Alexandra Palace

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Alexandra Palace from the east

Alexandra Palace was built on a hill in Muswell Hill in North London in 1873 as a public entertainment centre. It is now a conference centre operated by a charitable trust. It was nicknamed "The People's Palace" or "Ally Pally", and in 1936 became the headquarters of world's first regular public television service, operated by the BBC.



The 1873 building was destroyed by fire only 16 days after opening, but was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1875. It contained a concert hall, art galleries, a museum, a lecture hall, a library, a banqueting room and a theatre, and was surrounded by a landscaped park. The Willis organ installed in 1875 is still working, but its restoration is continuing.

The rose window on the south-east front
The rose window on the south-east front

In 1935 the palace was partly occupied by the BBC, which used it as their television production and transmitting centre. The antenna was designed by Charles Samuel Franklin of the Marconi company. The world's first public broadcasts of high-definition television were made from this site in 1936. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and Baird's 240-line system, were installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and were transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system was chosen in 1937. The palace continued as the BBC's main TV transmitting centre for London until 1956, interrupted only by World War II. After that it continued to be used for news broadcasts until the early 1970s, and for the Open University until the early 1980s. The antenna mast still stands, and is still used for local analogue television transmission, local commercial radio and DAB broadcasts. The main London television transmitter is at Crystal Palace in South London.

The theatre of Alexandra Palace during restoration work
The theatre of Alexandra Palace during restoration work

A second disastrous fire destroyed half the building in 1980. Some of the damage was repaired immediately but the project got into severe financial problems and the future of parts of the site is (as at 2004) still unknown.

In June 2004 the first performances for about 70 years took place in the theatre, first in its foyer then on 2 July in the theatre itself. Although conditions are far from ideal the audience was able to see the potential of this very large space - originally seating 3000, it cannot currently be licensed for more than a couple of hundred. It is intended that the theatre will one day reopen but much costly restoration will be required first. The theatre will never reach 3000 again (not least because one balcony was removed in the early part of the 20th century as a fire precaution, when films started to be shown there) but it does seem likely that a capacity of more than 1000 may one day be achieved. A major season of the theatre company Complicite is planned for 2005.


  • Nearest rail station: Alexandra Palace
  • Nearest Tube station: Wood Green
  • Address: Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, Wood Green, London N22 7AY

Famous Events

On 28 April 1967, a benefit gig took place at the palace. "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream", organised by the "International Times", demonstrated the importance of the quickly developing UK Underground scene. Although "underground" venues such as the UFO Club were hosting countercultural bands, this was certainly the biggest indoor event at the time. Performers included Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things, Savoy Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, The Move and Sam Gopal Dream (featuring a young Lemmy of Hawkwind/Motörhead fame/notoriety). The exterior of the palace was also used as Victory Square in Michael Radford's 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel 1984.

The Stone Roses played their first major gig in the south of England at what became dubbed after the gig as "Ally Pally" by the travelling mancunian fans. The gig became famous due to the fact that the band managed to sell the venue out before making major in-roads into the music press or making any national TV appearances.

The third annual European Social Forum (ESF) took place on 15-17 October 2004 in London, the main venue being Alexandra Palace.

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