Timely delivery for Newark horology museum as BT donates third Speaking Clock

The famous Speaking Clock used from 1985 to 2001 will soon be on display in Nottinghamshire after BT agreed to donate it to the national centre for horology near Newark.

The famous Speaking Clock used from 1985 to 2001 will soon be on display in Nottinghamshire after BT agreed to donate it to the national centre for horology near Newark.

It’s the third stroke of BT history to be housed at Upton Hall, the home of the British Horological Institute (BHI) Museum Trust, joining the 1936 and 1963 Speaking Clock machines already there.

And in a fitting coincidence and with impeccable timing, the recently donated Speaking Clock arrived at its new home on the birthday of the late Brian Cobby, the voice of that particular machine for 16 years.

David Hay, BT’s head of heritage, said: “It was 80 years ago when BT’s technology first created the Speaking Clock and it remains a much loved part of British life today. We’re delighted to mark this milestone by donating this important piece of national history to the BHI Museum. Celebrating in this way demonstrates BT’s determination to preserve the heritage of the world’s oldest communications company on behalf of the nation.”

The BHI Museum near Newark already holds Britain’s first (Mark I) Speaking Clock from 1936 as well as the second (known as Mark III[1]) from 1963. As part of the celebrations marking 80 years of the Speaking Clock, both of these machines are also being formally donated to the museum by BT.

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.”

The newly-donated 1985 Speaking Clock (Mark IV) was voiced by Brian Cobby, a voiceover artist and assistant supervisor at a telephone exchange in Brighton, who was the winner of a competition amongst BT Employees.

Thanks to this most recent donation, the BHI Museum will be able to tell the full story of the Speaking Clock from its initiation in 1936 through to the present day. The current machine, located in London, is 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.

Sara welcomed the Mark IV machine to Newark and said, “The Speaking Clock is one of those wonderful things that sparks the interest and love of the whole nation. It’s something very familiar and treasured by so many. It really is great news for the BHIMuseum at Newark to be able to display the complete set, and I’m sure they'll prove to be extremely popular with visitors for many years to come.”

Today, around 12 million calls 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.

Next month, as part of the celebrations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Speaking Clock, BT is set to announce the winner of a nationwide competition in aid of Children in Need to find a new voice to succeed Sara Mendes da Costa. The deadline for entries closed at the end of August with the winner to be announced next month on BBC’s The One Show.

In the meantime, visitors to the British Horological Institute near Newark can look forward to an immediate opportunity to see the collection of three Speaking Clocks during the Museum’s open day on Sunday 30 October 2016. Visit bhi.co.uk for more details.

[1] The Mark II version of the Speaking Clock was never used in Britain