In the early days of telephony, to make a phone call, you would pick up the handset and speak to an operator who would then make the connection for you.
And one of the most famous things to say down the phone was to ask for Whitehall 1212 — that being the official phone number for the police at Scotland Yard.
But did you know that the phone number still works?
OK, you can’t pick up a phone and speak to an operator any more, but over the years, the phone number, though all its code changes has remained unchanged.
Direct dialling without asking the operator was introduced in the UK in the late 1950s, and the area codes corresponded to the letters on the rotary telephone.
So, instead of asking the operator for Whitehall 1212, you could dial WHI 1212, which happened to be 944 1212.
The national telephone system was shaken up in 1966-70 as the direct link between the old exchange name and the area code was scrapped. That meant that most of London had to change the area code for their line.
Scotland Yard was given the area code of 230, so dialling Whitehall 1212 became 01 230 1212.
Then in 1990, the prefix of 01 for London was dropped, and London was split into 071 and 081.
Scotland Yard was now 071 230 1212.
In 1995, a minor change to 0171 230 1212.
Then in April 2000, another change, this time to 020 for London.
- 1932 – Whitehall 1212;
- 1966 – 01 230 1212;
- 1990 – 071 230 1212;
- 1995 – 0171 230 1212;
- 1999 – 020 7230 1212;
So while the numbers appear to have changed around a lot, in fact underneath it all, you can still dial Whitehall 1212 — it’s just more commonly known as 020 7230 1212, which is the non-emergency number for the police.
Oh, and don’t try calling it — tends to annoy them to have their time wasted like that, especially as the line tends to be quite busy.