back to article BT Tower is just a relic? Wrong: It relays 18,000hrs of telly daily

The Post Office Tower in London, adorned with microwave dishes and resembling a gigantic Star Trek gadget, symbolised the UK's white heat for technology in the 1960s. The tower in 2009 before the dishes were removed (Credit: David Castor) In an era of transistor radios as a fashion accessory, the space race, and the …

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  1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  2. Parax

    "resembling a gigantic Star Trek gadget"

    But the Sonic Screw Driver is from Dr Who.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: "resembling a gigantic Star Trek gadget"

      The then brand-new Post Office Tower (as I will always call it) starred in the Doctor Who story, The War Machines - where it hosted an evil supercomputer. Hold on... Joe wasn't allowed into some parts of the building.

      I bloody love that tower. For something quite so big it does hide itself quite well at street level, you only get the occasional glimpse until you're really quite close and then it is towering over you.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sell it to

      The Americans, someone there will buy it......

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    they’re wary of cutting someone off unexpectedly

    Really? Since when?

    But more seriously - I'm glad the tower is still in use.

  4. Can't think of anything witty...
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    it's really interesting to find out a bit about something as iconic as the BT tower. Just one thought though... the £3.28 admission fee would be nearer £50 these days if you add inflation into the mix.

    (http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/calculator/flash/default.aspx)

    Suddenly the shard doesn't look quite as expensive...

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: £50

      I don't have to hand how Joe calculated that figure, but according to the National Archives, 1965's 4 shillings = 2005's £2.57. So Joe's £3.28 isn't far off the mark.

      C.

      1. Chris Miller
        Pint

        Re: £50

        I think Joe used the same BoE site; £1 in 1965 equates to £16.39 in 2012 money, so four bob (20p) equals £3.28. My first legal pint (c. 1970) cost 1/11 so I could have got two pints for the cost of the trip up the Tower, whereas £3.28 will barely buy you a pint in London today.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: £50

          4/- (£3.28) feels right - we went up the Tower not long after it opened. As a schoolboy on our radio club's annual coach visit to London for the RSGB Exhibition - that would have felt affordable for a special treat. My weekly pocket money then was 1/- (5p). The Tube fares were still only old coppers to shuttle between the war surplus junk shops in Tottenham Court Road, Praed Street, and Edgware Road. In Proops I bought a short length of that new magic material - fibre optic cable.

          When walking along Greek Street and Lisle Street the older members of the club formed an outrider escort to shield the teenagers from the strip club touts and the ladies standing in doorways .

          1. Ivan Headache

            Re: £50

            Yes. Whatever happened to Proops?

            (and Gamages, come to think of it)

            1. smileypete
              Thumb Up

              Re: £50

              Proops Brothers are still around:

              http://www.proopsbrothers.com/history.html

              (Bought some very nice box jointed stainless pliers and cutters a few years back for £not much)

        2. Peter27x
          Pint

          Re: £50 / Shard Avoidance.

          A trip up Monument costs something like £3:50 at the moment, and gives a fantastic view out over London. Unfortunately there are no high speed lifts to wisk you to the top, it's 311 steps!

          I believe you can visit the Bar at the top of Tower 42 (the Natwest tower) for the price of a drink, thus the pint glass icon.

          1. Can't think of anything witty...
            Facepalm

            Re: £50 / Shard Avoidance.

            And that is why i should never post something up when i have a hangover.... reading it again i see that the 4 shillings reference is there and even i know that is 20 (new) p and so nearer £3.50.

            Oops.

          2. Maharg
            Pint

            Re: £50 / Shard Avoidance.

            The main reason to avoid the Shard, as well as the BT Tower and to a lesser extent the Wheel (although that is good to go on) is because you want to see them, they are part of the skyline,

            I suggest something like the Heron Tower, it’s got a bar at the top

    2. Phil Endecott Silver badge

      Re: Great article

      > Just one thought though... the £3.28 admission fee would be nearer £50 these days

      > if you add inflation into the mix

      £3.28 IS the inflation-adjusted price. The original price was 4 shillings, i.e. 20p.

  5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Engine room and war rooms? It's a spaceship!

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Given it's mobility constraints, I would say a space ship designed by a government committee :-)

    2. Graham Marsden
      Coat

      @J.G.Harston

      I thought that was Kings Reach Tower (Original home of 2000AD and Earth Base of Tharg the Mighty!)

