8 October 1965: The Post Office Tower opens

By far the tallest building in London at the time, the Post Office Tower was officially opened by Harold Wilson on this day in 1965.

In the late 1950s, the telecommunications revolution was just getting started. The telephone network was expanding fast, and TV had recently expanded to two stations. The country needed new infrastructure. The options were to lay thousands of miles of costly cables, or build a tower to transmit via microwave. The General Post Office decided on the latter.

And so, a transmission tower was designed for the centre of London. It would carry aerials for the Post Office's microwave network, would be able to handle 150,000 simultaneous telephone connections, and would provide enough bandwidth for 40 channels of black and white or colour television. 

Construction began in June 1961, and took four years at a cost of either £2.5m (if you believe Wikipedia) or £9m (if you believe BT). At 189m (620 feet) high, it was Britain's highest building, overtaking St Paul's Cathedral. It would remain the country's tallest until the 183m National Westminster Tower (now Tower 42') opened in 1980.

The Post Office (now BT) Tower was officially opened on 8 October 1965 by the prime minister, Harold Wilson who made a telephone call to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. And on 19 May 1966, the tower was opened to an eager public by Tony Benn, then the Postmaster General, and Billy Butlin, holiday camp tycoon (Butlin's had taken the lease on the “Top of the Tower”, the 120-seat revolving restaurant on the 34th floor). The price to get in to the tower was 4/- for adults and 2/- for children –  a bargain.

In the first year, nearly one million people took the high-speed lifts to the top; 105,000 of them dined in the restaurant. An Act of Parliament meant that the tower was the only building in the country that it was legal to evacuate by lift in the event of a fire.

But the fun all came to an end in 1971. At 4.30AM, 31 October, a terrorist bomb exploded, causing extensive damage. The tower was closed to casual visitors soon after, by which time 4,632,822 people had ascended. The restaurant closed in 1980.

These days, the tower remains closed to the public, and is used by BT for corporate events. Its distinctive microwave transmitters were removed in 2011, but it is still used as a TV relay centre.

Recommended

Guillaume Pousaz of Checkout.com: the surfer dude catching the fintech wave
People

Guillaume Pousaz of Checkout.com: the surfer dude catching the fintech wave

Guillaume Pousaz moved to California to pursue his love of surfing, and landed in Silicon Valley. He then rode the fintech gold rush to a multi-billio…
23 Jan 2022
Just how green is nuclear power?
Energy

Just how green is nuclear power?

Nuclear power is certainly very clean in terms of carbon emissions, but what about the radioactive waste produced as a byproduct? It’s not as much of …
22 Jan 2022
Why GSK should turn down Unilever’s billions
UK stockmarkets

Why GSK should turn down Unilever’s billions

Unilever has offered GSK £50bn for its consumer division. But while the cash will be a temptation, the deal is not in the interests of shareholders or…
22 Jan 2022
The charts that matter: the start of the big crash?
Global Economy

The charts that matter: the start of the big crash?

US tech stocks fell further this week, more than 10% down on their November high. There’s what happened to the charts that matter most to the global e…
22 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is
Inflation

Ask for a pay rise – everyone else is

As inflation bites and the labour market remains tight, many of the nation's employees are asking for a pay rise. Merryn Somerset Webb explains why yo…
17 Jan 2022
Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing
Investment strategy

Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing

Ian Lance and Nick Purves of the Temple Bar investment trust explain the essence of “value investing” – buying something for less than its intrinsic v…
14 Jan 2022
Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?
Global Economy

Interest rates might rise faster than expected – what does that mean for your money?

The idea that the US Federal Reserve could raise interest rates much earlier than anticipated has upset the markets. John Stepek explains why, and wha…
6 Jan 2022