Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Friday, 25 February 2011
Skylon, Festival of Britain centrepiece, and Hereford.
Skylon at the Festival on Britain in 1951
Skylon illuminated at night on the South Bank

Skylon, the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain, was erected in London 60 years ago.

The 90m piece of public art, which stood on the South Bank, was built by Painter Brothers of Hereford.

Famously Philip Gurdon, a student, tied a scarf near the top, the day before the official opening.

Philip, who now lives in Weobley, told BBC Hereford & Worcester: "Half of people said 'bloody fool', and half said 'well done'."


Eric Heard was one of the people who built the Skylon, when he worked for Painter Brothers in Hereford:

"It was a cigar shape, it was 250ft (76m) long, it was supported on three pillars concreted into the ground, and formed into a triangle - that made a total of 297ft (90m)."

We suddenly thought 'Let's hang a pair of girl's knickers on the top'
Philip Gurdon

Initial construction in Hereford took three months, after which the giant structure had to be moved by lorry to London.

Eric told BBC Hereford & Worcester that his boss took this as an opportunity to get some free publicity:

"Once they left Hereford they stopped the convoy and had all these banners draped over it saying 'This is Skylon - made in Hereford by Painter Brothers.'

"It went all the way up to London then, with all these banners across it - he wasn't supposed to do that, but he was a crafty devil."

Even though he'd helped build the Skylon, Eric never got the chance to see it in situ, on the south bank of the River Thames, between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge.

Student prank

Skylon at the Festival on Britain in 1951
Skylon was designed to look as if it had no visible means of support

One person who got a much closer view of the Skylon was Philip Gurdon, who, as a student, climbed to near the top, shortly before the official opening:

"I was in the University of London air squadron and we suddenly thought 'Let's hang a pair of girl's knickers on the top', but the Commanding Officer said you can't do that, so we decided to stick up my brother's scarf."

He and a friend disguised themselves as workmen, dressing in overalls and carrying paint-pots.

He says he found the climb to be very difficult: "I didn't get to the top because the rope jammed - it was pretty terrifying actually, because there was an overhang all the way up."

They also had a daring escape plan - though this wasn't needed as the Police only left one officer at the base of the structure to catch them:

"I was going to jump into the river, and swim across to my car waiting on the other side, but that wasn't necessary, so I went across on the footbridge of the Hungerford railway bridge."

Workmen removed the scarf before the official opening by King George VI, on 3 May 1951.

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