How UK communications have changed during 70 years of the Queen’s reign

This week marks the celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – 70 years since she became Queen in 1952, back when Ofcom wasn’t even a twinkle in the Postmaster General’s eye.

Some 76% of men and 84% of women who were born in 1952 are still alive. If we go back to look at those born in England and Wales a further 70 years before the Queen came to the throne, in 1882, just 34% of men and 45% of women are estimated to have survived to 1952 and their 70th birthday.

With 70 years having passed and countless innovations, not just those which have aided life expectancy, it’s no surprise that a lot about life in the UK has changed since then. So, we’ve taken a look at what’s changed between 1952 and today, in particular within communications markets.

Post

There’s been a dramatic shift in the way people communicate with each other over the past 70 years. The first and second class systems were introduced in 1968, and until then the cost of a letter or parcel was determined by the weight. The cheapest service was for something weighing two ounces or less which would set you back two and a half pence (77p in today’s money). A second-class stamp currently costs 68p (thanks in part to Ofcom’s price cap) – which is remarkably similar.

By comparison, the average property price in 1952 was £2,000 (around £40,000 in today’s prices, and four times the average salary) and today is £260,000 (more than eight times the average salary).

The volume of letters sent is also remarkably similar today as in 1952, as is shown in our Annual Monitoring Update (PDF, 1.1 MB) for Postal Services.

Due partly to increases in the population and partly to trends in the market, this increased to a peak in the early 2000s before falling more recently, as digital communications methods have replaced many of our paper bills and bank statements.

Television

The Queen’s coronation (which was actually in 1953 due to the nature of how she became Queen) sparked an increase in the number of television sets in households. Just one in seven households had a television set in 1952, and one in five in 1953, but by 1954 that had increased to one in three. As well as the coronation, viewers were tuning into one of the first series of ‘Come Dancing’, which I think may be just about the only program which has survived to today. We wonder if the Queen was – and still is – a fan?

Back in the 1950s, far from the on-demand viewing we have available today (all described in our Media Nations reports the hours of broadcasting were restricted by the Postmaster General, a Cabinet Minister. The BBC was allowed to broadcast on weekdays between 9am and 11pm, with not more than two hours before 1pm. There was also a period between 6pm and 7pm, called the ‘toddlers truce’, when no television was broadcast. This was designed for parents to trick young children into thinking that the evening’s television had finished so they would go to bed without complaint.

Phone

In the 1950s, a home telephone was a luxury item. Roughly 10% of households had a landline in 1952, most went through manual exchanges and handsets were generally rented from the Post Office. By the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, this had increased to around 60% of households, and by her Golden Jubilee in 2002, 94% of households had a landline phone.

But that relentless rise has been halted, and in Ofcom’s latest Technology Tracker, we found that only 61% of households had a landline that they could use to make and receive calls. By contrast 34% of households now only have a mobile phone (compared to 0% in 1952).

There are, also, lots more stories which could be drawn out of the data we collect. If you want to do some digging for yourself, check out the research and data pages of the Ofcom website.

Story via Ofcom

Jason Davies

UK based technology professional, with an interest in computer security and telecoms.

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