Who voiced the original speaking clock?

Even in the digital age – where most people have instant access to the time on their mobile phones, tablets or, of course watches – the speaking clock still receives 30 million calls a year.

Who voiced the original speaking clock? © Getty Images

The service began nearly 80 years ago. With a growing number of calls to operators from people just wanting to know the time, it was decided that there should be a number people could call and be given the correct time.

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So the Speaking Clock service began in Britain in 1936. It featured the voice of telephonist Ethel Jane Cain, who was chosen following a nationwide search for “golden voice”.

Cain became a hit, especially for her crisp pronunciation of the word ‘precisely,’ which is used at the start of each new minute.

In 1963, Cain was succeeded by Pat Simmons, a supervisor in a London telephone exchange. Simmons had won a competition to replace the original speaking clock voice, as well as win a £500 prize.

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One of the original speaking clock machines (there were two, in case of breakdown) is on display at the British Horological Institute in Nottinghamshire. It had been a working model, but its motor failed – on the same day that Simmons died in 2005.

This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Sandra Lawrence.