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    Any local will tell you – catching a glimpse of the BT Tower’s famous silhouette peeking out of the London skyline is a reassuring sign you’re never far from home. But the history of this cherished landmark is much less widely known; and yet no less intriguing…

    Look up

    The BT Tower was originally commissioned to transmit London’s burgeoning telephone and television traffic to the rest of the UK. Work began in 1961 and the construction used up 13,000 tonnes of concrete, steel and glass. Architects Eric Bedford and G.R. Yeats were responsible for its recognisable façade – the cylindrical shape helps keep the building stable in high winds. Bizarrely, considering its size, the tower was decreed an official “secret” upon completion – it wasn’t included on Ordnance Survey maps until 1993 when it was publicly “revealed” in Parliament.
    The scrolling LED-light display was launched in 2009, and is the largest of its kind in the world. Among the special messages it has beamed out: the Queen’s first tweet, congratulations for the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and falling poppies on Remembrance Day.

    191 metres high
    When it was formally opened by the prime minister in 1965, the BT Tower was the tallest building in London (the spectacular height is in order to ping telecommunications over the Chiltern Hills in the northernmost part of the London basin). It held the title for almost 20 years before being knocked off the top spot by the NatWest Tower in 1981. Two high-speed lifts travel at 25km/h to reach the top of its 37 floors in 30 seconds: in fact, it’s the only building in the country legally allowed to be evacuated by lift.

    22 minutes to rotate
    On the 34th floor is the famous revolving restaurant, which rotates at a speed of 0.17 km/h to give diners panoramic views of the city. During its heyday, in the sixties and seventies, the restaurant entertained the likes of Muhammad Ali and The Beatles. In 1980 it was closed to the public for security reasons, briefly reopening in summer 2015 as a two week pop-up to mark the tower’s 50th anniversary.

    11th tallest building in London

    BT Tower Comparison