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FEATURES - ON WITH THE SHOW

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When Top of the Pops staged its first ever live open-air broadcast - headlined by the likes of Busted and Girls Alo...
When Top of the Pops staged its first ever live open-air broadcast - headlined by the likes of Busted and Girls Aloud - it chose Gateshead. Bill MacNaught explains why

Staging a concert which features international artists, to be broadcast globally to an audience of millions against a stunning backdrop, is a logistical feat more closely associated with international event management companies than councils.

The planning involved in such an event is immense. First you have to convince the organisers that your venue is worth booking, then every last detail must be considered - from logistics such as road closures, crowd control, camera angles, health and safety and site access to booking taxis, finding accommodation for crew and guests and making sure they arrive on time.

But when the BBC's Top of the Pops decided to stage its first ever live open-air broadcast on 31 July, it chose Baltic Square, Gateshead Quays, as its venue - and it was Gateshead Council's events team, not an international event management company, that helped to stage the extravaganza.

The BBC initially approached us towards the end of May. It was looking for an eye-catching location outside London that would offer a stunning backdrop to the outdoor event, provide enough space and access for artists, production equipment and a 1,800 strong crowd, plus it would have to be logistically sound.

Several other towns and cities were considered but after meeting with the communications and events team, TOTP executive producer Andi Peters was convinced that not only had he found the perfect location, but that our expertise in event management could make TOTP: Alfresco a reality.

Not only was hosting the event a coup for Gateshead and the council, it was a welcome endorsement of just how far the borough has come over the last 10 years. During the 1980s, like many areas in the country, the borough saw the collapse of major manufacturing industries and the disappearance of the traditional trades. We needed to reinvent ourselves as a modern, vibrant area to attract residents, visitors and investors.

An ongoing programme of regeneration has seen the installation of Antony Gormley's iconic Angel of the North sculpture and the commercial and cultural expansion on Gateshead Quays - including Gateshead Millennium Bridge and Sage Gateshead, a Sir Norman Foster designed music venue. TOTP was an ideal opportunity to showcase these developments and further establish Gateshead and the wider region as a great place to live, invest or visit - and enjoy pop concerts.

It was also a chance for the community to be part of a major event which saw their home town recognised on a national and international level. A premise of Gateshead Council's cultural strategy has always been to make developments and experiences in the borough relevant to local people as well as visitors.

So now came the challenge of pulling the whole event together in just two months. Although TOTP has been running since 1964, staging an outdoor event - as opposed to the weekly, recorded studio show - is clearly more complicated. There was the added pressure that the hour-long show would be broadcast live to an audience of millions.

At Gateshead, we have a reputation for organising large-scale events. That weekend alone we had the Gateshead Summer Flower Show, which attracts around 35,000 visitors each year, and the Newcastle-Gateshead Cup, a football tournament broadcast live on Sky and featuring the likes of Newcastle United and Glasgow Rangers - so the BBC welcomed our involvement in the management of the event.

The first major hurdle was to pull together all the relevant agencies - from within the council, externally and the BBC - and ensure they understood the size of the challenge and worked as a team. Effective cross-department communication within the council was essential - between sections such as events, arts and leisure - and it was crucial we could rely on our close working relationships with the emergency services.

We also needed the backing of Baltic Square neighbours, such as Bryant Homes, Royal Navy base HMS Calliope and the residents of Baltic Quay flats. I'm pleased to say they were all very supportive, as were our colleagues at Newcastle City Council across the river.

The night itself was a huge success. Around 1,800 local people attended the event, and hundreds more lined the opposite bank of the Tyne to catch a glimpse of Girls Aloud and Busted (pictured above).

So, what have we learned? The main thing is that, despite the limited time we had to organise the event, chances like this do not come along every day. You must grab them with both hands and do everything to make them possible.

No matter how large or complicated the task may seem, you have to concentrate on the benefits and recognise that this is positive exposure you just can't buy - and is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate what your area has to offer.

Bill MacNaught

Head of cultural development, Gateshead Council

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