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A makeover for London’s BT Tower

Knowing my fondness for pictures of London’s Big Things, taken from irregular places, South African blogger 6k (a scroll down there is recommended) has just emailed me with a link to this Daily Telegraph picture, which is a view from near the top of London’s BT Tower, of such things as the Gherkin, the more distant Docklands Towers, and the now nearly completed Shard. Yes indeed, well worth a click and a look. I know I’ve said it many times before, but I love how, with this new internet thing they’ve installed recently, people six thousand miles away can email you to tell you about interesting things in your own back yard.

But the real story here is not the view from the BT Tower. It is what the view of the BT Tower is going to look like from now on, and why:

BT Tower press officer Ian Reed said: “The huge dishes are synonymous with the tower and it truly is the end of an era. With the introduction of fibreoptic cable, the satellites have been defunct for many years and have reached the end of their lifetime. People will remember the dishes from when they were children – they were responsible for 90 per cent of the TV shown in the country. They were a landmark and could be seen all over London.”

I had no idea this was going to happen. [LATER: And either the DT or Ian Reed has it wrong also. As commenter Roue de Jour explains: "They're not satellite dishes they're microwave dishes. They point to similar dishes on masts on a line-of-sight. Satellites are not involved in any way."]

Here are a couple of before and after shots of the Tower, how it looked and how it now looks. And here are two shots I took of this tower, with its big dishes, in February 2006.

I wonder what will happen next? Will they just fill in the gaps with dreary windows and office space? Or will new and different high tech contraptions be installed? I fear and expect the former, but hope for the latter.

LATER: See also another amazing London tower picture, the very first one of these. Those are the Docklands towers.

16 comments to A makeover for London’s BT Tower

  • Dave Walker

    I was up in that part of London yesterday, for a workshop just down from Covent Garden, and I was wondering what looked different about the tower; thanks for answering the question I hadn’t got round to asking :-).

    The tower’s lit up in purple right now – perhaps for Christmas, perhaps for another reason – and looks great. Now it’s lost the dishes, perhaps more can be made of it as an iconic piece of architecture.

    I also can’t help but see a considerable resemblance between it and Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver. Would the BBC props department care to comment, I wonder?

  • I may end up having to bow to local expertise — but those don’t look like satellite dishes to me. They’re pointing horizontally. Might they be microwave communications dishes instead?

  • David Roberts

    Lets hope they manage to open the revolving restaurant again to rival the Shard’s static restaurant.

  • Dave Walker

    Yup, the dishes were point-to-point microwave.

  • Roue le Jour

    Obviously no telecomms knowledge is required to be the BT Tower press officer. They’re not satellite dishes they’re microwave dishes. They point to similar dishes on masts on a line-of-sight. Satellites are not involved in any way.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I also thought they were microwave dishes, not satellite, there’s another duplicate “Post Office Tower” in Birmingham that some of them communicated with.

  • My God, I have exposed the BT press officer as an idiot without even realising I was doing it. It simply never occurred to me that this could be technologically ridiculous.

  • Although, I wouldn’t put it past the Daily Telegraph to have been responsible for this error. One should never rule out the possibility of serious misquotation by a journo.

  • Runcie Balspune

    It looks like the headline says “microwave”, but the URL still has “satellite”.

  • The Eiffel Tower was originally intended to be demolished after twenty years. One thing that saved it in 1909 was that it had become useful for radio transmissions.

    I guess it is no longer needed and can now be pulled down.

  • John K

    I believe the microwave dishes on the Post Office Tower were part of the Linesman air defence system. You can still see similar microwave relay towers dotted around the country. The tower in London was much the same, except it had a revolving restaurant on top until the IRA set off a bomb in it.

  • It wasn’t the IRA. It was the Angry Brigade.

  • llamas

    I saw it going up.

    Before the circular antennae, it had a number of wedge-shaped microwave horns on it at various levels that gave it a strange, flower-like appearance.

    I was inside the tower twice, my Dear Old Dad (MHRIP) had to do with some of the equipments and snuck me in. I remember being fascinated by the mechanism of the revolving restaurant, – I didn’t grasp how such a tiny motor could move such a massive arrangement – but absolutely amazed at how primitive it all was – haphazard bits of angle iron bolted together any which way. It did not look like an engineered solution to me.



  • The Eiffel Tower was originally intended to be demolished after twenty years. One thing that saved it in 1909 was that it had become useful for radio transmissions.

    It was also useful for advertising Citroën. ;-)

    (I hope I don’t get smited for this!)

  • London is a long way north. If a satellite dish is communicating with a satellite in an equatorial orbit, the dish is a lot closer to the horizontal than to the vertical. (It can be anything between 0 and 31 degrees elevation, depending on the orbit of the satellite).

    That said, these were indeed microwave dishes.

  • John K

    It wasn’t the IRA. It was the Angry Brigade.

    I realise that Wikipedia isn’t without fault, but they back up my memory that it was the IRA. A shame anyway, I would quite like to have had the chance to visit the revolving restaurant.