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.
I 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.
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.
You 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.
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.