back to article Live or let dial - phones ain’t what they used to be

Shut up shut up shut up. Some annoying tit is typing away on his laptop as I’m trying to snooze on the train – except it doesn’t sound like he’s typing so much as rummaging through a bag of Scrabble tiles. It’s a horrible clattery, clickety, plasticky noise. Shut up shut up shut up, you twat. I’m on the train heading home …


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  1. John H Woods

    You lucky git ...

    ... I look like an infamous Norwegian maniac

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: You lucky git ...

      Still better than me. Even groomed and coifed, in a tux I look like a homeless person someone dressed up for a laugh.

  2. Gideon 1
    Thumb Up

    Post Office 746 classic telephones (new but old stock with new cables) are still available after BT found a warehouse full of them and sold them on. They come in rather fetching 1970s colours.

    1. Linker3000

      I bought a 706 at a car boot sale for 15 quid a couple of weeks ago for use as a stage prop. It's ivory and in pristine condition - even the carbon granule mic is as clear as a bell. A couple of diodes and a resistor later and it's hooked up on my home line and working perfectly. I had to give my 13 year-old son a lesson in how to use it though!

    2. Alistair Dabbs

      Fetching 1970s colours

      Absolutely! The pulse dial phone we found was a beautiful bright red. It was lovely.

      1. Ed 13

        Re: Fetching 1970s colours

        Fantastic! A proper "Hot Line" phone phone.

  3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Dials of WTF handsets

    numbers are arranged anti-clockwise around the dial, which makes even less sense than designing counting machines to have 7-8-9 on the top row

    Of course they are! Otherwise you had to move your finger anti-clockwise to dial. What's the problem with that, you may ask. Well, it just doesn't make much sense, does it?

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: Dials of WTF handsets

      Makes perfect sense - for right-handed people, anyway.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Dials of WTF handsets

      Well, in New Zealand the dials turned in the same direction as here, but the numbers were arranged clockwise on the dial. It all worked perfectly: the NZPO defined the number of pulses per number its compliment, so dialling 1 emitted ten pulses and dialling 0 emitted one. And, before you ask, the emergency number was 111, not 999.

      1. SynicNZ

        Re: Dials of WTF handsets

        It was to avoid BT's patent or so I am lead to believe

        1. Terry Barnes

          Re: Dials of WTF handsets

          "It was to avoid BT's patent or so I am lead to believe"

          BT (or GPO then) didn't have any kind of patent on these phones, the Strowger system was a US invention.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dials of WTF handsets

          I don't think so.

          I think it was a "non-tariff trade barrier" that kept the ludicrously inefficient local phone making factory in business. It's receding into the mists of time, but I think it was a Pye (or Phillips?) factory in Porirua where they made the things that were different enough from 'proper' phones that it wasn't worth anyone else making them for the tiny local NZ market.

          In those days of course you could rent - not buy - your handset from anyone you liked as long as you liked the Post Office. And they could often connect your house to the phone network in less than three months. Ah, the Good Old Days.

      2. andy k O'Croydon

        "...the numbers were arranged clockwise on the dial"

        Is that due to the Coriolis Effect?

        1. rjmx

          Re: "...the numbers were arranged clockwise on the dial"

          Yes. And that explains why they were the other way around in New Zealand (see above post).*

          *Yes, yes, I'm aware that Australia, for one, had it the same way around as British phones. I worked** for Australia's overseas telecommunications entity long ago. They had to add special stuff in their exchanges to handle NZ phone numbers.

          ** if that's the word, of course.

        2. meanioni

          Re: "...the numbers were arranged clockwise on the dial"

          So how would they be arranged at the equator??? <scratches head>

      3. dboy

        Re: Dials of WTF handsets

        You used to be able to make free calls from pay phones by tapping the button the correct number of times, the area code for where I lived was 478 so it was 6 pulses, wait, 3 pulses, wait, 2 pulses, etc.

