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Birmingham's towering landmark dials up golden anniversary

Birmingham's towering landmark dials up golden anniversary
The official opening of the Birmingham radio tower was on October 5, 1967

This well-known Birmingham landmark is taller than St Paul’s Cathedral, weighs the same as about 2,000 trucks and in October celebrated an important golden milestone. For five decades, Birmingham’s tallest building - the BT Tower - has dominated the city’s skyline and helped keep people connected in the West Midlands and beyond.

October 5 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of its official opening by the then Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman James S Meadows. When the 6,000 tonne tower first appeared on Birmingham’s skyline, Engelbert Humperdinck dominated the pop charts, securing the coveted number one spot for the fifth week running with The Last Waltz. Number 10 Downing Street was home to Harold Wilson, war was raging in Vietnam amidst ongoing protests in the USA, and the USSR was preparing to perform a nuclear test. Mr Benn was the latest hit on television for children, who were also looking forward to the premiere of Jungle Book at the cinema.

The BT Tower was designed and constructed by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works from reinforced concrete. It cost more than £3 million and took three years to complete the construction programme. The finishing touches to the landmark building were made during September 1966 and it was officially opened just over a year later. This was marked with a demonstration to showcase some of the tower’s new technology.

A closed-circuit broadcast took place between the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Alderman Cecil Sutton, via a television link, in the presence of the Postmaster General, the Rt Hon Edward Short MP. Alderman Meadows likened the experience to trying out ‘the television phone of the future’.

At just under 500 feet – 151.8 metres – the BT Tower is also still the tallest building in the Midlands. David Hay, BT’s Head of heritage and archives, said: “The Birmingham tower was originally built to boost telephone capacity across the city, as well as to provide a variety of radio and television services around the UK and worldwide. As technologies have changed over the years, the television services have moved over to digital and satellite platforms.”

Nowadays the tower is used for bespoke radio communications services for private customers and companies where, for technical reasons, optical fibre or copper cable cannot be installed, as well as for providing 3G and 4G services for the main mobile phone operators.