back to article BT Tower broadcasts error message to the nation as Windows displays admin's shame

Generally a system crash is a private affair, but the BT Tower, one of London's tallest landmarks, spent much of the weekend displaying a Windows error message in a very public fashion. The building, originally known as the Post Office Tower, is famed for both its revolving top floor and, more recently, for the banks of LEDs …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it was LILO people would really lose their shit.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      well, you know what "they" say... "nobody ever got fired for going with Microsoft"

      heh heh heh heh

      1. Efer Brick

        Windows for Human Cannonballs ?

        1. Symon Silver badge

          The human cannonball at the circus tells the ringmaster that's he's sick and tired of being blasted across the tent twice a day and that he's quitting. The ringmaster is distraught. "You can't do that", he says, "where else will we find a man of your calibre?" ---->

          1. Alien8n

            I've worked at a few places where you can be fired for less...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Isn't that a grubby little thought?

      1. robidy Silver badge

        Would have been fixed by correctly configuring the windows bootloader with a couple of bcdedit commands and a basic ping test to monitor boy errors. Glad the physical security is much better.

        1. Flak

          Physical security is better?

          Well, that depends...

          I had the pleasure of visiting a BT exchange one summer day a couple of years ago and while the front entrance had all the usual security processes enforced and in place, the main room (on the ground floor) had wide open doors at the side of the building - with no BT (Openreach) staff visible. We were in for about half an hour and never saw one soul.

        2. Lee D Silver badge

          Would have been fixed by not just having whatever the Windows machine chose to display on its primary monitor just splatted on a massive banner in the center of London, actually.

          Sure, make the control software run on whatever OS, but at minimum have it output whatever was on the secondary monitor and configure it never to show anything else on that secondary monitor or - even better - literally only have the software output to the screen interface directly. So Windows doesn't see it as a monitor, try to use it as a monitor, or accidentally display whatever error messages or whatever the technician is doing to the world.

          Then when the Windows thing *doesn't* work, at worst you get a blank display because it's not being instructed to display anything. And it won't display anything until the OS is up and working, the software is loaded, the software communicates with the screen, and explicitly tells it what to display.

          The suggestion that there's some HDMI/VGA connection somewhere and that HUGE display just blindly stretches/scales it and splats it straight on the billboard? I'd be asking for my money back if that was the case.

          Hell, even an RPi can output a specific chosen display separately over an electronic interface that has *nothing* to do with what OS it's using, what display manager is running, what console messages are showing, or anything else.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            "The suggestion that there's some HDMI/VGA connection somewhere and that HUGE display just blindly stretches/scales it and splats it straight on the billboard? I'd be asking for my money back if that was the case."

            that obviously is the case , the way round it then is to plug that into a secondary monitor that is activated when various checks are done.

        3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Would have been fixed by correctly configuring the windows bootloader with a couple of bcdedit commands and a basic ping test to monitor boy errors.

          Not really , if its stuck there because of hard disk failure , it still would play out like it did.

          possibly some other machine pinging it would have sent an alert , but , you know , a giant tower in the middle of london was also broadcasting the error in lettters the size of a house *is* an alert!

          I doubt BTs response would have been any faster is sombedoy got an email...

          Also , a +ve ping just ensures the machine is awake - it could still be displaying any bullshit, so that test only covers one scenario

  2. jake Silver badge

    "A technical issue"

    Is that what they are calling the OS from Redmond these days?

    1. FozzyBear

      Re: "A technical issue"

      Well that would be the diplomatic term used in polite company. Around this office, though, it is more commonly referred to as a fucking nightmare

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: "A technical issue"

        I thought the 'fucking nightmare' was Win-10-nic ... ah well, I need to get my terms sorted

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "A technical issue"

      No; they’re calling it shit.

    3. Frank Bitterlich

      Re: "A technical issue"

      But you've got to admit, the phrase "Choose operating system to start..." seems like step in the right direction. (Assuming one of the choices is Linux...)

