Next Memory

Humour in the Head Office

Telephone Exchange


This Memory is reproduced from two articles submitted to the staff magazine (Autumn and Christmas 1955) by Marjorie Rayner, who was recalling some of her experiences as the Bank’s Telephonist. Her job involved connecting callers to and from the various officers and departments in Head Office. Marjorie’s room was on the ground floor, at the northeast corner of the Broad Street Head Office. She operated a PBX (Private Branch Exchange), a switchboard apparatus that allowed multiple lines to be answered by a single telephone. At this time, telephone numbers consisted of three letters, representing the name of the local exchange, plus the four numerals of the subscriber’s number. (This system was replaced by AFN (All Figure Numbers) in Birmingham in 1966. The phone numbers of branches immediately prior to the introduction of AFN is listed right). The Bank was connected to the MIDland exchange. A note issued by Head Office to branches (see below) specified the phone numbers allocated to the Bank

As the French say, Allo! Allo!! Attention!!!

“Trying to connect you” to a few amusing incidents which have taken place on the telephone from time to time.

Firstly I will tell you about the Lady who dialled a Midland number and expected to speak to that celebrated establishment in Sherlock Street which specialised in supplying Hotels, Boarding Houses, etc with Choice Tripe, but who, through a “technical hitch” found herself through to me.
The following brief conversation ensued:
“Hello, is that the Tripe Shop?”
Me: “Well, Madam, it’s not our usual designation, but I daresay we have been referred to in this manner from time to time.”
Caller: “Who are you then?”
Me: “We are a Bank” (not stating which).
Caller, snorting loudly and crashing on the receiver, cleared the line.
Such a good idea I thought.

MID 3727 is one of our Exchange Lines.
MID 2727 belongs to Marshall & Snelgrove, so - as you may well imagine - numerous calls come through in error. One such arrived - I answered “Midland 3727”.
A charming cultured female voice said:
“Goodmorn-ing, will you kindly tell me whether the Uplift Brassieres have come in yet?”
Me: “No, Madam, and we are not expecting any.”
Lovely voiced one: “Oh, come now, you promised me faithfully they would be here for Thursday and really if you could see the state I’m in.”
Me: “I am sorry to hear of your inconvenience, but this is not Marshall & Snelgrove’s “Intimate Department” but a Bank.
A few seconds of stunned silence, and then ripples of lovely laughter in which I joined. Never a dull moment!

CENTRAL 3724 is the Birmingham Marriage Guidance Council.
MIDLAND 3724 belongs to us. This line rang recently, and as I went into circuit it to answer it, before I could say who we were, a Black Country lady poured this news over me:
“Nar luke ‘ere Miss, arm still aving trouble “wi ‘im”. Ar dun as ow you sed, see loike, and even ad ma hir pearmed, but e aint come back to me. Wot’al ar doo nar? The only thing I ken think on is ter av me “ruddy face lifted” then if e comes back ‘ome he might loike the luke of this noo dame and decide to stay. Warr er your think?”
I said I thought it was an excellent idea, but we were not the Marriage Guidance Council, while at the same time wishing her all the luck in the World “wi ‘im” for he sure was causing much ache to a Loving Heart.
Ah me! Les Hommes! Toujours le meme!!

Now to a really intriguing call, which matured recently. Female voice of ‘low timbre’ but with attention arousing note therein, said:

“Mees, I wanna speak to you vari vari confidentially. Can you take a warning on the telephone?”

To cover my surprise, I replied “I beg your pardon”.

The remark was repeated, and to gain time I said “Exactly what sort of warning are you referring to?”

The caller, “I’ll tell you. I wanna £210 next Wednesday so I am giving you a ‘warning’.”

Ah well! Live and learn!


Finally for this time, the Raucous-voiced Man who shouted “Miss, WOTARSYERAKTIV.”

Wotarsyeraktiv? Not being able to make anything sensible out of this remark, I remembered a silly question deserves a silly answer, so drew a Bow at Venture, and said “10 till 3 pm today”

“OK, thanks”, he replied.

No one was more astonished than I. Translation of question obviously was “What hours are you active”

I am ringing off now and clearing the junction until a few more “Funnies” are required for another New Letter.

So, goodbye,



Often referred to as ‘Old Maggie’.

Ah Well! “A Rose by any other name .... I am told.



