'Number Please': Brentwood Telephone Exchange, 1972
Radio programme ‘Number Please’ produced by Dennis Rookard for Harold Wood Hospital Radio in 1972 (SA 19/1050/1). The programme features a visit to the manual telephone exchange on Queen’s Road shortly before the system was automated. The sounds of the operators connecting calls can be heard in the background. The programme includes a demonstration emergency call routed through the exchange and the fire service’s response.
We know the exchange was near St Thomas’s Church on Queen’s Road, because a member of staff mentions that callers could occasionally hear the church bells ringing as they were being put through, but we are not sure exactly where it was located. The new subscriber trunk dialling (STD) exchange opened on Ongar Road. The roll-out of STD began in 1958 and was completed in 1979. This is one example of automation that has reduced the level of noise, not increased it.
Are there any manual telephone exchanges still in operation, and do they sound like this? How has the prevalence of mobile phones affected the traffic through telephone exchange systems in the twenty-first century?
The image shows operators at the Enfield Telephone Exchange in 1960. Image courtesy of the Science Museum / SSPL used under Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives) licence. View the original here.