The Duke of Edinburgh visits GPO Dollis Hill Research Station

BT Archive photo essay

An exclusive preview of BT's massive archive of photographs and documents now being digitised by Coventry University.

Coventry University is working with BT and The National Archives to create 'The New Connections: BT e-Archive', a £1m project to catalogue, digitise, and develop a searchable online archive of 500,000 photographs and documents preserved by BT over the last 165 years.

1 A 1955 visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to the legendary GPO Dollis Hill Research Station: he is being shown a prototype of the car radio-telephone system introduced in 1959. Opened in 1933, Dollis Hill's main building survived into the mid-1970s. Several ground-breaking technological innovations were developed there.

2 Operator working a directory enquiries position in London, 1935. At the time, and for decades afterwards, the UK Post Office had a virtual monopoly on servicing enquiries from 'subscribers' wanting number information.

3 A newspaper journalist at Wembley Stadium in west London, using portable picture telegraphy while covering the 1935 FA Cup Final (Sheffield Wednesday beat West Bromwich Albion 4-2). The unit transmitted pictures of the match from Wembley to the newspaper's offices to accompany the match report in the next edition.

4 A K3 telephone kiosk outside a local grocer's shop, pictured in the early 1930s. Designed in 1929 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the K3 was the standard kiosk before the introduction of the iconic red K6 kiosk in 1936. Unlike the K6, which is made of cast iron, the K3 was constructed largely of concrete. Surviving K3s are now rare.

5 Winston Churchill working next to an early 'golfball' candlestick telephone, circa 1915. Despite GPO guidance on correct use, Churchill appears to have replaced the telephone handset upside down after making a call. Notes from Churchill as a government minister are included in the BT Archive files to be digitised as part of the Coventry University project.

6 An operator using a Hughes Printing Telegraph at the Central Telegraph Office, London, 1900. The Hughes Printing Telegraph was developed in the US in 1855 by David Edward Hughes (1831-1900), and is generally credited with being the first known keyboard interface with a communications device, and as such the forerunner of most conventional keyboard-based interfaces leading up to the advent of the touchscreen. Surviving examples occasionally come up at auction, and are sought-after items for collectors of early telegraphy equipment. Hughes is also credited with the invention of the carbon microphone, as well as aspects of early radio technology.

7 Central Telegraph Office phonogram positions, pictured in 1939. Phonograms were telegrams that could be dictated over the telephone, then delivered in the same way as conventional telegrams.

8 Salesman using a portable payphone and coinbox in what appears to be a Volkswagen car showroom, 1973. One might presume that this unit became somewhat less portable as it was used, and so filled with metal coinage.

9 Advertising leaflet for the GPO London Radiophone Service, 1967. The system was developed by BT and continued in operation until 1987. In-car telephones were regarded as major status symbols in the preceding two decades.

10 Technical staff at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station controlling satellite broadcast traffic, circa 1965. Located on the Lizard in Cornwall, Goonhilly's first satellite dish commenced operations in July 1962, linking to the initial Telstar satellite transmissions. In its heyday Goonhilly was reckoned to be the world's largest satellite earth station.

11 The Postmaster General Sir Charles Hill using the ERNIE 1 premium bonds computer at the launch of the service in 1957. ERNIE stands for Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment. The first Premium Bond was bought on 1 November 1956 by Alderman Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, later to became Lord Mayor of London. By the end of its first day, £5m worth of Premium Bonds had been bought. ERNIE 1 was built at the GPO Dollis Hill Research Station. One of its designers was Tommy Flowers who developed Colossus, the world's first programmable computer, for use at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Four generations of ERNIE have since produced the numbers for over a hundred million prizes worth over £9bn. National Savings and Investments says that the basic function of each ERNIE machine has not changed but, with advances in technology, each ERNIE has been replaced by a faster and smaller model.

12 Marketing leaflet for Homelink, the BT Prestel homebanking and teleshopping service, as launched in 1983. Homelink was the first UK online banking service, a co-operation with the Nottingham Building Society and the Bank of Scotland, and used the pioneering Prestel Viewdata system. It's interesting to note how this early form of 'online access' is depicted as a media for uniting the family unit around a connected screen, rather than a potential cause of filial fragmentation.

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