Carol of the Bells
Few landmarks are more iconic than London’s Big Ben clocktower.
Completed in 1859, the actual structure was formerly known as the “Clock Tower” before being renamed “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Described as “the prince of timekeepers: the biggest, most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world,” we of course know and love the icon simply as Big Ben.
Whenever Big Ben is stopped or delayed for work or repairs, London feels all the more empty without the clock’s familiar chiming and bonging. As as the landmark needs to undergo some work at the start of 2017, locals are already preparing to feel its absence for a time.
But one little girl, an eight-year-old named Phoebe, had a plan. If nothing else warms your heart this holiday season, this sure will!
If you’ve never been to London, chances are you’ve still seen or heard Big Ben in the countless movies that use shots of the landmark to establish where the film is set.
Standing at 315 feet, the cultural icon has been in continuous operation since it was completed in 1859, save for minor disturbances, repairs, and scheduled interruptions. The only major breakdown in its history came in 1976 when the Great Clock was shut down for 26 days over the course of nine months for repairs.
At the start of 2017, however, Big Ben will fall silent for the first time in a decade as work is done on its hands, pendulum, and internal mechanism. This is but a step in a three-year, 29-million pound project, and it will render the clock silent for several months. Though the faces of the clock will be covered during construction, one will be visible at all times.
A Letter From Phoebe
Many people were upset to learn of Big Ben’s impending hiatus, but none more so than eight-year-old Phoebe Hanson.
But she wasn’t going to sit and mope on the fact. Instead, she took it upon herself to write a letter to the BBC with a magnanimous offer on how to keep the London air filled with the cheery chimes and bongs the clock is so known for.
Her solution? She would shout out “BONG” for the clock instead.
Truly an idea from the mouths (and minds) of babes. And as if that weren’t cute enough, the BBC wrote back to show Phoebe their appreciation.
The BBC Writes Back
Phoebe’s dad later shared on Facebook that the BBC responded to Phoebe in one of the most heartwarming ways possible: By treating her offer quite seriously.
From Editor Roger Sawyer:
“Re. Big Ben’s Bongs (lack of).
Dear Miss Hanson,
Thank you for your letter and your very imaginative idea about what to do when Big Ben falls silent for repairs early next year. Some of the cleverest and most important people at the BBC are scratching their heads, wondering quite what to do.
Once before, when Big Ben fell silent for repairs, we played different birdsong every evening. The listeners loved that. Then the people behind Tweet of the Day (that’s on each day just before 6 in the morning) stole our idea… so we can’t do that again.
I must say I was very much taken with your idea… and we have passed it on to those who make the decisions. As you know, the Bongs are live… and (you may not know this) the beginning of the Westminster Chimes (the bit that goes BimBom BimBom BimBobBimBom before the first BOOONNNGGGGGGGGGG!) is always at a slightly different time (which is why you sometimes hear someone accidentally talking when they start). It depends on things like temperature and atmospheric pressure and stuff like that.
So it would be quite a task for you, doing the Bongs: you’d have to rush in after school each day (and at the weekend), rush home for tea, homework, a bit of chillin’, then a quick sleep. And then – here’s the hard bit – you’d have to rush back again at midnight, because there are live bongs again before the midnight news. That’s an awful lot of work for someone who is still quite young. I know I wouldn’t like to do all that.
Thank you very much for writing to us. I’m very impressed that you listen to Radio 4. I wish my two children did.
Have a spiffing Christmas and a stupendous and lucky 2017.
Editor: PM, Broadcasting House, iPM – BBC Radio 4″
Unbelievable! Here’s how Phoebe responded… Keep reading!