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      "Engine room and war rooms? It's a spaceship!"

      You've never read the surreal comic novel "T-minus tower" then?

      It's the rotating restaurant.

      Instant artificial gravity.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Does it use bistromath?

  6. Chazmon
    Thumb Up

    tall buildings

    A fair few of London's tall buildings are clustered together but the best views can be had from the isolated ones.

    I was fortunate enough to go up Queens Tower at Imperial College (all the way to the roof unofficially) and the views were amazing. Both should be preserved as iconic in their own way.

    1. Bob H
      Thumb Up

      Re: tall buildings

      Despite being scared of heights I've been on top of Millbank Tower, BBC East Tower (next to TVC), Barbican Tower, Swiss RE (Gherkin) and The Shard (*cough* didn't pay *cough*). But I've never made it all the way up BT Tower despite having visited the broadcast facilities more times than I dare to count.

      The Shard is very impressive, more so for looking down than for looking across.

      BBC East Tower was (at the time) more isolated than most and intriguing to see the vista.

      The Gherkin might be architecturally special but the view is modest in the context of the surroundings.

      Millbank Tower is most interesting for its neighbours

      Barbican: the roof layout doesn't help those of us who are scared of heights.

  7. J.G.Harston Silver badge
    Unhappy

    "but you can get an idea of the view here"

    Argh! WTF?!? You drag the view left, but it scrolls RIGHT!

    1. Tachikoma

      Must be inspired by Apples "natural gesture" scrolling, the absolute first thing I change after rebuilding a Mac.

    2. graeme leggett

      "You drag the view left, but it scrolls RIGHT"

      Yes it feels strange that you send the mouse in one direction and it behaves more like an aeroplane than your usual desktop. Cracking panorama though - well worth the momentary mental disconnect.

  8. Senior Ugli

    The first page I thought the register had gone all urbex

  9. Test Man
    Stop

    Not that I watch it (I kinda do... sssssshhhh! :D ) but I remember a year or two ago, a broadcast of X Factor was delayed by around 20-40 mins because the power to BT Tower's was knocked out.

    In fact... http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/14/bt_xfactor_outage/

    I hope they upgraded the power coverage since.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, but....

      Down voted....

      Stopping X-Factor one down vote at a time.....

      1. Test Man
        Happy

        Re: Sorry, but....

        HAHA fair enough.

  10. Cthonus
    Thumb Up

    Sod the Shard, I'd happily pay £24.95 for a proper tour around a real iconic building.

  11. sandman

    The Shard

    Anyone else think that the Shard should really have the Eye of Sauron held in its spiky bits?

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: The Shard

      Nah. Use green lighting, a few baubles, and stick a fairy on top. It's a giant Shardmas tree,

      1. TheWeenie

        Re: The Shard

        I dunno if they did it last year, but the year before, when it was being built, they put coloured lights in the windows so from a distance, it actually did look like a giant Christmas tree!

        1. Bunbury

          Re: The Shard

          When the Shard was still under construction in (I think) December 2011 the combination of incomplete top, the horizontal anchoring of the construction crane and lots of Christmas lights, plus lager made it look surprisingly like a dalek.

          Is it deliberately designed as a pyramid to match the hospital next door which is obviously a camel?

    2. Mikey

      Re: The Shard

      Nah, illuminate the glass part at the top in bright red, project a Brotherhood of Nod symbol on the side... Instant obelisk!

    3. zaax
      Devil

      Re: The Shard

      It does, but its just a step out of phase, and therefore we mortals can not see it.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alert

    Claw marks

    But what about the giant kitten!?

  13. gaz 7
    Joke

    Interesting article

    very interesting and enjoyable.

    for the next one can I suggest that someone takes you up the OXO tower

    someone had to!

  14. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    Sir

    "Wing said all signals are always sent via two geographically diverse paths to customers"

    Are they still touting that old bullshit.

    They've been selling this for years and occasionally still come a cropper when some tit on the underground cuts through a bearer cable, then all those supposed 'diverse routes' suddenly seem to go down at once - odd that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sir

      Sure, one signal goes down one path, the other about 10 mm away in the cable. They're geographically diverse paths!