      1. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: "A technical issue"

        Except that this is the Windows OS selection screen, not GRUB. Windows refuses to acknowledge that there are other OSes besides Windows, so the best you're going to get is a choice of Windows installations. Windows is arrogant that way, willfully stomping all over bootloaders whenever it wants and refusing to acknowledge EXT volumes as even existing (it doesn't have to know how to read them to at least recognize them for what they are, but it just refers to them as unallocated space). Linux is a far better neighbor.

  3. AlexGreyhead

    Wot, no TITSUP?

    Total Inability To Shine Usual ... err... Pixels?

    Not my finest effort by some margin. Sorry.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

      Tower In Turmoil, Shows Unusual Pircure

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

        Telecom Incumbent Terrifies Serfs Under Pillar

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

      Technician Is Tardy, Someone Urge Patience?

      Techie Is Taking a Shit Until Payday?

      Tower Indicating Technical Staff Unable to be Present?

      Tower Is Truly Shining Unusual Propaganda?

      (these are hard... props to the ink stained wretches that have to do this every day!)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

        Telco is Truly Showing Usual Plight

    3. Major N

      Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

      Total Inabililty To Shill Useless Products

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

        Tower indicating terrible start up process.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Wot, no TITSUP?

          @doublelayer - that's the winner today!! Bravo :-)

  4. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Wait until it gets hacked.

    Can you imagine the fun a script kiddie would have if they got control over the sign?

    What kinds of messages would they enter to amuse, confuse, annoy, horrify, or otherwise attract attention?

    "Yo noobz! U suxorz! LOL", "Santa = Satan", or a blinking animation of the Guy?

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

      I'd almost expect a 'LOLdicks' ASCII art... or better yet, tits.

      left paren, zero, Y, zero, right paren

      (getting my coat)

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

        I prefer lowercase "o"'s, personal taste

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

      > Can you imagine the fun a script kiddie would have if they got control over the sign?

      More like this ?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

        Several years back, when Hwy 121 between Sonoma & Napa was a construction zone, I witnessed one of those programmable road signs on a trailer scrolling "DANGER! Badgers and Hedgehogs crossing!"

        Yes, I know how to do it (the control box is almost never locked). No, it wasn't me.

        1. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

          I saw one in a picture that had been changed to warn of zombies ahead.

      2. A.P. Veening Silver badge
      3. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

        Rather like something that happened in an episode of Still Game.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Wait until it gets hacked.

      What with kids nowadays, it would probably just be a message to subscribe to some youtuber.

      Get off my lawn etc.

  5. Christoph

    "famed for both its revolving top floor and, more recently, for the banks of LEDs at its summit

    And for being knocked down by a giant kitten.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes! Twinkle is what MADE that iconic, none of the blinky crap!

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Ohhhh Goodies

        Totally Innocent Tabby Stuck Upon PostOfficeTower.

  6. karlkarl Silver badge

    Use the right tool for the job

    ... but if you are a Microsoft lover... that tool is always a frigging desktop version of Windows.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Use the right tool for the job

      When all you have is a hammer...

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Use the right tool for the job

      As a Windows User I would wonder why such screens arent powered by a specific program such as LCDC (Aww its considered Legacy now). Using a primary display is just bound to cause problems.

      As a Windows User I also know Linux is perfectly fine to use, as practically everything uses some form of the kernel or code used in its ecosystem.

  7. Mike 16 Silver badge


    Pittsburgh, PA, USA had a (somewhat) similar problem

    although it was not noticed for a while, being in Morse Code.

    A bit closer to the mark, and for the Penguinistas: I got a new TV some time ago and was doing the channel scan which popped up a very odd "channel". No station ID, and the image seemed to be a "terminal" screen from some Linux installation, with a login: prompt. Of course this was on cable, back when _you_ selected which channel to watch, and the cable presented them all (or, all those in your bundle), rather than you politely asking for a given channel and being eventually served the selected channel (and your choice sold to a bunch of advertisers, but anyway...) Yeah, for a split second I did forget I was on cable rather than antenna, so wondered if this was a result of really bad Tempest compliance. I'm assuming that the head-end for my cable segment had an admin interface that used an otherwise free channel for its console. No idea where I was supposed to plug in the keyboard.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Previously

      ElReg's article on the Pitetsbkrrh morse scandal:

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Previously re: "Pitetsbkrrh"

        You may want to move your keyboard about 1/2" to the left.

