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Speaking Clock

Why not call the Telephones UK Speaking Clock services on 0871 976 2819 & 0871 976 2839

Speaking Clock

Telephones UK has its own popular Speaking Clock Service which features the authentic voice of Pat Simmons.

The number to directly access the Speaking Clock is 0871 976 2819if dialling from abroad the number is +44 871 976 2819.

GREAT NEWS: We have now set up a second Speaking Clock line on a separate number 0871 976 2839 which will feature a variety of speaking clock voices from the past, please see the Speaking Clock page for further details.

Calls to our Speaking Clock services remain the same, the cost is 13p per minute, plus VAT, plus your phone company’s access charge.

When dialled the clock will speak for a set period of time, typically between 40 and 60 seconds, you can hang up before this time, but the line may remain engaged until the time has elapsed.

Our Speaking Clock is radio controlled by the MSF Radio Time Signal in Anthorn, Cumbria to enable it to remain accurate at all times. We aim to provide a reliable service, should you experience persistent problems, please contact us via our feedback page. Our clock has no connection with the genuine BT Speaking Clock service nor with the THG.

During periods of high demand callers may receive either engaged tone or ringing tone when the speaking clock equipment is in use. If this occurs then please redial again, a short while later.

The History of the  Speaking Clock Service

Jane Cain

1936 – Ethel Cain

A London telephonist, Jane Cain, also known as Ethel Cain, became the first voice on 24 July 1936 and lasted until 1963.

She won a prize of 10 guineas (£10.50) in a competition to find the right voice. Miss Cain passed away in September 1998, aged 87.

Pat Simmons

1963 – Pat Simmons

Miss Pat Simmons, a supervisor in a London telephone exchange became the second voice from 1963 until 1984.

Miss Simmons passed away in November 2005, aged 85.

Brian Cobby

1985 – Brian Cobby

The third voice, belonged to Brian Cobby who was an assistant supervisor at Withdean exchange in Brighton. He became the first male voice at 11 am on 2nd April 1985 until 8 am on 2nd April 2007. Brian, an actor by profession before he joined BT, was selected from 12 finalists in BT’s Golden Voice competition, on 5th December 1984. He was born on 12 October 1929 and died 31 October 2012.

Sara Mendes da Costa

2007 – Sara Mendes da Costa

The fourth voice belonged to Sara Mendes da Costa from Brighton & Hove who was forty when she took over the role. She became the fourth permanent voice of the BT Speaking Clock at 8 am on 2nd April 2007.

Sara won a competition BT ran during October and November 2006 to find a new voice from the public, which had almost 18,500 entrants, simultaneously raising more than £200,000 for BBC Children in Need.

Alan Steadman

2016 – Alan Steadman

The present voice belongs to Alan Steadman, a retired civil servant from Dundee who was sixty nine when he took over the role of the fifth permanent voice of the BT speaking clock in November 2016 to mark the 80th anniversary.

It is the first time that a non English person has been the permanent voice of the speaking clock.

Facts & Figures for the BT Speaking Clock Service

  • The BT Speaking Clock has also been known as TIM (the three-letter code, that subscribers dialled in Director areas).
  • The BT Speaking Clock receives around 70 million calls a year.
  • The BT Speaking Clock has been ticking 24-hours a day, seven days a week since 24th July 1936 and is now over eighty years old! The service was initially only available in the London directory area and was rolled out nationwide in 1942.
  • The Speaking Clock service was named Timeline during the 1990's.
  • Originally the accuracy of the BT Speaking Clock was one-tenth of a second, it is now correct to within five thousandths of a second!
  • Before Brian Cobby worked for BT, he recorded the “5-4-3-2-1… Thunderbirds are go!” for the theme tune to Gerry Anderson’s TV series!
  • Brian Cobby has received fan mail from ‘mature ladies’ who say they listen to him late at night when they can’t sleep!
  • The longest distance call to the Speaking Clock is from a factory in Hong Kong, which makes handsets for the VideoPlus VCR programming system. The in-built clock is set to British time, courtesy of BT's Speaking Clock service.
  • The timing of most television programmes is synchronised to the BT Speaking Clock as well, so when your local station goes over to ITN for the News at Ten, this is done "at the third stroke".
  • The world’s most famous clock, Big Ben, checks its time with the BT Speaking Clock and many major organisations have permanent feeds of the clock from BT into their private internal phone systems so employees can check the time without making an outside call.
  • During the Cold War the Speaking Clock network was designed to be used in case of a nuclear attack. Had such an attack taken place then the clock would have broadcast messages from Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe to regional police stations. In turn, this would have triggered automatic warning sirens and alerts sent to Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts.
  • The 1936 Speaking Clock was an of array of motors, glass discs, photocells and valves and took up the floorspace of a small room! The current Speaking Clock, with a built-in crystal oscillator and microprocessor logic control, the complete apparatus is made of solid-state microchips and occupies no more shelf space than a small suitcase does – and has no moving parts at all.
  • Describing the BT Speaking Clock as a National Institution is probably fair, since as a nation we seem to be remarkably keen on ringing up. Even in its first year, 1936, the service registered nearly 13 million calls and it was not a nationwide service then - that came six years later. Today we make around 100 million calls a year and that's a lot of watches being checked.
  • The original Speaking Clock message was recorded and replayed rather like the optical sound track of a film and the equipment represented the state of the art of current technology in those days. This lasted until 1963, when it was replaced by more modern recording technology, using a magnetic drum. It gave way to the present digital system in 1984 and this has no moving parts at all.
  • The unquestioned accuracy of the Speaking Clock also led to an association with Accurist Watches, who from March 1986 until August 2008 sponsored the BT Speaking Clock. The announcement would say: "The time sponsored by Accurist is ...". With those 100 million calls a year, this may well be the most frequently heard advertising message of all time.
  • But what did people do before the speaking clock was invented if they wanted a time check? Simple: they rang the operator and asked her the time by the exchange clock on the wall, but this was not precise to the second, nor could the exchange always answer just when the customer wanted. The first genuine speaking clock machine was introduced in the USA in 1927, coming to Paris in 1933, The Hague in 1934 and Switzerland in 1935. But automatic time service (of a Heath-Robinson kind) had been available to telephone users in San Francisco since the late 19th century; by listening to an observatory clock for at least a minute and decoding clicks and single and double buzzes against some detailed instructions you could set a pocket watch-but it helped if you already knew more or less what the time was! A proper speaking clock is far less trouble!