        I was very glad there were no 1s or 0s in my home number.

  4. ukgnome

    I too look like James Bond

    Unfortunately I look like James Bond the evil wizard that eats baby penguins and not James Bond the spy.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: I too look like James Bond!

      I'm closer to the ornithologist who wrote the 'Birds of the West Indies'

      logo - only bird available

  5. AdamT

    Pulse dialling?

    kind of amazed that it still actually works! Assumed that most exchanges wouldn't recognise it anymore. Anyone else remember spending ages trying to dial numbers by just clicking the handset rest?

    1. Velv Silver badge

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      That truly was "tapping in the number"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pulse dialling?

        tapping the number was when you figured out how it all worked and then realised your local supermarkets one button only taxi firm phone was your ticket to free phone calls, I remember how the locks the old rotary dial phones used to make me chuckle too, to many zero's was rather annoying though... pulse dialing was even more fun and yes I did have captain crunch for breakfast...

        1. Eugene Crosser
          Thumb Up

          Re: Pulse dialling?

          Where I live, last time I checked, you had to personally visit the office of the phone company and write a paper request to have DTMF enabled on your home line. So, I had to configure my SIP ATA to use pulse dialling.

          Speaking of vintage tech, years before that, I was rather thrilled when I had an opportunity to connect a 386 PC running SCO UNIX to the telegraph network with a specialized adapter, and could login and enter commands from a real electromechanical telegraph terminal. At 50 baud!

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: Pulse dialling?

            it was shilling coins when I was a kid so im not quite as old. Still you always had the pips to "COME PICK ME UP"

        2. Boo Radley

          Re: Pulse dialling?

          I was amazed to read, back about 15 years ago, that some Ten Million US homes still had a Rotary phone in their home - and a surprising percentage of those people were still LEASING them from their local phone monopoly, at well over a dollar per month. I know that my mother paid over $1,000 to lease her 1963 rotary phone just between 1987 and 1997. This phone was installed when we built the house in '63, but we'd thrown that phone away sometime in the early 80s - and failed to notify the phone co, since Mom didn't KNOW that she was paying for it!

          Gotta love that fine print on the bill! [Don't bash my poor mother, she was in her eighties when I discovered this outright theft by Ohio Bell]

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Clicking the handset rest* was a way to make free calls from pre-STD** call boxes.

      IIRC, to make calls legally, you had to insert four pre-decimal pennies, things about the size and weight of a bronze coaster, dial the number, and when you were connected, press Button A to commit the transaction. There was a Button B for rollback. I suppose the phone wouldn't transmit dial pulses until you proved you had the money, but the line was enabled so you could simulate them by clicking the receiver rest.

      It sounds like the Middle Ages, especially when you realise that the four pennies we saved were worth 1.7p in decimal money.

      *known, confusingly as "phone tapping"

      **Subscriber Trunk Dialling, not Sexually Transmitted Disease

      1. Thomas Gray

        Re: worth 1.7p?

        Only in 1971. Nowadays 4d is worth 20p (at least according to the Daily Fail's inflation calculator)

        On a broader note, I wish the BBC et al would stop doing the conversions from old LSD values to "New Pence" as if it was a direct numerical conversion. A shilling in the '60s bought you a damn sight more than 5p does now. Oddly enough, when it comes to pounds sterling they always make an inflation-adjusted conversion, but not with coinage.

        1. Daedalus Silver badge

          Re: worth 1.7p?

          Ee aye, when I were a lad you could get three penn'orth of chips. And with scraps too! Then it were four penn'orth, then five, and six, and it's never been t'same since!

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: Pulse dialling?

        And in those days, the phone boxes where commonly plastered with numbers for certain services. Pretty sure a few lads made there pre-STD* calls from there, too.

        *Sexually Transmitted Disease, not Subscriber Trunk Dialling

      3. LarsG

        Re: Pulse dialling?@Kubla Cant

        Yes but you could get a lot of sweeties for 1d in old money.please note not p but a d

    3. Cynical Observer

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Remember doing it back in about 1986 when there were still some old A - B button phones available.

