25 June 2018

Telephones

Yorkshire Pudding's fascinating foray into the world of telecommunications. A three part series.

PART ONE
In the year before I was born, my parents had a new telephone installed in the village school house where we lived. It was a black bakelite phone and it sat on the window sill of our bay window looking almost identical to the telephone pictured above.

If the phone ever rang, we would pick up the receiver and say "Leven 272" for that was our number though why we had to begin any telephone conversation with this information remains a mystery to me.

In days before telephone codes we could directly  phone anybody in our village who was also lucky enough to have a telephone but if we wished to  phone say London or Hull we had to go through the operator. You reached her by dialling the "0" button and she would say, "Operator. Which number do you require?"

We moved from the school house when I was seventeen. My parents had only rented it and we went to live in a bungalow on one of the new housing estates that had sprung up in the village during the sixties. The same old black telephone was left sitting on the window sill and as far as I know it is still sitting there to this very day.

Just as an aside here, I recall that when my football team were playing away matches or mid-week matches I couldn't get to, I would phone up the Hull City Score Service during the course of the match to receive score updates. And when I think of it I would also phone up a "Star Disc" service to listen to newly released pop singles. Well, I think it was called "Star Disc" or  did I just make that name up? It was via "Star Disc" that I first heard "Albatross" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in 1968.

By 1971 the use of area dialling codes had made telephone exchanges and operator services largely redundant. In the new house we had a cream plastic telephone installed and preceding our old number (272) an area code had now been added.

My father died of heart failure in 1979 and my mother moved out of the estate house in 1982 to a smaller estate house in the same village. She left the cream telephone behind but had got eleven years use out of it. It was identical to this one:-

24 comments:

  1. My grandparents used to have the black backelite model for as long as I could remember. Even when my grandpa entered his "plastic phase" and changed it into an orange plastic model (guess what decade that was...!), they kept the old one, and when eventually the house had to be sold after both of them had died, my sister took it and had it set up as her proper working landline telephone for many years.
    When we were teenagers, my Mum (who was in her late 30s/early 40s then) insisted on having a Mickey Mouse telefphone. The receiver was yellow platic, held by Mickey (also of plastic). It was typical 1980s, and even though everyone thought we, the teenagers, wanted it, it was entirely Mum's idea.
    Nowadays, we all have boring cordless phones of dark grey or black plastic.

    Over here, as far as I know people always said their last name when picking up the phone, never the number. If you were picking up at someone else's place (because you were the cleaner there, or your grandma asked you to get it because you were quicker), you would say "bei Engel" instead of your own surname "Hölscher".
    Nowadays, I usually say simply "Riley", sometimes "Ja, Riley?" with a question mark as in "here is Riley, who is there and why are you ringing?".
    I don't like it when someone only says "hello?" on picking up, so that you don't know for sure you have the right number.

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    1. Because of my wariness about scam callers I must admit that nowadays I always say "Hello?" when I pick up the phone. It is as if I am almost expecting to have to give them a blast of anger. It's always a relief when the person at the other end of the line turns out not to be a scam caller.... Funny that it was your mum who wanted the Mickey Mouse telephone - clearly a woman with a sophisticated sense of style!

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  2. We didn't have a 'phone at home, you had to walk into the village and use the public telephone kiosk. I can remember being very proud of my 'Trimphone' when I bought my first house.

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    1. Tho red telephone boxes were important to so many people who did not have telephones at home.

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  3. The bit about calling the score service is amazing. Did the person who answered say, "Suri speaking, how can I help you"?

    When my dad was alive and we lived in small villages in Pennsylvania, we had a big black phone on the wall where we had to turn the lever on the right side, pick up the earpiece and speak into a speaker on the front. The operator on the other end would ask who we wanted to speak to and would then connect and ring up that person. The telephone operator was an fixture in the building that usually housed the police station and the town manager if there were such persons in the village.
    After my dad died and we moved to a real town, my mom found we could no longer afford a telephone. So, letter writing increased, to say the least, as all family and friends lived far away.

