George the Speaking Clock told the time on the telephone
An Australian Post Office film about the arrival of the first automatic speaking clocks in Sydney and Melbourne in 1954. Thank you to vk3ase for finding and posting this film on YouTube
Today everything is small and electronic. Our watches with their quartz crystals keep the time to a few seconds a day and we can obtain the time to even greater accuracy using smart phones. These devices provide convenience and functionality, but we have lost the wonderful and complex ingenuity of the past. Mechanical watches with their escapements and moving balance wheels were treasured items of beautiful intricacy. Unlike the situation today, with a little application their workings could be understood and admired.
The time provided on the telephone by ringing 1194 is today all electronic, although wonderfully it appears to be the same voice as back in 1954. As shown in the video above, that year saw the arrival and installation of the automatic Speaking Clock, affectionally known as George, in Australia’s two main cities, Sydney and Melbourne . This clock was a marvel of engineering that synthetised the time from three different optical discs. Sound tracks were recorded like in movie films as brightness fluctions on the discs. In use the discs were ‘read’ by using photoelectric cells that converted the brightness variations to voltage fluctuations. Australian actor Gordon Gow recorded the sound on the discs.
The speaking clock being serviced. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum
The Sydney clocks were housed in the GPO in Martin Place; there were two – one operating and the other serving as backup. When they were retired and replaced in 1990, one of them came to the Powerhouse Museum after restoration by a technician in his spare time. For a number of years George the Speaking Clock was on display at Sydney Observatory as an interactive exhibit. Visitors could press buttons to hear the fully synthetised time or only part of the sound track.
The door of the speaking clock room at the old GPO in Martin Place is also part of the Museum’s collection. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum
George is now carefully stored at the Powerhouse Discovery Centre at Castle Hill and is shown occasionally on open days. Hopefully, in a few years, there will be suitable exhibition at the Museum and visitors once again will be able to admire the clock’s wonderful ingenuity.