The Queen makes telephone history in 1958
In 1958 the Queen came to Bristol to make the first self dialled long distance phone call
On December 5, 1958, the Queen arrived in the city to make the first-ever directly dialled long-distance phone call in the UK.
It was an event that would revolutionise communications.
For the first time the public could make a trunk call – phone distance direct rather than having to go through an operator.
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The call, from Bristol’s Central Telephone Exchange to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, marked the inauguration of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or STD for short.
At that time Edinburgh, 300 miles away, was the greatest distance anyone could call on the new STD system.
The call to Scotland, which lasted for two minutes and five seconds, would have cost a member of the public one shilling and 10 pence (about 9p).
A few minutes earlier – but connected by an operator – it would have cost three shillings and nine pence (nearly 19p).
It inevitably meant the General Post Office – the GPO ran the telephone system in those days – could drastically cut the number of operators it employed.
But the event was noteworthy in other ways.
It was, the Queen revealed to Postmaster General Ernest Marples, the first time she had personally dialled a call.
And it was the first time a monarch had been photographed using a telephone.
What happened to the phone you ask?
Well, Ernest Marples presented it to the Queen and it’s assumed she took it back to Buckingham Palace.
The Queen then operated a switch which put 18,000 telephones connected to Bristol Central on to the new system.
Before STD, Bristol subscribers could dial direct to 2,600 stations connected to 41
local exchanges outside the city.
After STD they could dial calls to 427 exchanges, including most of those in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.
But gossips felt the pinch. Previously able to talk all day for 3p, it would now cost 2p every six minutes.
STD also meant that “pay-on-answer” phones began to supersede the old “press button A and B” models.
In 1983, Princess Anne came to Bristolto repeat her mother’s famous call but using
a Confravision system which incorporated both pictures and sound.
Ten years previously the Queen herself had sent a message to Bristol engineers congratulating them on 25 years of progress.
Why was Bristol chosen for the honour?
Well, the city had a long history of telephone innovation.
The first telephone exchange, catering for just 25 subscribers, had opened in 1879, just three years after Alexander Graham Bell had filed his patent as its inventor.
Sharing offices with the Victoria Tea Company, it was housed on the corner of Mary-Le-Port Street, in what was known as the Queen Victoria building.
Later the home of Stead and Simpson shoes, the building was demolished in 1960.
There is, however, a commemorative plaque on the side of the soon to be demolished Norwich Union insurance building which replaced it.
The service offered one manually operated switchboard capable of accommodating 75 lines.
The line rental – it included two phones, cost £20 a year and catered mostly for businesses – operated from 9am until 6pm, with special arrangements for after-hours.
Calls in those early days were uncertain, poor at the best of times, and only possible over a distance of a few miles.
Butler’s tar works at Crew’s Hole was the first local firm to use the service with a line between the works and the head office inSt Philip’s.
Phone lines beyond Clifton were an impossibility.
But the newfangled invention – the local press labelled it “a marvel of simplicity” – soon caught on, and within two years there were more than 100 subscribers.
By 1886, Bristol had the first freestanding “call office” (later known as “kiosks”) – a small wooden hut where a three-minute call could be made for just 2p.
Some of the kiosks had a penny- in-the-slot mechanism on the door, while others had an attendant to collect the fee.
The National Telephone Company offered “trunk pass keys” which could be used to unlock kiosks when you wanted to make a call in the attendant’s absence.
By this time Bristol had become the HQ for expanding services in Wales and the West Country andthe first long-distance line – a major technological achievement – was constructed between the city and Bath.
Now with nearly 400 subscribers, another switchboard was installed, along with flexible cord and jack plug connections.
As businesses fought to get connected the number of lines was doubled to 800, and a new exchange built capable of handling lines to Newport and Cardiff, and then London itself.
In 1900, it became necessary to move to a new location in Telephone Avenue, just off
It would remain there until 1992.
In 1912, the Post Office took over all private operators and they remained in government hands until deregulation in 1984.
You might be surprised to hear that Donald M Mitchell, a US citizen, applied for a patent for a “portable radio transmitting and receiving” telephone back in 1942.
The device transmitted using short waves, had a limited range and weighed no less than 2.5kg.
But another 35 years – a whole generation – were to pass before anything like this would be available to the public.
In 1983, Motorola marketed the first ever commercial mobile phone – the cumbersome Dyna TAC 8000X.
By 1996, everybody wanted a mobile for Christmas. The rest, as they say, is history.
Telephone history – the past 50 years
1958 – The Queen inaugurates STD service from Bristol.
1959 – First pay-on-answer coin box (STD) introduced.
1962 – First telecommunications satellite (Telstar).
1963 – International Subscriber Dialling (ISD) arrives.
1965 – Telecom Tower opens.
1966 – Change to all-figure telephone numbers.
1975 – 20 millionth phone installed.
1978 – First call in Europe using optical fibre transmission.
1980 – British Telecom launched (but still part of the Post Office).
1983 – First public phone on a train; direct dialling for car phones; British Telecom’s first cordless telephone.
1984 – Formation of British Telecommunications plc.
1985 – Cellnet launched. Trials of the 0800 and 0345 services.
1987 – Itemised telephone bills.
1988 – The rank of eight old- style red phone boxes disappears from the Centre to be replaced by 12 new, hi-tech kiosks.
