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Telephones and privacy

Ex Directory

Ex directory : I am not a number ... I'm a free man!

Very early telephone directories were designed for the telephone companies' own convenience. Customers were listed by numerical - not alphabetical - order. That wasn't quite as bad as it sounds - there were very few names in those first directories.

Several years passed before people were listed also by name, along with their address.

Even 100 years ago you could opt not to have your number listed, although the way the telephone book was arranged made it easy to deduce ex-directory customers' numbers.

The London directory of 1899-1900 lists an unnamed number of Kensington 471, placed between Benson, J.W. and Benson, Robert & Co. It would not require Sherlock Holmes to deduce the surname of the ex-directory party.

Nowadays unlisted numbers are divulged to nobody and Britain has the world's highest proportion of ex-directory telephone customers - more than one in four.

Early 1980s publicity leaflet for the new generation of answer/record machines

Telephone answering machines : hey how you doing? I'm sorry that I'm not home!

Telephone answering machines enabled go-ahead businesses to take messages out of hours but otherwise their initial appeal was limited.

The Post Office did not have a monopoly over supply of answering machines - but it did have the right to decide which could be connected to its network, and insisted that these machines should only be rented - not bought outright.

It was the 1980s when prices fell and answering machines became personal. The tyranny of the telephone was tamed... you could now filter your calls and choose whether to answer or get the machine to take the call.

Fun tapes with celebrity soundalike voices became the rage and people began to express their personality in this way. Amazingly, one chap (known as 'Curly Man') recorded inventive and amusing messages that were changed so regularly that people rang in to hear them. The demand was so high that he became a media star for a few months and needed extra telephone lines to support demand!

Caller Display and Caller Return services literature, 1994

Caller Display and Return (1994) : an advanced warning system

Some of the most useful features of today's digital telephone network are based on its ability to display and store callers' numbers.

Caller Display allows customers to see the number of the person calling them before they answer the telephone. Since the launch of this facility in 1994 the number of nuisance and malicious calls reported has dropped significantly and it has many other benefits. Helpdesks and contact centres can recognise callers automatically and bring up their files on screen ready for customer service agents before they have even answered the call.

Call Return uses the same number data. By simply dialling 1471, customers hear the number of the caller, provided the number was available or was not withheld, and then return the call by dialling '3'.

You can prevent your number being stored or displayed by the receiver telephone by dialling the prefix 141 before making the call. You can also apply to have it suppressed permanently.

Answering Machine 1A

Answering Set 1A (1960s) : always someone to answer the phone

Business had been clamouring for an answering machine that could be installed at a reasonable cost. Since the 1950s the Post Office had licensed a few manufacturers to produce answering machines but the cost and complexity of these meant they were used mainly by large companies.The introduction of the 'Answering Set 1A' put the technology within the reach of many more users.

There were two versions of the machine - the '1A' and the '2'. The '1A' could play a 30 second message whilst the '2' could play either a one, two, three or four minute message, depending on the customer's requirement.

The plastic body housed equipment for playing back messages recorded on the associated telephone's handset. The player detected when the telephone was ringing, answered the call and played the message. The machine couldn't take messages, in fact it would be a while before that function was offered by the Post Office, when demand began to take off.

Juliphone (1960s) : the electronic secretary

Place the mouse over the QuickTime image. Left-click and drag either left or right to rotate the animation.
Juliphone 3D object

Answering machines were few and far between in the 1960s. They were big, expensive and cumbersome.

A limited range of models could be rented through approved GPO suppliers, but hardly anyone had them at the time. The Juliphone was different. The suppliers sold them to users, much to the annoyance of the Post Office, and left them to install it themselves.

It used a clever combination of microphones, loudspeakers and levers that sensed when the telephone was ringing. It then lifted the receiver, played a pre-recorded message and taped the caller's response. When it heard the dialling tone again after the caller had hung up, it replaced the receiver ready to start again. It even provided the owner with remote message retrieval, and all without any connection to the telephone or the telephone line.

The example shown is a Connected Earth artefact which can be seen at the Science Museum, London.

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...