Politics

BBC took weeks to choose BRICKS for new EastEnders set as cost spiralled by £27m

The BBC took weeks to choose bricks for the new EastEnders set, Westminster’s powerful spending watchdog heard tonight.

Corporation bosses were hauled before the Commons Public Account Committee to explain a staggering £27million cost overrun for the E20 project, creating the soap’s Albert Square.

During the 40-minute hearing, Labour ’s Chris Evans tackled BBC Content’s chief operating officer Richard Dawkins over specifications for the project.

Quizzing the broadcasting executive over an apparent delay between the BBC and contractor Wates in selecting raw materials, the MP said: “There seems to be an issue with bricks.”

Mr Dawkins confirmed: “Before going into contract, we felt it was important to look at a range of different types of brick and, very importantly, bring in our production colleagues to review those bricks themselves given, ultimately, they’re the ones who will be operating the set.

“We did that in advance of letting the contract with Wates.

“The objective for the ‘front lot’ is to replicate the existing Albert Square site – making sure we have that right was really important.”

In a bizarre exchange which could have come straight from “mockumentary” W1A, Mr Dawkins admitted the selection process took “weeks”.

Baffled Mr Evans said: “Wouldn’t it have been easier just to go to a DIY shop and compare them?”

But the BBC boss hit back: “It’s quite important that we replicate the look and feel of Walford and Albert Square.

“It’s Victorian era, it’s an extensive build around the entire Square, so this is really important.”

He insisted: “If you look at the current set there are different shades of brick.

“This is not just about going and finding off your local DIY store a limited choice.

“It was the right thing to do.”

The E20 project to rebuild the soap’s HQ in Elstree, Herts is costing licence fee payers a staggering £87million rather than the £60million originally planned.

It will not be finished until 2023.

Mr Evans suggested EastEenders could have followed rival Emmerdale’s example.

The ITV soap staged a plane crash two decades ago and revamped its set.

“Obviously there’s the example of Emmerdale in the ‘90s who flew a fictional aeroplane into (Emmerdale) … and they wiped out the cast and the set and rebuilt it,” said Mr Evans.

“Would it be cheaper through a plot line to have something fall out of the sky fictionally and wipe out the EastEnders set and rebuild it as new?”

Lord Hall said: “ I think we are now in W1A territory … but no is the answer.”

Asking the peer what lessons the BBC had learned, the MP asked: “Apart from dropping a bomb on the set, what would you differently?”

Lord Hall said: “I think we have got the right team together but leadership is important.”

He also blamed the discovery of asbestos for the spiralling cost.

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