Tuesday, 13 November 2018

My life in telephones

The first telephone I can remember dated from the 1970s and was the two-tone brown/grey 746 model, rented by my parents from British Telecom. Made from sturdy ABS, it sat on the shoe cupboard in our drafty hall, by the front door. Conversations were uncomfortable as they were held standing up in the cold, although this did not stop my eldest sister from running up excessive bills. In response, my mother purchased a small, key operated lock to fix into the number 1 finger hole thus preventing the dial from turning properly. MoDiP has a green version in the collection, designed by W.J. Avery c. 1967. 

The next telephone I can recollect was the public payphone, two of which were situated back to back outside the Post Office around the corner from my home. They were housed in the classic red telephone boxes that have now almost completely disappeared from our streets. My sister and I would each take a box and one of us would call the other for 2p. They always had a distinct metallic smell with a hint of stale cigarettes and occasionally urine!   

Moving with the times, my family updated in the 1980s to a Viscount push button phone in beige ABS, only this time my Father bought the phone outright instead of renting. Two interesting things about this phone stick in my mind: the ‘chirruping’ sound it made when ringing as opposed to the ‘brinng brinng’ call of the 746, and the secrecy button which, when depressed, would break the microphone link so that the caller could not hear you but you could still hear them – great fun when you’re a kid! MoDiP has a similar version here

The next phone is the first one I purchased myself after leaving home in 1991. It is still one of my most treasured possessions: a 1950s GPO 312 - an extremely handsome, black, Phenol Formaldehyde telephone with a pull-out drawer for an information card, a type 12 chrome dial featuring an alpha numeric face and the original plaited cord connecting handset to receiver (I really love this phone!). People would always comment that we sounded like we were at the end of a tunnel when speaking and we eventually stopped using it after moving house and unsuccessfully attempting to reconnect the gas, electricity and water via call centre automated phone menus – the ‘press 1 for this, press 2 for that’ message. It now lives on the bookcase and my children’s friends are fascinated by it because they have never experienced a dial phone before.

Image credit: K. Pell

We then got ourselves a generic, cordless, push button phone that we still use today. Although seemingly unremarkable in its design, for the first time in my life I was able to make calls anywhere in the house! No longer restricted by a cable, I could speak whist cooking or making the beds – such simple things we now take for granted with mobile technology. This photo actually shows the second version of this phone as the first one had to go back when the most important button (number 9) stopped working!  
Image credit: K. Pell

We still use our landline (mainly to speak to my mum) although less and less each year as we prefer to communicate via social media. Smartphones have well and truly taken over our lives but for me their homogeneous appearance lacks the charm of the older telephones I knew and loved. There were so many different types, all made possible by the potential offered by plastics. You can find some other classics in the MoDiP collection such as the Trimphone and the Ericofon (currently on display).

Katherine Pell, (Collections Assistant)

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