Notes for Writers of Historical 1960s British Fiction

finding-a-signal

Notes for Writers of Historical 1960s British Fiction

1.1 Telephonic communication

In the sixties to locate a person you phoned their home; if they were out you rang later. (Location privacy presents obvious plot opportunities for writers of crime and romantic fiction.)

Red phone boxes (found on most street corners) contained a book listing the names, addresses and phone numbers of absolutely everyone. (Huge potential here.)

Whilst sheltering from the perpetual rain, sixties teenagers enjoyed making prank calls from phone boxes. The false-alarm, reversed-charge call to fraught parents was popular.

All spies and boy scouts were taught to make unlimited free calls from phone boxes, using a crocodile clip and the reverse-dialling method.

Miranda Lewis 2019

It’s Friday already so I’m a bit late phoning in my copy to the Friday fiction party.

All hail to Rochelle who keeps us going through all weathers. And thanks to Susan Eames for the photo.

By the way, all of the above is true and my Dad (a boy scout, not as far as I know a spy) did explain the secret of how to reverse dial with a crocodile clip. (It exploited the fact that emergency calls were free from phone boxes.) However, he was such an upright honest person he only explained once dial phones were obsolete.

PS Did anyone else have a telephone table/bench in their house? Ours was under the open-plan 1960s staircase, with a place to sit, a shelf for the phone and space for phone books.

38 thoughts on “Notes for Writers of Historical 1960s British Fiction

    • Or you phoned your own home and didn’t push the button and listened to your Dad getting annoyed. ‘Hello. Hello! Hello? HELLO?’ (Actually not accurate because my Dad used to say the full phone number followed by his name.)
      Thanks for the visit.
      PS I used to love thrupenny bits!

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    • We usually sent my big brother round. Or sent a coded message in the form of three telephone rings then ring off – this was the signal tea was ready when my sister was round her friend’s house. My brother told me it was actually illegal as it constituted using a phone line fraudulently to send a message without paying so this always worried me a little. (We were an odd family!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • The telephone was clearly a respected object with its own piece of furniture. My Dad made our telephone table at his woodwork class. My mobile phone does have a nice embroidered cover but it’s not the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Interesting, didn’t all the Spy films in the sixties start with a man in a phone box. During WWII, Churchills driver always carried some copper coins in case they had to call back to the office. Those were the days.

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    • Yes, those spy films! I fell asleep recently to The Ipcress File – there were a lot of phone boxes! I could tell you how to back-dial using a crocodile clip but a) you probably don’t have a crocodile clip to hand and b) I’d have to kill you.

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    • My parents long ago went on a walking holiday in the Pyrenees with a friend. The friend was supposed to bring his girlfriend along too but he’d somehow missed meeting up with her in Paris. He went walking anyway! Phones can be useful e.g. keeping children safe. But perhaps life was a bit more unpredictable and chaotically interesting without them!
      Thanks for the visit. Of course I’m on my phone right now!

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  2. Lovely take on the prompt! I was always supposed to carry enough pennies to make an emergency call if necessary. And do you remember going into phone boxes and pressing Button B in case the previous occupant had failed to get through and forgotten to reclaim his money? I struck lucky several times!

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  3. Hah, oh the memories. We had yellow phone boxes in Germany, and I never heard of the crocodile clip thing, we didn’t have collect calls back then either. But we did do the prank calls, preferrably with teachers, heheh. And we had a small cabinet with shoes on one side and a small shelf for phone books and address books on the other, on top resided the proud ugly grey phone (t’was the early seventies when we got our first phone). Great idea to write this up. I love it.

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    • Thanks for your memories. I always love the responses to this type of piece.
      The crocodile clip thing is very obscure – my Dad was a mad Scientist type of the old school who figured out how things actually worked! Apparently putting your finger in the nine slot on the dial and turning it all the way to the right/clockwise opened some mechanical mechanism to allow a free call from a public phone. (Don’t know about home phones.) The electrical clip was just a way to not let the dial slip all the way back (which then would actually dial the nine) while you dialled the number you wanted in a really weird way. It exploited the fact that it was the anti-clockwise motion of the dial that actually registered the number. Confused? Well that makes two of us!
      I am trying to remember the colour of our first phone. Dark green I think and huge.
      Thanks for calling!
      PS Teacher prank calls too – I remember those!

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      • Good grief, that sounds complicated. 😀 I have two left hands, I’d never have managed this.

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  4. I remember having a phone nook in the 70s, a space built into the wall to place a phone and something to write on. I also remember in the 90s, the moment someone I knew first got a beeper–it seemed like the beginning of the end for me. Clearly, I had no idea!

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  5. A nice little bit of nostalgia. I have so many memories of the public telephone boxes. I know we’re slaves to our mobile phones now, but I couldn’t bear to have to go back to those times.

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    • So where did all those telephone tables go?
      I’ve seen some really unbelievable plotting in detective things on television to get around the fact we are so connected these days. I think we do realise now you have to integrate the new technology into the plot and not pretend it’s not there.

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