25 March 2012 3 Comments

Hard hats and Trim phones

You’ll have to forgive the murky pictures but I’ve had a fabulous experience this week. One of the real perks of the job.

I was invited to explore the BT Tower, a building that has real resonance for me. As a kid, I watched it being built and was astonished something that shape could stand without toppling over. As a grown up, I still love it. A functional, striking and brave icon of Sixties London and still the hub of live pictures and digital data.

IMG-20120322-00891I joined a group of people who work for BT – they were as excited as I was to explore the parts very few get to see. Even my fear of lifts, heights and ladders couldn’t spoil the experience. For the record, I climbed right to the roof and even scaled the ladder on that spindly lattice tower on the very top.

The building gives up secrets at every turn. The original staircase to the “cocktail bar” viewing deck, wittily altered signs, riggers with deep affection for the building keen to share their memories of working there.

Tower Facts

The building was officially a secret until the mid 1990s and did not appear on official maps.

The QE2 Bridge is the furthest landmark you can see from the Tower

It had to be so tall so that it could beam calls over the Chiltern hills on the north rim of the London basin.

The building moves less than 25 centimetres  in wind speeds of up to 95 mph

I collected a ew of my own factoids as I went along. 99% of live football pictures come through the Tower. The outside of the windows were last cleaned in 1994 but no-one can remember the insides ever being cleaned. (In Bob the Rigger’s office where we collected hard hats, I can vouch for this).



The building is just as curious inside as out. The service lift might look like a padded cell with protective cladding over the glass walls but shot up the building in 30 seconds.


The Media Centre on the Second Floor. When 'X Factor" dropped off your screen, these people would have leapt from their desks

IMG-20120322-00906You leave the high tech control room, with banks of people pouring over monitors, to floors that time forgot, hosting wonderful racks of original 60s telecoms bakelite equipment, still there because they’re too costly to remove.It’s Marie Celeste like –  pin boards with references to radio stations and Codex. Seventies trim phones. A geek treasure trove.

Yes, he's looking where the sat dishes used to be but I'm looking at the drop

Yes, he's looking where the sat dishes used to be but I'm looking at the drop

I walked on terrifyingly open balconies looking at the empty “horns ” where the microwave dishes were once bolted. Or rather the others did. I was mesmerised by that flimsy metal balcony.

Then it was down to the very foundations. To the reinforced concrete”pyramid” on which the tower sits and to an eerie quiet. If you have memories or facts about the tower, do share them.


3 Responses to “Hard hats and Trim phones”

  1. Paul Greatrix 25 March 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    My Dad, Mike, worked on the windows in the GPO tower as it was being built. He was involved in fitting the windows and worked on it for 2-3 years. He also spent a lot of time showing people round (and taking them for lunch afterwards – he was pretty popular in local restaurants).

    I have a photo of him (somewhere) hanging from the top of the tower with a large pane of glass in his hands. Really scary. Later in life he really came to dislike heights. I’m not surprised.

  2. Eric Smith 25 March 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    I have great memories of queuing to be admitted to the viewing area in the late sixties with my uncle, then being led into the lift and feeling your stomach being left on the ground as the lift shot you up SO fast! Reaching the viewing area and walking around marvelling at being up so high and looking down on the rest of London, magic days!!

  3. Damon Hart-Davis 25 March 2012 at 12:55 pm #


    I’ve been up once to the restaurant, and you’ll be amazed to hear that my Vodafone didn’t get great signal strength, whereas when I worked in a basement in Fitzroy Square with line of sight to the top of the tower from my desk my BT Cellnet phone practically glowed!