The third permanent voice of the BT Speaking Clock

Brian Cobby

The third voice of the BT Speaking Clock was Brian Cobby, he was an assistant supervisor at Withdean exchange in Brighton. He became the first male voice at 11 am on 2nd April 1985 until 8 am on 2nd April 2007. Brian was an actor before he joined BT and was selected from twelve finalists in BT’s Golden Voice competition, on 5th December 1984. He was born in Gravesend in Kent on 12 October 1929 and died in Brighton on 31 October 2012.

Interview with Brian Cobby by Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4 in 2005 in which they discuss the death of Pat Simmonds and how Brian became the third voice of the BT Speaking Clock.

The fourth permanent voice of the BT Speaking Clock

Sara Mendes da Costa

For the first time ever, BT gave people across the UK the chance to take their place in history and become the new “permanent”* voice of the BT Speaking Clock – and all in aid of BBC Children in Need. A special competition phone line was open from, Monday 23 October until midnight on Sunday 05 November 2006.

The BT Speaking Clock had a new voice to help celebrate its 70th birthday, while aiming to raise significant funds for the charity. Established in 1936, the Speaking Clock has only ever had three “permanent” voices, so the lucky winner took his or her place in British history.

The UK-wide competition was officially launched by BBC Children in Need and Brian Cobby, who was the voice of the Speaking Clock for almost 21 years. Entry details can be found at bbc.co.uk/pudsey. The new “permanent” voice officially went live on the BT Speaking Clock in the New Year.

Sir Terry Wogan

The late Sir Terry Wogan said at the time: “How would you like to be the most listened to voice in the UK? You can be the new BT Speaking Clock, and at the same time help BBC Children In Need. Just by calling 09067 533 533, answering a question about BBC Children in Need, and then recording your own unique version of the Speaking Clock message, you could be in with a chance of winning this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I’ll announce the winner on Children In Need’s big night, Friday 17th November live on BBC ONE. Let’s be hearing from you!”

Calls to the competition number cost no more than £1.50, with £1.10 going straight to BBC Children in Need. Callers must have the permission of whoever pays the phone bill. Every penny raised will help BBC Children in Need provide practical and lasting support to disadvantaged children and young people in the UK. These include youngsters who have experienced homelessness, neglect, abuse or poverty and encountered serious illnesses, disabilities, psychological disorders and addictions.

Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of BT, said: “The BT Speaking Clock is a national treasure. Even though we live in the Digital Age, more than 70 million calls are made each year to the BT Speaking Clock to get an accurate time check. We hope that this competition raises significant funds for BBC Children in Need and celebrates the Speaking Clock’s 70th birthday in style.”

BT has supported BBC Children in Need since the first televised Appeal in 1980 and handles more than 200,000 calls on the night of the appeal from more than 50 call centres

Sara Mendes da Costa
Sara Mendes da Costa
Sara Mendes da Costa

Sara Mendes da Costa, a telemarketer and part-time voiceover artist from Brighton has won the competition to become the fourth ‘permanent’ voice of the BT Speaking Clock.

Sara Mendes da Costa, 40, of Clarendon Road, Brighton, Sussex, a budding author was one 15 finalists who were shortlisted from the 18,405 people who entered the competition. The competition raised £20,000 for BBC Children in Need.

Ms Mendes da Costa had been working part-time as a voiceover artist and in telemarketing while she put together her first novel. She said: “Wow! The Speaking Clock has been part of my life for so many years, its amazing to have been shortlisted. I only entered after my dad heard the competition on the radio and suggested I give it a go”.

