Spark decoded

“Guy’s account,” said Henry, “is substantially the same as the others, with the most interesting exception that he gets Tol calls from London at between six and seven in the evening when the cheap rate is on. In his opinion the offender is a schoolboy.”

—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (1958), chap. 11

 

A slip? Tol for toll? But here it is again:

“Nonsense,” said Dame Lettie. “A middle-aged man.”

“It is simple,” said Henry, “to trace a Tol call from London to the country. And yet the police have not traced any caller to Guy Leet at Stedrost.”

And indeed, Tol was a shorthand for placing a metered call within the London exchange:

Previously, making a trunk call involved what was known as ‘delay working’ where a subscriber booked long distance calls in advance and was later rung back by the operator when one of the trunk lines became available. Obviously, the greater the demand made on the exchange, the longer the wait. Under the new ‘Toll’ system subscribers were now able to ask the local operator for ‘Tol’ for calls to exchanges within the London Toll Area. They were then connected to the Toll operator who completed the call while the subscriber remained at the telephone. Later, as more automatic exchanges were introduced, the subscriber simply had to dial ‘TOL’ to be connected to the Toll operator.

Dialing TOL was a service like dialing TIM for the time, as fans of Tom Stoppard’s If You’ll Be Glad I’ll Be Frank know. Or dialing UMP to get cricket scores?!

This entry was posted in Words Words Words. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.