The Return of The Skylon?

How Joe 90 does that sound? The Skylon! I thought “himself” must have been talking about something from the pen of Gerry Anderson, but no, he was looking through a box of his father’s books after visiting an exhibition, at the Southbank Centre, celebrating the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Tony – my father-in-law – had visited the Festival as a young man and saved the official guide; a wonderful, real-vintage memento that will undoubtedly be treasured through the generations.

Skylon tower at Festival of Britain

Image via Wikipedia

Something caught my eye while revelling in this snapshot of the era with its far from now acceptable adverts (on many levels!) and completeness of description – something I’d never known or heard of before – the Skylon. An astonishing structure created just because they could, at a time of austerity but also of hope and looking forwards, post-war.

How futuristic it must have seemed, and still does to me; it would fit very nicely beside the London Eye, don’t you think?

Sadly this iconic structure was taken down in 1952; it was not really the time to spend money the country didn’t have anyway (that’s how we used to do things, I suppose) though some consider the act was more about the incoming Conservative government being less than keen to spend money on moving such a significant and obvious symbol of  the outgoing Labour government. A shame, really, but such is the way of things; I found the Hansard website quite enlightening.

Through the years people have wondered what exactly happened to it – was it scrapped, or dumped in the river Lea, or made into coasters by a vengeful Churchill? This was actually researched properly earlier this year and the far less romantic discovery was that the structure was indeed sold for scrap – sensible for the time, surely – and therefore recycled!

Skylon and the Dome of Discovery

Image via Wikipedia

Over recent years, on and off, there is talk of recreating the Skylon. In researching for this post I came across a few articles announcing the imminent rebuilding, but its yet to come to anything more than a website, most recently, where we can vote on the location should this “re-build the Skylon campaign” succeed.

By far the most stunning image of the Skylon that I could find online was on the RIBA’s website – do take a look as it is quite something to behold and I for one would welcome its return.




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  1. The Skylon was truly innovative when built. It’s shape was mirrors the insignia for ‘Space Fleet’, the Eagle’s Dan Dare, the spaceman of the future’s outfit). Indeed Dare predated the Skylon by a year. He was created by Frank Hampson as a means of injecting Christian values, (but not Christianity), into comics to counter what was seen a the corrupting influence of American comic books, such as Captain America.

    The Skylon is a symbol of a political will to create a better future, especially for Britain, via Education, National Insurance, and Housing. It represented the sense of values required by a nation who believed it had avoided thralldom under a Nazi oppressor.

    Dan Dare was, of course, fighting such force in the form of the fascist Mekon from Venus in the Eagle. Spiderman was, by comparison a mixed up kid living in a paranoid world. There weren’t many ideals to be found in the pages of his strip, just survival and keeping one step ahead of unsympathetic government agencies.

    Despite its connections with socialism I’m surprised that the Conservatives scrapped the Skylon. It would have been a perfect backdrop to Harold MacMillan, who as Prime Minister in 1956 remarked:

    “Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.

    “Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”

    Little could he have imagined the advances that would be made during the next fifty, or so years, yet since the twin towers, another symbol of hope, were destroyed on 11th September, 2001, we see a systematic erosion of the world the Skylon promised.

    Should we rebuild the Skylon? Not for the reasons that RIBA suggest. It’s one thing to preserve something but quite another to create a facsimile, even if it uses new materials.

    The question has to be “Is the symbolism  of a Skylon relevant to people today?”

    If not it will be simply another expensive folly in a world that seems to have lost its way.

    • Could a re-created Skylon not bring back some of the values we embraced then, Stephen – be used as a reminder that we have the capability to get it right, just need to retrieve that sense of whatever it was that did help us build the country again. 

      And with so many nonsense structures around – having a thing of such beauty instead – how could that be a bad thing? In Maidstone we have a most hideous “totem pole” effort, with tiny lights that flash up and down it – truly dreadful and not attractive. To discover that something of a design that I think would hold its own in this century once existed (I really had not known of it before last week) makes a mockery of the waste on piles of unattractive focal points. 

      • Yes, I agree the Skylon was a beautiful structure. So simple, so elegant.

        But a symbol, in itself, cannot unite a people. It has to resonate with the contemporary weltanschauung.

        It’s quite informative to watch films made during World War 2. The ones set in England made in America depict us living in baroque mansions, or quaint thatched cottages. Others, made at Pinewood, or Shepperton under English production depict East End Cockneys, and the odd Scouser, united on a submarine or bomber, battling the Hun. What American and British films have in common is that war is about fighting a common enemy.

        After the war the enemies were housing shortages, poor education, lack of jobs, and low living standards. These are still with us, to some extent, but less obvious. Today people can be undernourished whilst simultaneously receiving zillions of channels on cable T.V. It’s rather like during the days of the Great Depression when in America cinemas would show newsreels of ostriches racing each other but not people on the streets protesting for jobs, food and dignity, even though news crews had filmed them.

        The emphasis today is on individualism, rather than collective action, as was the case in the 50s.

        Indeed we’re a far more fragmented society, as a result. I believe this to be one of the causes of recent problems, and why a Skylon today would be no more than a structure of steel tubes and cables.