30th September 1987. Private Ownership.

The privatisation of British Telecom took up more parliamentary time than any other issue since WWII.

The share-issue in 1984 was three times over-subscribed, as a consequence some tried to beat the system by applying for shares in many names.(1)

Among these was Keith Best MP who Today was sentenced to 4 months for dishonestly trying to obtain British Telecom shares, through multiple applications.(2)

Originally known as the 1846 British Telegraph Company, by 1912 it had become a government monopoly. In 1969 the General Post Office (GPO) was a public company and the British Telecommunications brand was established in 1980.

In October 1981 the official name was Post Office Telecommunications, state owned, but independent of the Post Office, a time when the yellow vans of the telephones separated from the red Post Office vans.

In 1982 the state monopoly was broken by a licence given to Mercury Communications, with British Telecom (later BT) being privatised two years later, this at a time when the now defunct Vodaphone, previously Racal Communications, was unknown.(3)

Close on the heels of British Telecom, British Gas in 1986, was offered at 135p; best remembered for the advert: ‘If you see Sid…Tell him’.


The Gas Light and Coke Company of 1812, saw gas go through many manifestations of local ownership and Regional Boards before the 1986 Gas Act.

'If you see Sid tell him'.

‘If you see Sid tell him’.

These two major privatisations were a prelude to others. Now worldwide BT is developing computer broadband. However though land-line has declined, BT still has the Universal Service Obligation USO) to provide landline phones, owning as they do the last mile of copper cable.

British Gas in 1997 became BG plc after divesting Centrica. On 15.2.2016, the gas and oil giant was acquired by Royal Dutch Shell for £70b, a far cry from the Gas Light and Coke Company.

The Author remembers the smelly local gas works, a feature of all towns: he also remembers wind up telephones, still a feature in some firms of the 1960.s, which gives some idea of the exponential change of the digital age. 

(1) There were further issues in 1991 and 1993.

(2) On appeal the sentence was reduced, but Best’s fine was increased to over £4,000.

(3) British Telecom became BT on 2nd April 1991.


thisismoney.co.uk/8.4.2015. Mark Shapland.

telegraph.co.uk/Richard Evans.18.11.2011/Pic of gas form.

dailymail.co.uk/news/Pic of gas advert.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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