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.
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.
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.