Dear Colleague,

Firstly, may I say a very sincere “thank you” for the many kind messages by telephone and letters expressing your pleasure and appreciation of my “small effort” in the September News Letter. I am delighted to know you were amused because I feel Mr Harold Turner, our very worthy “originator” of the News Letter will derive much satisfaction also; knowing that it is fulfilling its intended “Function” - even in its infancy, so to speak - and as long as it does not grow to be “L’Enfant Terrible” all will be well!!!

For 21 years many of you have listened to what must sound like my “Escape-me-never-voice” saying “The Manager please. HO here - So and So calling you”. But this time I am calling on my own account; in case you can spare a moment during your very busy days to scan, what I hope will appear to you to be a few humorous lines. So - As the Trunk Operators’ say — Go ahead, you are through — to the first “wee funny”. 

One day answering MID 3722 I was greeted by an extremely cultured male voice - too, too, frightfully “Pukkah-Sahib” don’t-cher-know! Demanding “Who is THET?” I repeated our title. He proceeded - ooooh-AH, listen he-AH! This is Major-General Farquhar-Harkerson speaking to you from SOLLY-HULL. I-EM the Leaser of Box Number so and so in your vaults - Is my wife there? For a few seconds I was convulsed with silent laughter - then managed to murmur - one moment please - and connected the call to the Safe Deposit department - after which I enjoyed a good laugh. Really one would think we specialised in cold storage rather than Banking.

During the “Bad Old Days” of the last War when Wells Green Branch strove valiantly to meet the requirements of the public during the three days they were open each week - one of their customers, evacuated to Leicester, phoned me from Birmingham to lodge a complaint because each week for quite a time apparently he had travelled over to Birmingham, always on one of the “closed” days. I gathered from his approach that he was a “Haymillian HeMAN”. We got under way thus - He - "ah-lo, ah-lo, oo-ah-yer?" Me - "BMB". He - "Ar many mower days ar yow a-goin ter keep that Bloody utt shut at Sheldon? Wot the Ell yow av it foe ar doan know, its no flippin ornament and sairtenly no perishin use. It ain’t never open so as folks can gerr-in - see, cause they’m allus at wairk wen its open. Yow planned that show a fair treat I reckon, an you’d oughter be ashamed on yower self an orle ar’m a tellin yer see, an doan yow forgit it neather. Bringin me all the way over from Leicester each wick an bein evacuated an all, an a-closing a’for I git there”. Praise be! He drew breath - so I apologised for the great inconvenience he had suffered and endeavoured to placate his sorely outraged spirit by suggesting that Pay Bearer or Postal Withdrawal Forms coild be sent to him and so avoid any further delay and annoyance - Of course, he declined to accept either, emphatically pointing out that he wished to do his business “pearse-en-ell, see and no mucking ahhart wi bits o’paper, and let that be very clearly understood, See!!" I did indeed - and how!!! I then tried another tactic and said - "Well then, I’ll put you in touch with the Branch Controller here, I know he will be able to help you". I am sure you’ll agree his reply was truly gorgeous. With very belligerent tone he said “Yow’ll do nuthink o’the kind see - ar’ll keep on a’goin over till ar cop-em-open - an then ar’ll let em ave it good and proper, ar’ be a’tellin yer, see!” And with all the scorn he could muster, and it was a “tidy bit” ar’m tellin yer, he roared “ah ruddy awful con-sairn!" and crashed the receiver on!!! Funny how a call like that creates a demand for a breath of fresh air! The Exchange seemed very airless after he had rung off, but - thanks be, peaceful once more.

Now that Wells Green Branch have changed their address and are temporarily without a telephone, I feel sure my “War-time caller” will feel the urge to phone them to discuss some of his “pearse-en-ell” business, see - Well I ope as I’m orf dooty when he phones here to know why he is once more prevented from doing what he wants to do with this “Rosy Con-sairn” — But no - what a selfish remark. Of course I’ll enjoy the call if it comes. There is no doubt he’ll provide the “Funnies” page with something to laugh about, and that we must have - so -  press on regardless.

A cheery Xmas Greeting to you all, and to those of you who go a’dancing at this Festive Seasson I trust will fair better than the two Butterflies who were refused admittance to the Dance Hall, because it was a “Moth Ball” !!! 

To conclude, I give you that lovely Scottish Toast -


            Here’s t’ae us,

           Wha’s like us,

            Dang fow’

           An they’re aw deed!


In English -

            Here’s to us,

           Who’s like us’

            Damn few’

           An they’re all dead !!


So good-bye, from your friend and telephone-in-charge.


Marjorie Rayner,

“Old Maggie”.