The judging panel included Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of BT, Nicola Loftus, general manager of Accurist, Brian Cobby, BBC presenters Natasha Kaplinsky and Alan Dedicoat (the voice of the lottery balls), as well as independent judge, Louise Crowley, who is a voice coach. Sir Christopher Bland said Ms Mendes da Costa’s voice “had warmth and clarity and would be an excellent choice to succeed Brian Cobby”.

A spokesperson for BT said the panel were looking for a voice with “clarity, character and one which is easily understandable”. The shortlist also included Keith Gladman, 60, a coach driver from Torquay, David Battersby, 37, a stockbroker from Leeds, Emma Jesson, 37, a weather presenter on ITV Central TV from Edgbaston, Birmingham, Scott Crawford, 29, a DJ from Dundee, John Kinge, 29, a health and safety manager from Cwmbran, Torfaen and Tracy Cunningham, 34, a new mum from Glasgow.

Celebrity Voices of the Speaking Clock Service

Alicia Roland & Brian Cobby
Tinkerbell
Sir Ian McKellen
Jo Brand

Over recent years there have been a number of celebrities that have become the voice of the BT Speaking Clock for a limited period in aid of charity

  • Lenny Henry in aid of Comic Relief10 March - 23 March 2003
  • Alicia Roland in aid of ChildLine13 October - 20 October 2003
  • Mae Whitman to promote the Disney production of Tinker Bell26 October 2008 - 9 February 2009
  • Kimberley Walsh, Cheryl, Gary Barlow, Chris Moyles & Fearne Cotton in aid of Comic Relief3 February - 23 March 2012
  • David Walliams, Gary Barlow, Chris Moyles, Kimberley Walsh & Fearne Cotton in aid of Sport Relief7 March - 9 April 2012
  • Clare Balding in aid of Comic Relief12 February - 15 March 2013
  • Davina McCall in aid of Sport Relief27 January - 23 March 2014
  • Sir Ian McKellen in aid of Comic Relief 2 February - 13 March 2015
  • Jo Brand in aid of Sport Relief20 January - 20 March 2016

At the third stroke … Lenny gives the Speaking Clock the red nose treatment – March 2003

Lenny Henry
Lenny Henry
  • Between 9 am on 10th March 2003 and 12 noon on 23rd March 2003 Lenny Henry became only the fourth person ever to be the voice of the BT Speaking Clock in its 67-year history. By calling 123 callers helped to raise around £200,000 for Comic Relief - and, of course, got the most accurate time available.
  • For two weeks Lenny took over from the current voice, Brian Cobby, and added his own special touch to the immortal lines: "At the third stroke, the time from Comic Relief will be ... precisely!"
  • Lenny Henry said, at the time: "I can hardly believe it, but those good people at BT are letting me be the voice of the Speaking Clock for two weeks to raise money for Comic Relief. That's right, me, Lenworth George Henry from Dudley in the West Midlands! The Speaking Clock is serious stuff - over 100 million calls were made to the Speaking Clock in 2001! - and the time is still going to be 'precisely' right, even when I'm doing the voice! It's a national institution, but you should hear what we've done to the pips!"
  • Lenny's version of the Speaking Clock featured different character voices each day to raise the £200,000 for Comic Relief.

Five of the Red Nose Day celebrities took over the BT Speaking Clock for Comic Relief – February 2009

Comic Relief 2009
Fearne Cotton
  • On 03/02/09 BT announced that the Speaking Clock would help fundraise for Comic Relief by using different celebrity voices each day between February 3 to March 23, 2009. Five of the Red Nose Day celebrities that were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro shared the time-keeping duties over two months.
  • The fun started at 08.00 on Tuesday 3 February. When callers dialled 123 they were given an accurate time check by celebrities, including: Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Cole and Kimberley Walsh, fellow popstar, Gary Barlow and presenters, Chris Moyles and Fearne Cotton. Each celebrity replaced the ‘pips’ with their own special Comic Relief sound, ranging from kisses, raspberries and piano chords in a bid to Do Something Funny for Money.
  • John Petter, consumer managing director, BT Retail, said: “We‘re delighted to support The BT Red Nose Climb with the BT Speaking Clock, which will help raise funds, as well as help vulnerable and disadvantaged people at home in the UK and in Africa. This builds on the vital support BT gives to Comic Relief’s telethons. The more people that dial 123, the more money Comic Relief will make. And we hope each of the celebrities will make callers smile, as well as giving an accurate time check.”
  • BT’s support of Red Nose Day  raised funds via a number of high profile activities, including sponsorship of the BT Red Nose Climb, a celebrity expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. BT also be raised money with cause-related marketing initiatives in different business units such as BT Vision, BT Total Broadband, BT Business and the BT Shop, as well as a major employee fundraising programme. To find out more about how you can help BT raise money for Comic Relief visit www.bt.com/comicrelief. There was also the opportunity to win flights to Tanzania to meet the celebrities before they start their ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro, as part of the BT Red Nose Climb.
  • BT has supported Comic Relief since 1988 providing telephony, call centres, network management and thousands of volunteer hours, enabling the charity to take millions of pounds in pledges on Red Nose Day. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to call the BT donation line on the night.

  Much of the information on the BT Speaking Clock was kindly

provided by Justin McKeown of  Trimedia UK