built upon a soaring passion for the joy of broadcasting which transcended the screen. All these elements made Going Live one of the best children’s television shows of all time.
Schofield wasn’t the only person whom Sarah shared the delights of Going Live with as the show spawned its very own childhood hero Gordon the Gopher who frequently stole the show. In the era before bespoke TV special effects, Gordon was controlled by a man who was forced to crouch under the table in order to maintain the illusion that he was a real being. Ironically the man behind Gordon is now part of the senior management team at the BBC which remains the source of amusement for Sarah and anyone who recalls the physical lengths which he went to in order to stay anonymous. Therefore it comes as a source of great irony that Gordon is now the guy in charge of everyone at the BBC and it’s easy to picture him behind a desk squeaking out orders. Over thirty years on from the end of Going Live, the legacy of the show is still felt through all areas of the BBC and TV Centre was the perfect venue for it to shine. This is just another reason why Sarah’s affection for TV’s dream factory remains so strong.
Despite being a theatrically trained actress, Sarah had by chance cultivated a reputation as one of Britain’s best broadcasters but still had the desire to tread the boards. Yet in 1992 by a bizarre coincidence, she unexpectedly was given the opportunity to combine the two alongside her late husband Mike Smith. Written by award winning dramatist Stephen Volk, Ghostwatch started life as a play with actors playing it like any other drama. As actors, Sarah and Mike relished the concept and instantly embraced the role, assuming that it would be like any other. Casting the legendary journalist and broadcaster Michael Parkinson as the anchor of the programme offered the piece a touch of false authenticity required to elongate this elaborate spoof to the maximum. This legitimacy forced a large section of the viewing audience to believe that it was a real life show in real time which sadly has prevented it from being repeated in succeeding years.
Throughout the nineties, Sarah maintained a close relationship with Television Centre, presenting everything from the BBC’s Good Morning Britain to Hospitalwatch. With her televisual presence now encompassing daytime, she also became one of the regular presenters on the daytime chat show Pebble Mill. Despite obviously not being at TV Centre, this programme had all the features of a great Light Entertainment show yet at lunchtime and fulfilled her passion for asking questions. Interviewing some of the most famous people in the world was something which Sarah thrived upon and a naturally inquisitive nature made her the perfect broadcaster for such a format. Despite working on a whole host of live entertainment shows in a range of different venues and locations, TV Centre always felt like home for Sarah as this was where all of her broadcasting dreams came true.
Like most of us, when rumours began circulating about the potential closure of TV Centre, Sarah assumed that it would get overturned. Adding her signature to the petition to prevent the corporation from selling its biggest TV production asset, cemented her passion for the former home of British television. Yet tragically Friday 31st March 2013 was a day which no television fan wanted to come as BBC Television Centre closed its doors for the final time and work commenced on the transformation into a block of bespoke apartments and restaurant complex. The once thriving, spiritual home of British television was no more which was to have an emotional impact on all who worked here.
Whilst on a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre for some much deserved retail therapy, Sarah spotted the extensive building work being performed at the place which saw many of her career highlights. Glancing at the drastic transformation of Television Centre, Sarah was overwhelmed with emotion and promptly burst into tears as realisation dawned that this was the end of an era. Of all the significant figures who have featured in this celebration, Sarah Greene’s feelings towards this special building remain palpable. TV Centre had forever played a pivotal role in her life, whether it was witnessing her mother’s acting career for the first time or being given her own opportunity to shine under the TV spotlight. For these reasons and more, to Sarah, BBC Television Centre wasn’t just a set of studios, it was home.