ON May 5, 1958, Queen Elizabeth II made the first subscriber trunk dialled telephone call from the Bristol Telephone Exchange. She called the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, more than 300 miles (482km) away.
Her call lasted two minutes five seconds and cost 10d (or the equivalent of four pence in decimal currency).
Automated telephone connection made calls easier and cheaper, Postmaster General Ernest Marples announced.
Trunk calls could be placed without the aid of the operator.
The BBC reported on May 21, 1958:
The General Post Office is to spend £35m modernising the phone system in an effort to popularise use of the telephone. At the moment there are on average less than two calls a day per telephone made in the UK – half the number of those made in the US.
All calls will be charged automatically according to both time of call and distance. Prices will start at 2d and a three-minute call will cost 2s 6d, a reduction from 3s 6d.
New streamlined coin phone boxes will be installed in Bristol with slots for 3d, 6d and 1s pieces. Money cannot be put in until the call is answered.
Mr Marples demonstrated to reporters how the new automatic dial payphones will work. A series of pips indicates when the time paid for is running out and the caller must insert more coins to carry on talking.
“And if you don’t put it in in that time, you’ll hear the ‘number unobtainable’ in which case as they say – rudely – you’ve had it!” he explained.
“We didn’t want to be hard on the people in the kiosks for this reason – they may not have quite the right money available and [we wanted] to give them the chance to continue their conversation if they so wished. It’s quite revolutionary and I think it will give them good value for money.”
It was the beginning of the end for the women and men on the switchboards:
In 1976 the last manual exchange in the United Kingdom at Portree in the Isle of Skye closed making the British telephone system fully automatic.
British Telecom took over the running of the phone system from the Post Office in 1981.
Telecommunications technology has come a long way since.
The advent of the Internet, email and mobile phones along with cut-throat competition in the global telecoms market has forced British Telecom to lower the price of phone calls and other services.
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