    2. Bob H
      FAIL

      Re: Sir

      I also remember when the 'special' tower video facilities switch decided to go haywire and 20% of the routes remapped themselves randomly, all sorts of chaos ensued and they took an absolute age to 'reboot' the control systems. I think it happened more than once in my 5 years using them.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Sir

      Yup, still touting it.

      And they go amazingly quiet when you start demanding to know the exact paths taken in order to ensure they're not running 2 circuits down the same road or duct.

  15. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Boffin

    telecoms your granddad would recognise...

    Young whippersnappers!

    The BBC used a lot of GPO technology and was built on those 'christmas tree' terminations; they were there in Broadcasting House until it was rebuilt and the old control room went away; they were there in Bush House when it closed; and I recall wiring to them in Cardiff in 2010.

    These days it's all Krone IDC blocks - klunk and you're done, no worries about hot work permits and unearthed soldering irons!

    /me suddenly remembers, er, he is a grandfather...

  16. Bill Neal
    Thumb Up

    As an American...

    I was impressed when I first saw BT tower from the streets of London. I have seen many comms towers in the US, but nothing as practical looking as this multi-use structure. I'm surprised we don't see more comms equipment on large buildings in the US. There are some, but I feel there is a missed opportunity for some architectural aesthetic value. I think BT tower would fit in with any of our major cities.

    1. Spoonsinger
      Coat

      Re: "I think BT tower would fit in with any of our major cities."

      pssssst, do you want to buy it? Can do you a good deal like, and am willing to throw in the New Scotland Yard building as a bonus. (The coat is in no way shady).

      1. John Gamble
        Coat

        Re: "I think BT tower would fit in with any of our major cities."

        Buy it? Hmm, might be out of my price range, but tell you what. I'm willing to trade you one of our bridges in Brooklyn for the tower. Toss in a couple jars of Marmite and you've got a deal.

        1. Spoonsinger

          Re: Toss in a couple jars of Marmite!

          Foreign Marmite, (and variants), taste like sick. No Deal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As an American...

      There are a few examples, some of which are pretty well disguised. Two examples from Minneapolis, MN that come to mind are the old NW Bell/US West/Qwest/Centurylink building:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CenturyLink_Building

      The Capella Tower (nee US Bank building) also comes to mind (the "halo" is primarily used to support antennae)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capella_Tower

  17. Len Silver badge
    Holmes

    Telly, and the wireless

    As of April 2012 the BT Tower is also a major transmitter for five of the UK's DAB muxes.

    BBC National DAB 12B at 800W

    D1 National 11D at 800W

    London 1 12C at 800W

    London 2 12A at 710W

    London 3 11B at 800W

    http://www.ukfree.tv/dabtx.php?tx=TQ292819

    http://www.radiocentre.org/latest-industry-news/london-gets-dab-signal-boost

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Telly, and the wireless

      Yeah, but... it's DAB.

      Who cares?

  18. DrBobK
    Happy

    I used to live directly across the road from it when I was a student (Ramsey Hall, UCL). Made finding your way home very easy!

  19. OffBeatMammal
    Alien

    thanks!

    great article. many moons ago I used to work "next door" in CenterPoint and from my (sometimes alarmingly swaying) window I looked out onto the Tower and wondered what mysterious things happened there.

    I did go to Black Mountain in Aus (another revolving restaurant on a telecom tower) as well as CenterPoint in Sydney, Sky Tower in Auckland and the Space Needle in Seattle so I've had my fill of revolving dinners ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: thanks!

      There was revolving restaurant in Cape Town in 1973. It was not very high and the rotation not very smooth. The locals' dining technique was to pile up all three courses from the buffet on the first visit. Anyone approaching it sequentially found very little left for 'seconds' or dessert. The best view in town was of course from the top of Table Mountain - if it wasn't cloudy. The cafe at the peak served a decent toasted cheese sandwich.

      A memorable "high" dinner was in Stockholm. A gantry perched on top of a cliff overlooking the main harbour. The entertainment was the bird's-eye view of a Finland ferry docking. The first few passengers staggering walking down the short gangway collapsed before they reached the quay. They weren't called "booze cruises" for nothing.

