5 Dec: Who Needs A Switchboard?

Queen Elizabeth II made Britain’s first long-distance automated phone call on 5th November, 1958 – when, from Bristol, she spoke directly to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, 300 miles away, without the need for an Operator. 

Subscriber Trunk Dialing (STD) transformed the telephone network, but was not without its challenges: automation brought efficiency but also led to job losses, sparking some labour disputes, and the roll-out was not completed for twenty years. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider why women were selected over men as telephone operators; track the evolution of phone technology through international calls and push-button phones; and propose a future role for the monarchy in testing out social media DMs… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Caller, putting you through!’ (Daily Express, 2012): https://www.express.co.uk/comment/expresscomment/334666/Caller-putting-you-through

• ’Queen’s first video call echoes Her Majesty’s historic trunk call to Edinburgh in 1950s’ (The Scotsman, 2020): https://www.scotsman.com/heritage-and-retro/retro/queens-first-video-call-echoes-her-majestys-historic-trunk-call-to-edinburgh-in-1950s-2881983

‘Queen Dials Edinburgh’ (British Pathé, 1958):