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Events in telecommunications history


The International Telecommunications Union (the oldest of the intergovernmental organisations which form the specialised agencies of the United Nations) was created from the International Telegraph Union and the International Radiotelegraph Union.

The Bridgeman Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Bridgeman to investigate criticisms that the Post Office, as a large-scale commercial undertaking, should be run along the lines of a business concern rather than as an ordinary government department. This criticism had culminated in a submission to the Prime Minister of a memorial signed by 320 Members of Parliament asking for an enquiry into the status and organisation of the Post Office with a view to effecting any necessary changes in its constitution.

The Bridgeman Committee's report, published in the same year, found no change to be necessary to the existing Parliamentary control, but drew attention to defects in the organisation.

The original structure of the Post Office telephone service was modelled on that of the National Telephone Company. Thus, on the commercial side the local operational unit was the Surveyor's District of which there were 13, excluding London. The Surveyor was responsible for the postal, telegraph and telephone services: on the telephone side he was assisted by District Managers who, in conjunction with Head Postmasters, were responsible for the provision and the quality of the telephone service in their districts. Responsibility for the telegraph service was divided between the Surveyor's Office and the Head Postmasters.

However, none of these officials had any control over the engineering aspects of the telephone and telegraph services. The engineering field was the responsibility of totally separate Superintending Engineers Districts, each under the control of a Superintending Engineer who had a number of Sectional Engineers working to him. The organisation was further confused by the fact that neither the District Managers' and the Sectional Engineers' Districts, nor those of the Surveyors and the Superintending Engineers were conterminous. Moreover, the engineering and non-engineering sides were each responsible to separate headquarters in London: the Superintending Engineer to the Engineer-in-Chief and the Surveyor to the Secretary's Office. This centralisation of authority in London prevented real local responsibility, and the separate rigid hierarchies prejudiced effective co-ordination of operational and engineering effort.

A departmental committee under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Gardiner was then appointed with the aim of promoting efficiency in Post Office organisation and to deal with the application of the substantially increased decentralisation recommended by the Bridgeman Committee.

The Gardiner Committee's recommendations, published in its report of 1936, led to the setting up of eight regions in the provinces, each in the charge of a Regional Director responsible for the control and co-ordination of all Post Office services within his region. Additional to these eight provincial regions, two further regions were set up in London - one for Posts and one for Telecommunications. The provincial regions were divided into Head Postmasters' districts for the management of the postal and the telegraph services (in practice these were already in existence).

The telephone service regions were divided into telephone Areas under Telephone Managers, of which there were ultimately 57 for the provinces and nine in London. Telephone Managers, with Head Postmasters acting as their agents on certain matters, were to be responsible for the day-to-day control of all aspects of the telephone service (engineering, traffic, sales and accounts). They were also to be accountable to the Regional Director for the overall efficiency of the telephone service in their territory. The first two regions (Scotland and North East) were set up in 1936, followed by the two London regions (Telecoms and Postal), and the changes throughout the country were in place by 1940.

With this large degree of devolution to the regions, there was now a need for central co-ordination and an overall scrutiny of Regional performance, as ultimate responsibility still remained with the Headquarters Administration. To deal with posts, telecommunications, buildings and staff pay, five committees were constituted when the earliest Regions were set up. These were:-

Standing Postal Estimate Committee (SPEC)

Standing Telecommunications Advisory Committee (STAC)

Standing Factories Advisory Committee (SFAC)

Clerical Estimates Committee (CEC)

Standing Motor Transport Advisory Committee (SMTAC), which was set up the previous year in 1935.

The task of these committees was to scrutinise annual estimates, compare actual with estimated expenditure, and to study performance statistics. The committees were composed of representatives from relevant departments and each committee included representatives of the Accountant General's Department.

The Post Office introduced the Telex Printergram service. The 'Telex' Exchange, opened on 15 August, enabled teleprinters to be used on telephone subscribers' lines for intercommunication and for transmission of telegrams to the Central Telegram Office. Teleprinters 7B were used.

The first ultra-short-wave radio telephone link, used as part of the inland telephone network, was set up across the Bristol Channel, over a distance of 13 miles.

The first submarine cable for carrier working was laid from Britain to La Panne in Belgium. It contained 120 wires arranged as four-wire circuits and provided 90 telephone circuits using 1+2 carrier equipment.

The Post Office introduced trunk service on demand, relieving telephone users of the need to book trunk calls in advance.

The Post Office introduced telephones with anti-sidetone induction coil. The anti-sidetone telephone circuit had been invented in 1920.

The first British experiments in carrier telephony were carried out using the London-Derby cable.

The first large centralised Directory Enquiry Bureau was opened in August.

Telephone service was established with Canada (direct), South Africa and the USSR.

Sleeve-control switchboards were introduced. These permitted any position and any cord circuit to be used to handle any type of trunk circuit.

A standard switchboard was introduced for police telephone and signal systems.

The first 'Strowger' type non-director exchange with a remote manual board was opened at Horsforth.

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