Who Still Calls It The Post Office Tower?
A terrific recent article on The Great Wen (check out the site if you haven’t before) reminds me of the iconic status of the Post Office/GPO/Telecoms Tower (if only they had given the damned thing a name to start with).
In 1962, while still under construction, the BT Tower overtook St Paul’s Cathedral to become the tallest building in London. The tower was commissioned by the GPO to support microwave ariels used to carry telecoms traffic from London to the rest of the country.
It replaced a much shorter steel lattice tower which had been built on the roof of the neighbouring Museum telephone exchange in the late 1940s to provide a television link between London and Birmingham. The taller structure was required to protect the radio links’ line of sight against some of the tall buildings in London then in the planning stage.
By the time I started worked the tower had already been bombed (probably by the Angry Brigade) and the restaurant closed, but years later, after I wrote ‘Roofworld’, I was invited to the top by the Sunday Times. You had to switch elevators halfway up because the tower was so slender that it bent in the wind. It was an incredibly narrow space and very naff; a woman came around with a tea trolley and Peek Frean biscuits.
Now, of course, the blank dead tower of the Shard makes this look like a pimple, but when the tower restaurant first opened it was the coolest place in London for top people to dine. Oddly, Centrepoint, which has the same styling on a slightly bigger floor space never caught the public imagination in the same way.
In the film ‘Smashing Time’ a celeb-filled bash at the top goes wrong when the restaurant’s rotation is sped up. The restaurant was always doomed because it’s so very small, and at that time nobody understood economy of scale, so the bombing provided a convenient excuse to close it.
Its sixties styling could I suppose be described as ‘Thunderbirds London’ – big red switches, chromium trims, flashing lights, glass and steel panels, swivel chairs. It was a style much detested at the time, but now seems sexy and retro. Sixties style seems to be the last period of architecture people have grown to love apart from certain recent innovations (see the article coming after this), but its two key buildings, the tower and Centrepoint, remain virtually invisible to most Londoners, although they pinpoint a key moment in the 20th century. I used the location in ‘The Casebook of Bryant & May’ graphic novel.