The Telephone Manufacturing Company of Britain
Updated 5th June 2023
TMC was formed to service one company, but grew into a supplier to many companies and Governments. It was never big, but it was always there. Unlike so many of its competitors, TMC survives today.
In 1902 telephones were still a new but now accepted business service, but most businesses still relied on one or two telephones within their building. Firms like Sterling and GEC were selling intercoms, but it was a struggle because of the high costs involved in purchase of the phones and wiring in the new system. Frederick Jackson saw a way around these problems. He had worked for The Private Telephone Company in London, and had risen to become Company Secretary. PTC was a telephone operating company, using equipment imported from H Fuld in Germany. A number of other substantially German-owned operating companies were doing the same in Britain at the time.
PTC was renamed New System PTC, and offered internal telephones for rent rather than purchase. This made it economic to change a business over to phones rather than continue with message wires or speaking tubes.
Jackson left New System PTC and joined a rival company, Intercommunicating Telephones, in 1908. The timing was good, as the British Post Office was now taking over the various operating companies around Britain. Internal phone systems, however; were left alone. He expanded the company, and even took over his old employer, New System. The phones were still supplied by Fuld.
With the business on a sound footing, Jackson pooled resources with Campbell Cochran, a solicitor. In 1912 they bought out the German-owned Caledonian Telephone Company. This and a number of other regional operating companies was brought into the New System group.
With the outbreak of the First World War they could no longer obtain their phones from Fuld, so they were forced into local manufacture. A new company, The Telephone Manufacturing Company, was set up. It supplied intercom phones only to the New System group of companies. New System's slogan was "a penny per day per instrument". The company was able to buy the confiscated equipment of the German-owned companies at a bargain price.
After the war, a period of growth ensued. To raise extra capital TMC was made public as the Telephone Manufacturing Company (1920) Ltd. The new company bought out the rental companies and expanded into other countries, including Australia. A new factory at Dulwich allowed production to double, but with the coming of the Great Depression the company started to incur serious losses. The support of the banks kept the company going, and in 1929 they split the business into manufacturing (Telephone Manufacturing Co. 1929 Ltd) and rentals and installation (Telephone Rentals Ltd).
Telephone Rentals began renting Ericsson private automatic exchanges (PAX) under the Telematic name, and bought in some Ericsson phones. They also moved into industrial timekeeping services (Temco). Many of their phones (eg: the 162 pyramid bakelite phones) were still sourced from TMC, who themselves outsourced some of the work like bakelite moulding. TR also rented Temco-branded PAXs, once again made by Fuld (their Fallwaehler system). These were a very small unit. The phones, however, had a dial with up to 70 numbers on it. Dialling must have required great precision. These phones are rarely seen by collectors as TR's policy was to destroy its old phones after a couple of rental contracts, usually after around thirty years. This cut out the maintenance costs of older equipment. By 1936 the companies were back in profit.
Oher product lines from TMC included Temco speakers , radio sets, and an early valve-powered handsfree intercom phone. These first small speciality items marked TMC's diversification into other areas. This ultimately proved to be the main strength of the company. They still supplied phones to the British Post Office, but they did not have the capital or the manufacturing facilities to be a major supplier. They did, however, have a highly trained staff that could design and produce low-quantity, almost custom-built items.
In Australia TMC continued as minority suppliers of APO bakelite phones of the 162 type, and as manufacturers of specialist communications equipment for the APO. Under the Government policy of the time, they gained regular local contracts for the mainstream items so an Australian manufacturing industry could be encouraged. These contracts were their bread and butter, and allowed them to take on the smaller, less economic jobs as well.
Railways phones were another small but useful niche market. TMC designed a variable-frequency-ringing party line phone for railways use that proved quite popular as a replacement for the ageing Phonopores that had been in use since the 1880s. They devised a three-channel carrier system for railway telephone lines that sold worldwide. A power AC ringer design proved so useful on the long lines of the railways that they were asked to design a master clock system to allow all clocks in a large railway station to show the same time. To gain expertise in clocks, they bought out Prince's Electrical Clocks Ltd in about 1930. The master clocks became known as the Princes New System. The Chronomatic name was registered in 1935.