      As I recall 1s, 9s and 0s could be dialled directly - the numbers from 2 to 8 had to be tapped.

      Which raises a further question. 999 was picked to avoid the accidental dialling of 111 through the contacting of lines - essentially the same result as tapping or dialling a 1.

      Wonder how many phantom calls the new non-emergency NHS number gets these days. Sometimes it pays to remember the old history.

      1. Terry Barnes

        Re: Pulse dialling?

        When 112 was introduced in the early 90's as a pan-European emergency number (it works alongside 999 in the UK) there was a significant amount of false calls. At the time one solution was to disable loop disconnect dialling on lines that were prone to problems as a short-term fix until the underlying line problem could be addressed.

        Sometimes the problem was overhead lines running through trees, sometimes it was dodgy internal wiring - often people who'd poorly routed the cabling for an extension so that opening a door crushed the wires and caused a short, and sometimes it was slightly mad people who tapped the switch-hooks a lot in the manner of Hollywood movies when someone has been cut off.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Pulse dialling?

          "sometimes it was slightly mad people who tapped the switch-hooks a lot in the manner of Hollywood movies when someone has been cut off."

          Yes, why on EARTH do they do that? "hello? hello? <tappy> <tappy> <tappy> hello?"

          1. Pigeon

            Re: Pulse dialling?

            When I were a lad, I think a light went on in the exchange when you lifted the receiver. The operator would then plug her (usually her) headset into your socket, and say, "Which number do you require?". So, I suppose, tappy tapping it would cause a flashing light alarm. My phone number was Honiton 709, when I was six years old.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Pulse dialling?

            Because doing that summoned the operator in the old pre-dial days.

            I'm not ancient but I've lived in a couple of places where phones had crank handles and you had to listen to the morse-coded ringing to work out if a call was for you, or the neighbours or the bloke 2 miles down the road,

      2. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Pulse dialling?

        A telephone engineer friend once told me that there are proportionally more wrong number calls since phones were fitted with button numbers compared with the dial phone era. Apparently it is much easier to hit a wrong key than it is to dial incorrectly.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Pulse dialling?

          That's because you know you've dialled it wrong and tapped the switch hook before re-dialling, whereas with push-button phones you often don't realise before you're connected. How do you know? You just know. It's a proper UI, there's not many of those about these days.

          I'm convinced BT's entire national network is set up to understand pulse dial phones just for my parents' phone, by the way.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pulse dialling?

          And the fact there are proberbly 10's of millions more numbers now than then

    4. Terry Barnes

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Loop disconnect (pulse dialling) is still a standard feature of the UK PSTN. All exchanges (or all BT / KC exchanges anyway) on the public network support it.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Pulse dialling?

        Which is odd, because supporting loop disconnect means you need 2 extra relays on the line card.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      yep to bypass those dial locks in rented houses. tappity tap tap worked every time.

    6. Linker3000
      Thumb Up

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Some exchanges don't support pulse dialing any more but many do. I've just connected an old rotary phone bought at a car boot sale to my home line and it works perfectly.

    7. Daniel B.

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Anyone else remember spending ages trying to dial numbers by just clicking the handset rest?

      Hell, I remember having a phone stored on memory and doing the reverse process: hearing the clicks generated by the phone, then substracting 1 from the click batches and voila! I have the phone number!

      (Ok, if you heard 11 clicks, that was 0.)

    8. A J Stiles

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      I had a GPO 746 plugged into a TDM410P on a server running Asterisk. It accepts pulse dialling just fine. You can even use it to navigate voice menus!

      Alas, the box packed up last weekend; so I'm now in the process of replacing it.

    9. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: Pulse dialling?

