30 Jun: In Case of Emergency, Call 999

The world’s first emergency number, 999, was launched in London on 30th June, 1937 – to a great deal of scepticism, and open laughter in the House of Commons. 

But when five women died in a house fire in 1935 – after a neighbour had attempted to call the fire brigade via the Operator – the public had begun to demand a quick, convenient way to summon the emergency services. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain why 999 was chosen as the number to dial, even though 111 would have been easier, on a rotary dial in a smoke-filled room; reveal how humour was used to communicate the nature of the new service to the public at large; and discover which illustrious architect’s wife (supposedly) made the first ever call to the service…

Further Reading:

• ‘London’s Forgotten Disasters: The Tragedy That Sparked The 999 Service’ (Londonist, 2015): https://londonist.com/2015/11/london-s-forgotten-disasters-the-tragedy-that-sparked-the-999-service

• ‘999 celebrates its 80th anniversary: From Morse code messages to 13,000 calls daily, Met Police looks back’ (MyLondon, 2017): https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/999-celebrates-80th-anniversary-morse-13267261

• ‘999 Has New Home – The Information Room At Scotland Yard’ (

British Pathé, 1957):