History of the Phone Part 6

We left part 5 of our History of the Telephone in the transatlantic, with cables stretching 1,500 nautical miles to connect the UK to Europe, the US and Canada. It was also the year that AT&T’s monopolised hold on the telephone industry was reduced, limiting them to 85% of the telephone network in the US.

As modern conveniences became more and more important to the everyday consumer, Bell’s merchandising department realised that growth was limited by the company focusing on customer’s needs rather than wants. Rather than a utilitarian hallway phone, people wanted ease of contacting whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted and wherever they wanted from within their home. Bartlett Miller, one of Bell’s merchandisers decided to tap into this potential market to deliver a design with marketing over engineering in mind. The idea was to produce a product that could sit neatly in the home, easily placed on bedside tables, in hallways, on the kitchen counter, wherever the owner wanted their phone.

Henry Dreyfuss was entrusted with designing the new phone which was named the Princess phone, he oversaw the design after having designed earlier models for Western Electric. The result was a ‘little and lovely’ telephone, lighter than previous models, smaller and all round more stylish. Released in 1956, criticism flooded in about the design, which didn’t evenly distribute the weight of the phone, meaning callers had to hold the base down in order to dial with the other hand, leaving them to position the phone between neck and shoulder. The early design floor resulted in the Princess phone being commonly referred to as the ‘three handed phone’, not quite what Miller had hoped for.

Over the next ten years the Princess Phone is re-developed, re-weighted, re-coloured and adapting to customer demand. Touch tone models were released in 1964 and replaced in 1968 with a 12 button model. Dreyfuss had earlier designed the Model 500, in 1949, it was consistently redeveloped like the Princess phone, to include more touch tone keys.

Back in the UK and two years on from the installation of the transatlantic cable, the Subscriber Trunk Dialling service is introduced in 1958. Callers were able to make calls without the use of an operator. Queen Elizabeth II was the first to use the new system, dialling a call from Bristol to Edinburgh, 300 miles away. The new system made it easier for callers to connect with areas further distances away and was much cheaper!

With the Post Office being responsible for the UK telecommunications industry at the time, they introducted their own take on Dreyfuss’ 500 Model with the 700 Series, designed for the Post Office by W.J. Avery of Ericsson (yes that one!) in 1959.

We all know how important customer service is, particularly in telecommunications. In 1959 the Friendly Telephone policy was introduced by the Postmaster General to ensure there was a focus on positive customer service and call handling, operators were allowed to use risqué phrases such as ‘Good Morning’ for the first time in 54 years, when previously restricted to asking the customer for the number they wished to dial.

This was a huge step towards not only improving the role of the telephone in business and social aspects but also in customer service and as a customer focused company, social surveys were carried out to meet customer’s needs and find out what they wanted, all promoted by the Post Office.

"The aim and purpose of the telephone service is not only to serve, but to please the customer. Everything must be subordinated and surrendered to that aim. Our telephone service must be a personal service to meet the customers' wishes. We must study their wishes all the time; we must then satisfy them by a service which is courteous, pleasing and speedy."


With the UK focusing on improved customer service, the Post Office laid a second transatlantic cable, connecting areas of France and Canada in the same year, a year later in 1960, the first direct cable to link Sweden and the UK was laid. Despite advancements in laying cables and connecting the UK to the rest of the world, public telephones were still frequently used, with a home telephone still being considered a luxury at the time.

Over the years, from 1951 to 1966 the amount of households with a telephone had increased from 1.5 million to 4.2 million. Despite this, by the end of the sixties we Brits were favouring the television, with 75% of households owning a TV but over 50% still not owning a telephone. Cost was still a huge factor with people having to rent a phone from the General Post Office. It’s easy to draw comparisons in the way the GPO regulated and monopolised the UK telephone services to the way Bell’s company had done years before. http://www.retrowow.co.uk/telephones/700_series/60s_telephone_service.php#foot1

Cost and time were an important factor, with calls taking nearly forty seconds to connect and costing £10 to have a phone installed, rising to £20 just two years later, this is the equivalent of over £350 today. Over the next twenty years the UK would see developments in mobile communications, BT would become established and British telecommunications would advance even further.