    2. Christian Berger

      Re: Previously

      Those screens are still commonly found on satellite feeds. I've seen one with a Windows XP recoding video files.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Soon-to-be-defunct operating system?

    "Choose operating system to start or press TAB to select a tool: (Use arrow keys to highlight your choice and then press ENTER)."

    I figure it was running a version of windows that booted over PXE and lost contact with the server. Something that shouldn't happen to a networking company. Not a good advert for the British Telegraph company.

    BT is running a soon-to-be-defunct operating system for its display isn't particularly worrying.“

    Of course no one in their right mind would run vital infrastructure under any version of Windows. I doubt if it would make any difference what version of Windows. Replacing the defunct Windows Vista that replaced the the defunct Windows XP that replaced the defunct Windows 2000 that replaced the defunct Windows NT (that wasn't designed with the Internet in mind) isn't going to make much of a difference.

    "A technical issue caused the infoband on the BT Tower to display an error message which has now been fixed"

    Yes, the other day, I went to the doctor who told me I had an illness that needed fixing with medicine.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Soon-to-be-defunct operating system?

      "Something that shouldn't happen to a networking company."

      Communications companies are amongst the worst at actually DOING that.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Soon-to-be-defunct operating system?

      Given what the OS was used for, XP wouldn't be a bad choice either On the bright side, at least it wasn't Win10.

  9. vincent himpe

    could have been worse ...


    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      the worst would have been that little blinking dash, but it would not be as funny.

    2. Chronos Silver badge

      BBC Microcomputer 32k

      Acorn 1770 DFS


      > _

      For $DEITY's sake, someone hit <Shift><Break>!

      1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

        @Chronos... Surely you just hit "Escape". I don't think there was a break button on the BBC B :)

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge


          Well, my BBC Model B and my BBC Master 128 both have a 'Break' key to the right of the red function keys. Don't know where you saw one without this.

          1. Korev Silver badge

            I remember people having a lot of problems coordinating the Shift - Break combo; a few years later people had similar problems with Ctrl - Alt - Del

        2. nigeb

          Wrong. Unless yours fell off.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's the absolute best bit of RoboCop: when he boots up into MS-DOS.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Or worse prompt of just


    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: MSDOSh


      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: MSDOSh

        Or "Dr Who is required..."

    2. Soruk

      Re: MSDOSh

      BBC Computer 32K

      Acorn DFS



      1. Chronos Silver badge

        Re: MSDOSh

        Oops, sorry, I just repeated your joke. I'll get me coat.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: MSDOSh

      The one that always signals that my day just got much worse is:


      1. Norman Nescio

        Re: MSDOSh

        The one that always signals that my day just got much worse is:


        grub rescue>

        Is even worse.

        From the grub prompt, from memory, I can find where the PC thinks its disks are, set the video mode, load the necessary modules (encrytion, lvm, various filesystems). set up the correct initrd and compressed kernel and light the blue touchpaper. You even get tab completion.

        From 'grub rescue>'...[crickets]

        ...Well, not exactly, but no tab completion; and an even more stripped down experience. But it is still luxurious compared to an EFI shell. The days when I could type in the hex address of the base of boot ROM and hit Go are long gone.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: MSDOSh

          Not that those aren't terrible, but I still have to say that I prefer those to the prompt that's just ">" and really is the basic sh shell on some thing that technically has a Linux or BSD kernel but does not intend to actually let me run anything. No, every command I type will be answered with "sh: command not found".

          It's always enjoyable to ls some stuff because that's the only command they have. No other shells. No tab completion. No find, stat, or file. No editors, not even vi. You can of course ls the bin directories but that will just show you a bunch of executables that could be useful if the problem wasn't whatever it is, like all the networking utilities and some other executables that nobody knows what they do and just take a guess if man is available. I recently had a system like this where I couldn't even figure out who I was. I could tell that I wasn't root because it was denying me access to lots of stuff. Whoami and who were not found. ~ resolved to /. I eventually found touch and tried to create a file to see the owner, but although touch thought a file was created, ls did not agree. I did have plenty of tools to read a file (for a system with nothing else, it had both less and more), but I didn't have access to anything. I wonder if this was an April fools joke that I didn't find for a few days, but I don't think so.