  20. Neil B
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    Thanks for that. I have the warm feelings.

  21. boombelly
    Pint

    Homing beacon

    An old school friend used to live right at the base of the BT tower when he was a student. No matter how drunk he got anywhere in London, he always knew the right way to go to get home.

  22. JaitcH
    FAIL

    London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

    London has been abused; it's skyline a momumental hodge podge of buildings of many heights. London is no longer remarkable, it is simply a copy of so many other world cities.

    Paris has restricted the unfettered littering of the skyline, restricting highrises to well defined areas.

    Most of Paris's high-rise buildings are located in three distinct areas, which are: La Défense, located in the western inner suburbs in the département of the Hauts-de-Seine; Italie 13, located in the southern half of the 13th arrondissement; Front de Seine, located in the 15th arrondissement.

    London? Just wanton desecration, pure sacrilege.

    1. captain veg

      Re: London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

      I know you wrote "most of", but the second tallest tower is Montparnasse in the 14th, and the first is Eiffel in the 7th arrondissement. The latter also bears a lot of radio gear, including Paris' telly transmitters. I'm not aware of it having any underground war rooms or similar, though.

      -A.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

        And Guy de Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the Eiffel tower's restaurant every day, because it was the only place in Paris from which the Eiffel tower wasn't visible.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

          Eeh lad - nowt beats t' tower at Blackpool.

        2. captain veg

          Re: London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

          Hmm. He'd love the view today of the Montparnasse carbuncle.

          -A.

    2. graeme leggett

      Re: London - same old, same old: Paris the historic past preserved

      Imagine what the London skyline would look like if they had built that 100-or-so storey mausoleum pyramid at Primrose Hill in the 19th Century

  23. Ian Emery Silver badge
    Alert

    AM I the only.....

    pedantic old fart who is going to complain that it isnt a Henry in the basement??

    Henry is red and black!!!

    All in all an enjoyable read though

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AM I the only.....

      I've got a blue one right here, clearly says Henry on it.

      They do them in sundry colours these days :)

    2. SirDigalot

      Re: AM I the only.....

      we had a Charles and it was Blue and black bloody good worker he was too! they don't make them like him anymore!

      well they are probably the same but when Charles was committed to silicon heaven it was like a death in the family, he is probably frolicking with all the calculators!

      1. richard 7
        Mushroom

        Re: AM I the only.....

        I remember talking to the boss in reception one day when the elderly, and possibly insane caretaker walked out the front door with henry and an extension lead. When quizzed he reponded he had spilt some petrol in the van and was cleaning it up. We both nodded, the required 10 seconds resumption of our conversation followed by silence and then 'he said what!?' and a mad dash into the car park to find it raining bits of Henry.

      2. Mike Richards Silver badge

        Re: AM I the only.....

        'when Charles was committed to silicon heaven it was like a death in the family, he is probably frolicking with all the calculators!'

        Is that where Roombas come from?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I went up in the 60s. Someone managed to squeeze an apple through the bars in the public gallery. it made quite a splat!

    I still have somewhere the original brochure, I was much impressed with the multi-plate bus bars that feed the power in.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Visitor's gallery...

    ... had a main floor with fixed glass windows but there was another visitor floor just below which had open windows with just a wire grid to stop you jumping off or something. Speculation was rife about just how high one of those silicon rubber bouncy balls would bounce if dropped. I had just enough sense of responsibility to refrain from experimenting.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The BBC regularly repeat the Rank Organisation's cinema 1960s documentaries "Britain on Film". One episode - possibly "The Joy of Tech" - included the newly finished rotating restaurant and its views. They also showed the window cleaners standing in the cradle at a fixed spot - and the windows came to them.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    YTOW anyone?

    I had a similar visit up one of the regional towers in the 70's, little did I then suspect that the petrol station in front of the regional tower was (allegedly, but seriously!) a soviet IED sleeper-cell. nice map of the Defense aspects of the BT towers at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b7/GPO_Backbone_map.jpg

  28. Snar
    Pint

    Shrinking antenna galleries

    I've noticed over the years a dramatic reduction in the number of horns and dishes on the Birmingham BT tower, the older analogue links being replaced by fewer smaller digital ones. The silent drawing to an end of a chapter in communications engineering.

