Friday 31 July 2020

Time Stands Still

Big Ben is sadly silent at the moment, as extensive restoration work is being done on the "Elizabeth Tower". I was thinking about this on Monday, as I watched Robert Powell playing Richard Hannay, in the 1978 film "The Thirty Nine Steps".The denouement of the film is Hannay hanging on the minute hand of the clock, attempting to prevent it reaching the quarter hour and triggering the bomb.Trying to make time stand still.

I had always wondered if that was an accurate image of the clockface, or if the size had been altered for cinematic effect. Powell was actually dangling from a model of the dial in Pinewood Studios. Then I came across this picture. 
These are four trained abseilers, cleaning the clockface as part of the current restoration project.You can see that the film set was pretty accurate! I should point out that Buchan's original novel does not end in this way, probably the
2008 film with Rupert Penry Jones is closer to the book. The staircase has extensive damage, and much repair work is going on during the project. And no - the steps are not in multiples of 39 - there are 
334 steps from ground level to belfry and a further 65 to the Ayrton Light. This lantern was installed at the very top of the tower in 1885 - at the request of Queen Victoria. It shines whenever the House is sitting-
Her Majesty was able to see this light from Buckingham Palace, and know her chaps in Government were hard at work! Currently the Lantern, very rusty and in a right mess, is away for repair, and there are four temporary lights, one at each corner.
What started as idle speculation about the accuracy of the dangling Hannay ended up with lots of interesting discoveries about the  ongoing conservation at the "Mother Of Parliaments" - mostly gleaned from the Parliament Website. The great Bell, Big Ben, is 161 years old, and was cast at the wonderful Whitechapel Foundry. And if you are a UK citizen, you can go on a free tour of the Elizabeth Tower [at least you could, before it was closed for the renovations] It is hoped that tours will resume, after lockdown and once the building work is finished. You have to apply to your MP [check out this page for updates] How have I reached the age of 65 without knowing this? Have you ever climbed these steps? [they are planning to install a lift in one of the ventilation shafts as part of the current works project]
"A man who is tired of London is tired of life" said Dr Johnson...



  1. Coincidence - there was a question about the Ayrton light on Eggheads last night.The Eggs knew about it but didn't know how old it was

    1. I don't watch Eggheads. But I do find it satisfying, when watching a quiz, if I have a little bit about of knowledge about the subject!

  2. A very interesting post. I don't think I will be volunteering to climb those steps.

    1. Not sure my knees would manage it nowadays

  3. I won't be climbing those stairs, either! Lots of fun information about the clock! Thank you!

  4. This brings back memories. I had to go and find my L.P of the original sound track. I also remember John Noakes cleaning the face of the clock on Blue Peter.


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