This article is about my memories of telex in the UK, very much in a past life, the phase of which started in the early 1970s and ended in the early 1990s.
Note: In the USA the equivalent name for this service was teletype.
In the early years of my career, The Three Tees Agency had an excellent Saturday morning training school for telex operators. Their offices were in Ludgate House, Fleet Street, in The City of London. The Three Tees was owned by a lovely lady called Janet Day, and I have fond memories of the staff.
*The Three Tees Agency was a recruitment and temping agency for Telex Teleprinter and Telephone Operators.
Creed Teleprinter No. 15
The tutor who ran The Three Tees training school (I believe his name was Brian) was excellent, and in time I had mastered touch typing and tape reading, thus equipping me with skills that would keep me in constant work for the next 25 years or so.
The telex machine I learnt on at the training school was the Creed Model 444, otherwise known as the Teleprinter No. 15 and commonly referred to by telex operators as the T15.
The Creed Model 444 was introduced by the General Post Office (GPO) in 1966. Source: Creed & Company. Wikipedia. It superseded the Creed Model 7, referenced below.
The photograph above shows a Teleprinter No. 15. This machine is located at the Connected Earth exhibition at Amberley Museum in West Sussex.
Other telex machines I remember
Creed Teleprinter No. 7
This teleprinter, commonly referred to by telex operators as the T7, was first introduced by the GPO in 1931.
The model was specifically produced for the start of the GPO’s telex in the UK. Source: Hobbs Alan G. Teleprinters for the radio amateur. Online.
The photograph above shows a Teleprinter No. 7. This machine is also located at the Connected Earth exhibition at Amberley Museum in West Sussex.
This teleprinter has GPO badges, which can be seen on the left-hand side of the machine and under the dialling unit to the right of the machine. The GPO was the main supplier of teleprinters to UK commercial enterprises.
I worked as a temp for TRG Services (Terence Ronald Gilbert was the owner), another recruitment agency for telephonists and telex operators. My temp controllers were Clive (head controller) and Janice. Both were great guys, and I have many happy memories of my time with this agency. TRG had their main office in King William Street in The City of London. After a few years, they moved to Lovat Lane, still in the City of London.
My time as a telex operator, was characterised by an abundance of work for temp telex operators. I never had a permanent job throughout this time, and one of these temping jobs lasted for over three years!
The type of work was varied. One day I could work in a small office on a single telex machine, while another assignment might be in a bank with multiple machines and many operators.
British Telecom Cheetah Teleprinter
The British Telecom Cheetah Telex machine was a significant upgrade to the T15 model. To the best of my knowledge, this machine was introduced in the mid-1980s.
While telex terminals with VDU units had previously been available in the UK, I believe the Cheetah was the first British Telecom telex machine with an integrated screen and internal memory that could store messages for future retrieval and sending.
The photograph above shows a Cheetah teleprinter. This machine is also located at the Connected Earth exhibition at Amberley Museum in West Sussex.
British Telecom 23B Teleprinter
The location of the image, is not shown. From the author’s associated camera geolocation data on Flickr, the photograph appears to have been taken at the Science & Industry Museum in Castlefield, Manchester.
The Model 23B was, in my opinion, a nasty piece of equipment to type on. The keyboard had no tactile resistance, and felt much like the VDU keyboards I have referenced in the 6100 ADX section below.
I found typing on the Teleprinter Number 15 (referenced above) a far more pleasurable experience.
23B teleprinter Image attribution: Richard Ash, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been cropped by South Coast View.
British Telecom Puma Teleprinter
The Puma was manufactured by Trend Communications. I saw a lot of these teleprinters on my temping travels but cannot comment as I never got the chance to have a go on one.
I believe this machine was introduced to the market in the early 1980s, and the machines I saw were always coloured grey.
The photograph above shows a Puma teleprinter. This machine is also located at the Connected Earth exhibition at Amberley Museum in West Sussex.
The Royal Signals Museum in Blandford Camp, Dorset tells us that this was the last teleprinter used by the Royal Signals. Source: Royal Signals Museum. Online PDF file.
I recently visited this museum and viewed a sand-coloured Puma teleprinter on display. Interestingly, the associated description told me that Royal Signals commissioned Puma machines to be sand-coloured for use during one of the Gulf Wars. I can’t show you a photograph as disappointingly, my shot did not come out.
There is no page on the museum’s website that I can find mentioning the use of sand-coloured Pumas during either of the Gulf Wars, so I cannot direct you to more information. I don’t live close to the Royal Signals Museum. If anyone has a photograph of this sand-coloured Puma and they would allow me to use it here on this not-for-profit website, I would be most grateful. My contact details are here.
6100 ADX message switching unit with VDU terminals
In the early 1980s I worked as a temp for 3 years in Brown & Root’s Wimbledon office in south west London. This was a busy telex room dealing with the company’s worldwide oil and gas exploration.
The company had a 6100 ADX message switching unit off-site in their Colliers Wood office, also in south west London. The 6100 ADX was linked up to the telex room in Wimbledon and telex messages there were inputted via VDU terminals.