      Most exchanges in fact do still recognize it, VOIP adaptors, asterisk systems and some bits of virgin-on-the-mediocre won't. Causes me endless problems when I sell rotary phones to people with a nonstandard phone setup

  6. web_bod

    Body Swapping

    Did you just photoshop your head onto that tux - or is that your standard pose?

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Body Swapping

      Yes it was Photoshopped, based on the terrible selfie I did when the column was launched.

  7. thomas k.

    looking spiff

    Looking pretty spiff in that tux, Alistair, even if it looks obviously Photoshopped.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: looking spiff

      I must admit that the immediate commentards assumption that it must be a photoshop job is amusing by its implied insult :)

      Another fine piece - thanks for this, Alistair.

      1. thomas k.

        Re: looking spiff

        Why would you assume any insult is implied or intended? I would assume Alistair intended us to presume the picture was Photoshopped.

  8. Frogfather

    If the numbers were clockwise

    The dial would have to turn counter clockwise which is not only counter intuitive but according to some is associated with the devil. Maybe they *did* know what they were doing back then...

    1. Irony Deficient

      Re: If the numbers were clockwise

      Since most people are right-handed, turning the dial clockwise would be preferred by most — so yes, they did know what they were doing.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: If the numbers were clockwise

        Indeed. SInce most people would dial with the fisrt finger on their right hand, they would prefer to do so clockwise, as most of the numbers would require a movement using the stronger muscles used to curl the finger, rather than the weaker, less easily controlled muscles used to extend the finger. So, surprisingly, the dial was a masterpiece of ergonomic design; it's just the concept of a dial rather than buttons that seems ridiculous but you have to remember that we are talking about a device that harks back to times of analogue systems and pulse dialling.

        1. Alistair Dabbs

          Re: If the numbers were clockwise

          Without getting in to all this anti-widdershin chauvinism shit, I'm OK with turning a dial clockwise. I was asking why aren't the numbers arranged clockwise too. Changing the numbers doesn't mean you have to change the direction of dialling!

          1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

            Re: If the numbers were clockwise


            The further the dial travels back, the more pulses are induced. Otherwise they would have had to change the system, too, in the sense that "1" would be ten pulses, "9" two and "0" one pulse, like Martin Gregorie said it is/was in New Zealand. The way it is here, i.e. "1" is one pulse, either the numbers where arranged anti-clockwise and the dial turning clockwise or vice versa. Or a rather complicated mechanism within the phone. They went for simplicity.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If the numbers were clockwise

            I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the arrangement was simply because the lower numbers were used more often¹. The presupposes you accept the clockwise / anticlockwise argument. The numbers nearer the "end" were quicker and took less effort to dial (wow - been a while since I used that verb in a remotely sensible way). Of course, this was all ruined when they introduced the 0 prefix. Anyone remember, "Whitehall 1212"?

            ¹Is this an example of Benford's law?

            1. graeme leggett

              Re: If the numbers were clockwise

              "Whitehall 1212" - apparently you can still get the Met (if not New Scotland Yard) on 20 7230 1212

              Got further afield - whether by imitation or design; the central police station in my area was 61212 at one time.

  9. Natalie Gritpants

    Is it possible

    to buy a keyboard with the number pad that matches telephone number pads?

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Is it possible


      Unless you meant a rotary dial number pad...

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Is it possible

        Those look like Commodore function buttons on the left!

    2. jake Silver badge

      @Natalie (was:: Re: Is it possible)

      Just re-map your keyboard (& relocate the key-caps, if you're not a touch typist and have to look). It ain't rocket science. Folks have been swapping <shift>and <control> and <caps-lock> keys (amongst others) for nearly three decades ...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: He failed to see how we could tap in a phone number without any number keys.

    I've had students here marvel at my ability to get the computer to do things by typing commands on the (er) command line. I presume they grew up just wiggling their mouse cursor at icons or something. I imagine that in 10 years they'll even be baffled by mice, let alone actual typing.

