GPO Telephones Timeline
Predecessor of Post Office Telecommunications, British Telecom, BT...
GPO Telephones - A complete picture
Pillar boxes, poles, kiosks and cabinets, the General Post Office (GPO) was once responsible for them all!

Here is a brief study of key dates, changes in name(s) and branding as the business has evolved...

Photo: GPO Telephones - A complete picture © Light Straw Archive 2000.
| EXIT | Introduction | Electric Telegraph Company | Post Office Telephones | Post Office Telecommunications |
| British Telecom | BT Piper Livery | BT Global Livery | BT Circle Livery | Openreach |
| Payphones: End of the Line? | Further Reading |

The postal/telecom timeline is complex because the organisations have renamed themselves many times over and have retrospectively claimed histories which technically may not belong to the latter-day derived companies.

1516 Royal Mail
The transport of letters for the monarchy, recognised as the Royal Mail, dates way back to 1516. The present-day Royal Mail organisation thus celebrated a 500-year history (1516 to 2016) in 2016.

In 1635 Thomas Witherings set up the first official public Letter Office.

'Proposition for settling staffets or packet post betwixt London and all parts of His Majesties dominions for the carrying and recarrying of His subjects' letters.'

In modern history the General Post Office marked a tercentenary (300 years) of the first public letter service (1635 to 1935) in 1935.

1660 GPO/Royal Mail
Charles II disputed previous legislation to regularise letter carrying as a public service, so it wasn't until 1660 that the present-day Post Office was established. 'An Act for Erecting and Establishing a Post Office.' - literally, offices where letters could be posted. A general letter office/general post office. The actual wording can be interpreted in several ways. The organisation to be known as the GENERAL POST OFFICE was coined at this time. It was later discovered that the name should have simply been the POST OFFICE, but by then the GENERAL POST OFFICE was too well-established to warrant changing it.

Thus from 1660 the GENERAL POST OFFICE (GPO) was responsible for the carriage of public and royal mail, effectively using a brand name of ROYAL MAIL.The 300-year anniversary of the establishment of a General Letter Office (post office) was marked in 1960 (1660 to 1960).

Following on from the Post Office Act of 1660, under the Postmaster-General, Henry Bishop, the first British postmark was introduced in 1661.
The first public postage stamps went on sale on 1st May 1840.
1846 The Electric Telegraph Company

The Electric Telegraph Company, from which BT is ultimately descended, was established on 18th June 1846. The Telegraph Acts of 1868-70 gave Her Majesty's Postmaster-General the right to acquire and operate the existing inland telegraph systems in the UK.

1912 GPO/Post Office Telephones

From 1st January 1912 the General Post Office became the monopoly supplier of telephone services with the exception of the remaining municipal services in Hull, Portsmouth and Guernsey. The term ‘GPO Engineer in Chief’ was displayed on vehicles used for telephone duties, as well as ‘Post Office Engineering Depart.’, though from about 1931, ‘Post Office Telephones’ became the recognised name. However, ‘GPO Telephones’ and ‘PO Telephones’ were also used in the marking of joint boxes covers, equipment and stores.

Key dates in the history and evolution of the telephone business of The Post Office can be identified by changes in stationery, vehicle logos, liveries and branding, acts of Parliament, regulation...

Throughout the 1960s, the Post Office was still a Government department, part of the Civil Service.

Post Office Telephones Van
Post Office Telephones livery was white lettering on mid-bronze green.

Image: Ford Anglia in mid-bronze livery © Light Straw Archive. 
1969 Post Office Telecommunications

The name Post Office Telephones was used until about October 1969 when the Post Office ceased to be a Government department. This new division in  the 'Post Office Corporation'  became Post Office Telecommunications (circa 1975) with the trade mark yellow Commer vans. The change from mid-bronze green vans was mainly for safety (visibility) reasons, but the new image branding helped to reflect the changed identity and to show that the telephone business was a separate part of the Post Office.
Post Office Telecommunications Van
Post Office Telecommunications livery was double-lined red lettering on telecom-yellow.

Image: Commer van in telecom-yellow livery © 2009 Light Straw Archive. 
Post Office Telecommunications operated as a division within the Post Office Corporation (a nationalised industry). The telecoms part of the business was still very much under Post Office control, but the separate divisions of Post Office Telecommunications and Post Office services had their own headquarters, THQ (telecoms) and PHQ (postal).

1980 British Telecom - part of the Post Office

As the separation of Posts and Telecoms gathered pace, the new identity of British Telecom was unveiled to the press in May 1980. The new logo was progressively introduced on vans, telephone kiosks and stationery until the new corporation was officially declared. British Telecom had a separate budget, but remained under Post Office control.

1981 British Telecommunications

On 1st October 1981, Post Office Telecommunications officially became British Telecommunications a separate corporation.

