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Selling the network

Ericsson table telephone - Connected Earth artefact, now at Amberley Working Museum

Almost the 300-type : a question of taste

By the time any telephone or other piece of equipment hits the public it has usually been through a process of design, redesign and refinement until it meets the exact specification required by the client.

This telephone looks very similar to the 300 series the Post Office launched in the late 1930s, however it isn't exactly the same. The model was actually the original design supplied by the Ericsson telephone company to the GPO, but they felt that it wasn't quite right for the British market and put the telephone through a series of subtle changes until they were totally satisfied with it.

At the end of the day the changes were possibly made as a matter of taste and style, however the Post Office's view was that no one manufacturer had all the answers, and they preferred a combination of all the best ones. Ericsson did supply the telephone unchanged to other countries as well as to hotels in the UK.

Speaking Clock Mk. 1, with its voice - Jane Cain

Mk. 1 Speaking Clock : at the third stroke, it will be ...

Following its launch the speaking clock soon became yet another public institution from the Post Office. The service began in 1936 after a nationwide search for the 'girl with the golden voice' to make the recorded announcements.

The winner, Jane Cain's voice was recorded on to four glass discs, one each for seconds, minutes and hours and another for the announcement 'at the third stroke it will be...' The mechanics enabled tracks on the discs to create all the necessary combinations of numbers to make up the time, which was read through a ray of light, optical playback.

The machinery was set up in London, and a second installation in Liverpool was added in 1942. One site served the north of the country, and the other the south - although each could serve the whole country if needed.

The service cost the price of a local call. It was reached by dialling T.I.M. and the machine quickly became known as Tim.

The Telephone No. 700

Developing the 700 series : a clash of identities

Telephone development never stayed still for long, and during the 1950s the GPO was planning once again to introduce a new style of telephone, the 700 series, to replace the 300 series. Before starting production the new telephones had to be tried out in 'live' conditions.

This was one of the telephones made for the tests. Take a close look at it. The styling for the new telephone's case was not yet decided, so the new components were fitted inside the shell of the old 300 style.

Modern telephone customer leaflet, 1964

Spreading the good news : telephones for all

By the 1960s, there was some good news to pass on. The worst of the investment famine that had 'rationed' telephones since 1945 was over. The Post Office's engineers had nearly caught up with rising demand, to the extent that telephones were now available to anyone who wanted them.

The Post Office's wish to make the most of the greater capacity in the network meant that trunk call prices began to fall.

The exchange-building programme reduced the number of party lines and shared service connections - and more reliable exchanges meant fewer crossed lines.

Now the emphasis was shifting - to encourage people to take advantage of the new plenty and the marketing of the time reflected a new optimism.

Colour samples of the 700 series

Colour samples of the 700 series (1960s) : brighten up your talk time

Everything was changing in the 1960s. Memories of post-war austerity were long forgotten as a new generation turned away from the conservative designs of the post-war years.

New telephone designs were introduced with a bright range of colours to complement them.

Black and ivory were retained, as were red (now in a less harsh shade) and green (in a pleasant two-tone form). There were also a new deep blue, a new mustard yellow and a further two-tone colourway - grey. The grey combination went on to used widely across other telephone and accesories and, in effect, replaced the old black as the new 'standard' colour.

Plan 105 / Plan 107 telephone

Secretarial Telephone

This telephone was one of the later (non-electronic) innovations to be widely distributed by The Post Office in the mid 1960s before the advent of microchip technology. The telephone is standard in most ways, but it sits on a 'Planset 625' box that converted it into a mini-switchboard.

The telephone could directly transfer calls to two other telephones without having to transfer a caller back to the main switchboard first. Usually it was used by a secretary who would be able to check whether the boss (or two bosses if the secretary worked for more than one person) wanted to take the call or not.

Press advert for 'Ann' - the face of PO campaign, 1969

Meet ANN (1970) : selling the seeds of change

In January 1970 'ANN', short for 'All-figure Numbers Now', was introduced to the public as the smiling face of the telephone system. The London network had gone through a major re-development that spelled the end of alphabetical exchange names and the beginning of number-only codes instead. ANN was created to soften the blow. The use of alphabetic codes in STD was short lived and gone by the mid-60s but the old exchange names remained dialable where possible up to the time when the ANN campaign was run.

The Post Office had to overhaul the system to make room for a huge growth in demand from new callers and needed to urgently reconfigure the way the London network operated. Of course the general public knew little of this and it seemed as if they were just being asked to dial lnumbers of more digits.

ANN was featured in newspapers, articles, posters and advertising to stimulate public interest and help people understand what the changes actually meant.

Telephones No. 222

Telephone No. 222 (1930s) : how does the phone work anyway?

When the GPO was on its 1930s subscriptions drive, a lot of people were still afraid of or hadn't yet had a chance to try out the new technology.

To overturn this ignorance they gave demonstrations at schools and village halls around the country of how the telephone worked, using these demonstration telephones for people to try.

Pairs were wired to each other via a battery box and allowed people to telephone from one end of a room to another. As the telephones were not connected to bell units the light would flash on and off to show when a call was coming in. The resourceful teams played a record of the noises the telephone made - dialling tone, engaged signal, ringing etc. - as well.

Transparent 700-type telephone : a clear view of technology

Place the mouse over the QuickTime image. Left-click and drag either left or right to rotate the animation.

Transparent 700-type telephone 3d object

What happens inside a phone is a question that's been asked ever since the first phones were enclosed within wooden boxes. There's an element of magic that allows two people to talk hundreds of miles apart and people have always been curious as to how it works.

The Post Office started a trend to let people in on the secret in the 1930s. Manufacturing with plastics meant that transparent models could be made of standard phones. They were taken to shows (such as the ideal home show), exhibitions and placed in shop windows.

People learnt how they worked or what changes had gone into new models and it was a useful way for the Post Office to justify subscription charges, once a subscriber understood the level of technology in their phone. The phones were never put on general distribution, in fact only about two dozen of these particular transparent 700 models were ever made.

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.

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In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

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