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Big Ben overhaul 1956

The best known voice in broadcasting will soon fall silent for a period of from two to three months, while Big Ben, whose reverberating boom has been described as 'the signature tune of the Commonwealth', undergoes his first big overhaul since 1934; or, rather, while the clock, which has come to be known by the name which rightly belongs to the great hour bell alone, has its entire works taken out and its four dials reglazed. During these months Big Ben's world-wide audience will hear the voice of another famous London bell - Great Tom of St. Paul's Cathedral, which, incidentally, 'stood in' for Big Ben in 1934 too.

From 'Ariel', the staff magazine of the BBC, May 1956


On 2 July Great Tom started work as a 'temporary', and its chimes are being broadcast for three months in place of those of Big Ben, whose clock mechanism is under repair. Great Tom weighs five tons four hundredweights, and has two quarter-bells. The sound of the bell is A flat, but heard at a great distance becomes E flat. In the photograph an engineer is placing a microphone in poistion in the Bell Tower at St. Paul's Cathedral. On the right and immediately below Great Tom is Great Paul, which is only used for special occasions.

From 'Ariel', the staff magazine of the BBC, July 1956


'Big Ben will be stopped early in July...'

'Surely not merely Britons but the free world would prefer the tones of Big Ben, and the memories they evoke of all they stood for, to the tinny and feeble sounds of Great Tom, which only emphasize how far we have departed from our virile days . . .'

'Great Tom is delightful. Must we go back to the toneless reverberations of Big Ben?'

'Many of us are counting the months when we shall hear once more the dulcet "voice" of Big Ben. The bronchial pitch of the raucus tone of Great Tom . . .'

'Great Tom has a much better voice . . .'

'Overwhelmingly in favour of Big Ben . . .'

'Here is a magnificent chance to melt down Big Ben and re-cast it in tune . . .'

'Great Tom is unfortunately also out of tune . . .'

'There is a charm all his own about Great Tom . . .'

'May Virginia Woolf have the last word? She once described the striking of Big Ben as "first a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable". What more perfect combination?'

'In response to listeners' suggestions the BBC is considering retaining Great Tom as a permanent feature in the Light Programme . . .'

'Great Tom every time. It has a much richer tone . . .'

'The problem has reached board room level at the BBC . . .'

' The results of our poll show that 98 per cent of the readers who voted asked for the return of Big Ben . . .'

From 'Ariel', the staff magazine of the BBC, October 1956

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