Big Ben in popular culture
Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.
On New Year’s Eve 1923, BBC broadcast Big Ben’s bongs live on the radio for the first time. Soon the 12 strikes became synonymous with New Year’s Eve and it’s now impossible to image a New Year’s Eve without watching the clocktower’s familiar face as the minute hand reach the 12 o’clock position and the bells ring in the new year.
As one of the most recognisable landmarks not just in London but in the world, Big Ben has inspired art, music, film, television, advertising and a wide range of merchandise. Who doesn’t remember the iconic images of first Peter Pan and later Mary Poppins flying past the iconic clock dial? Hang on as we explore some of the famous – and less famous - moments in pop culture featuring Big Ben.
Films and television appearances
For many of us, Big Ben has been a part of our cinematic universe since we were children. Growing up, we watch Peter Pan and the Banks children briefly land on the hour hand before taking off to Neverland, causing Big Ben to strike (1953). Mary Poppins drifted down with her umbrella to repeat the act (1964 and 2018). In 2007, Big Ben was voted most iconic London film location.
Thriller fans may remember the famous scene in The 39 Steps where the hero climbs the outside of the clockface to stop the clock from setting off a bomb (1978). As such a well-known symbol of London and the UK, Big Ben has been a popular target in action movies. The tower has been blown up on film at least 7 times, including in Mars Attacks! (1996), London Has Fallen (2016), Spectre (2015) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010).
Big Ben has also made numerous appearances on television and not just for New Year’s Eve. For some shows the tower is in every episode as part of the credits, including on the 1980’s comedy Yes, Minister, the quiz show Have I Got News for You and ITV’s News at Ten. The biggest Big Ben fans, however, must be the team behind Dr Who. Our favourite clocktower has appeared on the show a whopping 9 times in the history of the show. The first time was in 1964 and Big Ben has been a regular visitor on the show since. You can find the list of appearances here.
In 1980, BBC World Service claimed that Big Ben would be renamed Digital Dave and would be going digital. It was of course an April’s Fool joke.
Books about the big clock
On the pages of books, Big Ben often steals the scene. Perhaps no more so than in Peppa Pig goes to London where Big Ben’s bongs fill several pages. In Paddington in London, Big Ben even makes an appearance on the cover.
In Rupert and the Trouble with Big Ben the famous bell and clock is given a voice. It asks Rupert the Bear and Bill Badger to put 2p on the pendulum of the clock when it’s in danger of no longer being the most accurate clock in the world. Adding the coin adjusted the swing of the pendulum and the Great Clock was once again on time.
Little Ben’s Big Time tells the story of when Big Ben was little and wanted to grow up to tell the time in a big way.
Souvenirs to suit any taste
The Elizabeth Tower is one of the most recognisable landmarks of London and has been reproduced across thousands of souvenirs since it was completed. We’re used to seeing the Tower on postcards, ornaments, keychains and fridge magnets, it’s also been immortalised as a rubber duck, a sterling silver bell, an extravagant crystal reproduction – and even a giant piece of chocolate.