Skip to main content
   

999 Operator 1948 - 1956

My name is Florence May Sharp nee Williams born 1934. I left school in July 1948 and as there were no vacancies at the Post Office I started work at a department store on the cosmetics counter. I had only worked there for a month when a vacancy occurred and I commenced work as a probationer at Telephone House, Newcastle upon Tyne.

There was a group of us who all worked at a large table and apart from running errands for the Supervisors our main task was to collect and sort the tickets which came via a tube from all the telephonists. There was a ticket made out for every telephone call made - you could not take the calls until you had learnt all the short codes to correctly and quickly complete the tickets. We sorted the tickets into local and trunk calls then they were sent downstairs to accounts for pricing.

When the current class in the post school were fully trained and qualified to be telephonists, we were among the next group to train. Initially we were given a guided tour of the building and one of the first things we were shown was the 999 position with the Red Buzzer which went off every time someone dialled 999. This was answered immediately "Emergency! Which service please? What is your number please?" The operator then looked up on her pad to find the number for the service required nearest to the number given by the caller and listened to make sure everything was ok. They then passed the ticket which had been made out for the call to the supervisor. The supervisor came to stand behind the operator as soon as the buzzer sounded to ensure all was ok. They then telephoned the particular Emergency Authority involved straight away to confirm that they had received the call and all was ok.

The 999 position was always very important and manned 24 hours per day. Day staff from 8am until 6pm and then the Night staff from 6pm until 8am. No operator was allowed to leave the position without relief being in attendance.

Florence May Sharp

Date: 1948
Sent by: Karen Smith
Category: Rules, regulations, working practices and instruments and information

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...