Recorded Information Services (RIS)
Recorded Information Services
The Recorded Information Services began on 24th July 1936 with the introduction of the Speaking Clock, in the London Director Area. The Test Match, Weather, Dial-a-Disc and many others were to follow...

Photo: TIM - The Speaking Clock, circa 1977 © John Lamble.
| EXIT | Early Days | Other Services | Dial-a-Disc | Numbering | The Equipment | Tariffs |
Speaking Clock

The Recorded Information Services began on 24th July 1936 with the introduction of the Speaking Clock in the London Director Area. Subscribers dialled (with their lettered dials) the first three letters of the word TIME and thus TIM was born. Prior to this, subscribers wanting to know the time rang the operator who referred to the exchange clock, which was the most accurate available. Operators were instructed to say "The time by the exchange clock is..."

The first clocks used for TIM were electro-mechanical devices where the different parts of the time announcement were recorded on rotating glass discs and broadcast at intervals of ten seconds. A pair of clocks were housed in Holborn Tandem Exchange and by 1942 a further pair of clocks were provided in Liverpool as a safeguard against failure of this important and popular service.

Later versions of the London clocks were housed in Trunk Control North.
TIM Distribution
Announcements from the two centres were fed via a double 'ring-main' circuit to exchanges throughout the UK with one clock from each centre supplying approximately half the country.

Photo: A Speaking Clock distribution feed © LSA 2000.
Other Services

Weather Service

The London Telephone Weather Service was introduced on Monday 5th March 1956 to subscribers who dialled WEA 2211. The outputs of commercial tape recorders were fed into tandem exchanges in Holborn and Museum via amplified feeds which had low impedances to prevent overhearing.

"Callers hear a continuously repeated announcement, giving the forecast for a central area of some 20 miles radius for a period of about nine hours, usually with some indication of the further outlook. The Meteorological Office reviews the forecast every hour and advises the Post Office recording centre when a change of announcement becomes necessary." [POEEJ April 1956]

The service was so popular that it was extended to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester in February 1957, to Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff in March and to Edinburgh in April.

Test Match
Buzby Says: Dial the Score, on 154
154 - From 01 phones only. 

Advert: Circa 1979 © BT Heritage.
The first Test Match (Cricket) in 1956 resulted in the MCC switchboard being swamped with enquires. Spare capacity in the newly launched weather service, set up on an alternative number routing to WEB 8811, allowed announcements and scores for the second match in the series to be directly dialled on the PSTN. This proved so popular that many callers got the engaged tone due to lack of capacity in the system. Subsequently the announcements were relayed to key exchanges in London and to other exchanges via a special trunk network, which allowed for greater access to the service. The exchange 'WEB' was chosen after Roy Webber, a cricket writer of the era.

By 1965, there were 30 centres equipped for relaying Test Match announcements and by this time, callers in London dialled UMP for the service. The number for Non-Director areas was planned to be 16.

This expensive equipment designed to handle short, high peaks of call traffic was of course idle during the months of September to May and it was not until the Swinging Sixties that a complementary use for the '16' service was to be found.

At the end of the Sixties, All-Figure Numbering meant that the original letter codes were replaced by numbers and thus a 1973 London (DIB) Dialling Instruction Booklet shows UMP being replaced by 160.

By 1978 the Cricket/Dial-a-Disc was extended to 125 centres. A later campaign poster shows Buzby telling us to 'Dial the Score, on 154'.
Test Match
The control room, next to the studios, used mainly for UMP, the cricket scores service. There were Private Wire communications between the Recorded Information Services operators and the commentator at the cricket ground. 

Photo: A Test Match control desk © John Lamble 1977.
Road Weather Service

Began in Autumn 1957 as the behest of the AA (Automobile Association) describing weather conditions affecting roads within a 50 mile radius of each centre between the months of October to April. An experimental Summer Road Conditions service was introduced on 1st May 1966 on Cardiff 8021.

Recipe Service

Started in Birmingham in July 1961.

I'm a 16 Dialler
The 'Dial-a-Disc' service was first trialled in Leeds between 7th July and 1st August 1966. Seven records were selected each week from current popularity ratings and a different record was played each day during the cheap rate period (6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays and all day on Sunday). 