  11. dorsetknob
    IT Angle

    Remember the pre........ Dial Phones (pre 1967 ish )

    Insert 4 Pennies (pre decimal currency 4d ) then press button A to connect to the operator who would ask for the number to call and then connect you

    after the call press button B to collect unused credit

    wonder how our young sprogs would cope with that ????

    1. Thomas Gray

      How many of them have even used a modern pay phone?

    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      dorsetknob, I even remember hand-cranked magnetos for the ringing voltage. Although, I admit I'm not that old, that was in military service and even there only for niche use and where elsewhere tone dialling was already most common.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Evil Auditor

        The "party line" on Noyo Hill, just outside Fort Bragg California, was still functional in 1972. I know, I helped keep it going (sometimes over barbed wire ... ). My "number" (inherited from my Grandfather) was two shorts & two longs :-)

  12. MJI Silver badge

    Number pads

    Yes I have dialed 073nnnnnnn rather than 019nnnnnnnn due to phone buttons being the other way up to keyboards..

  13. Tom 11
    Thumb Up

    My mother

    Still has one of these, not that she's a technophobe, but she keeps its putrid green bacolite shell hidden behind a curtain and uses a samsung wireless setup through the house. why? She simply likes the bell ring on the old set. Yes, it does still work as well as the day it was made.

    1. jubtastic1

      Re: My mother

      I have one too, wife bought it for me as a present a few years ago, it's cream, exactly like the one my folks had when I was a nipper, great rIng and the kids hate using it which keeps the bills down.

      Press 1 for blah isn't fun though, some of those systems take ages to time out and pass you on to a human.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: Re: My mother

        Cream? Green??

        Proper phones are black, and made from super-heavy Bakelite (I'm sure I've seen old films where people are clubbed insensible, if not to death, with the handset). The cord isn't new-fangled plastic coil rubbish, it's respectable, plaited, silk-on-rubber-on-copper.

        1. Robert Sneddon

          User Experience

          It was the heavy steel frame inside the casing that gave rotary-dial handsets their weight, and they needed it since they had to stay still on the table or desk while you turned the dial to make calls. It's the same reason IBM Model M keyboards have a heavy steel plate in their base so they don't slide around as you type. The ability to crush a spammer's skull with one is a bonus.

        2. Jan 0

          Re: super-heavy Bakelite

          Actually, Bakelite is a lightweight thermosetting plastic. It's tough, so it's suitable for "clubbing to death" use. If you want a really heavy handset, then I recall seeing a Scandinavian* cast iron handset in a 'phone exhibition at the London Design Museum a couple of decades ago.

          *That's a geographical area, not some relative of Scandium.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My mother

        Google Rotatone and you can have the best of both worlds!

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Re: My mother

          The bakelite can be red, black, ivory amongst others. Red ones were typically snapped up for use as 'hot lines' in hospitals and so on - literally a red phone for urgent calls only.

    2. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: My mother

      I doubt it's putrid green. If it's a 2 or 300 series, it'll be Jade Green, if it's a 7xx series, the name was Forest Green :-)

  14. Putters

    Sad and Blue

    Not quite having to plug in an analog phone, but recently had to dig around in the loft for a test phone to shove in after a thunderstorm had fritzed the housephones. The one I found at least had push buttons but also a sad and blue Mercury button ....

  15. Adam Hartfield

    Just the other day

    I had my 9-year-old nephew visiting and he was thoroughly confused and enchanted by the working rotary dial phone in my living room. I had to show him how to dial it and he nearly jumped out of his skin when I made it ring while he was standing right next to it. (I have all the electronic chirping of my cordless phones silenced and only my two rotary phones ring.)

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Just the other day

      Take him to one of the museums with a working electro-mechanical (Strowger) telephone exchange and let him see how the dial is remotely operating the bits of kit that connect the call together. The one at Amberley chalk pits in Sussex is excellent.

      My 5yo daughter was transfixed - to the point where she wasn't bothered about actually talking to anyone once the call was set up, she just wanted to see the process of making the call, again and again.