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    1. Thank you for that interesting piece of social history.
      The score service was a recorded message... "The current score at Old Trafford Manchester is Manchester United...nil Hull City... eleven."

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  4. Your telephone history roughly matches mine in terms of the apparatus issued. We didn't get our first telephone until I was sixteen (1966) and that was a major cause for celebration! It was only to be used on high days and holidays or emergencies. With this in mind, I recall my elderly grandmother ringing up at 1 am one night in March. My father answered, heart a-beating that there was a crisis, only for my grandmother to ask "Do I need to put the clock forward an hour or back?"

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    1. Well? Go on then Elsie... was it forward or back?
      In those distant days the telephone did not dominate lives as it seems to do in 2018.

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  5. I was traumitized after watching a film with Doris Day called "Midnight Lace" (Pizzo di Mezzanotte), so when we had our first telephone as a child, I was scared to answer it.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. It was The Snow Queen who scared me. I had nightmares about her.

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  6. My grandma had a black telephone. We had a phone installed in 1970. It was quite modern and lightweight.

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    1. 1970 was quite late but I guess that electricity didn't come to Hinckley till the end of the sixties. Did you have running water?

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  7. Interesting subject for a post. I remember the black bakelite phone when I was very young. Back then here in the states phone numbers had a name and number like Sunset52424 and you would dial the numbers corresponding with the first two letters - SU and then the number. That all changed to just numbers while I was still in grade school. It seems like phones have gone through quite a few changes in our lifetime. Of course the mobile phone would be the biggest change and I have a love hate relationship with that one!

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    1. I just have a hate relationship with the mobile phone!

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  8. You taken just one item and shown how it's changed. It's mind boggling to think of how all simple things have changed . If you are as old as I am it's much more change. We had the box on the wall for a phone and it was a party line. As kids we used to play on the line and get all our friends on. It was like a conference call.

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    1. Sounds like you were a naughty boy Red! Some things never change.

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    2. That's true, Red. I had forgotten how my mom used to get on the phone with different people in the village or town and coordinate something at the church at different times. My dad was a minister to several different churches at the same time. Thanks for reminding me of that.

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  9. Is "Leven" a place or is it short for "eleven"? :)

    We had the box on the wall and a party line like Red did. Two boxes over time, actually. The first was two parts, a mouthpiece stuck on the front of the box and a bell-shaped receiver that hung on the side of the box. It was the stereotypical old-fashioned phone. The second one had an all-in-one receiver/mouthpiece and we thought it was very modern. We never did have a desk phone while I lived at home. I'm not all that old, honestly, it's just that new improvements came slowly to small villages out in the countryside. And they were expensive and money was tight when I was growing up.

    Looking forward to the rest of this series. I have a feeling we'll all have a chance to rant about smart phones if we so wish!

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    1. Thanks for the detail about Canadian phones.

      Are you a fortune teller Jenny? You have looked into the future of this series and made a very accurate prediction. Spooky!

      Leven - pronounced Leave-en is the village where I was born in East Yorkshire. It is probably a Celtic name meaning "smooth" or "level" - possibly relating to a natural waterway.

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  10. I've always loved the design of those black bakelite phones.

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    1. Our black phone lasted for eighteen years and was still working perfectly when we left the school house. Modern mobile phones never last for eighteen years or more.

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  11. We had a green model of your second phone, but we also had to use the operator to phone out of the exchange. We also had a party line (5 households) using the same line. To know if someone was calling you, you had to be able to ID the phone ring. Ours was a Long and two shorts.

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  12. During my childhood and teenage years we never had a home phone. If a phone call needed to be made (which was very, very seldom) the nearest public telephone booth/s were used.

    I never had a home phone until the mid-Sixties, after I moved to Brisbane to live and work.

    Similar applied to a washing machine. We never had a washing machine...all washing was done by hand, and we had a wood-fired copper in the back yard, outside the laundry shed for the items that needed boiling.

    When I hit "the big smoke" washing machines and home telephones were the norm! :)

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  13. I've never heard of calling a phone number to listen to records. I can't imagine Donovan and the other artists thought much of that technique of distributing their music -- the sound quality would have been terrible!

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