  11. Christian Berger

    That wouldn't have happened

    On the Telephone Tower of Klangbury.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You are number 57 in a queue of 41

    “Hello my name is being Keith and I will ask you questions some to help you much. Are many devices connected to tower with WiFi? Have you tried restarting tower?” And so on... and on...

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: You are number 57 in a queue of 41

      "Have you tried turning it round and round?"

      (esoteric Post Office Tower joke)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its headend/telecom tower, just surprised it wasn't XP or win95 or winCE (a name only bested by Win ME , a release named after a long term sickness), since headend is ran as a enclave and outside of normal rules, they are their own special little soldiers not to be questioned. Isolated network, high security physical access, <insert generic management term to excuse terrible shortcuts> :)

    1. Antonius_Prime

      <insert generic management term to excuse terrible shortcuts>

      "Best of the Best"

      "Elite Task Force"



      "Product Champions"

      Because calling them "a shower of incompetent air theives whose only purpose is to lower the stock price and property value while adding ballast to the AirCon" wouldn't make you a "go-getting, team-oriented, forward thinking, out-of-box focused team player"

      Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to burn this keyboard for having typed that and then try to cleanse my brain of the near fatal dose of buzzwords.

      If any one got BINGO out of those, have an internet cookie...

  14. pogul

    Why is it even connected to the console drivers?

    I've never understood why these electronic signs don't have a separate channel (of some sort) for signage vs admin. Surely there aren't that many lights in the grid, so presumably you don't need an nvidia card to drive that, so much as a simple controller connected via serial port or whatever.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Why is it even connected to the console drivers?

      Knowing that what you're seeing is the same as what others are seeing is worth the risk. We've all seen powerpoint jockeys who can see their presentation fine on their laptop but it's not coming out of the projector...

      But a watchdog system that cuts power to the external display if something's not right wouldn't go amiss.

    2. Christian Berger

      Because Windows doesn't support that

      Windows has no API for "second screens", and even if it had your signage software would have to support it. BTW ad companies allow their customers to send their ads in Adobe Flash so you need to have something that's compatible with the console.

      On the other hand those LED displays are not (fully) custom designed and in order to be usefull for a large number of uses. Therefore they have standard SDI/HDMI/etc inputs in their controllers.

      So yes, it makes sense for those to run of the standard video console, but no, except for some instances (ads delivered to you in Adobe Flash) you'd be better off with something like InfoBeamer.

    3. smot

      Re: Why is it even connected to the console drivers?

      Effin ell. Even a Raspberry Pi would do the job better.

  15. Citizen99

    "A metaphor for Brexit ..."

    The customary EUnerd irrelevance.


  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nearly a day

    You make that out to be really slow, have you TRIED to get a fault fixed recently? It takes them a week to admit there MIGHT be a problem - in a thick Bangalore accent.

    Kudos to switching the tower off and on again, AC probably works for them.

    1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

      Re: Nearly a day

      I occasionally used to visit the Tower on business between about 1980 and 2000. In keeping with BT's property policy of not knowing what was going on or why, the building was either bursting at the seams with equipment racks and staff or a virtually empty shell with a couple of small areas still in use. (This wasn't a unique feature of the Tower, other large BT buildings in London suffered from similar "feast and famine" episodes. Disposing of buildings is a more of a problem when they are still connected to huge, active cable ducts or have large microwave towers on their roof.)

      Perhaps there is nobody there at the weekends at the moment?

      Anyway, you shouldn't be looking at it, it's an Official Secret!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Nearly a day

        "BT's property policy of not knowing what was going on or why, the building was either bursting at the seams with equipment racks and staff or a virtually empty shell with a couple of small areas still in use."

        Thanks. You've just revived a memory of a couple of us occupying the whole of a long office (it must have represented at least two street numbers) just along from the tower. We each constructed a working environment of several desks put together and were more or less within shouting distance of each other.

