In the new BBC Mausoleum, deep in the bowels of Broadcasting House, nothing seems to have changed, since it was built by the British Broadcasting Commissariat over 40 years ago. The first thing you notice is the silence. Then a perfumed-chemical smell. Then, as you become accustomed to the strategically low light, you're drawn to the glass-enclosed centrepiece. And there he is, smaller than you might have imagined, and slightly green around the gills. The revolutionary hero of state broadcasting in the flesh. Or is it? You are not encouraged to stop and stare. No photographs please, and do not step in front of the red rope. At each corner of the catafalque, stands a BBC commissionaire in full regalia. Every five minutes, in a carefully choreographed routine, they slow-march, Jackanory-booted, round the centrepiece, then stamp smartly to attention. For visitors to London, it is as much a must-see as Alan Yentob's famous Notting Hill mansion complex, Disgraceland.
Lord Reith, "little father" of state broadcasting, has lain in state in a special room under Broadcasting House since his death in 1971. Millions have left flowers, messages of suppoort and complaints about Gardeners' Question Time. Mysteriously, though, Reith disappeared recently for three weeks while the BBC upgraded the installation and observers noticed on his return that despite still being equally dead he looked 'a good deal better, and slightly taller'.
But a BBC spokesperson explained that the 'Reitholeum' has been given an 'ironic' twist and is now part of a commercial BBC Horror Tour, in collaboration with the London Dungeon. But the remains are still authentic, say the BBC, who are planning a similar exhibit at the Forbidden White City for Mark Thompson, former Director General.
Tours, costing £10, include a mock up of a 1970's Radio 1 studio, with a seedy-looking DJ chained to a set of vinyl 'decks'. Your guide (who looks eerily like the late Esther Rantzen) urges you to listen carefully. Are those the cries of a tortured child, barely audible under 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' by Middle of the Road? In the gift shop you can buy your very own 'Crimewatch', which on the stroke of midnight wakes you up and reminds you not to have nightmares. For £25 you can get a souvenir copy of the Hutton Report with explicit full colour evidential photographs from the David Kelly inquiry.
“It’s all part of the commercialisation of the former Soviet BBC,” says Grant Schnapps, the Austrian Brandy heir, internet millionaire, MP and champion of a new “business-minded” Corporation. “The tour is meant as a bit of fun, but yes, we’re not ashamed that it’s making money for a consortium of private investors, who also sit on the BBC Trust and have a say in the renewal of the BBC CHarter.” grins Schnapps. “All the same, Lord Reith would be turning in his grave at the whole thing.”
And with that, thanks to advanced Corpsamatronics™ pioneered by the newly privatised Dr Who team, there’s a whirring from Reith’s glass case. The "little father" of state broadcasting seems now to have a look of horror on his face as he starts to spin like a rotisserie chicken.