Thank you for calling: Directory Inquiries

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Since fees were introduced on the 192 service in 1991, Directory Inquiry usage dropped by about 40 per cent. However, people who think they can get away with more than two numbers in the same call are wasting their time.

Once you have hung on to come back to the operator, your first request is still up on the screen, and you cannot be re-routed back to the Automatic Voice. The operator will give you the second number verbally, and then you will be disconnected.

However for those who genuinely need only two numbers, there is now no need to painfully wait throughout the first message. Tell the operator and she'll go through them both with you there and then. Meanwhile people who can't take down the recorded announcement in time, are treated gently. 'We can give the number again after they've heard the recording twice,' says Denise Ormiston. 'And if people are old, or deaf, or a bit dithery on the phone, we don't bother clicking onto the automatic recording. We just tell them the number slowly.'

I know that voice. . .

The Automatic Voice Recording belongs to actress Julie Derry, who was chosen to be the voice of Directory Inquiries in 1989. 'They wanted someone warm and friendly, yet clear,' explains Ms Berry, '40-something from Bayswater,' who had previously done a number of corporate videos and voice-overs for BT.

'I think they went for a woman because they thought a woman would be easier to understand.'

Ms Berry worked for 60 hours over two months, recording all 6,000 of BT's exchange names, information which is not now retained on her recorded message. Each number from 0-9, plus double figures and numbers suffixed with 'thousand', were recorded four times over, with different inflections going as follows: 1. High 2. Middle 3. Trailing 4. Final.

'The inflections are all grouped in a special order by the computer each time a number is requested,' explains Ms Berry, 'so the whole number sounds right.' For a seven-digit number, therefore, the order is as follows: High, Mid, Trailing, and then: High, Mid, Mid, Final. 'It's very subtle,' agrees Ms Berry. 'I occasionally hear myself when I need to find a number, and I'm very critical because I know it's not real. But on the whole I think it works well.'

Used again by BT for the 071/081 change over, Ms Berry's classy tones can also be heard around London announcing trains in outlying BR stations such as Gatwick, Basingstoke and Haywards Heath.

(Photograph omitted)