“That’s the building Lindsey from Blue Peter abseiled down,” said our guide Julia as she led us in to the BBC Studios at Media City, Salford. “Did you see that programme?” I’m sure I saw my daughter shiver with excitement.
There was something deliciously secret and special about being allowed to enter the spaces where TV programmes are made. As our tour group of nine children plus parents walked past the security men, it felt like we were the gang with the Golden Tickets.
What you actually get to see and do on the 1½ hour tour depends on what studios aren’t in use that day – but that just makes it all the more ‘real’.
Tour stop No. 1
Our first stop was the Newsround studio. The children were invited to be the presenters and – wearing very ‘serious’ glasses – read from the autocue.
Another two did the weather forecast. You can’t underestimate how much seeing themselves 'on TV' makes kids smile. It’s like magic.
In the same room, the kids were split into teams for a game show to test their knowledge of CBBC programmes. They only got one answer wrong.
“Wow! You guys watch a LOT of TV!” said Julia. “And we love that!” We weren’t sure whether to be proud or embarrassed.
Insider secret: The weather map you see on the TV is not really there – it's a blank green screen. This makes it really difficult for the weathermen and women to know where to point! Also, they can't wear green – if they do, they become invisible!
Tour stop No. 2
Next stop was the sound effects room, used for cartoons and radio programmes. At first glance, it was an empty, grey, uninspiring room. It turned out to be fascinating.
Who knew they had a special staircase split vertically into sections with different coverings to simulate the footsteps of, say, someone going up the stairs in a house (carpet) or a prison (metal) or a castle (stone)? Or a side-room with strange spiky foam walls to absorb echoes so that it sounds like a character is outdoors?
“Just going to milk t’cows,” said Julia, disappearing round the corner, her voice fading away as if she was plodding off across the fields. Then the kids got to have a go.
We also got a peep into the BBC Philharmonic studio next door.
Insider secret: When you hear a character making themselves a drink with ice, they are actually dropping pieces of lego in a glass!
Tour stop No. 3
And then, oh my word, we were on our way to the Blue Peter studio – along a corridor filled with higgledy-piggledy piles of CBBC props and costumes. “Look, there’s Andy’s safari jacket from Andy’s Wild Adventures!” said my daughter.
The Blue Peter studio was shockingly smaller and scruffier than it looks on TV. Julia explained that the lights and cameras make everything look much better and bigger than it really is.
One side-effect of this, she told us, is that the presenters have to take tiny steps, otherwise they would look like they were taking huge strides. “Now I know why Barney walks in a really weird way,” said my daughter. “I don't think he's got the hang of it!"
Insider secret: Blue Peter keep their guests in a cupboard just before they come onto the show!
Tour stop No. 4
Finally, we were taken to the studio where they do the links between CBBC programmes. The kids got to have another go at presenting and see themselves on the telly, again (big grins).
And then we were showered with BBC pens and Hacker the dog stickers and sent back out into the ordinary, grey, scruffy world.
Insider secret: In the lobby, we passed one of those airport security machines that you put your bags through. “There’s only one type of visitor we use that machine for,” said Julia. “Jeremy Kyle guests!”
CBBC tours are for children age 6+. Vist the website here.