The telex operators in the Wimbledon office had nothing to do with operation of the ADX (short for automatic data exchange) unit. One had to purely learn how route a telex message using a combination of destination shortcodes and wild telex (see the following two paragraphs for an explanation of these terms), using correct syntax via the VDU unit.
This correct syntax allowed the ADX computer to automatically route a message to a distant telex machine anywhere in the world. If the distant telex machine was engaged, the ADX would store that message and automatically retry dialling the distant machine at pre-determined intervals.
If a connection was successful (or not successful), the operator would be notified via a message on their VDU screen. If necessary, remedial steps could then be taken to attempt new transmission of the message.
Telex shortcodes and Wild Telex addressing
Shortcodes typically consisted of minimum three letters previously inputted into the system. Each shortcode had been programmed to relate to and send a telex message to a specific telex subscriber anywhere in the world. For instance, a shortcode of PAR might denote a single telex machine in Paris, France, while a shortcode of CAR might refer to a single telex machine in Cardiff, UK.
A Wild Telex address (usually inputted on the VDU as WILD, WLDTLX, WTX or WTLX, depending on the system in use), was used as a prefix to a telex number for sending a message when no shortcode had previously been assigned. A combination of Wild Telex and shortcodes could be imputed into the VDU terminal, if the requirement was for a message to be sent to multiple recipients.
In message switching, the term WILD (or one of the variations shown above) is a computing command that indicates to the system that a range of characters consisting of a telex number would follow. The system would understand that this was a command to route the message to the telex number immediately following the command WILD.
The 6100 ADX message switching exchange was introduced in 1979. Source: STC Corporate Milestones. Online.
There are no copyright free images on the internet of the 6100 ADX. However, I found an image of a VDU unit and keyboard on page 6 of the February 1979 edition of Hobby Electronics. While this VDU unit looks different those I worked with, I would say from memory that the keyboard shown has a remarkable resemblance to those I used to work with.
These VDUs and keyboards were incredibly frustrating pieces of equipment to work with. All the VDU screens in the telex room I worked in were seriously affected by screen burn-in caused by an idle cursor positioned slap bang in the middle of the screen. The keyboard had no tactile resistance, usual with many keyboards of the time.
There was no automatic word wrap, so the operator had to manually insert new lines as required. Bizarrely, there was a dedicated word wrap key. This feature meant that a proficient touch typist could type away at top speed, disregarding any new lines required, and afterwards, press the word wrap key. This sequence would then automatically word wrap text, but you still had to manually insert extra new lines to format the text into paragraphs. Using this method, an operator could very slightly increase their typing speed.
Store and Forward Telex in the UK
Many manufacturers were supplying automatic telex routing equipment for the UK market (such as the ADX 6100 mentioned above), and the method of routing these messages by an operator was similar, whichever system you worked with. A popular generic name for these systems was STOFOR (Store and Forward), although another generic name was MSX (Message Switching Exchange). Other STOFORs I remember operating include CASE (Computer and Systems Engineering) and Format Communications.
A photograph of a small telex office
This lovely associated photograph shows a small telex room at the Farraline Park (Temporary) Police Station, Inverness in 1975.
To the right of the picture, in the foreground and middle ground, are two Teleprinter No. 15 machines, and in the background, a male operator is sitting by a partially obscured Teleprinter No. 7 machine.
Image attribution: Dave Conner via Flickr. 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
The author of the photograph gives very interesting details about this scene, and it’s well worth visiting the above web address for the full story of this telex room.
The demise of telex in the UK and the rise of faxing and emailing in the 1990s
The development of high-speed fax machines in the early nineties considerably impacted the availability of work for telex operators. By this time, most of the temping jobs I was assigned to involved operating fax machines. At the same time, private commercial electronic mail networks were increasing at rapid speed, and this further diminished the availability of telex work. It was time to look for a new career…
Closure by British Telecom of telex in the UK
From 2004, BT no longer offered a telex service to new customers, and telex in the UK was discontinued in 2008. Source: Chenery John. The Telex Service. Lightstraw. Online.
The associated image is of Keybridge House on South Lambeth Road in London. The building had previously been home to one of the Post Office’s telex exchanges.
Image attribution: Stephen Richards / Keybridge House, South Lambeth Road (1) via Wikimedia.
Telex in the UK featured at Connected Earth at Amberley Museum
As mentioned above, most of the teleprinters referenced in this article, are displayed at the Connected Earth exhibition at Amberley Museum in West Sussex. This exhibition has a fascinating feature about telegraphy and telex in the UK.
I highly recommend visiting Amberley Museum.
The Museum features more than 20 exhibition spaces that cover a variety of topics, including narrow-gauge railway rides, rides in vintage buses, electrical goods, crafts, and vintage cars and telecommunications.
As previously mentioned, this article about telex in the UK relies on my memories, some from over 40 years ago. It could be that over the span of many decades I may have got some facts wrong. If you spot any errors in this article, I will be most grateful if you could get in touch.
I would love to hear your memories. Perhaps you remember me? Leave a comment below
Subscribe to future posts by email. No spam, just an email when a new post is published.