25 January 2011

1985: England's First Mobile Phone Call...

"Pressing Towards New Horizons - British Telecom The Power Behind The Button", an advertisement which appeared in the Sunday People, June 24, 1984:

Take Your Telephone With You

This amazing new telephone system, which is being installed by British Telecom, has none of the traditional constraints of the telephone.

You will be able to dial direct from almost anywhere to anywhere - without wires, plugs, sockets or special equipment.

About the size of a paperback, the unit operates through Cellnet, the revolutionary cellular radio network. It's already under test and you'll be able to get one, starting in London, in early 1985.

Little Ern got on the blower, called Vodafone's headquarters at Newbury, and made a little bit of history.

On 1st January 1985, comedian Ernie Wise, he of the short, fat hairy legs, started a revolution. Standing in the middle of St Katherine's Dock, he made the first mobile phone call in England - in fact in the whole of Britain, and a little piece of history was made. Nice that Ernie was chosen to make it, particularly as he'd lost his long-standing comic routine partner, Eric Morecombe, the year before. Some of us were quite concerned about little Ern at the time.

In fact, it seems that Little Ern was not quite the first to make a mobile phone in England, because in recent years we've been told that in the early hours of New Year's Day 1985, Michael Harrison phoned his father Sir Ernest to wish him a happy new year. Sir Ernest was chairman of Racal Electronics and his son was in fact making the first-ever mobile phone call in England, using the network built by its newest investment, a company based round the corner from a curry house in Newbury, Berkshire.

And Ern made his call later the same day.

Never mind.

The famous 1980s hand-held brick phones, the first of which was unveiled by Motorola in 1983, began making an impact in England from 1985 onwards, but only the well-off could afford them and the rest of us had to content ourselves with the odd glimpse out on the streets.

And in the trendy wine bars and upwardly mobile boozahs.

We called them "yuppie toys".

Of course, they'd never catch on...

More on hand-helds here.

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