Ringing the Changes

Ringing The Changes
27 May 2012, 14:50 PM Darren Bunker

To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on the 5th June we thought it would be interesting to look at how technology has changed since the Queen acceded to the throne in 1952. However, looking back over the past 60 years there’s simply too much to talk about in one article, so much so that we don’t feel that one article will do this topic justice. We will therefore look at how telephones have changed during the decades. Our next blog will cover other technological advances.

In the 1950’s the phone was still regarded as a luxury and if a family had a phone it was generally in the hall in a fixed position to allow access from every room in the house. The base unit was connected to the handset and the wall socket with a rather ugly long brown cable known as “flex”. This consisted of three strands of wire which was insulated with a fabric and plaited together. As you can imagine this meant that people fiddled with this cable while on the phone and it had a tendency to fray. This was then replaced with neatly coiled cable in several colours. The base unit held the dial and there were ten dial holes which showed the reference letters and numbers. Although we would probably today find these phones cumbersome they were actually very comfortable to hold and had clear sound reproduction. Or so we are told.

In the 1960’s telephones became more popular in homes around the country as more and more people began using them and the first pay on answer coin boxes were introduced on public pay phones. These were necessary following the introduction of STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) in 1966 to major cities in the UK which were named directory areas. These areas were London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. The very first use an STD code, however, was actually on 5th December 1958 when the Queen, who was in Bristol, made a phone call to Edinburgh, the furthest distance a call had ever been directly dialled.

The first standard public telephone kiosk introduced by the United Kingdom Post Office was produced in concrete in 1920 and was designated K1 (Kiosk No.1). This design was not of the same family as the familiar red telephone boxes. Very few remarkable examples remain. One shining example is located in Trinity market in Kingston-upon-Hull where it is still in use today. The first red telephone box was actually the result of a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk that would be acceptable to the London Metropolitan Borough and would be the same idea as the police boxes already in use.

In 1952 the new Queen, Elizabeth II, decided to depart from the practice of using the purely symbolic 'Tudor Crown' as the symbol of her government, and instead use a representation of the actual crown generally used for British Coronations named the St Edward's Crown. This new symbol soon began to appear on the fascias of the K6 (Kiosk No.6) telephone boxes shortly after her coronation.


Public demand had been for a coin box slot that would accept the 3d piece, but after only seven years the box was modified to accept 6d (2 1/2p) and 1s (5p) coins only. The introduction of decimal coinage in 1971 made another modification necessary.

The next major change was the touchtone telephone which entered the mass market in the 1970’s and by then most households would have had at least one telephone. Phones though were still rented and still regarded as a luxury item to have rather than the must have item that they have become today. Touch telephones very quickly became the norm for the business market and households and still form the basis of mobile phones today.

In the 1980’s the answering machine became very popular. They were particularly welcomed by small businesses that were able now to take customer enquiries while not always having to be at the end of a phone. But they also were popular with households too and having an answering machine was once again seen as a luxury item.

The 1990’s was the decade when technology changed radically and saw the introduction of the first mobile phone. Many of us will remember when these were first introduced and how they looked. They were, looking back, like huge unwieldy instruments but were revolutionary at the time as they allowed people to be phoned wherever they were. Telephones were no longer confined to the home or business and people could truly be connected.

The start of the 21st Century saw rapid advancement as mobile phones became smaller and more sophisticated. More and more people had their own personal mobile phone and phones became a major status symbol. 

Phones of the 1950’s were regarded as a luxury and something that you kept for a lifetime. Now phones are thought of as an essential and something that should be upgraded on a regular basis for a better and more sophisticated version. Today it is the Smart phone that is market leader and our phones are no longer just a means of speaking but of sending texts and emails, taking photos, surfing the web, keeping up on social media and enjoying the many App’s that are available to us. 

And the Queen? Well according to media reports she does indeed have a mobile phone. And over the decades we have seen her change the way that she communicates with us which now includes a Facebook site. But what has been consistent is that she has communicated and she has not stood still in her ways of communicating. We would like to wish Her Majesty all the best for her Diamond Jubilee and celebrate with her the ways in which technology has allowed the UK to communicate with one another.

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