It was all change in the world of telecommunications in the 1980s. In 1980, the GPO's profitable telecommunications division became British Telecom as a prelude to full privatisation in 1984. Phone cards replaced cash for calls from public phone boxes and people could buy telephones for their homes for the first time.
There was a huge choice of phones. People no longer had to accept a selection from a small range of designs. Whether you bought your own phone or rented one, there was a vast selection of modern push-button phones which could easily be moved from room to room, as well as new cordless phones, which became a Yuppie status symbol well before mobile phones arrived in 1985.
Choice though, had its downside. Just as the sale of council houses brought stone cladding to the walls of well designed pre-war terraces, so the proliferation of telephone designs left some hankering back to the days of state imposed good taste. As the 80s ended there was a rush to salvage black Bakelite 200 and 300 series phones from house clearance sales and convert them to the new system.
A phone you could own
After the British Telecommunications Act, 1981, the Government established a new BSI standard for the supply of telephone apparatus which ended the Post Office's monopoly over the supply of phones.
The liberalisation of the market for telephones was slow and many people still rented from British Telecom.
This change was not unique to Britain. In the USA the giant AT&T, a descendent of the original Bell Telephone Company founded by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, lost its monopoly over the supply of telephones in the late 70s.
Plug and Socket
A technical change in the way telephones were plugged into the system, called Plug and Socket (PST), in 1981 made it easy for customers to buy a phone and plug it in.
In the old days, the man from the GPO came and installed your phone. It was fixed permanently to the wall. In my parents' house the phone socket was screwed to the window sill and the phone fixed too.
When renting from the GPO, most people went for ivory phones, as they would go with any colour scheme. PST allowed customers to plug and unplug their own phones and made it easier for people to change their decor and change their phone.
The phones themselves changed too. Whilst you could still get the old 700 series phones with plug and socket connectors (they were now called 8746 instead of 746), the 1980s needed a new look and even the standard rented phones changed.
British Telecom offered the following new designs in the 80s.
- Ambassador - introduced in 1981, the first PST phone
- Phoenixphone - a new take on the old Trimphone (1982)
- Viscount - a new push button phone made by STC* (1982)
- Statesman - the most common type of 80s phone seen in homes and businesses (1983)
- Sceptre 100 - a sophisticated push button phone with LCD display (1983)
- Rhapsody - a push button phone introduced in 1982
- Genie - a stylish American design, introduced in 1983
- Tremolo - a push button phone made by Northern Telecom in 1986
- Tribune - a small push button phone from the mid 80s
*Standard Telephone Company, the makers of the Trimphone
The In Phone
British Telecom's marketed its phones for sale, as opposed to rent, as the 'In Phone'. There were BT shops selling the In Phone and a jingle based on the 1965 Dobie Grey hit, 'The In Crowd'. 'I'm in with the In Phone, etc..'
Check out QUICK FIND BT/GPO Plastic Cased telephones for references to BT phones.
Buy phones from the 80s
Telephones from the 80s are a good buy, as they have yet to reach their true value. There is always a good selection of .
In Phone commercial
Watch an original British Telecom commercial from the 80s:
Retrowow - Telephones
The online guide to retro telephones