At the third stroke … the search for the new voice of the BT Speaking Clock begins


BT is giving people across the UK the chance to go down in history and become the new permanent voice of the iconic BT Speaking Clock through a nationwide competition to mark the Clock’s 80th anniversary.

BT is giving people across the UK the chance to go down in history and become the new permanent voice of the iconic BT Speaking Clock through a nationwide competition to mark the Clock’s 80th anniversary.

Today, around 12 million calls a year are still made to the BT Speaking Clock by dialling 123, especially on Remembrance Day, New Year’s Eve or when the clocks go forwards or back. Even Big Ben is set by the BT Speaking Clock, which is accurate to within 30 microseconds and has been keeping Britain on time, ticking away 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 24 July 1936.

Anyone 10 years and over can enter the competition to become the next voice of the BT Speaking Clock. The competition is being run in partnership with BBC television programme The One Show. Aspiring voice artists should visit the special website at: www.bbc.co.uk/theoneshow where they will find full details of how to enter. The website will be open for entries until 10pm on Monday 29 August 2016.

The winner will become only the fifth permanent voice of the BT Speaking Clock in its 80-year-history. They will be announced by BBC’s The One Show and their voice will go live in November this year. Previous winners have been much in demand by the media and for voiceovers and personal appearances.

The competition to find a new voice will help raise money for the BBC Children in Need appeal. BT will donate 10p to Children in Need from each call to the BT Speaking Clock* from the start of the competition in August until 9 November.

The current voice of the BT Speaking Clock, Sara Mendes da Costa, who will be one of the judges, said: “I’m so honoured to have been the voice - only the fourth permanent voice in history - and to be part of such an iconic service.

“I’m sad to be at the end of my time as the voice of the BT Speaking Clock, however ten years is not a bad run! And it’ll be great to be on the judging panel to choose the new voice, just as my predecessor Brian Cobby helped choose me.”

To celebrate the competition and the 80th birthday, BT is formally donating the original Speaking Clock machines from 1936 and 1963 to the British Horological Institute (BHI), where they have been on loan and on display for some years. It will also be donating a digital Mark IV clock, which was recovered from Liverpool. This machine transmitted the voice of Brian Cobby from 1985 – 2001.

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.”

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 and Open Days.

“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.”


Notes to editors

*Calls cost 45p per minute from BT residential lines. Mobile and other providers’ costs may vary and not all providers use the BT Speaking Clock. Total donations to Children in Need will be capped at a maximum of £50,000 during the competition period.

Quick facts

  • The BT Speaking Clock has been ticking 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 24 July 1936 – which is 80 years, more than 29,000 days, more than 700,000 hours, more than 42 million minutes, or more than 2.5 billion seconds
  • Big Ben checks its time with the Speaking Clock
  • The BT Speaking Clock is accurate to within 30 microseconds
  • In its first year the service registered nearly 13 million calls
  • Initially only available in the London area, it went nationwide in 1942
  • The BT Speaking Clock is also known as TIM and Timeline

Permanent voices

The four permanent voices of the BT Speaking Clock have been:

First voice Jane Cain 1936 – 1963

Second voicePat Simmons1963 – 1985

Third voiceBrian Cobby1985 – 2007

Fourth voiceSara Mendes da Costa2007 – 2016

Temporary voices

There have been a number of temporary BT Speaking Clock voices, specially recorded for charity:

Now a national institution and part of Britain’s heritage, the BT Speaking Clock was the first of the pre-recorded information services in the UK provided through telephones.

Created for people who wanted to know the time and did not have a watch or clock to hand, the clock was initially only available in the London directory area, with the first British Speaking Clock introduced on 24 July 1936.

The BT Speaking Clock was designed and constructed at the Post Office Engineering Research Station at Dollis Hill in North London. The time announcements were automatically co-ordinated on the hour with Greenwich meantime signals.

In order to access the service, subscribers would dial the first three letters of the word “time” as dials at the time included letters as well as numbers to aid automatic calls. Dialling T. I. M. led to its common name “TIM”. The service went national six years later.
Today, around 12 million calls every year are made to the service, officially called “Timeline”. People dial 123 in the UK to hear the modern service.

Jane Cain was the first voice, winner of a Post Office “Golden Voice” competition, and used from 1936 until 1963. Pat Simmons, a London telephone exchange supervisor, became the second voice from 1963 until 1985. The third voice belonged to Brian Cobby who became the first male voice at 11am on 2 April 1985. An actor by profession before he joined BT as an assistant supervisor at a Brighton exchange, Brian was selected from 12 finalists in BT’s competition on 5 December 1984. He was also recorded as the voice of “5-4-3-2-1 Thunderbirds are go!” for the famous 1960s Gerry Anderson TV series.

The fourth and current voice is Sara Mendes da Costa from Brighton and Hove. She became the BT Speaking Clock voice at 8am on 2 April 2007. Sara won a BT competition during 2006 to find a new voice from the public, which had almost 18,500 entrants.

BT’s heritage

BT is the world's oldest and most established communications company. Our roots extend back to the UK's Electric Telegraph Company, incorporated in 1846 as the world's first national telecommunications provider. This summer we celebrate our 170th anniversary. Few companies in the world have a heritage as rich as BT www.bt.com/history . BT’s Archives have been recognised by UNESCO and Arts Council England as having unique significance to the UK’s cultural heritage. In July 2016 BT was awarded Archives Accreditation by The National Archives, only the third corporate archive to meet the new national standard for archives.

BT has always acknowledged that we have a duty of care to safeguard this unique legacy on behalf of the nation. BT is the only UK plc to give a firm and clear heritage commitment with a published Heritage Policy www.bt.com/heritage