The Hello Girls (and Men)
...Switchboard Operators
The Hello Girls (and Men)
What was it really like to work as a 'GPO trained' operator?

Was the supervision very strict? Did it pay well? Were the hours long?

Some real operators recall their time on the board.

Image: Hello Girls in Kelvin House (photo: youngleavers).
| EXIT | Introduction | Faraday Telephonists | Christine SmithJulie Taylor | Harold CheneryLyn Rollings | Blackpool AMC |
Switchboard Operators

GPO trained operators were always highly regarded for their professionalism, efficiency and adherence to procedure. Here follows some memories of those bygone days... 

Faraday Telephonists
Faraday Telephonists
London telephonists played a key role in the growth of telecoms in the capital city, until STD and ISD gradually took over.  

Here we focus on telephonist training and staff who worked on the Faraday boards.

Image: A 'modern'Faraday telephonist showcasing an 'old fashioned' headset © M.Knight.
Christine Smith


I am a fully qualified GPO telephonist, trained at Avenue Exchange in the City of London in 1961. What wonderful memories I have of those far off days. I was 17 years old and up to 1961 had drifted in and out of jobs; you could in those job-safe times, couldn't you? Dad suggested that I apply to the Post Office and I went along to Waterloo Bridge House for the entry test, passed and got placed at Avenue in East Cheap, London. I loved it all from day one, except the pay for a young girl, something like £2.10s [£2.50 in decimal currency] a week! I used to walk to work through Billingsgate in the mornings and up St. Dunstan's Lane and you were as safe as houses then! And would take the lift from the ground floor into which we all packed; how often it seemed to conk out!

Us juniors took turns in 'ticket circulation'; any errors on the pricing tickets had to go back to the erring 'telst'. The most coveted area was the 'Information Suite' and to get on there you had to be proficient, but the work was exciting to me. The 999 calls would buzz through and that red lamp would glow on top of the console. There was a 'name and address clerk' and you could get a sub's name and address from a given telephone number. Remember the '0101' and the '0001' circuits? There was the 'Obs'section' RRQ. [Route and Rate Queries] It was all so interesting to me and I even got my name put up on the notice board for helping a 'sub' on a difficult call.  

I can still see the old switchroom in my mind's eye. There was a central switchboard suite in the middle of the room which housed RRQ in my day. I remember the Obs desk and senior 'telsts' took turns in going on there. The little red and white opals were like 'Southend lights' as we all used to say on a very busy day. The 'supes' as we called the strict ladies who paced up and down shouting, 'Take the lights, come along girls, take the lights', were another species and we respected them. There was Miss Vowles and Mrs Marshall to name but a few. We dealt with Avenue, Mincing Lane, Mansion House and Hop subscribers; we were a busy old lot. What about going for an 'urgent', what a palaver that exercise was!

Miss Willis took my 'Full Efficiency', the test a telst. had at the end of the 3 (or was it 6) months of training. I was terrified, but she was really nice and I passed. One of the 'nightmare' calls that you dreaded getting on a test was a 'personal transfer charge call from a coin box' this was quite tricky to deal with; 1/6 [7.5 new pence] for the personal call and the rest had to be charged accordingly. I picked one up!

Remember 'subbing' and you would be paid accordingly. Us youngsters would go round asking the older telephonists 'Do you want any subbing tonight?' Then there were the 'refreshers' (not sweets); we'd all troop down to another part of that vast building and be updated on the latest info. Tours of the apparatus room were quite fascinating, but a complete mystery! I also went on loan to Monarch and London Wall and paid a visit to Faraday House and the Continental Exchange. We had a record club and someone would buy vinyl records for use in the Rest Room. And the day trips; thruppence a week all year, I think it was, and off we would go to Southend on Sea on a 'charabanc', great fun!  And of course, there was the annual Christmas social, not to mention 'Miss City' 1961 in which I came third! This was organised by The City Press and the Post Office, Dickie Henderson (the entertainer) presented the prizes. How I wish I had got a photo of all this!

After Avenue

I left Avenue Exchange in 1962 for PBX work in a private firm. Although the money was very good, I was unhappy and began to regret leaving the Post Office. I missed my mates and the environment, the clicking of the cords and the babble of the operators. I should have stayed with the GPO as being the Civil Service there were all sorts of incentives, for example, a dowry when you got married; a kind of reward for being loyal. There was a safeness with the GPO; a sense of belonging that I never experienced anywhere else I've worked. There were procedures (the paperwork!) for everything, but there was a discipline within the organisation and that marvellous training stood me well over my later years as a telephonist/receptionist. I was told that it cost £200 to train a telephonist in those days.

I did return in 1965 and was accepted back into the fold at Bas.2 in Winstanley Way (Basildon, Essex) and then on to Grays exchange. Pat Kelly was chief supervisor night staff, at Bas 2 in 1965/6. But it was while I was at Grays Exchange, that I won a round in the 'GPO Personality Girl' competition; got so far and that was fun. We all had to go to Romford Exchange for the rounds. Of all the exchanges, Southend was considered 'posh' in those days; I always wanted to go on loan there, but never did.

I look back now and bemoan my lack of commitment to the GPO, but then I would not have liked to have been around when the doors eventually closed on the old exchanges. I believe that some of the girls from Avenue went to Bunhill Row. I still have my training book with all the info of its day, relating to ticket (billing preparation), DQ instruction, and how to deal with difficult 'subs' etc., coin box collection, fault reporting procedure and much more. Of course, I signed a ten year secrecy document when I finally left the Post Office back in the mid 1960s.

My Post Office training has stood me in very good stead over the years and even now I can command respect and a decent hourly rate in the business world as a receptionist/telephonist.

Julie Taylor
Julie Taylor
Julie Taylor recalls her time at the Tunbridge Wells Regional Training Centre...

"I was fifteen and the sixties were awesome. The group was a really great bunch and the older ones looked out for the young ones."

Image: Telephonists at Tunbridge Wells RTC © Light Straw Archive.

Marjorie Weatherson
Marjorie Weatherson
In the Traffic Office...

A stalwart of AVEnue, Miss Marjorie Weatherson, assistant to the Exchange Superintendent (TTS).

Image: Marjorie Weatherson in the office at AVEnue exchange © M.Knight.
Lyn Rollings
Lynn Rollins
Lyn Rollings fondly remembers her days in Garrick Switchroom and  recalls some of the telephonists who were still working there when this 'official photo' was taken in 1984...

Image: Garrick switchroom in Kelvin House 1984.
Harold Chenery
Between 1961 and 1981 Harold Chenery worked as a night telephonist at Southend AMC on the sleeve control board, doing a variety of thru-nights, 100, 999, EQ & DQ duties, serving 19 years before his retirement.

Blackpool AMC
Blackpool AMC
If you worked in Blackpool AMC as an Operator or Supervisor, then you will be interested in the reunion which took place in November 2007.


Image: Area staff on a Blackpool carnival float © Brenda Hardman.
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