  29. BlueGreen

    It was the tallest thing in London until ... 1980

    Not relevant but reminded me, I read that the parthenon was the largest free standing domed structure for 1,600 years until america built something bigger in the '60s. IIRC but it puts it in perspective.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: It was the tallest thing in London until ... 1980

      You're thinking of the Pantheon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_domes.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Gimp

    "Doctor Who Is Required"

    Fans of the tower should watch the Doctor Who story "The War Machines" where a self aware computer is installed at the top of it and tries to take over the world.

  31. Carl W

    I went up there in 2003 and got a fantastic panorama pic of the London skyline by sticking my camera in the window and getting it to take a picture every minute. The gherkin was under construction at the time.

  32. Turtle

    Yeah but....

    "BT Tower is just a relic? Wrong: It relays 18,000hrs of telly daily"

    Yeah but who watches 18,000 hours of television a day?

    1. SoaG
      Joke

      Re: Yeah but....

      "Yeah but who watches 18,000 hours of television a day?"

      My ex-wife.

  33. We're all in it together
    Unhappy

    For those visitng the tower

    The toilets aren't on the revolving floor so if you spend a while looking for them by the time you get back you'll find your buffet lunch table has moved - and worse still all the tuna rolls will have gone :-(

  34. Paul Rawdon

    The complete 'Our World' (1967) broadcast is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H9IhSJ6ZjA

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    18000 hours?

    I know how it feels, I worked 531 days last year, 91 hours a day.

  36. Dig
    Mushroom

    Earthquake in London

    Nice link to the panoramic picture. Didn't realise a small earthquake had hit London though.

    http://btlondon2012.co.uk/pano.html?view.hlookat=-97.0579&view.vlookat=6.0491&view.fov=3.2600&imarkerath=-97.0579&imarkeratv=6.0491

  37. Oldfogey
    Thumb Up

    Those generators......

    A very long time ago I placed the contract to install those big generators in the basement (someone else ordered the huge battery banks need whilst the gensets were running up).

    They weren't just for strikes or war emergency - a large proportion of London's phone and TV went through the tower.

    During the Royal Wedding (Diana) transmission, some idiot in a JCB put the bucket straight through the main power feed to the tower. Nobody watching noticed. Job well done.

  38. pryork

    Memories...

    Iconic, thanks to other posters brings back memories. I was also lucky to have a visit up the tower with my to be wife in late 70's. It was quite a wow thing we had lived in london some time and always seeing it on the horizon. Our trip with thanks to my first work boss at time, I had been abroad and not able to make the works do so he fixed this! Thanks Barry - we loved it though I never gave you the bill!.

  39. Christian Berger Silver badge

    I don't get the reasoning of the headline

    I mean sure, microwave links become a niche, though I'm surprised they actually removed all those dishes, just giving those spaces to radio hams and Freifunk enthusiasts would put it into good use.

    However it's current use to the BT is completely independent of its shape. It's a building, it got sensible amounts of fibre to it, it has a generator so they use it for backend broadcast systems. Of course it's a serious decision, but would it have been an office building with the same infrastructure, they would have taken that one.

    So yes it's a relic even though they still get some use out of it.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Radio mast

    Does anyone know what the VHF/UHF dipoles on the lattice mast right at the very top of the tower are for and if they are still active?

    One looks like an old army MOULD antenna; the others UHF high band - maybe PMR?

    Always wondered what they were for and if they were a legacy from the cold war; they would have seriously good coverage.

  41. Chris Holford
    Coat

    Microwave links - cold war

    ISTR being told that the new Russian Trade Mission building in Highgate 'just happened' to be built directly under one of the microwave links from the Post Office Tower.

    There's a tinfoil hat in my coat pocket.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if I could take my girlfriend, dog or mate up the BT Tower :)

  43. Neoc
    Coat

    "and students were revolting"

    Person 1: "The students are revolting?"

    Person 2: "Students are always revolting. But this time they're rebelling too."

  44. maidbloke
    Coat

    Lift me up

    Great article.

    Did you ask Dave, the lift operator with 25 years service, what he thinks of his job?

    "It has its ups and downs."

  45. TechGeezer

    How about the sister sites??? Anchor Exchange especially.

    Interesting report. I enjoyed that. But what's happening at the sister sites in Birmingham and Manchester? Anchor is a site that melts any West Midland as they get close to home, yet it too is looking a bit bare. Worth checking out!

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