The Secret History Of: The 700 series Bakelite telephone

In 1951, the question "Are you on the phone?" meant did you own a telephone, not were you busy nattering, texting or tweeting on it. In those days a mere 1.5 million households could answer in the affirmative. By the end of the decade, half of the UK was connected – in contrast with the 75 per cent who owned televisions by then.

Back then if you wanted a telephone you had to rent one from the GPO (that's the General Post Office by the way), who had a monopoly on all the phones.

The earliest telephones, dating from the 1920s, were known as the 200 series and were mainly made in black Bakelite. These are still sought after by collectors, but, as the cycles of fashion continue, it's now the 700 series that everyone wants. This is the classic one that your granny probably had, with a turning dial and a bell.

There has been something of a mania for retro telephones over the last few years. Fuelled partly, no doubt, by our desire to hark back to an age when our lives weren't dominated by the mobile or email phone. Not to mention the fact that we are finally fed up of multi-room cordless phones – they are never where you left them. Plus, it's bad enough trying to find the house keys without chasing several ringing telephones as well.

The 700 series, which was referred to by the GPO (in Cholmondley-Warner tones) as "A Modern Telephone", came in seven colours including black, red, green, blue and ivory. But two thirds of customers chose black or ivory. This was because changing phones meant you had to return yours to the GPO and wait for them to supply you with another in your choice of colour, which was a lengthy process. You can still buy these phones on eBay, and companies such as Firebox are buying old ones and reconditioning them before selling them on.

But if you really want to get ahead of the crowd, you need a TrimPhone from the 1960s. The Tone Ringer Illuminated Model was designed by Martin Rowlands in 1964 as a luxury phone that would cost more to rent. In addition to its more modern design, the handset lay vertically instead of across the top of the base.

Steven Braggs, owner of, who sells TrimPhones for £30, says: "It had an electronic warbler instead and its illuminated dial glowed in the dark. It also had a really long lead so you could walk around the house and talk."

"It's all part of the current fashion for the 1960s – just look at the popularity of Mad Men. Donald Draper and all the men in the office would have used the 200 Bakelite."

Of course, if you do buy a retro phone you will also need to buy an address book as it won't store all your numbers, and be prepared to start reciting your telephone number in a very posh voice when you pick it up. You won't be able to help yourself.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice