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Old 20th Nov 2009, 12:20 pm   #1
Line whistle
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Default 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Hi,
Just out of interest does anyone know the date we changed to the grey units in telephone boxes with the dial integral with the coin box. As a young child I have a vague memory of the separate black telephone. This would have been around 1970ish. An exact date would be great.
Thanking you in advance,
Des.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 12:52 pm   #2
Darren-UK
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Default Re: Grey payphones.

You're talking about the old 'Button A-B' telephones. The seperate black telephone you remember was basically a 162 (or 232, I forget now).

The changeover took many years; the last 'Button A-B' type survived until relatively recently (Late 1980's?) in, I believe, the Shetland Isles.

Although you haven't asked this, I thought it might be of interest to younger members if I were to explain how one used a Button A-B telephone.

Having used all your strength to open the kiosk door, you then groomed yourself in front of a little mirror so you looked nice for your call. If you didn't know the number of the call recipient you then pulled out the in-kiosk directory, an item you don't see anymore.

Next step was to insert your coins into a slot. Then you dialled the number and when the telephone was picked up at the other end you pressed Button A. Your money would then drop through to a cash box and your call was connected. If, however, your call wasn't answered you would then press Button B and your money would, hopefully, be returned to you.

Often those days it was necessary to go via the Operator. If so, you would insert your money in the same way, then if the Operator was successful in obtaining a response from the intended call recipient, she (as it usually was) would then tell you to press Button A. The Operator, apparently, relied upon hearing your money drop through to the cash box - upon which she would connect your call and away you went.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 1:34 pm   #3
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Default Re: Grey payphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Darren-UK View Post

'The Operator, apparently, relied upon hearing your money drop through to the cash box - upon which she would connect your call and away you went.'
I have a circuit for one of these boxes. The coin-and-fee checking equipment consisted of an internal microphone which picked up the sound of the inserted coin 'dinging' a bell, and so the call would be allowed to go through.

Naughty kids would put ink in the coin-return flap, so that laydees who had paid their tuppence and couldn't get through would press button 'B' to return their money, but wouldn't soil their manicured hands by ratching in an inky hole for it; an issue that didn't concern impecunious schoolboys...

This type of public telephone was in use in Harrington and Salterbeck, Workington, Cumberland until around 1974.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 1:48 pm   #4
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Default Re: Grey payphones.

Some naughty kids also stuffed a bit of newspaper up the coin return so that the coin didn't drop and then 'harvested their crop' a few hours later (so I was told by my dad)
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 1:57 pm   #5
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Interesting. I didn't know there was a little bell which told the Operator what was going on. I do remember ink in the coin trays though. It wasn't unknown, also, for us lads to get connected via the Operator but press B to get our money back. Obviously the bell didn't ding but we got away with it so far as I recall.

The OP asks for an exact date for the changeover but, as I said, I remember this happening over a very long period of time. I imagine there would've been something of a purge when preparing for decimalisation, but then I do clearly recall the grey (Pay on Answer?) equipments taking £sd coinage and being converted to decimal.

Perhaps kiosks were generally updated as and when the equipment became due for overhaul.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 2:10 pm   #6
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Default Re: Grey payphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Darren-UK View Post
If, however, your call wasn't answered you would then press Button B and your money would, hopefully, be returned to you.
So long as the local perishers hadn't placed a piece of folded cardboard in the money return slot to give the impression of a faulty machine so they could come back later to retrieve their ill gotten gains.

A variation on this was to bend the earpiece diaphram in half which would give the impression of a badly distorted connection encouraging the user not to press button A but to press button B. Of course the cardboard would hold the money back in the return tray for the little monsters to collect later.

(Sorry Bob. Saw your comments after I posted)

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Old 20th Nov 2009, 3:16 pm   #7
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

If DES did mean grey (STD) payphones there were two versions. The one with the integral handset was used in public kiosks and the one with a separate telephone (usually wall mounted) was used in pubs, clubs etc.

The kiosk versions ended up with armoured handset cords to make it difficult for vandals to cut them. This made the cord so stiff that lead weights were fitted in the handset to make it sit firmly on the switch hooks. The mechanism and coinbox had locks with different keys. Linemen only had keys for the mechanism. The coinbox contained a cash box which locked itself when removed. A special tool was required to open it. These cash boxes were collected by postmen on their rounds. Some coinbox lids were fitted with alarms monitored at the exchange. Later the entire compartment was made from armoured plate and the lid recessed to prevent the use of a jemmy.

