Worcester Antiques
Antiques & 20th Century Collectables

Vintage Telephones

UK Phone Lines

Using a Bakelite Phone on a UK phone line

Vintage Bakelite phones require a professional conversion to work safely and correctly on modern UK telephone lines. However, once completed there are still some limitations you need to be aware of and we would recommend you keep a spare modern phone connected to overcome these:

Will a properly converted phone work on my telephone line?

  • Yes, if you have a BT line. Even if you pay your line rental through companies such as sky or primus your line is still a BT line.
  • No or Maybe/Sometimes if your phone line providers are cable such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk or Telewest. The phone will still ring and receive calls, but is unlikely to be able to dial out. If it does dial out then support may be withdrawn in the future much sooner than BT lines. And, if it does work, the day to day success will also depend on the cable provider’s line fault tolerance for old phones using pulse dialling. Please refer to the comments at the end of this blog.
GPO 332L Bakelite telephone
GPO 332L

Are there any other limitations if I have a BT line?

Why does it only work on a BT line?

Antique and Vintage phones with rotary dials use the early dialling method known as Pulse Dialling, Modern telephones with numerical keypads use Tone dialling (some have a switch to set back to the older pulse dialling method).

In the United Kingdom a BT phone line accepts both pulse and tone dialling, but the newer cable companies tend to only support tone (push button) dialling.

If your phone line is a non BT line (Virgin Media, Telewest, Talk Talk etc) then you will not be able to dial as their systems do not recognise the old dialling technology. The phone will still ring and you will be able to hold a two way conversation.

Can the phone be converted to work on a cable line?

It is possible, and there are electronic products that can be fitted within the phone but beyond what we are prepared to do. It does add more complication to the phone and takes it further away from it’s original condition.  If this is absolutely required then you will need an extra gadget solution.

If you find you have a Virgin Media, Telewest or Talk Talk line and your exchange does not support pulse dialling AND you want to use your Vintage phone to dial out, then a device called a ROTA TONE could help. We do not endorse RotaTone and have never used one. Furthermore, as we said, we wouldn't fit one as it will alter the originality of the phone. But, here is the link to the device for information: ROTA TONE


A very kind soul contacted us recently to inform us and anyone else considering using a vintage GPO phone that some cable companies do in fact recognise pulse dialling: Dave from Lincolnshire contacted us to say: “I’m using Virgin Media and a 1956 312L fine with no other gadgets.” He offered some advice, which we agree with: “to test if your current set-up supports pulse dialling try ‘tapping’ out a number using an older or basic cheap phone that has the old button that is released when lifting the handset (to get the dialling tone) you can tap out the number with this button. 10 taps for a zero and 2 for 2, 3 for 3, etc. This mimics the pulse system. Dialling the talking clock by tapping is an easy way to see if the network supports pulse dialling.” We would recommend that if your supplier is not BT or Sky that you check the support of ‘Pulse Dialling’ before ordering. The number for the speaking clock is usually 123.