“Please can I have a line Ethel?”

With today’s ubiquitous use of the telephone, whether a fixed line or a mobile, I thought I would share with you another story of ‘how it used to be?’ If you have been following my reminiscing, then you will know that my lost blog was about the telex machine .

This time I want to share with you my memories of how the use of the telephone in 1978 was nothing like it is today. BT did not exist at that time and the Post Office managed the telephone network as a state owned monopoly. This meant that making telephone calls was very expensive, and the calls got cheaper as day went on. The highest rate was before lunchtime (I can’t remember the exact time), the next band was in the afternoon up until 6.30pm and the evening calls were at the cheapest rate. This meant that very few private calls from home were made until the evening.

So, how did this effect us at Macgregor Wallcoverings, where I was then employed? The first thing of note was that we could not actually get a line to dial out without calling reception and saying the magic words ‘Please can I have a line Ethel? This was a combination of the technical limitations of the old corded switchboard we had in reception, but more importantly it was designed to restrict the use of this very expensive communication system. In fact only ‘local’ calls were allowed to be made in the morning unless given approval by your manager – can you imagine that today? Remember, I worked in the export department, and if ever I needed to make a call overseas, the levels of approval to allow this to happen are unimaginable today. Of course, this is why the telex was so popular as it was so much cheaper.

And yet although we take the telephone for granted, I am still amazed that it is far too often usurped by email. Twice in the last week I have had to encourage some younger colleagues to ‘pick up the phone and speak to someone’. Remembering the words from this Buzby ad from 1978 – ‘Make someone happy with a phone call’


About Mark Catchlove

All views are my own
Aside | This entry was posted in Design, Learning, Memories, Vintage, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Please can I have a line Ethel?”

  1. paul carder says:

    I don’t go back quite that far, but do remember making calls “after tea” (that was probably 6pm). And walking up the hill to the phonebox to call my girlfriend, as we only had one phone, in the hall-way, and everyone could hear!
    My elsest is 15, and now has his phone, text, Facebook messaging, and Skype – but he doesn’t use them in the most effective way!
    I have said many times “just pick up the phone!” – he will skype his friends, and wait until they all get on the conversation about when they are going to meet up!
    I say, just phone “x” and agree a time, and ask him to phone “y” etc…
    Or text them all…!
    Skype is great for talking free over long distances, but not the best for immediate answers
    They have so many “tools” available now – they need to be taught which to use and when.
    They are often using the proverbial “hammer” to crack a small nut 🙂
    (I’ll call you sometime 🙂

  2. Great feedback – I also hate the difficulty in trying to organise a get together via email – ‘just pick up the phone’!

  3. Pingback: The BT Phone Card – Mobile communications in the 80s | Mark Catchlove's Blog

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