BBC begins work to repair defaced statue by controversial sculptor Eric Gill

The BBC has begun repair work to a Grade II listed statue outside its central London headquarters after it was defaced with a hammer last January.

The depiction of Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest by sculptor Eric Gill, who is said to have sexually abused two of his daughters, has been on display at Broadcasting House since 1932 but was attacked last year amid calls for it to be removed.

On Tuesday, the BBC said after “careful consideration” taking into account the historical and cultural significance of the building and after discussions with leading cultural organisations such as Historic England, the repair work was agreed with all costs covered through the corporation’s insurance and not the licence fee.

BBC statues attacked
The statue of Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest by the sculptor Eric Gill outside the BBC’s headquarters in central London were damaged with a hammer (Ian West/PA)

Scaffolding went up around the building on Tuesday with expert stonemasons beginning to restore the work, carved from Caen stone, a type of limestone quarried in north-west France, the broadcaster said.

As part of the process to repair the sculpture, additional context will be offered about the artwork and sculptor Gill, while members of the public will be able to access a QR code nearby.

Robert Seatter, head of BBC History, said: “Broadcasting House is a building of historical and cultural significance and one of the foundations of modern-day broadcasting, both in this country and around the world.

“We have a responsibility to maintain and preserve the building for generations to come.

“Alongside this, Gill’s abusive behaviour and lifestyle are well documented and the BBC in no way condones his behaviour. So while it is right that the fabric of the building is restored, we must also ensure people are fully informed about the history connected to it.

“This repair work provides an opportunity to give important context about the art and the artist, as well as the wider significance of the building.

“The debate about whether you can separate the work of an artist from the art itself remains. I hope we are taking steps to help inform that debate.”

BBC statues attacked
The statue was defaced last January (Ian West/PA)

Gill was among the most prominent sculptors of the 20th century until his death in 1940 but his diaries, published much later, detailed the sexual abuse of his daughters.

A biography on the Tate museum website said: “His religious views and subject matter contrast with his sexual behaviour, including his erotic art, and (as mentioned in his own diaries) his extramarital affairs and sexual abuse of his daughters, sisters and dog.”

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition demanding the removal of the sculpture on the website of political activist group 38 Degrees.

The repair work is expected to be completed by the end of June, the BBC confirmed.