British Telecom Van
British Telecom... livery was blue lettering on telecom-yellow.

Image: Bedford van in British Telecom yellow livery © David Cott. 
1984 British Telecommunications Plc

After vesting day on 1st April 1984 British Telecom became the trading name for the privatised company British Telecommunications plc- entirely separate from the Post Office.

1991 BT Piper Livery

In April 1991, to reflect its potential worldwide market, BT became the new trading name of British Telecommunications plc. The government no longer had any (significant) financial holding in BT, but the company was expected to trade within the guidelines set out by the regulatory body OFTEL ( OFfice of TELecommunications) which was appointed by the government.

The familiar 'Piper' logo symbolised the 'listening and speaking' concepts of communication.

BT (Piper) Van
White reflective BT (Piper) logo on grey van with some black/blue lettering.

Image: Grey BT van with white reflective BT Piper livery © Light Straw. 

In December 1999, a stronger brand was created by changing the vans from grey to white and displaying a bold red and blue Piper.

As reported in the press:
British Telecom is to revamp its £50 million piper logo in an attempt to make the telecomms giant more friendly and less remote. The new logo will look exactly the same but sport a "warmer and deeper" blue and a "brighter" red. The logo's background will be changed from grey to white "to show off the trumpeting figure more effectively". Said a BT spokesman: "The whole exercise is about moving with the times and freshening up our image."
BT (Piper) Van
Red and blue BT (Piper) logo on white van with some black/blue lettering.

Image: White BT van with red and blue BT Piper © 2000 Light Straw.
2003 BT Global Livery

In April 2003, BT's 'Connected World' logo, previously used only by BT Openworld and developed by Wolff Olins, replaced the older 'Piper' logo company wide.

BT Global logo
BT (globe) logo on white van with some black/blue lettering.

Image: White BT van with globe logo © April 2010 Light Straw. 
2006 Openreach
A BT Group Business

With increasing demand for 'Local Loop Unbundling' and more open access to the 'final mile' of BT's network, it was agreed with the regulator that a separate division would be established to allow 'equivalent access' to all service providers.

Openreach was launched by BT on the 11th January 2006

"Openreach is a new multi-billion pound business that will be responsible for the nationwide local BT network. It is set to become a familiar household name as it will contain BT's field force of 25,000 engineers. These engineers make more than 3.5 million home visits every year on behalf of hundreds of companies. They are the men and women who install new lines, upgrade the local network and maintain the green cabinets at the side of the road. In short, they are the people who ensure that tens of millions of people across the UK have reliable local access to telephony and internet services."
Openreach van
Openreach lower case lettering on white van, with 'wavy line/cable ribbon' vinyls. Underscored by yellow strapline 'a BT Group business.'

Image: White BT van with globe logo © April 2009 Light Straw.
A consequence of the change is that the BT fleet of vans which were once a commonplace sight on the street, have now effectively become Openreach vans, albeit they are still 'A BT Group Business'.

2017 Openreach Ltd

Is at 'arms-length' from BT who still owns it. OFCOM, the regulatory telecoms body prefer the 'final mile' provider to show separation and inpartiality from its incumbent service provider owner, BT. This is because openreach operates to connect the majority of customers to whichever network they choose; not simply to BT as a first choice.
Openreach Ltd
On 24 March 2017 Openreach Ltd was incorporated as a separate company, although still part of BT Group. In July, the new branding was announced. The demarcation from BT was to satisfy OFCOM that Openreach would treat all Service Providers equally. The new branding excluded any reference to BT.

Image: An openreach branded van © April 2018 Light Straw. 'Openreach: Connecting you to your network.'
2019 BT Circle Livery

Over the years, BT's brand had become diluted through the use of varying and markedly different logos for its sub divisions. Brand-guru Paul Franklin at Red&White was tasked with creating a uniformly simplified logo which could be easily applied across all physical and digital media.

BT Circle Livery
The simplified logo was first devised in 2016, announced in May 2019, and finalised with a full colour pallette for the launch in October 2019. On white vans, the BT lettering within a circle appears as Yale Blue [colour to be verified.]

Image: A BT 'circle' branded van © David Whittaker March 2021. 
Payphones - End of the Line?
Telephone Kiosks
A look at the changing face of telephones on the street.

In the first decade of 2000, it was likely that mobile phones already outnumbered fixed lines, so that the need for public payphones is ever diminishing.

Image: KX kiosks with curved red tops © Light Straw Archive.
Further Reading

Visit the Light Straw ATE  (Automatic Telephone Exchange) for more telephone history.

Visit the Light Straw TEC (Telecom Engineering Centre) for more vehicle history.

Design, images and text compiled by © Light-Straw. Page last updated 7 August 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.