You didn't think this was exciting at first glance did you? Well let's see if I can change that view. I never thought too much about that "ordinary looking building" along the Southbank until last week.
What happened? Well it was a funny little quirky thing (I LOVE quirky) when I decided to go on one of the "behind the scene tours." Hand on heart this one is not a promotion or freeby I just decided to it might be interesting. And now all my friends want me to stop going on about it. I can't! It was so "amazing." So you are all going to hear about it.
I thought there would be dozens of us. Nope just two of us (and I asked all the questions). Where to start? I guess the beginning. The Royal festival hall was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.
Post war Britain was a bit austere, rebuilding a nation and all that, so when the organisers of the festival decided on a fun colourful event it was not exactly welcomed. However - long story short - it ran for 5 months and 8 million people came. Embankment was closed to traffic to cope with the crowds who wanted to catch a glimpse of the wondrous sight across the river. A great success. AND this was the point that changed the view of "south of the river". A marshland, industrial, prostitutes and crime, this was how the area had been labelled up until the festival. Then it all changed.....
The tour takes you through a glimpse of the history, starting with a wonderful model of the site just as it was for the festival including details of exhibits. One of my favourites (for the brave hearted
among you) is the mouse trap.
I know I'm attracted to the odd, and this building offers lots and lots of that. For starters the wall tiles that I always thought were a dull marble... (note to self.. don't ever make assumptions) that is not what they are. What then? Limestone fossils. No kidding! Once you see them as they really are I challenge you to not want to examine every tile each time you visit. The seahorse has been put in the archive (unfortunately) but I think we should demand it come back out into public display.
The building was designed to look like a cruise ship ( now pop back up and relook at that image at the top of this post) inside it becomes even easier to imagine you are aboard.
It is also home to the Philharmonic orchestra and therefore the acoustics of the building are paramount to its design. I'm not going to tell you why, I'm just going to tease with a few questions.
Why do the seats have wood underneath them? Why do the black screens change for different concerts? Which seat in the house is the worst to be in for the view and acoustics? (I'm going to answer that one cos I know can't keep such a big secret) the royal box! No kidding!
Londoner or out of towner (or from anywhere in the world) if you want to snatch a huge bit of 20th century British history the Behind the Scenes tour is the best place to start.