Me and Dad visited them both last weekend. While I seem to go to London on a regular basis, that’s mostly because I have friends who live there and normally I’m visiting them. So whatever we do is normally a product of us being bored, rather than having a specific purpose. But me and Dad travelled south with purpose. We were going to see the Magna Carta and the BBC.
The St Pancras hotel is super pretty.
Bright and early on the Saturday we made our way into London, looking at every sign because Google Maps reckoned we were going in the wrong direction. With no thanks to Google, we made it to the British Library, bang on time to go into the exhibition, which was alliteratively called “Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy”.
For a brief history of the Magna Carta, check out Horrible Histories
It started quite well, with a video on how the Magna Carta came to be. And then we queued. And queued. And queued. We may be British but since Germany, I have a lowered tolerance for long queues. As it turns out, there were a ton of manuscripts that were over a thousand years old that everyone was stopping to look at and read about. I guess I can’t blame them. But it was frustrating to queue for a ridiculously long time just to see coins that were like the ones from the time of the Magna Carta but weren’t from the time of the Magna Carta.
What got me most were the languages though. Yes, we all know I’m a language nerd. But there was old English and middle English and then the genealogy of King Richard and John’s family was in French. King Richard’s always held up at this most English of English kings and he spoke French. Also lived in France when he wasn’t off crusading. But back to the language. It’d be really useful if museums would tell you what language the stuff you’re looking at is in. British Library, if you’re reading this, the books you had out were super interesting, but I also wanted to know what they were written in. Whether it be Old French, Middle English or whatever it may be.
The British Library did not use this in the exhibition.
After explaining the origins of the Magna Carta, supplemented by some seriously cool videos, the exhibition moved on to how it then many years later came to be enshrined in law. And then how it impacted English colonies around the world. Namely that a few of them (looking at you America) based some of their initial laws about democracy vaguely on the Magna Carta. Apparently the Bill of Rights was heavily influenced by it.
By the end of the exhibition, there had been dry videos of historian and newsreels from 50 years ago, and so when the penultimate room was full of pop culture reference, I got quite excited. From political cartoons to a Tony Hancock sketch and to Horrible Histories, there were a ton of things to look at. And then, in the final room, there were two original copies of the Magna Carta. One is pretty much unreadable but still has the original seal, and using infrared and stuff historians can now read more of it than they’ve been able to for about 500 years. Which is quite exciting. The copy that still is legible has the tiniest handwriting you’ve ever seen. And it’s just a sheet of paper, with a huge paragraph on it. I think I was expecting the Domesday book, which a different thing entirely.
This is exactly how the meeting at Runnymede went down.
Afterwards we had a wander through the treasures of the British Library, which is super interesting. They’ve got lyrics by The Beatles scribbled on birthday cards by Lennon and McCartney, they’ve got a copy of Beowulf that’s older than I can really comprehend and an amazing array of sacred texts from different religions. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. Did I mention it’s free?
Post British Library wanderings, we went to the National Portrait Gallery, where I saw a ton of Tudor paintings that are in every British history textbook ever, modern portraiture that I was and wasn’t a fan of, and many many pictures that I added captions to on Snapchat. My apologies to the friends who had to put up with me thinking I’m funny.
Snapchat: making museums more fun since 2011.
On Sunday we headed back into the capital for a tour around the BBC. I didn’t know you could have tours round the BBC, but you can and we had one. It starts with looking down into the newsroom. About 3000 people – that’s half of all staff at Broadcasting House – work in News, so it’s a pretty huge newsroom. It’s the largest in Europe, but not the world because apparently China’s is bigger. But China won’t show photos of inside it to prove it. Anyway. We started with News and then we made our way to the One Show studio.
I definitely didn’t have the theme tune in my head while I was there.
It’s way smaller than you’d think. And one of tour guides took minor offence that someone said it looked scruffy. But that was pretty cool, and it turns out that to make it look bigger than it is, half of the word one that’s at the back of the studio is actually outside the studio. Who knew?
Arty shot because reasons.
Old Broadcasting House is super art deco inside which is pretty. And we got to go into the radio theatre which is where they record Radio 2 In Concert and comedies and a lot of stuff along those lines. Basically, if I’d been lucky enough to get tickets for the recording of the final episodes of Cabin Pressure, I would have been there a year ago.
So art. Much deco.
After that some people had a go at reading the news and presenting the weather, and then people had a go at a radio drama. The tour was really great, in no small part due to our guides Fiona and Ben. I now know a ton of stuff about the BBC that’s never gonna be useful. Oh, and because Dad asked and you guys might be interested: the TV show W1A? It’s apparently very true to life. And Hugh Bonneville once got locked out because he didn’t take his security pass with him, so the guards wouldn’t let him back in. Despite the fact that he’s Hugh Bonneville.
Casual Strictly Come Dancing trophy in the radio drama room
When we’d toured all that we could, me and Dad headed down Oxford Street, because, well, it was there. We ended up in Liberty so I could show Dad round as he’d never been. (If you want to read about my first time there, you’ll want to read this post. We had afternoon tea and everything.) After spending money on a tin of Mortal Terror and Escalating Panic, we wandered down Carnaby Street and then down to Piccadilly Circus. It was really nice seeing Dad go to these places for the first time, because he was excited as I was. And normally I’m with people who’ve been to central London a billion times because they live there.
But all good things must come to an end and we had to head back to the Midlands. I’m glad we went to the Magna Carta exhibition, but I do think it could have been laid out better. The BBC Tour was excellent and I’ve been recommending it to everyone, so if you’ve ever got the time to spare, go. You do have to book in advance though. Just fyi. And Liberty’s is always good. Even if I always come out poorer than when I went in.