      1. rjmx

        Re: Just the other day

        Thank you. I hadn't thought about uniselectors and step-by-step switches in years.

  16. PC Paul

    Gratuitous overnumerification

    Why... does that phone have a sticker on it that shows the same numbers as are already printed on the phone?

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Gratuitous overnumerification

      The action of dialling over time can smear dirt on the numbers underneath the dial, or take the paint off. Dial phones in garages used to have a black circular smear where the numbers should be. I guess the sticker is to counteract such wear.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Gratuitous overnumerification

        Interesting. I'd always assumed it was so you could be double sure you'd stuck your finger in the correct hole.

  17. xyz

    I'm just thinking about the scenario in 2053....

    .... where the poor office boy is trying to stuff an old iPhone up his ass to make it work because all electronics are implanted and controlled by thought.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: I'm just thinking about the scenario in 2053....

      Your comment about stuffing an iPhone up a boy's arse has been noted. I am now using my rotary pulse dial phone to call the police.

  18. dogged

    Apropos of nothing..

    386 was my phone number as a kid back in the early 70's. And the phone was the same colour scheme as that one, albeit I remember it as much less long.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: Apropos of nothing..

      I obviously lived in a bigger town, ours was 4-digits.

      Strange to thing that when I was a teenager there wasn't internet, www, facebook, twitter, "proper" mobile phones (ones that weren't the size and weight of bricks with even less battery life than a modern smartphone) or indeed that much of a computer ecosystem at all (but the '64 and the Speccie were still fun).

      My kids still don't believe me when I tell them that (given I basically make microchips for a living, and I'm only going grey due to aforesaid kids rather than too-advanced age).

      1. dogged

        Re: Apropos of nothing..

        The place I lived was so small - 11 houses, a pub and a church that opened once every month - that we had numbers from the village three miles away, which was a whole 5 times bigger!

        (No Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch here - this is actually true)

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Apropos of nothing..

        After having 7-digit numbers for 20 years, an unsettling number of people in Sheffield appear to think we still have 6-digit numbers. I never noticed people in 1985 thinking we still had 5-digit numbers 20 years after going over to 6-digit numbers.

    2. PC Paul

      Re: Apropos of nothing..

      A friend of mine lives in a converted telephone exchange. Until the numbers were all standardised, her number was just <village name><nought>

  19. Robert Sneddon

    Missed my chance

    One of the local charity shops recently had a genuine nuclear-powered WMD rotary-dial Trimphone in the window. "I'll have that when I get back from the supermarket." I said to myself but it was gone by then. Damn.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Missed my chance

      We'll sell you one! (see other post for details)

  20. Mark Chambers


    I understand that the numbers were arranged this way on a rotary dial to make it easier to find the 9 in the dark or if you were blind.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: 999

      The dial came first, 999 was selected because it sent 9 pulses so was unlikely to be sent by a short

      If the phone dials went the other way 111 would be the emergency number

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: 999

        The phone book that came with our old rotary-dial phone in the fifties included instructions on how to dial 999 by touch, so that you could do it when darkness or smoke made it impossible to see the dial*. I think you located the metal stop with your right-hand third finger, then put your second finger in the hole to the left of it (the zero), then your first in the next left hole, and you're ready to dial. Whether you'd have the sang froid to do this when the house was burning down or you were hiding in the dark from a violent intruder is another matter.

        * Obviously you had to commit the instructions to memory while you could still see, but we had to make our own entertainment in those days, so learning bits of the phone book was something you might do.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now I feel old. =( I just realized that there are young people in the workplace who did grow up without those phones. Anyway... my guess for the anticlockwise thing is that it is the most convenient way for right handed people to dial. Moving towards your right hand side, and not towards your left hand side with your right hand.

  22. GrizzlyCoder

    No correlation betwixt one and t'other

    The order of the numbers around the dial has no connection with the direction of rotation of the dial itself....why should it?

