My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Eating at the top of The Tower

London's Post Office tower was considered the height of luxury back in the 60s. The Revolving restaurant was hailed as "The Most Unique Restaurant in Great Britain" although looking at the photographs now it is not quite as glamorous as my memory would have me believe so perhaps I'm not a million miles away from the brief.


The original Top of the Tower restaurant opened in May 1966 and closed in 1980 amid security fears after an IRA bomb exploded close to the men’s toilets. 


Costing £2 million to construct, the tower is built from 13,000 tons of concrete, steel and glass. At the time of opening it was the tallest building in London and remained so until the building of the NatWest Tower in 1981.

Certificate of Orbit

The bearer has dined in orbit at the Top of the Tower, Butlin's revolving Restaurant, located 525 feet at the top of G.P.O. Tower Maple Street, London, W.1.


J. Arthur Dixon Natural colour photgravure
The Post Office Tower, London, the centre of a new telephone and television communications system. Two lifts convey the public to the top where there is an observation platform, a cocktail bar, and a revolving restaurant.


 Rank’s Look at Life documentary footage from 1966 on You Tube



We visited the Top of the Tower restaurant in the spring of 1969. Terry and I are on the left (as you look at the photo) with our friends Pauline and Michael on the right. Notice how Pauline and I are doing our best model poses for the camera!  Contrast that with the next photo where we have all dissolved into laughter over something or other. How I wish I could remember what! Sadly, Michael died a few years ago, but we are still in touch with Pauline and the three of us meet up from time to time. 



Today, the renamed BT Tower serves as a television network switching centre. Parts of the building are occasionally used for charity events and earlier this summer a pop-up restaurant served lunch and dinner to 1,400 diners selected at random by public ballot. The event celebrated half a century since the tower was officially opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 8th October 1965.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday No. 293. To see the other Sepia Saturday posts go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.



The Certificate of Orbit and postcards are from my own collection.

22 comments:

  1. Interesting that the Post Office Tower appears to have been run by Butlin's. I think people usually go to these places for the view rather than the food, even if it is claimed to be haute cuisine, as the video says. We celebrated my father's 70th birthday in the revolving restaurant of Sydney's Centrepoint Tower in 1994, and another high one we've been up for lunch was the Vancouver Tower.

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    1. Hi Jo, I guess Butlin’s is the clue when thinking of the food, although I honestly don’t remember what it was like – which probably speaks volumes.
      We’ve visited Sydney but didn’t have time to try Centrepoint Tower – maybe next time.

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  2. This seems to match the theme to me. I've dined in places with amazing views but never in a revolving restaurant. I wonder if the wait staff ever loses track of their customers.

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    1. Hi Wendy, when I started writing the post I was thinking a restaurant wasn't quite the thing, but you are right it did end up being on theme in the end. Thanks for your visit, Barbara

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  3. I'd be terrified up there! But the four of you were having a wonderful time; I'm glad you're still seeing Pauline...

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    1. Hello Deb, it didn’t worry me at the time, but I don’t think I would like it now. I am just back from a day out with Pauline – morning coffee, followed by lunch, followed by afternoon tea and a jolly good natter – perfect!

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  4. I had no idea London had a tower like that. Interesting shape. My husband has eaten in the Space Needle restaurant in Seattle. The closest I can come to that is having drinks in the revolving bar atop San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. I'm glad someone or something finally got you to smile in that second photograph of your foursome.

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    1. I was doing my best super model pose never guessing I looked like a sulky madam. Twiggy was all the rage at the time and in my head I looked exactly like her! How funny.
      The Space Needle sounds rather more exciting that the Post Office Tower.

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    2. Or dare I say that Posh woman these days. She never smiles. I often wonder if she has bad teeth !!!

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    3. She does smile - just not that often. See this article from The Mail Online
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2171224/Victoria-Beckham-does-smile-But-pictures-does-year.html

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    4. Thanks for that link, Barbara Quite amazing. ! have never seen her smile before and she has so much to look happy about... I hink you were incredibly brave going up in the Post Office Tower. I have no head for heights like that.

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    5. My pleasure! I don't think I gave the height a moments thought back then - I would now though.

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  5. The tower was closed in the years I lived in London during the early 80s. I remember it only as a useful, albeit ugly, landmark for urban navigation. Today I'm lost in the new high-rise skyline of East London. At least they haven't straightened the Thames!

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  6. I have never been up the Post Office Tower and I had no idea the restaurant was run by Butlins, which conveys quite a different image from one of glamour. I once stayed at Butlins at Ayr on the west coast of Scotland - do they still call them "holiday camps"? It was the 1960's and I was at a youth conference held at the end of the season when the ordinary punters had just gone home and the centre closed down for the winter. I can't remember too much about it. apart from the mass catering in a school canteen style dining room. Which reminded me that somewhere I have a black and white photograph of us at a meal and I could have shown it in my post.this week.

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    1. I didn’t realise it either until I started putting this post together. Looking online it appears ‘holiday camps’ has been changed to holiday resorts. It certainly makes them sound a bit better but I’m sure those of us that remember them from years ago will always refer to them as camps. I hope you get a chance to share the photograph, I would love to see it.

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  7. Loves the pictures of you and your friends. The ice bucket must have been awaiting something very special. I had the same hair as you around that time.

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    1. Hello Helen, I’m sure we must have been celebrating something but I don’t remember what. It would be nice to think the ice bucket was awaiting a bottle of champagne – but I honestly can’t say.
      I really liked my hair like that, I’ve tried various other styles since but still prefer that one not that it looks remotely like that now. Barbara

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  8. What a fantastic selection of truly frightful hats in that doco. I had no idea that the tower was built in the 60s. Such a great post. Thank you.

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    1. Hello Alex, I had to go and take a second look – and you are absolutely right!

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  9. Your Tower photos reminded me of Seattle's Space Needle. It rises over 500' above the city and the restaurant and observation deck make one revolution an hour. The only time I ate at that beautiful restaurant, I was too mortified by my Aunt Gail standing in the aisle, waving her huge red napkin to get a waiter's attention. Embarrassing for a 14 year old. I should have been enjoying her specialness, as well as the gorgeous view.

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    1. Hi Joan, I just love your Aunt Gail! However, I do understand why at 14 you would have been embarrassed. My mum used to embarrass me all the time now I behave exactly like her!

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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