Special "fake" coins were supposed to be used for testing, but most line men blocked the chute between mechanism and coinbox so they could use a normal coin. If they forgot to remove the blockage, coins would build up in the mechanism and jam it. This would result in a second "unable to insert coins" maintenace visit.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 4:12 pm   #8
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

These A/B boxes were perfectly secure and none (that I know of) ever got broken into. The threepenny bit ones that replaced these were a nightmare for the GPO/BT. They could be forced open with a small screwdriver and at one point almost every one in the country was attacked and out of order.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 4:13 pm   #9
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

David,
Were the A/B boxes really more secure, or were people just more civilised in those days?
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 4:25 pm   #10
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlanBeckett View Post
Were the A/B boxes really more secure, or were people just more civilised in those days?
The thieves certainly became more determined over the years. When I was living in London in the late 80s, thieves were attacking the grey STD ('beepbeepbeepbeep') boxes with petrol powered angle grinders. They would remove the entire mechanism, throw it in the back of a van and drive off with it.

Thieves lost interest as payphone usage went down and phonecard use went up, so the pickings became slimmer.

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Old 20th Nov 2009, 4:54 pm   #11
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

The A/B boxes had armour plated cash boxes from the start. I can't say I ever heard of one being broken into. However when I started work in 1967 these boxes were mainly confined to rural areas and would not have contained so much cash.

I saw one grey mechanism which had been attacked with a cutting torch (gas axe), but the miscreants were obviously amateurs as they burnt open the mechanism and then fled before attacking the cash compartment.

Black A/B boxes were known as pre-payment boxes and grey boxes as post payment boxes. A/B boxes had a special dial which enabled digits 9 and 0 to be dialled without the need to insert coins. This enabled emergency 999 and operator calls to be made. A/B boxes in manual areas had an emergency button to alert the operator to an emergency call.

Happy days.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:03 pm   #12
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by russell b w
I have a circuit for one of these boxes. The coin-and-fee checking equipment consisted of an internal microphone which picked up the sound of the inserted coin 'dinging' a bell, and so the call would be allowed to go through.
There was no coin and fee checking (C&FC) equipment associated with an AB box. The coins sat in a scale pan which required the correct number of pennies to be inserted before the dial was unlocked to allow dialling of all digits.

The microphone in the coin shute was for use on calls via the operator. The operator would say "Please insert x amount" and then listen to the tings and clanks as coins were inserted. There were different gongs for each coin slot and value of coin.

Most pre STD exchanges didn't have local call timers (LCTs) either, so a local call could go on forever without additional charge. Calls via the operator were charged by time and distance and when your credit was about to run out the operator would come on the line and ask you to insert more money.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:05 pm   #13
John M0GLN
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

As young lads, I remember we used to talk to each other from phone boxes for free, at a pre- arranged time and place, I would ring my friend in another call box, I could hear what he was saying without pressing button 'A', after he had finished speaking I would press button 'B' and get my money back, we would then reverse the process and I could reply, I also seem to remember being told that you could dial local numbers by tapping out the number on the receiver rest.

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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:06 pm   #14
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Is my memory deceiving me, or did A/B have some sort of remote system for coin return? I seem to remember that even if one had pressed button A, but the call turned out to be u/s (distorted, crossed line etc), one could call the operator, who would be able to return the coin.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:06 pm   #15
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Ah yes, I remember the Operator butting in asking for more money!
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:14 pm   #16
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dseymo1
Is my memory deceiving me, or did A/B have some sort of remote system for coin return?
Not that I remember. The operator would offer to reconnect you in hope that you got a better connection. This was subject to abuse with people asking to be reconnected when they'd never made a call in the first place. The operator would then offer to send you some stamps at your home address.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:27 pm   #17
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

That was a common trick, I did it. I never received any stamps though, must've got a good connection each time
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:36 pm   #18
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Sorry I didn't express myself clearly, The stamps were offered instead of a reconnection, not as well as. This was designed to stamp out the fraud. No pun intended.
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 5:47 pm   #19
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

I once received a free 3-unit phonecard (the old Landis + Gyr pre-chip type) after a payphone ate my money. As I had only lost 10p in the phone, this was a 200% profit!
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Old 20th Nov 2009, 6:06 pm   #20
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Default Re: 'Button A-B' and grey payphones.

Another point that I don't think has been mentioned is, as far as I remember, there was no limit to the length of the call! You could talk as long as you wanted for fourpence. Am I right or was there a limit?


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