    In fact it the numbers went clockwise 0-9 then the 9 would be the nearest the endstop resulting in the fastest dialling for the emergency number. (which should have actually been 111 with the anticlockwise configuration)

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

      No 999 is slow - deliberately.

      Only the first two are actually required (hence 9 for an outside line on most PBX systems).

      The third provides time for the network to connect you and an operator to be on the line...

      1. Richard Scratcher

        Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

        "No 999 is slow - deliberately.

        Only the first two are actually required (hence 9 for an outside line on most PBX systems).

        The third provides time for the network to connect you and an operator to be on the line..."

        I don't know where you heard that but it isn't true. My city has an area code "998", which would lead to a lot of false alarms with that system.

        [Why the UK uses 999]

    2. Terry Barnes

      Re: No correlation betwixt one and t'other

      It was slow to give you time to think about what you were doing, and to avoid the situation of lots of false calls being generated with a number like 111.

      In the UK, the number you dialled corresponded directly with the digit train created - zero being ten obviously. This made the jobs of exchange engineers somewhat easier - the reverse system is less intuitive (ten minus dialled number equalling digit train).

      In a similar vein my dad (who worked on the railways) told me once about the system to override the locking on points or signals in some signal boxes. The process required the slow turning of a little wheel about fifty times. Not for any overriding technical reason, but to give the signalman plenty of time to think hard about exactly what he was in the process of doing.

  23. Jim 59


    ...and you remembered numbers in your head.

    ...and you had to actually sit on the stairs and listen to what the other person was saying. Unlike with DECT where you let them blah while watching The Voice or reading t'internet.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a side note....

    ...any one nr Bromsgrvoe worcestershire, The Avoncroft museum has a large collection of old phone boxes and exchanges.

  25. JDX Gold badge

    How well timed

    I'm down in the south for the funeral of my father, who used to work in telephones and after retirement collected old phones - ostensibly to sell at a profit - and built a working exchange. It even talked to other hobbyist exchanges via a Linux box and VOIP... apparently there's a whole HAM-radio-esque community of such enthusiasts.

    Anyway, bottom line is we are left with about 400 BPO phones - trimphones, series 200 & 300 rotary diallers, and early push-button ones (700 series maybe).

    They're worth anything up to £200 for the rarer ones (red apparently)!

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: How well timed

      I'm sorry for your loss.

    2. M7S

      Re: How well timed

      How might we get in touch if these are for sale?

    3. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: How well timed

      Red 2 and 3 series, are worth a lot more than 200, and if you have any green 300/200 series... you're rich, they go for well over 1k. Sorry for your loss, but you may also have won out. Just make sure they go to people who will appreciate them. And a pint, raised to your dad.

  26. Dr_N Silver badge

    Keyboard Keypads

    People who insist on having their phone/gadget configured to emit a loud click, beep or other noise as they type each character....

    WHY !?!?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Keyboard Keypads

      I remember turning that "feature" off on one amateur hand-held radio (Kenwood TH-F7E) when I first got it as that was the default setting.

      On my bike however, the radio I have mounted there (Yaesu FT-857D) I do enable the key beeps, because otherwise buttons sometimes get bumped, and it's nice to know that something occurred, rather than pressing the PTT and finding you're on a completely different frequency to the one intended. (Or, in one case when I used to run the FT-897; finding it had slid forward and pressed a button turning on VOX… in time for me to run over what looked to be a snake and letting out a few expletives for listeners on the 40m band!) Thus it's an alert for accidental keypresses.

      The beep in this case is only audible to me unless I unplug the headset. IMO this is how it should be: if you need that sort of thing, use a headset so it only bothers you. On phones, I can understand it in terms of knowing if the screen press has been detected; perhaps there are less obnoxious ways to do it.

  27. Mayor McCheese

  28. Herby Silver badge

    Why the dial??