1991 – British Telecom relaunched as BT.
1992 – BT’s 100,000th public pay phone comes into service.
1992 – Bristol’s central exchange in Marsh Street and Telephone Avenue closes.
1994 – Peak rate charging abolished.
1995 – New Bristol dialling code (0117) introduced.
1996 – Smart Payphones and Phonecards launched. BT opens its marketing
campaign – “It’s
good to talk”.
1998 – Mobile
phones become commonplace.
Did You Know?
1875 – Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), assisted by Thomas A Watson, makes his first experimental telephone call in Boston. Bell spoke the words – transmitted over 100ft of wire – “Mr Watson, come here, I want you”
1878 – Bell demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria with calls to London, Cowes and Southampton.
1879 – The Telephone Company opens the first public exchange in London. Starting with just eight subscribers, it soon has 200.
1879 – Telephone exchanges opened in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Bristol.
1881 – The very first telephone directory contained details of more than 250 subscribers connected to three London exchanges.
1886 – Bristol has the first freestanding “call office” (later known as kiosks) – a small wooden hut where a three-minute call could be made for just 2p.
1900 – The first central battery exchange in Europe opened in Telephone Avenue, Bristol – a great benefit to individual telephone subscribers.
1903 – Under a cheap-rate scheme between 8pm and 6am, six minutes were allowed for the normal price of a three-minute call.
1912 – When the Postmaster- General took over the National Telephone Company, he inherited 9,000 employees, 1,500,000 miles of wire and 1,565 exchanges.
As a monopoly it created a unified telephone system throughout most of Britain.
1918 – When Leeds automatic telephone exchange opened, it was the largest of its kind in Europe, equipped for 6,800 lines with an ultimate capacity of 15,000.
1927 – New cast iron kiosks in bright red were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
Although made obsolete in 1936, a number have been designated as Grade-II listed buildings.
1936 – The pip tone speaking clock (TIM) was introduced. The so-called “golden voice” – it belonged to Jane Cain, a London telephone operator – gave the Greenwich time correct to one- tenth of a second.
1937 – A 999 emergency service, available at first in London, is later extended throughout the country.
1945 – Arthur C Clarke – an expert on space research and later to become renowned for his sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey – suggested in Wireless World the use of synchronous satellites for communications, the first occasion such a concept was proposed.
1951 – The Telephone Act is the first recognition in law of the telephone
as a separate instrument from the telegraph.
1951 – The Swiss-made “Ipsophone”, a record/ answer machine, became the first such device to be available in the UK.
The Post Office did not market its own machine until 1958.
1956 – The weather forecast and Test match information services were introduced.
1957 – Road weather information service was introduced.
1958 – Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) introduced from Bristol.
Until 1959, operators were not allowed to say “Good morning” when taking a call, but only phrases such as “Number, please”.
1959 – The “0 for Operator” – introduced in 1928 – “TRU” for trunks and “TOL” for toll were replaced by “100”.
1959-1961 – A car radiophone, a credit card and a recipe information service were all
started. A radio telephone service from aircraft was also introduced.
1962 – The first communications satellite (Telstar) was launched from Cape Canaveral.
1965 – PM Harold Wilson opens London’s £9 million Post Office Tower.
At 620 feet (189 metres) with a 40ft (12m) lattice aerial on top, it was the country’s tallest building.
1967 – Postmaster-General and Bristol MP Tony Benn, accompanied by Sir Billy Butlin (who had taken the lease on the revolving restaurant) opened the tower to the public.
It was designed to sway not more than 20cm (almost 8in) each way in winds up to 100mph.
During the first year it had nearly one million visitors, with 105,000 of them dining in the revolving restaurant.
The restaurant remained in operation until 1980.
1966 – Half the weight of the more traditional phone, the luxury “Trimphone” was available in three two-tone colour combinations.
The first “Trimphone” was presented by Tony Benn to a newlywed couple in a ceremony marking the 10,000,000th phone to be installed in Britain.
A keypad version came out in 1981.
1969 – The General Post Office (GPO) ceased to be a government department.
1970 – Londoners could now phone New York. The cost was 10 shillings (10p) per minute.
1974 – International Subscriber Trunk Dialling (ISD) was extended to New Zealand and Australia, making UK subscribers the first in the world to be able to dial the Antipodes directly.
1976 – The centenary of the telephone was celebrated by the issue of a set of four special stamps, which highlighted the importance of the telephone to the community.
1981 – British Telecom arrives following a government decision to separate the major Post Office operations.
1982 – The first cashless, card- operated pay phone – the Cardphone – was introduced.
1982 – BT launches the “It’s for you” campaign, featuring such characters as Neptune and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, followed by a series of animal- themed advertisements. The campaign ran until 1985.
1982 – Mercury becomes the main competitor to BT.
1985 – Brian Cobby replaced Pat Simmons as the voice of the speaking clock.
1989 – Skyphone – the world’s first satellite telephone communications system for airline passengers – has its commercial debut on a British Airways 747.
1989 – The “Beattie” series of adverts starring Maureen Lipman were launched. They finished in 1993.
1997 – The “It’s good to talk” campaign with Bob Hoskins launched, followed by Hugh Laurie, Kenny Dalglish and Jeffrey Archer.