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The swinging sixties

Telephone 712

Phones as fashion : keep in step with style

Telephones have entered a new era as fashion accessories since the widespread availability of mobile phone covers, ring tones and displays, but the trend started way back when colours were first introduced to the home devices.

Telephone design was liberated by the invention of Bakelite and the subsequent plastics revolution, which let telephone casings be produced in different colours, but until the sixties customers had not had a choice of telephone design. The decade not only brought in a new range of colours but also a new type of telephone - the Trimphone - the telephone was more expensive to rent than the standard ones but over 10% of people were using them by the 1970s.

Pink velour telephone cover - Connected Earth artefact, now at Amberley Working Museum

Pink velour phone cover (1960s) : pretty in pink!

As people started to take new technology into their homes, they often suffered a headache about where to put it, for several reasons: the new gadgets were thought to threaten family values; plastic was a new material that looked shiny, bright and vulgar; and somehow the mechanical objects just got in the way, so these new objects were viewed with suspicion.

During the 1950s and 1960s there was a passion in suburban homes for covering things up: lavatory seats and toilet paper were put under frilly covers, TVs were built into wooden cupboards, record players were in wooden cabinets and it was only a matter of time before the telephone got the same treatment.

The Post Office however wasn't impressed. They didn't like anyone 'tampering' with their equipment. Although the cover was harmless, home-visiting telephone repairmen would sometimes suggest that a cover had caused a fault with a telephone and refuse to repair it before it was removed.

Transparent trimphone

Transparent Trimphone (1960s) : a revealing new design

Unbelievably, this transparent version of the Trimphone wasn't available for people to use in their homes. It was actually a display model that was taken around the country during exhibitions or else placed in the foyer of telephone sales offices.

The Trimphone marked a departure for the Post Office. The telephone was stylish, novel and innovative and it was optional. Up until then, generally the best the Post Office had offered was a choice of colour, and either a table or wall style. With the Trimphone, designed and produced by one of the GPO's suppliers (STC Ltd.), customers could choose to have something a little different from the standard model of the time.

It had a volume controllable warbler tone, rather than a bell, came with a coiled extension cable to let a user wander around the room holding it, and a glow-in-the-dark dial. These features gave it its name - Tone Ringing Illuminated Model - TRIM Phone.

Loudspeaking Telephone

Loudspeaking telephone (1960s) : the start of the conference call

By the 1960s, speakerphone technology had become quite sophisticated and this model, designed to look good on an executive's desk, was available.

The model used the body of a standard telephone but added a separate box that housed most of the dial and mouthpiece components. The main telephone was filled with the speaker, although the handset on the top worked perfectly well and could be used instead of the loudspeaker.

The microphone sat behind a grill above the dial. It had to be kept in a separate unit from the speaker, because although the technology was getting better, it still wasn't good enough to prevent feedback if the speaker strayed too close to the microphone.

Modern telephones - (a style sceptic) : Katherine Pell

Katherine Pell is a 30-year-old Museum assistant from Bournemouth and like most people of her age grew up with the phone as being an everyday part of life.

She is a great admirer of traditional phone designs and appreciates the artistic integrity behind them and explains her mourning of the old, and lack of attraction for the new, styles.

audio clip


I simply don't like the push button phones, the modern ones, I think they look awful. I wanted to go back to the old style where the designs actually look artistic and they've had some thought put into them to make them look beautiful. I think it's a beautiful object. I consider my 1950's Bakelite phone a status symbol.

Modern telephones - a style lover : Malcolm Wright

Malcolm Wright, born in 1953 grew up in the outskirts of London before moving to Cornwall aged 14. He settled in Weymouth where he became a coastguard and teacher.

As both his and his wife's families lived far away from them, a phone was essential and he remembers the state-of-the-art Trimphone they first had and the sense of 'cool' that went with it.

audio clip


Jill and I, we were married in 1975. We bought our first house here in Weymouth in '76 and the house had a phone, so we decided that it would be good (and) it would be convenient because Jill's parents lived in Worcestershire. (With) mine still living in Cornwall it was a good way of keeping in contact. It was a light blue trim phone and we thought we were really trendy, and kind of the leaders of this innovative phone.

Different types of telephone specials : the luxury choice

Different types of telephone specials : the luxury choice
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.

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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.

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