    Everyone understands "righty tighty, lefty loosey" or words to that effect. You "wound" up the dial and it "unwound" (making the pulses as it went). The dial digit is the number of pulses (except in New Zealand) that the dial produces (but in order to make a zero, it needed to make 10). That gives the dial arrangement (the researchers at Bell Labs did a bunch of work on this!). Then they wanted user touch pads to be used. These started in the 60's. When faced with determining the layout, they looked back at the dial phone which had '1' at the top and went from there.

    The adding machine layout (and that of modern keyboards) is more oriented to arithmetic, where the frequency of numbers is related to the inverse log of the digit (1 being used most often!). This led to the low digits being at the bottom where it took less effort to reach.

    Yes, the old dial sets are nice, and most of the modern phones from the $10 throw-away ones to the most expensive ones (portable sets) have a switch that will allow generation of a pulse stream.

    It is important to note that it takes less hardware to implement a pulse decoder (the loop current sensor is already there!), so that is what they used. It also lends itself to mechanical (relay) decoding. A modern dial (DTMF) decoder is not (thankfully) either a single chip, or some DSP software, which is pretty easy to implement, but this wasn't always the case. Back when it was first introduced, a DTMF decoder was a big bulky thing that could take up to a 1 foot cube of electronics. In those days the phone company charged for the nice decoding privilege. Now days the use of tone dials is encouraged since it takes LESS time to decode where you are going to be switched to (need less decoders as a shared resource). All of this leads to quicker completion times, and less "non-chargable" (the other side hasn't picked up yet) time equipment is busy.

    Bottom line: Dial phones are "cool" and quaint. (somewhere I've got a 300 set!).

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Why the dial??

      "Then they wanted user touch pads to be used. These started in the '60s. When faced with determining the layout, they looked back at the dial phone which had '1' at the top and went from there."

      Also, digits corresponded to letters, and if you laid out a push-button pad with 7-8-9 across the top the alphabet would run backwards, PRS TUV WXY GHI JKL NM ABC DEF.


  29. jake Silver badge

    My Father's early 1950s Model 500 Western Electric rotary dial telephone is at my elbow, and still works just fine (yes, my local telco still supports pulse dialing :-).

    Before you knee-jerk a "luddite"[1] comment, where will all the money you have spent on telephones be in 60+ years? Down the toilet, that's where. Think about it.

    [1] I do cop to being a neo-luddite, however ... I use tools because they work, not because they are flashy or because the marketers or because my peers insist I should ;-)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old world phones with new world telephone services

    The joys of a pulse dialling phone in this modern age of DTMF… I'm surprised no one brought this up.

  31. StephenC


    Have you ever asked younger people what "dial" means?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Where I live, the dial was numbered 0,1,...,9 (anticlockwise). 0 is one pulse, 1 is two pulses..., 9 is ten pulses.

    The emergency number used to be 90000, but the call was initiated after the third digit (assuming people in distress might not keep count of the zeros).

  33. Richard 126

    I still have an old wooden and brass phone with fixed mouth piece and two bells on top. It works fine

  34. Adam Hartfield

    I wonder

    How big the center of the Venn diagram is for rotary phone owners and IBM Model M keyboard owners?

    Put me smack dab in the middle.

  35. David Schlinkert

    Rotary dials were arranged the way they were because of the original switching system. It used mechanical stepping motors and each click of the rotor was a step on the switch. Zero was ten steps.

  36. Michael 28

    Re: Featured image.

    Pardon me for enquiring, but I am just puzzled as to wether the phone featured in the photo is a type 711from the late sixties ,or a 741 from the early eighties.

    1. Richard Scratcher

      Re: Featured image.

      Neither, this isn't a 700 type phone. It was made by "Face Standard", which I believe was an Italian manufacturer.

    2. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: Featured image.

      711s and 741s actually look pretty much identical, (unlike the 706/746 desk models which are easy to tell apart). The innards of a 711 however, make a much better weapon :-)

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