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How Sir Terry Farrell hatched the TV-am eggs

Camden Town landmark features in an architecture show at the Sir John Soane's Museum

15 June, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

The giant yellow eggs in the 1980s [Photo: Richard Bryant ARCAID]

THE giant eggs, nestling on the roof of the cele­brated TV-am building in Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, became icons: an image beamed into people’s sitting rooms and kitchens in the early 1980s when Britain got its first commercial breakfast TV show.

Now a new exhibition at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields tells the story of the famous TV-am building through the eyes of its architect Sir Terry Farrell – and curator Owen Hopkins uses the build­ing, along with work by seven other architects, to discuss the impact postmodern architecture like Sir Terry’s work has had on London over the past 40 years.

TV-am, which won the franchise to broadcast a breakfast show in 1983, wanted a landmark studio. In a book accompanying the exhibition, Sir Terry describes how the studio was built. “They used this expression: ‘Terry, turn up the wick’, meaning a bigger flame,” he tells Owen. “I didn’t think they ever knew what they were getting. They just wanted something hyper and noticeabl­e.”

Sir Terry had told them that American TV soap Dallas and the Ten O’Clock News both started with an image of a building. “I said to them a television station needs a building, and it was here I came up with the idea of the eggs.” At first TV-am did not “want anything to do with it,” says Sir Terry.

“I said on each pinnacle there should be an egg, and so we had to do them out of our own pocket and they cost £100 each. We got a fibreglass car repair outfit under the arches nearby to do them. The builders put starter bolts embedded in the pinnacles and our staff laid the eggs there and tightened them up. It was all part of my view of postmodernism – making architecture narrative, making it figurative, making it decorative and making it fun, making it popular.”

Owen calls the TV-am building “a defining project of early postmodernism” but Sir Terry goes further in the interview. “I think TV-am is as much an example of pop art as it was of postmodernism. Stylistically there are strong elements of it that are postmodern, in the accepted sense of a style – but I widened it enormously from the palate of strict postmodernism. It wasn’t a manifesto – it was sheer exaltation and freedom.”

Mr Hopkins, a specialist in art history and architecture, chose to focus the new exhibition on post modernism as he believes the time has come to revisit buildings that defined a period in London buildings – and have attracted strong criticism since.

“I have been interested by post modernism for some time,” he says. “It has made a return from a cultural oblivion in the 1990s and is being considered again by critics and writers.”

Sir Terry Farrell

The exhibition includes work by eight celebrated postmodern architects including Piers Gough, Charles Jencks and Laurence Bain, all who created “statement” buildings in the movement.

But as Owen Hopkins explains, their work attracted strong views. “It fell from fashion, as everything does,” he adds. “It originally, was seen as a backlash against modernism in the 1970s. Modernism was seen as having becoming dry and joyless. It had originally been about civicness but had lost its connection with those who were using the buildings. Postmodernism was about the pendulum swinging the other way. It was about exuberance, joy, but it was then appropriated by commercial architects and developers and used to adorn corporate HQs. It became associated with Thatcherism and neo-liberalism and the worst aspects of the 1980s culture.”

As time has passed, such buildings as the TV-am HQ are now seen important milestones in the movement. “It is being looked at again with fresh eyes,” he adds. “Many architects are young enough not to have been indoctrinated against the richness of its ideas and its aesthetic properties.”

l The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture is at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP until August 26. Free.

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