AA celebrates 40 years in Basingstoke

The AA's Basingstoke HQ Fanum House was opened by the Queen on 19 November 1973

The AA's Basingstoke HQ Fanum House was opened by the Queen on 19 November 1973

The AA's Basingstoke HQ Fanum House was opened by the Queen on 19 November 1973

It’s a familiar landmark to millions of drivers, rail passengers...and even helicopter pilots. Fanum House, the Basingstoke headquarters of the AA, was opened by the Queen 40 years ago today (19 November).

The eighteen-storey (274 feet or 83.5m) tower block with its distinctive net of aluminium fins is the second-tallest building in Basingstoke and, in its day, was said to be the tallest building between London and New York.

It was a big occasion when the AA moved out of its famous headquarters at Leicester Square, London, to the growing town of Basingstoke. The town was chosen as it offered plenty of room for expansion and excellent transport links with the capital and the south coast.

The day before we were told that the Queen would be visiting our office to see the membership records of other members of the Royal Family

Jan Archer, AA finance administrator

Royal opening

To mark the opening of the building, the Queen unveiled a commemorative inscription and planted a tree near the main entrance.

Jan Archer, AA finance administrator, recalls: “The day before we were told that the Queen would be visiting our office to see the membership records of other members of the Royal Family. We were also shown the correct way to curtsey and had to keep practising until we got it right, which was hilarious for some of us 16 year olds.

“Everyone crowded round and watched her tour on big old-fashioned TVs hung from the ceiling.”

David Last, AA finance specialist, remembers seeing the Queen in the restaurant on her tour: “There was a buzz around the place, as it was a big occasion, not only for the AA but for the town too. It really helped put Basingstoke on the map.”

AA president Edmund King says: “When the Queen opened Fanum House on 19 November 1973, it was the start of a long association with Basingstoke that continues to this day.

“Fanum House has long been a local landmark and we are delighted to be celebrating 40 years in the town.”

AA celebrations

To celebrate the occasion, the AA is holding a 1970s-themed day for its employees. They will dress in 1970s outfits in aid of its local charity of the year – Basingstoke-based cancer charity RadCan – and have a celebratory afternoon tea. Some of the AA’s 1970s patrol vehicles will be on display and the company will later bury a time capsule to mark 40 years of the building.

The AA’s other offices are at Oldbury, Cheadle, Newcastle, Cardiff and Preston.

Facts about the AA in 1973

  • President of the AA was the Duke of Norfolk
  • AA membership more than 5 million (now around 15 million)
  • Patrol vehicles included Ford Escort and Transit vans and solo motorcycles, including the Triumph T100 Tiger
  • The AA’s vehicle recovery service, AA Recovery, was launched as AA Relay on 1 October 1973 using Bedford J3 transporters
  • AA Roadwatch came into being in 1973 with the advent of commercial radio in the UK

Facts about Fanum House in 1973

  • Fanum is the Latin word for ‘temple’ or ‘shrine’. The word Fanum was originally chosen by Sir Stenson Cooke, AA Secretary, as the AA’s telegraphic address, representing the AA as a temple to motoring freedom
  • £4.5 million construction cost
  • Construction commenced in April 1970 and the first stage was completed in March 1971
  • Building ‘topped out’ by AA president Duke of Norfolk in November 1972 and all staff transferred from London by June 1973
  • The AA’s coat of arms – depicting a lion and a griffin holding a shield in AA colours bearing the motto ‘Courtesy and Care’ – was unveiled on the opening day and still adorns the building
  • 1,400 employees in Fanum House (now 936)
  • Live footage from six television cameras was relayed to 22 colour television sets that had been specially installed to allow staff to watch the Queen’s tour of the building
Fanum House construction (1972)

Fanum House construction (1972)

Fanum House construction figures

  • 30,000 cubic yards of concrete – enough to fill an 18 mile queue of lorries
  • 2,300 tons of steel rod reinforcement – equalling 950 miles laid end to end
  • 75 tons of steel fabric reinforcement – enough to cover 16 acres
  • 32,000 square feet of external glass – a total area of three quarters of an acre
  • 175 miles of electric cable and wiring – the distance from Basingstoke to Sheffield
  • 360,000 facing and lightweight blocks – a length of 70 miles laid end to end
  • 5.5 miles of fluorescent lighting – enough to illuminate Mount Everest from top to bottom
  • 274 feet high – from the courtyard to the top of the radio mast
  • 38 miles of pipes, tubing and conduit - more than eight times the Grand National course
  • 31,650 feet of aluminium fins applied to the exterior of the tower block
  • 48,000 floor tiles carpeting all the principal working areas
  • 413,000 square feet – the total built-on space including multi-level car parks
  • 1,127 internal and external doors
  • 243,000 square feet of suspended ceilings
  • 10 miles of air-conditioning trunking
  • 12,013 square yards of grassed area surrounding the building
  • 1,148 trees and shrubs used in landscaping
  • 1,287 windows

(19 November 2013)


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