Well, actually I went to visit the BBC Written Archives Centre – but ended up paying a visit to its next-door neighbour, sited on the same splendid Caversham Park estate in the leafy suburbs of Reading, Berkshire. BBC Monitoring combines Georgian stately home and gardens with the very latest in satellite and cable gadgetry – the latter of which is used for surveillance purposes as well as world-news-gathering ones.
Which goes to show that the BBC is not just a broadcaster of information and entertainment - it also has an overt political and military role in monitoring media coverage across the globe and communicating intelligence to the Foreign Office and other government departments. Hence the tight security…
Ultimately, BBC Monitoring is a quirky instance of ‘cultural-diversity-meets-national-interests’. A small population of people from all four corners of the atlas live on-site the whole year round - translators, interpreters, journalists and so on. The outcome is a real-time global village that must be a truly fascinating place to live and work.
Perhaps bizarrely, the yearly licence fee we reluctantly pay doesn’t fund any of the BBC’s Monitoring or World (Service) activities – we pay merely for domestic BBC goings-on. Given the grandeur of this site, though, it would seem likely that our taxation and national insurance contributions go at least some way to its up-keep – the gardening as well as the surveillance.