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Speaking Clock Facts

Emma's Blog on Speaking Clock

Speaking Clock Facts

Changes at the BHI Museum

The BHI Museum is currently undergoing some exciting changes to its branding and identity. Along with this, we have been thinking about how to enhance the museum’s interpretation to make it more user-friendly and engaging for visitors.

In particular, I have been working on developing new interpretation panels for the Speaking Clock Gallery, which contains all three of the General Post Office’s speaking clocks up until 2001.

Emma's Blog on Speaking Clock

Updating the Speaking Clock Room

There has been a lot to consider with regards to how the interpretation panels should be written, where they should go and how they could be incorporated with other interpretation, such as audio and video.

I have experience of writing interpretation panels from my work on some temporary panels the museum used during its Spring Forward event. These new panels would be permanent, and an important addition to the Speaking Clock Gallery, which is one of the most popular with visitors.

Fun Facts about the Speaking Clocks

Although we have yet to make decisions about what exactly is going to go into the panels, and all the other important decisions, which will affect how visitors react to them. Here are some interesting facts that I have discovered during my research, which will form a part of the new interpretation:

  • Ethel Cain, the voice of the first Speaking Clock, recorded all 79 individual phrases before it was discovered that she had a slight speech impediment that was causing a whistle sound at the end of her words. Engineer Eugene Wender had to manually paint out the whistles one by one from the glass discs!

 

  • First put into use on 24th July 1936, the Speaking Clock was only available in the London area at first.

 

  • The clock became known as ‘Tim’ because when people dialled to find out the time, they dialled the first three letters of the word ‘time’ to be put through. The Speaking Clock was initially accurate to within one tenth of a second, but is now accurate to within 30 micro-seconds.

 

  • When the service was first launched, calls to the Speaking Clock cost one penny from home and ‘tuppence’ from a phone box. Today, calls cost 50p per minute.

 

  • Temporary Speaking Clock voices have included Ian McKellen, Claire Balding, Lenny Henry and Jo Brand.

 

By Emma Raymond, Resilience Syndicate Intern at the BHI Museum

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