Notts now home to speaking clock history – and your voice could be next

Nottinghamshire will become home to one of the most important artefacts in telecoms history after a version of the speaking clock was given to a museum in Upton.

The British Horological Institute (BHI) is about to receive the Mark Four speaking clock, which broadcast the time for sixteen years from 1985.

It will mean the centre, near Newark, will hold all three previous machines which have powered the British telephone line institution.

Reached by calling 123 on a BT landline, the service provides the precise time every 10 seconds and was launched in 1936.

There have been four permanent voices in total, although there have been a number of temporary guest voices.

Alan Midleton, former BHI curator, said: “It is still accurate to within a tenth of a second today, they can’t get it any better than that, I understand, because of the delay that occurs over the landlines when you pick up the receiver.”

Video: Hear the speaking clock voices through the decades

The centre has been caring for the first two speaking clocks on loan for years – along with more than 1,000 other timepieces.

Now, as BT announces a search for a new voice, it’s donating them to the institute permanently along with the Mark Four, which will arrive later this year. The Mark Three was made in Britain but used in Australia.

The speaking clock attracted about 26 million UK calls a week when it was launched, when people used it to quickly get the time to set watches and clocks.

It now gets around 13 million a year, as the proliferation of computers means accurate times are easier to get – although this figure still equates to around 35,000 phone calls a day.

Eleanor Baumber, museum manager for the BHI, said: “The fact we still maintain that number of calls in 2016 is amazing and I think it’s just something that people know is there.

“There’s a fondness for it and love for it and it’s probably something that’s very crucial if you do need a very accurate time.”

Sara Mendes da Costa, a part-time voiceover artist from Brighton, has voiced the clock for the last decade and will be replaced as part of its 80th anniversary next year.

BT is running a competition  inviting people to submit recordings of their voices to go before a panel of judges.

People will be able to see the speaking clocks at the BHI at an open day on Sunday 30 October 10am-4pm.


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