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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 17:31 GMT
118: Who you gonna call?
The 192 telephone directory service has been replaced by rival 10 six-digit numbers, each starting with 118. How will you remember which to dial?

Who do you ring for the number of directory enquiries?

The easy-to-remember 192 service - run as a monopoly by BT - is being wound up. The UK's 700 million annual phone number enquiries will instead be fought over by 10 rival services.

Some new numbers
BT: 118 500
British Gas: 118 511, 118 411
Orange: 118 000
One Tel: 118 111 and 118 211
Opal Telecom: 118 114
Telegate: 118 866
The Number UK Ltd: 118 118

Yet even when the telecoms watchdog, Oftel, was pondering ending BT's 280m 192 monopoly, there were concerns that consumers would be baffled by a raft of new numbers to chose from.

Those wanting help finding a number will now have to call 118, followed by the three-digits of their preferred directory service (DQ).

Oftel said in 2000 that allocating one of these services the number 118 192 might give it an unfair advantage. But then, it also said 118 118 might also give a DQ the upper hand. 118 118 has nonetheless gone to The Number UK.

Six digits worth millions

The company is very pleased with its "memorable number" - but it didn't come cheap. The Number UK's American parent company, Infonxx, reportedly shelled out 2m to buy the suffix from a tiny telecoms company.

Noel Edmonds with his lottery balls
"And you have the number 118..."
"That 2m probably saves us 40m to 50m," said Infonxx boss Robert Pines.

In the original Oftel lottery draw, Infonxx had come away with the less snappy 118 811 - a palindrome it will still use for international directory enquiries.

118 118 has been dubbed a "golden number". However, there's debate within the telecoms sector about which numbers really do glitter.

Robin James, managing director of Planetnumbers.com, says there are no hard and fast rules for classifying the numbers he sells to companies.

Better than gold

"You just look at each number. Good numbers are obvious. The ones that repeat digits are highly memorable."

On Mr James's scale, 118 118 might only feature as a "platinum" number. Orange's 118 000 or One Tel's 118 111 could go onto the elite "diamond" list.

Matching the telephone number to the product or company name is another tactic to get punters to remember it.

People at a Porsche motor show stand
"What's that number again? 91..?"
The hotel group Forte set up a reservations line ending "40 40 40". Porsche advertised one of its sporty motorcars with the number ending 911 911.

If your number just doesn't sing in the marketplace, you could try putting it to music.

Dating and chat lines in particular have invested in late night TV ads with jingles to impress all-important numbers on the memories of viewers.

Lorne Balfe - who has composed ad music for the likes of Pepsi - says putting numbers in jingles is no easy feat.

"You need to drum the number into the listener with repetition, like water torture. I've done that with triples, such as 22 33 44. But one-eighteen, there's not much rhythm there."

Your comments:

I called 192 and asked for the number for directory inquiries. She wasn't very pleased.
Kezz, Scotland

Thanks to the handy mobile phone no one can ever remember any phone numbers let alone new and confusing combinations.
Amy, UK

The purpose of introducing competition is said to be to reduce prices. Yet twenty years ago there was no competition and calls to directory enquiries were free.
Douglas, France

If nothing else, I've learnt that British Gas is, apparently, a telephone directory service. Does BT have plans for reciprocation?
Graham, UK

I'm sure these jingles professionals will manage to find rhythm with 1s and 8s. After all the BBC managed to do it years ago as I can still recall the number for Noel Edmunds' Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (featuring Posh Paws and one Keith Chegwin) which was 0181 811 8181 and how many years ago is that?
Chris, UK

The 0181 BBC number came after the first London number change and was used by Saturday Superstore. The original BBC Swap Shop number from my memory was 01 811 8055.
Jez, UK

I asked a knowledgable friend, who said: "Heh heh - well, I *could* always add my 2 penn'orth and make the following points:

1) Saturday Superstore's number was ALWAYS 01-811 8055 as it ran from 1982- 1987, well before the 071/081 split and PhONEday.

2) Going Live (1987 - 1994) also used 01-811 8055 until the 071/081 split (on May 6th 1990), when they then switched to 081-811 8181.

3) 081-811 8181 was carried over to Live and Kicking in 1994 for part of the first series, before PhONEday in 1995 when of course it then changed to 0181- 811 8181 (it was sometime in March 1995, IIRC) and they kept until the introduced their 0845-610 1515 number sometime in the last 2 years of the programme.

4) If I were being *really* pedantic, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop's ORIGINAL number (from the first series, 1976-1977) was actually 01-288 8055 - they only moved to the 01-811 8055 number in time for the second series in 1977.

I COULD, but I won't :)"
Toby , Wilts, UK

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The BBC's Jenny Scott
"The numbers up for 192"
See also:

10 Dec 02 | Business
05 Mar 02 | UK
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