02.11.17

Lights, Camera, Action!

By James White

Project Curator

On your way home tonight, take a moment to look up. Can you see a beacon of light shining from a corner of North London?

Alexandra Palace lights up its mast this evening to mark the 81st anniversary of the beginning of the high definition BBC television service. The mast is the original television transmitter of our earliest public broadcasts from 1936 and during the Second World War acted as a signal jammer for the Luftwaffe, before returning to television service in 1946.

(c) BBC

(c) BBC

The mast is symbolic of the dawning of a new era in entertainment and communication. Whilst celebrating this milestone, we celebrate our most exciting year of programming and events, with a record number of live gigs. And we look forward to the exciting reopening of the Theatre and East Court behind the mast in 2018.

Alexandra Palace’s mast will be visible at night for the next three nights.

Alexandra Palace mast lit

The mast has made a huge contribution to the history of television and we wanted to give it resonance. Lighting it up for this special date seemed the perfect answer. With planning permission in place, we went about rigging up a sophisticated lighting system with the help of expert engineers.

The system is made up of eight lights – four focussing on the central mast and four lighting up the legs.  As it’s not a solid structure, the challenge was picking out the lattice work and achieving a powerful effect that could be seen from across the city. The fun bit was experimenting with different colours and motion.

It allows us to throw pure colour of red, white, blue and green on to the top or bottom of the mast, or blend it into countless shades, depending on the look we want to create.

Alexandra Palace mast

We can scroll, pulse, fade and rotate colours – and even make them dance to music. We’ve identified particular events for lighting the mast. We want to create a spectacle! Each display is scheduled to turn on automatically so we can programme it a whole year in advance.

This weekend is our annual Fireworks Festival, a seminal Alexandra Palace event firmly rooted in our heritage. You’ll see flames of light lapping up the steel mast – in what we hope will add to the symphony of fire and colour below.

And the cost of lighting a 215 foot steel structure? The amount it uses is about half the power required to boil a kettle. Today’s technology allows us to use very sophisticated lights, but hardly draw any power.

We hope the mast will act as a welcoming beacon to come and explore the Park and Palace, and to follow our progress as we look toward reopening our Theatre and East Court next year!

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