Useful Notes / British Postal and Telephone System
A bit about posting letters and making phone calls in the UK.
For the short version of what's written below, just take a look here
The United Kingdom has one of the world's oldest postal systems, going back to the 17th century, and introduced the postage stamp in 1840. The postage stamps also feature the head of the monarch in some form, leading to jokes about licking the back of Her Majesty's head (these days, they're pre-adhesive). The name of the nation is not on the stamps, which is unique, due to Britain being the nation that pioneered the philatelic system (use of stamps). Official Christmas stamps also come out in December: the Royal Mail has a system of using religious-themed stamps and secular wintry images on alternating years. Of course, this does not stop the press starting an uproar every time
a secular-themed year comes up.
Mail these days is characterised not only by class and weight, but also by size. If your envelope is above a certain thickness or size, it may be a Large Letter or a Packet. Handy measuring guides are provided to people at homes and in post offices to help.
Postboxes are red, and come in a variety of shapes with the collection times printed on them. In more rural areas, they are sometimes embedded into walls. They all have "E II R" on the front of them for "Elizabeth II Regina" note
. There are still some about with "G VI R" for "George VI Rex" from when George VI was king (1936-52), and a few even older - you can occasionally even see VR for "Victoria Regina".
Anyone who watched Harry Potter
will know there's no post on Sunday.
Postal addresses are done by a postcode system of the following structure- take Barclays Bank in Canary Wharf, London:
- E is the postal area, in this case London East (London has a special set of postal districts)
- 14 is the postal district, specifying the London Docklands.
- These districts are shown on many maps and have provided the boundaries for gang wars.
- 5 is the subdivision of that district.
- HP is a code for a specific street, part of a street or building.
Many commercial Web sites will allow you to just put in your house number and post code to automatically generate your address. Doing this may get you a legal run-in with the Royal Mail, who charges for this for commercial purposes.
Extensive efforts are being made to break it up and sell it off.
Probably the most famous postcode area is "W12" (Shepherd's Bush and White City in London) as this is where The BBC
Television Centre is located, and for generations people have been hearing "send a stamped address envelope to (something, something) London W12" on BBC programmes asking you to write in. This is parodied in Top Gear
where the presenters pretend to show a Cowboy BeBop at His Computer
understanding of the Internet by asking people to email them at "Top Gear @ BBC Dot Internet Dot Website Slash...London W12."
Most British phone numbers are 11 digits note
. They all begin with 0, with the other digits for local calls and other numbers.
The international code is 00 (country number) for outgoing calls. This means that when calling Russia, you start with 00 7
To call into the United Kingdom, use its international code 44, but omit the first zero.
- (The zero is really an escape code, signalling that what comes next is not a local number; as if North American area codes were considered to all begin with 1.)
In the United States, the number 555
is generally available as a fictional exchange number. The United Kingdom also has a set of numbers available for this purpose.
The UK Office of Communications recommends the area code 01632 (0632 was formerly used by the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, hence 63 NE, before it outgrew the available numbers note
) for fictional telephone numbers, and most large cities reserve a range of numbers (usually beginning with 4960) for location-specific fictitious telephone numbers. There actually is an 01555 area code, for Lanark in Scotland.
Area codes range from three to six digits.
Most numbers begin 01 (all landline numbers got 1 added to them in 1994 when the UK phone system was shaken).
tends to use 020 7515/7511 XXXX for numbers in Sun Hill.
Some of the notable ones are:
- 01234 - Bedford
- Which has the amusing result that dialling 01234567890 will indeed connect you to someone who wishes it didn't.
- 0141- Glasgow
- 01632- 555 version for the United Kingdom, with numbers in specific ranges for other codes.
- 020- London (or most of that area).
- London's phone code has altered a fair bit. Until 1990 it was 01. It was then split into 071 (Inner London) and 081 (Outer London). 1994 saw them become 0171 and 0181. In 2001, these numbers were merged to become the new 020 code (to increase capacity), with 0171 numbers becoming 020 7 and 0181 becoming 020 8. However, many people still write them as 0207 and 0208, which caused confusion when 0203 numbers arrived.
- 028- all of StrokeCountry
- 029- Cardiff
03 numbers are relatively new, and generally used for charities who used to have 0845 numbers.
07 numbers are for mobile phones and pagers.
0800 and 0808 numbers are freephone.
0843 numbers are used by telephone spammers. If your landline has Caller ID and it shows an incoming call from an 0843 number, don't answer it.
0845 is local-rate numbers, while 0870 numbers are national-rate.
- BT (The largest telephone service provider) no longer charges for these, but others such as the mobile companies, or Virgin Media do.
09 numbers are premium rate and are usually for sex chat lines or competitions.
Directory Inquiries has now been de-monopolised into a variety of companies, using 118 XXX numbers, such as:
- 118 118- Aka "the men with moustaches", they are best known for the TV ads using the theme tune from The A-Team and playing "let's pretend not to understand this guy so it costs him more".
- This is because their call centres are in South Africa.
- A later campaign involves Ray Parker Jr. and a re-written version of the theme tune to Ghostbusters.
- 118 212- Maureen ("Oh, she's cheap!")
- 118 500- BT, who formerly had the only directory enquiries service.
- 118 247 - It's Directory Heaven! Provided by the people behind the Yellow Pages phonebook.
- Tuesday is "Bring Your Harp to Work Day".
- 999 is the emergency number; Europe in general uses 112; North America, however, uses 911.
- 112 works in Britain as well, though, but 911 doesn't.
- Actually, 911 does work, having been introduced later than the other numbers due to studies showing some people had obviously been watching too much American television.
- All three will work off of mobile phones, as most software manufacturers program this feature in so the phones will work across more than one nation.
- 101 is used in some areas as a non-emergency Police number. This has yet to be taken nationwide, however.
- Because this number begins with '1' (which normally leads into premium numbers such as the directory enquiry numbers above) it tends to be, rather amusingly, barred by many phone lines with restrictions, as many people didn't think to make an exception to this particular number. This lead to rather frustrating searches for the local constabulary number, which normally involves translating the international number back into a local number and then sitting through a recorded message suggesting that you use '101' before finally being connected.
- 111 will put you through to 'NHS 111' non-emergency medical queries service (formerly known as NHS direct).