Who Still Calls It The Post Office Tower?


Smashing TimeA 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.


9 comments on “Who Still Calls It The Post Office Tower?”

  1. Jo W says:

    I still call it the Post Office Tower,that’s who! My Dad worked in an office not far from there when it was being built. He used to come home with some hair-raising stories of the antics of the builders,wandering about at the top,seemingly without harnesses!

  2. Tom Ruffles says:

    By coincidence I wrote about the Telecom Tower on Monday, though using it as a peg for some more general memories of my time working for British Telecom’s Corporate Relations Department:


    Centre Point was tainted by the scandal of it remaining empty for so long, so it was never likely to be a ‘cool’ destination:


  3. Neil says:

    It will always be the “Post Office Tower” next you’ll tell me they’ve renamed the Millennium Dome?

  4. snowy says:

    I don’t remember changing lifts when I went up. But that was only 20 something years ago and they probably have upgraded the lifts several times since it was built.

    [I do remember not being allowed to press the buttons, there was an attendent to do that.]

    Construction sites in the 60s worked very much on the ‘Darwinian principle’, if you managed to fall off and redistribute yourself as a suprisingly large collection of globules 300′ below. It was just a sign that you weren’t really suited for a career working at heights.

  5. Ken Murray says:

    Oh definitely Post Office Tower! I too once had lunch in the revolving restaurant and remember it as being quite disconcerting and a bit wobbly. However I didn’t change lifts and remember they made a big deal out of the lift’s speed to the top. It was quite a small lift and very Star Trekky. Incidentally I there was also a revolving restaurant scene in Les Patterson Saves the World, with Barry Humphries.

  6. snowy says:

    Thinking about it both could be right, the tower is effectively two buildings one above the other separated by the antenna* decks.

    To get punters to the restaurant a single stage express lift would be just the thing.

    A standard lift would suffice for staff to get to the tech areas in the bottom half. And another standard lift to go from there to the kitchen levels above.

    [*To quote my old boss directly whenever the dread word was used in his presence. “Ariel?, Ariel is a fairy in ‘The Tempest’! It is an ANTENNA!”]

  7. snowy says:

    For those that can get Radio4, Thursday July 4th;

    Ben Wheatly is on the Film Programme talking about ‘A Field in England’.

    And there is a short documentary on Arthur Machen, ‘Arthur in the Underworld’.


    Arthur Machen’s stories of the supernatural twitched the veil between our own world and an underworld populated by gods, demons and malevolent ‘little people’. His themes were visions, dreams and madness and his novel The Hill of Dreams was described on publication as “the most decadent book in the English language”. Machen was also responsible for one of the great myths of the First World War – the story of the ‘Angels of Mons’- and he has inspired generations of horror writers and film-makers, from Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro.

    Machen spent a solitary childhood roaming the hills and woodlands of his native Monmouthshire. He became fascinated by the history and folklore of the border landscapes and the idea that this was a ‘thin place’ which touched supernatural borders too. As a writer he returned to this area again and again in stories which revealed abduction, possession and routes into dark underworlds. By contrast, his other favourite place was London and he was probably the first horror writer to set terrifying events in everyday, suburban settings.


  8. Vivienne Cox says:

    Yes, Post Office Tower.

    Why, oh why did they rename Hungerford Bridge? It wasn’t (even the new ones) built in the right year for its new (deleted) name.

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