Tributes paid as Ally Pally campaigner dies

Journalist, local political activist, raconteur, conservationist, author, vintage television and radio collector and restorer Bob Hawes has died aged 86.

He was a man of many parts – most of which were carefully preserved and labelled in tall piles of old plastic mushroom boxes in his kitchen in Tottenham.

I knew him during a key phase in the 1990s during the battle to protect the original BBC television studios in Alexandra Palace – the world’s first – from possible demolition, or death by dereliction and decay.

Bob’s friendliness, knowledge, and gift for a telling phrase were a great armoury during what was as much a propaganda campaign as conservation one.

Bob’s store of knowledge on the technicalities of radio and television – inherited no doubt from his Post Office engineer father – were invaluable in backing up conservation claims about the surviving features of the studios and the mast towering over them, which helped to save the latter during the 1990s from being lopped off at the top.

Indeed he still had the home-made equipment his father had built in their terraced house in Tottenham, which enabled his family to gather around those first flickering pictures from Ally Pally in 1936.

Bob was a lifelong libertarian, and was not impressed by the rhetoric and jargon of the many consultants and developers that came and went at Alexandra Palace.

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He saw no reason why the original vision of the founders of Alexandra Palace of an educational charity and landmark, open to the public on a not-for-profit basis and part of the community, should be abandoned and the place thrown to corporate sharks.

I first met him, a friendly dapper figure in a light suit and bow tie, not long after he had retired from the local newspaper in Islington he worked on, in the mid-nineties.

By then he had several books about early radio published.

The Palace and its studios and theatre were not even listed then – English Heritage had been heavily leant on. Studio A had been filled up with filing cabinets full of files from the controversial redevelopment after the fire, and Studio B’s roof had not been repaired and so the studio was full of pigeon guano and debris.

A group of us set to, bringing up some TV cameras and other equipment which had been abandoned in the basement, and cleaning out Studio A so that groups could visit. Enough Haringey councillors, and others who shared our vision, were sympathetic enough to ensure that the 60th anniversary of the first television broadcasts could be celebrated in style in 1996.

The progress of the group in restoring the studios for full public access being temporarily thwarted by the council’s then strategy to simply sell off the whole building for development, Bob, while remaining supportive, transferred his energy to help develop initiatives in his home area of Tottenham, like the carnival and the local history fair, with great success. His partner, Bharat, survives him.