RIP BT Phonecards

Posted by Lord Bearkeeper OBE DASc on
Category: Technology/Internet28 Comments

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The other day I was playing around on the internet when I came across the picture above. The memories came flooding back and I wondered if you could still actually get a BT Phonecard these days. For those of you not old enough to remember them, they were a pre-payment card to use in BT Phone Boxes in the days before mobile phones. It turns out that Phonecards passed away unmourned and in near-obscurity in phone boxes all over the UK, aged 21 in 2002. It was a humble and anonymous death for something which had once been heralded as The Future. Sales in 1991 were as high as 74m, but they slumped to just 7m by the early noughties.

The birth of Phonecards in the UK in 1981 signified the dawn of a new age of telecommunications, coming as they did into a world where people were accustomed to forcing 2p pieces into cantankerous, old phones which guzzled money like charity boxes. To be able to use credit-card style payment revolutionised things for many, not least cub scouts who had been conditioned always to carry a coin in case they needed to make a telephone call.

The subsequent discovery by mischievous schoolboys that credit levels on Phonecards could be tricked by the cunning application of masking tape may have been one of the factors leading to the introduction of “smart” Phonecards.

The colourful designs used by telecom companies even led to the development of an enormous market for collecting Phonecards. The highest price ever paid for a BT Phonecard was £3,000 (dwarfed by a Taiwanese card which sold for £28,000). Even now, vast areas of the internet are being used to celebrate their life, many collectors unaware of the British Phonecard’s untimely death.

Friends may well see a certain irony in the death of Phonecards, overtaken as they were by technology itself. Phone boxes of every type seem to have met their nemesis in the rise of the accursed mobile phone. The improvement of service in coin-operated boxes removed also much of the uncertainty on which Phonecards thrived.

Perhaps the final insult came with the arrival of mobile phones which are themselves the size of credit cards.

I would love to write a longer, more flowing epitaph to the card that always used to sit in my wallet but I’m afraid my mobile is ringing…

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About the Author

Lord Bearkeeper OBE DASc

A sad and lonely old man who used to have a life but it has now been taken over by his dedication to the cause of saving Renault Bears, running Jammy Toast and searching eBay, car boot sales, charity shops, lofts and even under beds for his beloved bears. He has even now taken in Flat Eric to save him from homelessness – his life is no longer his own!

28 Comments on “RIP BT Phonecards”

  1. I remember my mum buying me a phonecard when I went to Uni so that I could ring her. She was going to miss me she said. Then when I rang her she was always out!!

  2. Sometimes I wish I was cool enough to dye my hair blue or purple and make it look good. I could be “Blue Summer”

    And this is what I’m thinking about at 1:45 am!

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