The Switchroom
...Heart of Operator Services
The Switchroom - Heart of Operator Services
The Switchroom, heart of the Operator Services; connecting calls, dealing with emergencies, providing a public service.

Today, there are very few calls that cannot be directly dialled by the customer, but this was not always the case...

Seen opposite is the Emergency Position taking 999 calls.

Image: Vernon mans the board - © LSA 1971.
| EXIT | Introduction | Early Exchanges | The Hello Girls | Publicity & Recruitment | TV SeriesResources |
A Brief History

Prior to December 1958, only local calls (within a few miles of a town) could be directly dialled; all long distance or trunk calls had to be connected via an operator. All medium sized towns had their own operator or Auto-Manual Centre (AMC) at which the calls were received, connected and charged for; a very labour intensive process, which typically employed hundreds of staff at each location. Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) was progressively introduced, but it was not until 1979, that it covered the whole of the UK. So it was that the period from 1960 to 1980 saw the transition from part manual to fully automatic switching of inland calls.  

Early Exchanges
Early Exchanges
Very early exchanges used a variety of signalling systems produced by different manufacturers as the most suitable form of switchboard and exchange design evolved over the years. The Central Battery (CB) exchange was the preferred method of providing service in large towns.

Image: Telecom Technology Postcard - Boy operators working the Sunderland exchange in 1883.
The Hello Girls
The Hello Girls
What was it really like to work as a 'GPO Trained' operator? Was the supervision very strict? Did it pay well? Were the hours long?
Some real operators recall their time on the board...

Image: Hello Girls in Kelvin House (youngleavers).
Telephone operators were sometimes referred to as 'The Hello Girls', probably because of the phrase 'Hello, are you there?'

In the telephone service known as 'Post Office Telecommunications', the standard operator phrases were:

Are you there?

Are you holding?

Have you finished?

The 1996 television series 'The Hello Girls' was a light-hearted look at switchboard operators in the late 1950s and 60s.

TV Series
The Hello Girls
The Hello Girls (BBC TV Series)
Set in 1959 in Derby, this light-hearted drama series, written by Ruth Carter, gave a none too serious look at the daily routines of a busy exchange switchroom...

Image: 'The Hello Girls' BBC1 8.30pm 5th September 1996
Publicity and Recruitment
Publicity and Recruitment
Publicity of the telephone service and recruitment of telephonists was vital to ensure the quality of service was maintained as demand for services continued to rise...

"Welcome to the Post Office. This booklet tells you something about the Telecommunications business and explains the part you will be playing in operating a service that provides direct social and business links in Britain and with the rest of the world."

Image: 'Welcome to the telephone service' - Post Office Telecoms brochure from 1970.
There are many, many books about the history of the Telephone Service, including personal remembrances from switchboard operators...

Image: 'Hold The Line Please' by Sally Southall.

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