Scan: Badge - "I'm A 16 Dialler".

In the early Sixties (before all-figure numbers) the Recorded Information Services (RIS) numbers were standardised to use special final selector numbers, so that up to 100 separate services could be accessed. Each RIS was allocated a four-digit code starting 80xx and in Director areas, this would be prefixed by "ASK." For example, the weather was ASK 8091 or simply 8091 in Non-Director areas.

Service Director Area Non-Director Area Times
Test Match UMP 16  
Motoring Weather ASK 8021 8021  
Bedtime Stories   8071 From 6pm each night
Recipe ASK 8071 8071 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday
Gardening Information 8071 8am to 6pm Saturdays and Sundays
Speaking Clock TIM 8081  
Weather ASK 8091 8091  

Exceptionally, due to sudden peaks of traffic, the Test Match service was allocated the code "UMP" in Director areas and "16" ('one-six') in Non-Director areas and given access off group rather than final selectors. The same equipment was later used for Dial-a-Disc when Test Matches were not being played.

By 1979, London Director Area subscribers dialled 154 for ten new (pop) releases from the potential list of hits each week. The same number was used in the Summer for Cricket scores and 160 was available for 'Top Twenty' music throughout the year.

In the same year, horse racing fans in London dialled 168 to get 'race-by-race' results, supplied by the William Hill Organisation.

The Equipment

The first Recorded Information Services, such as the Weather used two commercial tape recorders having a loop of tape giving a fixed length message. The output was fed, via amplifiers, to an incoming call connection point. One machine was on-line, the other ready as a standby.

The Announcer No. 5A
Equipment Announcer 5A
This was a modified commercial (Emidicta) dictating machine, giving a message length of 8 seconds to 3 minutes. All of the RIS (except the Speaking Clock and Dial-a-Disc) used these machines until 1970.

Photo: A bank of Emidicta machines at Judd Street © 1963 BT Heritage
The Announcer No. 9A

This was introduced in 1966 for the new Dial-a-Disc service and for Changed Number Announcements. It was a 'replay only 'machine using a tape loop previously recorded under engineering supervision on a tape recorder. The tape cassette was capable of holding sufficient tape for an announcement of up to 4 minutes playing at a tape speed of 3.75 inches per second.

The Announcer No. 11A
Equipment Announcer 11A
The Equipment Announcer No.11A used a magnetically loaded neoprene tyre stretched over a rotating brass drum.

Photo: An Equipment Announcer 11A © 1977 John Lamble.
From 1972 the Equipment Announcer No.11A used a magnetically loaded neoprene tyre stretched over a rotating brass drum-the same method as used on the 1963 version of the Speaking Clock. This machine was designed for direct recording by an operator and suited to continuous or stop/start playbacks, thus it became the obvious replacement for the 5A, for which spare parts were becoming harder to obtain. The 11A was first used to replace the 5As at the London Recorded Information Centre (RISC).


Special Information Final Selectors with the necessary amplifying equipment were provided at GSCs at which the RIS services were available.


With full STD access, calls were charged during Peak, Standard or Cheap rates time periods.

Cheap Rate

As STD began to be rolled out across the UK, the cheap rate charging period was extended. Thus from 1st July 1958 the 'Cheap Rate' period was extended to become:

Weekdays 6 pm to 6 am the next morning. Sundays 2pm to 6 am Monday morning.

This was later extended to the more familiar period of 6pm to 8am weekdays and all weekend.

The slogan "It's so cheap to phone your friends after six and at weekends" was devised to promote this campaign.

Standard Rate

Was historically, Monday to Friday 8am to 9am and 1pm to 6pm

Peak Rate

Was historically, Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm

Design, images and text compiled by © Light-Straw. With thanks to John Lamble and BT Heritage.
Page last updated 31st March 2014. Checked May 2021.

All logos and trade marks are the property of their respective owners and are used on the Light Straw site(s) for review only. Students and researchers are recommended to make their own independent enquiries as to the accuracy of the information contained therein.