The Northampton Lighthouse: How Terry Wogan popularised the town’s most famous landmark

Terry Wogan 'poses' with a model of the lift tower delivered to him by a Chron reporter

Terry Wogan 'poses' with a model of the lift tower delivered to him by a Chron reporter

3
Have your say

Terry Wogan made Northampton a little bit more famous when he was credited with inventing a nickname for the lift testing tower. But was it really him who thought of it?

The Irishman was at the pinnacle of a 12-year stint on Radio 2’s breakfast show when the structure was built in super-quick time in 1980.

Wogan tucks into a Huckleburger in Northampton Market Square in 1980, before signing autographs

Wogan tucks into a Huckleburger in Northampton Market Square in 1980, before signing autographs

And one of the most enduring topics during that time, once Sir Terry became aware, was what this weird structure’s true, secret, purpose could be. Everything from a missile silo to a refuge from another Great Flood were suggested by his wacky listeners.

At some point, the name The Northampton Lighthouse stuck, but it was actually a resident of Northampton who suggested the term when she wrote to the show about the tower during its construction.

Looking back on the radio show phenomenon in the Chron in November 1984, reporter Neil Bonner said: “That was one of the most successful topics of all, prompted by a letter from a listener who, having witnessed the town’s Express Lifts tower steadily growing skyward, asked why Northampton was having a lighthouse.

“The crackpot suggestions flooded in. Like the theory that it was in preparation for massive land erosion that would eventually make Northampton a coastal town.”

It was exactly the kind of thing that tickled Wogan’s sense of fun and he loved the idea of a British lighthouse about as far away from the sea as you could get.

Mr Bonner had special cause to recall the broadcaster’s fondness for the town as, accompanied by a representative of Express Lifts, he once took a model of the tower down to London and stood with it outside his BBC studio.

The Chron archives record Mr Bonner’s own memory of the stunt: “When he looked up and saw it, he said to his listeners: ‘Good heavens - The Northampton Lighthouse has just arrived.

“When his programme had finished, he asked what the tower was for, refusing to accept it was for testing lifts.

“‘If that’s the case’, he said suspiciously, ‘why is it pointing towards Moscow?’

Radio 2 listeners were only too keen to encourage Wogan’s lampooning, and sent letters in their hundreds after the building was complete, continuing to do so during his subsequent tenures on BBC radio.

Talking about it in later years, Sir Terry said: “I don’t think it was looked on in an architectural sense by my listeners - they’re a bit too dim - we just took it for what it was - a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere.”

Here it is simply called the lift tower but - thanks to a broadcasting legend - the wider nation will forever know it as The Northampton Lighthouse.