Feeds

Speaking Clock to celebrate diamond anniversary on Sunday

At the thaird strairke, I will be - beep, beep, beeeep - 75 yairs earld

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

At the third stroke - or this Sunday, to be precise - Britain's famous Speaking Clock will be 75 years old.

The Speaking Clock was one of the first pre-recorded information services available to UK telephones. Designed and constructed at the Post Office Engineering Research Station in North London, the machine was made from a collection of motors, glass discs, photocells and valves that filled an entire room. Announcements were automatically co-ordinated on the hour with GMT signals.

The clock was first introduced to the UK on 24 July 1936 in the London area. After six years, it went national.

Those who needed to know the time would dial the first three letters of the word. Back then, letters were printed on telephone dials to aid automatic calls. This led to the service being called 'TIM'.

Speaking Clock

Jane Cain with the first Speaking Clock machine
Source: BT Heritage and Archives

Only four voices have ever held long-running slots on the line. The first was occupied by Jane Cain, who won the position through a Post Office 'Golden Voice' competition. Cain's tones were used for 27 years until she was replaced in 1963 by Pat Simmons, along with more modern recording tech that used a magnetic drum.

Simmons won her spot through a similar competition and had her voice used for 22 years, until 1985. According to the curator of the museum of the British Horological Institute, where that particular machine is now stored, the electric motor broke down on the same day Simmons died. Spooky.

Speaking Clock

Pat Simmons and Brian Cobby
Source: BT Heritage and Archives

In 1985, with the machinery behind the clock once again up for replacement, BT launched another search for a vocal successor. Actor Brian Cobby was eventually chosen to take the reigns, becoming the speaking clock's first male voice.

The machinery went digital, using a built-in crystal oscillator and microprocessor logic control. This system has been used ever since and is said to have assured accuracy of up to to a five thousandth of a second.

Soon after Cobby started reading the time, BT struck a deal with watch-maker Accurist in a sponsorship agreement that lasted until 2008. O2 has held the sponsorship since.

Speaking Clock

Brian Cobby with the digital system
Source: BT Heritage and Archives

When the clock reached its 70th anniversary in 2006, yet another competition was launched to find a fourth voice. One Sara Mendes da Costa, a telemarketer and voice-over artist, was announced as the winner and has been the timekeeper ever since.

Despite a surge in mobile phones and computer use, all of which make it easy to check time, the BT Speaking Clock still receives roughly 30 million calls a year. That's quite a lot of profit when you consider it costs 30p plus a 12.5p connection fee each time you call. Pffft, and all for something that can usually be answered by asking a passer-by, "Excuse me mate, have you got the time, please?"

Still, the Speaking Clock is a rich symbol of our past and should be preserved accordingly. Even Big Ben uses it to keep its own timekeeping in check. Now that really says something. ®

Sound clips above come from telephonesuk.co.uk, a site all about the history of telephones.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft to enter the STRUGGLE of the HUMAN WRIST
It's not just a thumb war, it's total digit war
Tim Cook: The classic iPod HAD to DIE, and this is WHY
Apple, er, couldn’t get the parts for HDD models
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Sporty in all but name: Peugeot 308 e-THP 110
Car of the Year? Arguably. Engine of the Year? Indubitably
Caterham Seven 160 review: The Raspberry Pi of motoring
Back to driving's basics with a joyously legal high
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
How to simplify SSL certificate management
Simple steps to take control of SSL certificates across the enterprise, and recommendations centralizing certificate management throughout their lifecycle.