Telephone 776 - Compact Telephone
Courtesy of BT Heritage
- Production run: 1972 (field trial) to c1984
- Designers: David Carter Associates for PO Design Unit
- Special features: Compact size, separate bell, easy to carry
- Supplier: GPO/British Telecom
- Value today: £50
The Compact telephone was claimed to be the first GPO phone designed specifically for the domestic consumer. The GPO originally wanted to make this phone their principle phone for new domestic subscribers. However, it was only provided as an extra cost option.
The original 700 series phones were aimed at business users, but by the early 1970s there were, for the first time, more domestic customers than business customers. In 1969 the recently formed PO Design Unit asked David Carter Associates to design a new phone for domestic customers. The GPO claimed it was the first phone aimed at home users, however, the Trimphone was probably more of a home phone than a business phone, but that was always going to be a luxury.
The design brief was for a phone to replace the 746 in new subscribers' homes. David Carter Associates had a great deal of freedom in how to meet the brief, but needed to make sure that the new phone would not be expensive to produce or to install.
Carter's design was about half the depth of the standard 746 phone, making it ideal to sit on narrow shelves and ledges. It was also more fashionable in its styling with a completely new handset. It did, however, re-use most of the parts in the 746 thus making it cheap to produce.
The most radical part of the design was separating the phone from the bell. Like the 200 series phones from the 1930s, the Compact Telephone did not have a bell. The bell was housed in a separate unit. This certainly helped achieve the compact dimensions and added flexibility. The bell could be located in the hallway, where it could be heard throughout the house, but the phone could be in the lounge, for example; ending the era of answering the phone in a draughty hall way.
The new Compact Telephone had another fashionable feature. It could be easily picked up and a long lead meant some limited freedom to carry it around. Apparently people had seen American movies where phones were carried around the house to make calls. This brief does also seem to have been met by the Trimphone which had been available from 1968. However, perhaps the PO were looking for something that was not perceived as a luxury phone, more of a fashionable phone without the extra cost.
Perhaps mistakes with the Trimphone design lead to a need to optimise the angle of the front of the phone to allow easy dialling without the phone moving around.
The GPO arranged a field trial starting in 1972 of 5000 of the new phones in Canterbury, Cardiff and Sheffield. They were originally designated Tele SA/4271. Eventually the phones became Tele 776.
General availability seems to have been around 1974. Although originally intended to replace the 746 for domestic customers, the 776 was, by 1981, part of BT's premium range.
Silver Jubilee version
In 1977 the GPO launched a special version of the Compact Telephone, Tele 2/SA 4271-1, the Silver Jubilee Compact. It was in Balmoral blue only and had the 1977 Silver Jubilee logo in the centre of the dial.
The Compact telephone was available in:
- Light grey
- Mid brown
- Bright blue
- Balmoral blue (1977 Silver Jubilee edition)
The Compact Telephone was made in number of different versions:
Field trial models
- Tele SA/4271
- Tele SA 4271-1
- Tele 1/SA 4271
- Tele 1/SA 4271-1
Silver Jubilee model
- Tele 2/SA 4271-1
Models for general release
- Tele 776 - no bell
- Tele 776/1 - with bell
- Tele 776/2 - with wall mounting kit
I found the following useful in writing this article:
'Phone for the modern home' published by Post Office Telecommunications Journal, Autumn 1972.
'Phone facelift' by David Rowlands published by Design Magazine, 1972
By Steven Braggs, June 2014
Vintage, retro & social history