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Happy 80th birthday to 999 services29 Jun 2017



Fuss Free phones makes mobiles easy to use.

Fuss Free Phones makes using a mobile easy, and we ask you for your emergency contacts so that we can help connect you to the right person if you need us to, but we were not the first to launch a 999 service.

That was BT, 80 years ago today. The world’s oldest emergency service was launched in London on 30 June 1937. With echos of the Grenfell Tower it took a tragedy . A fire at a London doctor’s surgery in November 1935, that led to the death of five women, resulted in a committee being set up by the government to look at the problem of how telephone operators’ could identify emergency calls.

The committee proposed that there should be a standard easy-to-remember nationwide number to alert the emergency services. They considered using 707, which corresponded to the letters SOS on the telephone dial and 333, but the technology of the time would not allow these to be used and 999 was chosen as the most practical number. In the days of dial phones people were taught to put two fingers into the end of the dial to find the 9 if they need to dial in the dark. Of course with a diall phone 999 was the three digit number which took longest to connect.

More than a thousand calls were made during the first week of the service in London in 1937, with each 999 call triggering flashing red lights and hooters to alert operators in the exchange to give priority to the emergency call. The hooters were apparently so loud that the operators pushed a tennis ball into the horn to reduce the volume until modifications were made.

Hoax or unnecessary calls were a feature of the 999 service from the very beginning, including a complaint about bagpipes being played outside a house and a dispute between a neighbour and the local coalman.

BT advisors now answer around 560,000 calls a week – that is around 30 million calls a year from fixed and mobile phones – with more than 97 per cent answered within five seconds. The majority of calls made by members of the public are now from mobile phone calls, making up 62 per cent of all 999 calls answered by BT.

And if you dial 999, or the European equivalent 112, on your Fuss Free Phones mobile you don’t get through to Fuss Free Phones but a special centre at O2 which is the network Fuss Free Phones uses.

Some of the highest numbers of calls made to 999 are around midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, with around 5,000 calls an hour being received by BT. The early hours of New Year’s Day are traditionally the busiest time of the year when up to 9,000 calls can be received each hour.

Top ten humorous calls to 999

BT’s 999 advisors are an extremely capable and committed team and answer a wide variety of serious calls, however there is a humorous side to some of the unnecessary calls to 999.


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “I’m sorry to call 999 but I was looking for 101 but I don’t know the number.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Young caller: “Mountain Rescue please.”

Advisor: “Where are you?”

Young caller: “I’m on the top bunk and I can’t get down.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “I need the police please it is my daughter’s wedding day and her dress doesn’t fit anymore. I need the police to come and help me get her in it.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “I need the police, I ordered a takeaway that cost me £30 and they took it to number six, when I live at number seven.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “My laptop password won’t work, I need you to reset it for me.”

Advisor: “That’s not something we can help with.”

Caller: “Can you call my service provider and get them to ring me back?”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “I need an ambulance, my husband has lost his pyjamas and he cannot breathe without them.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “Well it’s quite urgent my Rabbit has escaped, I need help.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “Can I get the Police, someone has stolen my snowman from my garden, can you come quickly?”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “I need to cancel my hairdressers’ appointment, it’s an emergency and I can’t get through to the salon.”


Advisor: “Do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

Caller: “There’s a seagull with a broken arm.”



Fuss Free Phones is there for our customers in an emergency but also for the everyday things. It’s good to know that 999 is there so you never have to use it, but if you are a Fuss Free Phones customer, pick up your easy to use mobile phone, press the button on the back, speak to one of our friendly telephonists and ask to speak to someone you love.


Simon Rockman