The 746 telephone
The 746 telephone was the British GPO's main telephone for the 1970s. It was the phone most people had in the 70s and it is phone you will remember from that decade.
In the 70s, the home telephone was still a luxury in the UK. The General Post Office (GPO) had a monopoly on telephone services and anyone who wanted a phone needed to rent one from the GPO.
Although still a state run monopoly, the telephone service was more modern in the 70s. The old fashioned lettered exchanges disappeared in the late 60s and the new phones were equipped for the strangely termed 'all figure numbering'. Customers had a choice of three phones: the 746, the smaller 776 Compact Telephone and the modern looking Trimphone.
The 746 telephone was an upgraded version of the 706 phone or 'Modern Telephone' that the GPO introduced to customers in the early 60s.
It introduced a few practical improvements. Firstly there was a clear plastic dial showing only numbers. The case had an integral carry handle and the phone came in a more modern plastic. It was also lighter and had improved circuitry.
746 telephone colours
The 746 telephone came in the same range of colours as the outgoing 706:
- Two tone green
- Concord blue
- Topaz yellow
- Two tone brown/grey
Ivory was by far the most popular colour. Black and two tone brown/grey phones were favoured by businesses rather than consumers. My aunt ordered a black phone to go with her black piano in the 1970s. The telephone engineer thought it was an unusual choice as twenty years previously most customers would have had no choice: any colour you liked as long as it was black.
Why buy a 746?
The 746 is the classic telephone shape. It is how a telephone looked to most people who grew up in the 60s and 70s. If you want the real 'Life on Mars' telephone then this is the one. It has the classic dial, and most of them work reasonably well.
The 746 has more reliable modern circuitry than the 706 or the Trimphone.
The 746 is also more plentiful than the 1960s' 706. It was available in the same range of colours and looks similar. This means you get a wider choice and it will be a bit cheaper.
These are a few tips that will make identifying and buying these phones on eBay a bit easier.
Numbers and letters on the base
You can find out when the telephone was made from the letters and numbers on the base. The important information on this phone is 746F SPK 72/1. This tells you the model number, '746'. 'F' means it has a dial with numbers, rather than numbers and letters. SPK is a code that identifies the manufacturer. The most important information is '72' which gives the year of manufacture. The last digit, or digit and letter identifies a production run.
Have a look at www.telephonesuk.co.uk/ident_codes.htm for more details on what these codes mean.
Two tone phones
You will see these phones in many different colour combinations on eBay. They may look authentic, but they are not. If they suit your decor then go for it, but do remember it is not an original phone.
The only two tone combinations made in the 70s were two tone green and the two tone brown/grey. All other combinations are made from mixing and matching different phones or from remanufactured parts.
The 746 could also be supplied with a lettered dial - it was then the 746L. However, these phones are very rare. The 746 was first made from 1967, but they were not generally available until 1970. By then lettered exchanges were a thing of the past. Most phones on eBay with lettered dials have been mixed and matched with parts from older phones. Look for 746L on the base, if you want to make sure it is genuine.
When the GPO became BT in the early 80s, they continued with this range of phones. When the new plug and socket technology came along, BT updated the 746 to the 8746 and introduced a new colour, brown. The new phone was known as the 'Yeoman' in BT's new range.
746 or 706
If you are shopping on eBay it helps to compare the 746, 1970s phone with the 706, 1960s phone. The 706 on the far left is from 1963. It is an early ivory phone, the colour has faded to yellow over the years. (Top tip: look out for faded ivory phones that are described as yellow). Look at the molding just ahead of the handset. There are two distinct points on the 706. On the 746, left, there is a gentle curve.
The dials are correct for the years. They are often changed on phones for sale on eBay.
Since all phones were rented from the GPO, they didn't mind if they gave you a recycled or refurbished phone. This means that some of the older 706 phones were re-issued in the 70s.
This 1960s phone, in Concord blue, has been updated for the 70s with a new dial. It is marked Tele 706F FWR 75/1. You can tell the phone has been reissued if the base says 'FWR'
Can you use these phones today?
Answer: mostly yes. They can be rewired for modern plug and socket extensions and most phones on eBay have already been rewired.
If you need to know how to do this there is a very detailed guide on www.britishtelephones.com/pstconv1.htm
How much to pay
For £30 to £50 you should be able to get a good quality working 746 telephone. Red ones tend to be worth a bit more. Sometimes the mix'n'match two tone ones can fetch more, especially if the colour combination looks good. Look out for faded ivory phones that look yellow. The genuine yellow phone is a deeper tone of yellow.
Where do I buy a 746 telephone
The best place to shop for a 746 telephone is eBay. You will find the 'Buy it now' deals bit more expensive than the auctions, but then you can have the phone straight away.
746 telephones on eBay
Also look out for the rarer and and for the .
Add your comments on the 746 telephone
"I had one as a kid , loved it...." Anonymous 19/06/2010
"Recently, I had just purchased an original 1966 early model GPO 706 in two tone green with colour coded finger dial in ebay. It marked as 706 PLA66/2A. I love it so much and now being use as my bedroom phone.:)" Jeffery Abdullah ( Singapore ) 14/07/2010
"Fantastic site full of great information. Thanks very much for all the effort. This is how the net should be." Simon Wass 20/11/2010
"Hello, I have picked up a 746F 71/1 royal blue & white phone. Sticker on base, supplied by British Telecom. It is an authentic phone with Tottenham Hotspur Blue letters around the dial & the old Tottenham FC badge in the centre. The handset & dial are royal blue & the phone is white. Have you seen anything like this before. I cannot find any info on the web. Regards, John" John 09/07/2011
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