Reminiscences of a switchboard operator

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Reminiscences of a switchboard operator


A busy day at East Exchange

This article on Jersey's telephone system in the 1950s was written by Sylvia Pinel and first appeared in Facebook

When I started work for The States Telephone Exchange in 1957 you couldn’t call anywhere without getting through to the operator. I was a telephonist in those days in town. I worked at Central Exchange in Minden Place, it was lovely working there then, it got so busy, you could have two switchboards going much of the time.

You knew who a lot of the people were before you plugged in, everybody in Jersey had a little light that lit up all of there own. The overflow for Central exchange was called Lyric, it was across the road, upstairs, it’s been a shop now for many years. The other exchange upstairs was called The Trunk Exchange, that’s where you put calls through to England, even then we couldn’t put a call straight through, in many cases we had to get passed through to two or three exchanges before you reached your destination. There was a special French speaking operator for French calls, all those calls went through Rennes.

I remember in the Trunk exchange there was a red light came up on top of the first switchboard if Mr Machon picked his phone you had to answer it straight away, he was priority. I think he must have been one of the first millionaires over here. Nobody else had a phone like that.

For every call you took in the trunk exchange you had to make a docket out for them to be charged, in the summer when it was very busy and if you couldn’t get through to an English or Guernsey number, (maybe it was engaged or the lines were busy), it had to go to a girl who was handling delayed calls, and she would keep trying it until she got through.

When it was anybody’s day off at any of the country exchanges East, West, North South or Millbrook exchange somebody from Central had to go out to cover. In these photos the exchanges East, North, South and West only had usually 2 operators working there, except for Millbrook where there was only one. It sounds funny now, but you would get a farmer coming on saying “I’m going out in the fields, if anybody rings, will you tell them where I am”. (No answering machines then).

It was so different, can you imagine if we were suddenly taken back to those days, even for a day, people are so used to mobile phones now, they would be going mad. Memories ! Memories! But lovely ones.

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