Skip to main content
   

Into the 1970s

Special Telephone

Special Telephones

The Post Office went through two periods of releasing telephone 'specials' in the 1970s and the 1980s, which ranged from children's Mickey Mouse telephones to a penthouse, super-sleek design.

The telephones were expensive to install and hire and beyond the budgets of most people, but The Post Office could claim that they were offering a choice. However, during the second wave of specials, the technology had moved on to include the modern plug-in connections to wall sockets, which didn't require an engineer for installation and this brought prices down considerably.

There were other truly 'wacky' designs in other countries but The Post Office felt it was unsuitable to make these available to subscribers.

Buzby poster

Enter Buzby ... : the bird is the word

The 1970s saw the Post Office still unable to meet the demand for new telephone lines, with many people still 'on the waiting list'. Accordingly marketing was focused on stimulating existing subscribers to use the telephone more often.

1976 saw a new campaign designed to promote greater awareness of the real cost and value of direct-dialled cheap rate telephone calls. Although this had some initial success, the Post Office realised it was still perceived as just another public utility, and wanted to create a more sympathetic image for itself.

The answer was Buzby. The cartoon bird, who lived on a telephone wire, featured in a host of television adverts with the voice of the popular actor Bernard Cribbins and was pasted on poster hoardings across the country.

But the bird literally flew into public consciousness on an unprecedented scale. The public seemed to love him and not only did he get across the message, but spawned a massive merchandising empire as well.

Anti-Buzby notice, as seen on the occasional internal Post Office noticeboard...

Buzby merchandising : a case of over-exposure

The rapid success of Buzby took everyone by surprise - not least the Post Office. No one anticipated the huge popularity he generated among the younger generation.

Not everyone regarded the successful merchandising favourably. Some who had trouble with their telephone or the organisation blamed 'Buzby' as well as the engineers.

Of course some people never liked him from the start either. These dissenting voices took shape in the form of anti-Buzby cartoons, showing the character gagged or bound or silenced somehow.

Buzby souvenirs - book, cloth badge and lapel badge

Buzby souvenirs (1970s) : making someone happy

This funny looking yellow bird was once the popular face of Britain's telephone service. He was launched by the Post Office in the mid 1970s to encourage people to use the telephone, with the chirpy slogan 'Make someone happy with a telephone call'.

Buzby, voiced by comedy actor Bernard Cribbins, appeared on countless animated TV commercials and quickly became a part of popular culture. The image struck a welcome change in advertising and people warmed to the fluffy character.

Buzby was featured in tie-in merchandising including bath mats, slippers, knickers, aprons and fluffy toys. Badges were handed out at shops and fairs. There was even a Buzby club and magazine.

However, by the early 1980s his star began to wane. Some sections of the media set him up as a target in a knocking campaign. The chairman's wife was reputedly fed up being called 'Mrs Buzby' and the Buzby campaign was dropped.

Buzby adverts : a bird on a wire

Buzby was a bird character created in 1976 and voiced by Bernard Cribbins. The campaign was to increase telephone usage. This character was hugely popular and was successful in extending the message through television, radio and poster campaigns.

Busby
Transcript

CLIP 1:
Buzby: You know, making someone happy is so easy and it really isn't expensive. In fact it's quite cheap. You get it! Cheep cheep! Ha! Yeh well please yourself.

CLIP 2:
Oliver: Hello?

Buzby: Hello Oliver?

Oliver: mmm
Buzby: It's Buzby

Oliver: Ah

Buzby: Am I glad I caught you. I didn't want you to go without saying goodbye.

Oliver: Ah

Buzby: Have a good time Olly.

Oliver: Thanks Buzby old friend, I will.

Hard Day : telephone manners

While the Buzby advertising campaigns were generating additional calls in the 1970s, the Post Office continued to go about its other marketing communication activities. For example, it maintained its belief that its customers (then still referred to as 'subscribers') needed help in the techniques of actually using the telephone.

In this brief section from a film demonstrating good and bad use of the telephone. Susan Bland and her father had a hard day because they are disorganised about the use of the telephone and see it as an irritation. This film explained how using it well, could help everyone have a good day.

Hard Day
Transcript

Man: Mr Bland's phone. No I'm afraid he's not here at the moment. May I take a message?

Narrator: If colleagues are absent answer their telephones whenever possible, identify the phone and take a message if necessary. Susan thought her problems started with rotten people in a rotten office. But she made life so hard for herself. Don't let situations like this arise, organise your telephone life to avoid unnecessary panics and the friction that results.

Caller: Hello! Hello! Are you there?

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...