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Speaking Clock’s Third Voice to join the BHI Museum

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The British Horological Institute Museum, based at Upton Hall, near Newark, Nottinghamshire are delighted to announce that BT have formally donated the original Speaking Clock machines from 1936 and 1963 to the museum, where they have been on loan and on display for almost thirty years.  BT will also be donating a digital Mark IV Clock, from 1985 which was recently recovered from Liverpool.

David Hay, head of BT Heritage, said: “Eighty years ago BT’s technology first created the Speaking Clock and it remains a much loved part of British life today. Celebrating in this way demonstrates BT’s determination to preserve the heritage of the world’s oldest communications company on behalf of the nation.”

An example of the first Speaking Clock of 1936 (Mark I) is held at the BHI Museum, and was voiced by Ethel Cain, a telephone exchange operator from Croydon.  She won the original 1936 Speaking Clock competition, after being selected from a total of 15,000 female telephonists who were in Post Office employment at the time.

Britain’s second Speaking Clock (Mark III), also held at the BHI museum, was released in 1963, taking over from the 1936 machine.  It was voiced by Pat Simmons, a supervisor at a London telephone exchange who won a second internal Post Office competition, with a reward of £500, to become the next voice of the Speaking Clock.

This new donation, courtesy of BT, will see a third Speaking Clock join the Museum. In 1985 this Speaking Clock (Mark IV) took over from the 1963 machine. It was voiced by Brian Cobby, a voiceover artist and assistant supervisor at a telephone exchange in Brighton, who won a third competition amongst Post Office Employees.

As a result of this new donation the BHI Museum will be able to tell the full story of the Speaking Clock from its initiation in 1936 through to the takeover of the current Speaking Clock in 2007.  The present machine, located in London, is currently voiced by Sara Mendes da Costa, who won a public fundraising competition ran by BT for Children In Need 2006, to become the Speaking Clock’s fourth voice.

The donation is being made in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the release of the first Speaking Clock in 1936, alongside BT’s launch of a new competition giving people across the UK the chance to go down in history and become the new permanent voice of the iconic BT Speaking Clock, as announced on the BBC’s The One Show. Aspiring voice artists should visit www.bbc.co.uk/theoneshow where they will find full details of how to enter. The competition closes at 10pm on Monday 29 August 2016.

Ashley Strachan, chairman of the British Horological Museum Trust, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to accept the donation of the Speaking Clocks from BT. We’ve been proud to be custodians of the Mark I and Mark III machines on loan since the late 1980s, with both pieces regularly stealing the show during Museum events. The arrival of the Mark IV machine, which features the Speaking Clock’s only male voice, will complete the BHI Museum’s set of voices. Once the machine is up and running with the help of our expert team of horologists, we hope to be the only place in the world where three different Speaking Clocks can be both seen and heard and look forward to unveiling this generous donation to Museum visitors courtesy of BT.”

Visitors can look forward to seeing the Museum’s existing collection of the 1936 and 1963 machines during the Museum’s forthcoming open day on Sunday 30 October 2016.

For further information please contact the Museum Manager Eleanor Baumber at bhimuseum@bhi.co.uk or on 01636 817 601.

Issued: Tuesday 23 August 2016

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