  17. adam payne Silver badge

    But the fact that it took nearly a day for an engineer to come in and fix the problem suggests BT's occasionally tardy service isn't only for its customers, but also for corporate matters.

    An engineer after a day!?!? bloody hell that must have been escalated to the upper echelons of BT.

  18. steviebuk Silver badge

    It's probably been..

    ...going for ages without needing a reboot. The day it craps out everyone goes

    "Erm, does anyone actually know where the PC is that controls the display on the tower?"

    "No. Dave did but he left years ago. I know he passed the info on to Mary his replacement but she also left over a year ago".

    "Well someone needs to find it and reboot it as it's crashed"

    Everyone goes out and looks "oh yeah :)"

    Something similar may have happened at a theatre we supported a few years back. I never even knew the PC existed that was sat balancing in the cupboard for the display board in the lobby. And I'd been there at least 10 years.

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Re: It's probably been..

      Never assign malevolence to something that could be caused by incompetence.

  19. DuncanLarge Silver badge

    Oh if only...

    If only the message was:

    "Floppy disk error (40)"


    1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

      Re: Oh if only...

      Abort, Retry, Fail ?

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Oh if only...

      [CARRIER LOSS+++++++]

      1. proinnsias

        Re: Oh if only...

        Ah come on !

        ERROR: No Keyboard Detected

        Press F1 to Continue ...

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Oh if only...

          For a communications giant... red face time.

        2. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

          Re: Oh if only...

          OK, you win. I had forgotten that gem.

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Oh if only...

      Bdos Err On a:

    4. Michael Kean

      Re: Oh if only...

      Error: Tape CRC Error.

  20. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    The fact that the message stayed on there for over 24 hours is a general indication of BT's attitude to customers.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The guy arrived within 5 mins but the lifts were OOO and he had to stop off once or twice on the way up

  22. silks


    Windoze :(

  23. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Rule 1

    No information is better than wrong information.

    Rule 2: See rule 1

    P.S. In another life our people made some information displays. Only when the program was running along nicely would it send a series of pulses via the parallel port (remember them). A little C/D/R/C board hanging on the display module itself set the enable line. The C/D bit was so a stuck Data High wasn't a problem.

  24. Douchus McBagg

    hah :)

    i'll put a vote for "Guru Meditation" with honking big blinking red boarder. at least it would have been helpful to low flying aircraft...

  25. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    Get a better OS

    Yes, the one with the Linux install CD in the pocket

  26. Ilsa Loving

    Or maybe...

    Or maybe it was a matter of priorities? Having that screen is definitely visible, but it has zero operational impact to anything. It's purely marketing.

    Assuming that BT techs were busy with real emergencies to deal with, I don't consider it at all an issue that it took them a day to look into it.

    1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      Re: Or maybe...

      'Purely Marketing'? Not quite. It's also public perception. If it wasn't important, they wouldn't have put up the bloody thing in the first place. I imagine the perception among the general public is one of nothing too important, but the fact sticks in there that BT is associated with silly meaningless error messages on a display. The next time there's something silly and meaningless on a BT hoarding, it'll reinforce negative thoughts of the brand.

      It's hugely important: It's a bloody big tower in the centre of a very big city with the words 'BT' on it and some utter nonsense scrolling underneath!

  27. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Normally it's the menu prompts that go around in circles...

    Monitor manufacturers could save users the faff of having to press keys to repeatedly see the same message by producing Donut Monitors.

  28. Bill_Sticker

    A blast from my past

    Ah BT Engineers, who are reputed to go into early retirement immediately after qualifying.

    1. STOP_FORTH Silver badge

      Re: A blast from my past

      I don't know if it was quite that quick! They used to get six weeks redundancy pay for every year worked plus a damn' good pension, so you can't really blame them.

      I suspect all of that has changed.

  29. Ker Avon

    Obviously Openreach weren't involved, as it has been fixed. In less than 8 years.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The state of the UK

    Seems from my end of the world the UK seems intent on making itself a total laughing stock in every possible way:

    - Brexit (don't get me started)

    - 'Drones' around airports

    - Windows BSODs from high buildings so that they are visible to millions of people

  31. spold Silver badge

    Coming shortly....?

    All your base-jumper are belong to us

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