In 1939 the Second World War began. Production was now controlled by the Supply Ministry, and domestic and business phones were low on the priority list. TMC now started to move into specialist markets that had been developed by their research and development people. The Secrephone scrambler telephone was one example. TR added Tannoy public address systems to its rental range and included a TMC "Music While You Work" system across the PA as an anti-fatigue measure in factories. The companies felt the brunt of the war as over a third of their staff were called up, and TMC was finally placed on the Supply Ministry's "Vital List" so it could retain essential staff. The employment of "intelligent girls, aged not less than 18 years, for training in simple electrical maintenance" also helped make up the shortfall. Shifts were extended by overtime, and on occasions night shifts were introduced.
They opened a second factory at Malmesbury , and others at Bishopbriggs and Canterbury.
By the end of the war TMC and TR had strong growth as they developed back into peacetime conditions. TR expanded into Ireland, the United States (with an alphanumeric dial on a 700-type phone) and France (the Teleautomate company)
On 14 August 1959, F T Jackson, the firms' founder, passed away after an illness.
The post-War period was a time of consolidation and takeovers worldwide, and British giant electrical company GEC began making takeover moves on TR in 1966. They finally abandoned the takeover in 1967, making TR one of the few companies ever to hold out against GEC. TR's response was to itself make a takeover bid for one of its long standing competitors, Dictograph Telephones Ltd. Dictograph was another rental company. The consolidation gave TR an annual rental income of more than ten million pounds per year by 1970. This was helped by their move into new technologies like digital PAXs.
TMC meanwhile was in a strange position. While still making much of the equipment for TR, they were still making phones and specialty parts for the British Post Office. They never became a major British manufacturer of phones for the public system like, say, Ericssons, but did make many telephones in comparatively small numbers. Their speciality items continued to be a major source of work, and now included ships' phones and linesmans and military field sets. Both of these niche markets had developed during the War. Their work for Telephone Rentals continued, but much of TR's equipment like PAXs was now being bought in.
After the war, TMC developed their sound-powered ships' phones into robust versions for land-based troops. The Tele H was a sound powered field telephone mainly use on rifle ranges. It used magneto signaling. The Tele F could use either ‘buzzer’ signaling or magneto signaling but eventually the buzzer signaling was dropped as the buzzer was replaced by a simple plug-in induction coil unit. The Tele F was a Bakelite cased phone carried in a wooden case. Used at Brigade level and above. There was also a ‘Tele F High Power’ with a valve operated amplifier but much rarer. The Australian factory was still producing small orders of highly specialized parts for the Australian Post Office, such as 150 pulse echo testers for fault finding on long lines. A highlight of TMC's work in the 1950s was the production, in cooperation with the Post Office workshops, of Britain's and Australia's Speaking Clocks. The design dated back to the 1930s, from the BPO Workshops, but TMC had the precision equipment and skills to build them. This exemplifies TMC's work - never a big producer of mainstream telephones, but very useful to have around.
NOTE: Details on Tele H and Tele F (above in blue) updated thanks to Ian Jolly (Ireland) 5th June 2023.
They also developed further into radio technology. They were experts at making precision radio filters, and the radio technology crossed over into their telephony work where accurate carrier frequency equipment became another niche specialty. It also paid off in the areas of telemetry and the now fast-expanding telex service, and later into modems.
There was still room to produce telephones, however, and the new factory at Airdrie manufactured many of the British Post Office's 700 series dial phones. Over the years TMC was allocated a number of manufacturer codes by the BPO.
In the 1960s TMC was bought out by the Pye group and became Pye TMC Ltd. Pye was then bought out by Dutch giant Philips, and the TMC name was finally dropped in Britain. The company was left pretty much intact, however, as the British Post Office, a big customer, still preferred to buy locally. As part of the Philips deal the Australian company was sold to employees and continued as TMC Radio Pty Ltd. This company also bought out Philips Business Radio Ltd, formerly Pye Mobile Radio.
And so the TMC name continues, although no longer in telephony and no longer in Britain.
Leyland A J "A British Telephone Factory in Peace and War" Telecommunications Journal of Australia June 1947
Powerhouse Museum , Sydney, holds an example of "George the Speaking Clock"
"History of Telephone Rentals (including TMC Ltd)" From Direct Line Magazine, at http://www.britishtelephones.com/histtr.htm
Wilson, Dan "A Mini-History of the Telephone Manufacturing Company"
"The Telephone Manufacturing Co. Ltd, New System Private Telephones Ltd, Prices Electric Clocks Ltd, Telephone Rentals Ltd" from Barries Virtual Clock Museum, http://www.clock-museum.co.uk"
TMC catalogue pages, 1920 approx, supplied courtesy of Linley Wilson