0208 if you’re outside reality

Some will say this is petty, but it’s worth pointing out.

Just before Doctor Who, the BBC ran a trailer for the return of the John Barrowman cheap variety filler programme “Tonight’s The Night”. They were begging for idiots in the audience to apply to humiliate themselves on television. In order to take part in this ritual humiliation, they need to call the production company.

Just call 0208 576 9785, they said. Except this number doesn’t exist. The Subscriber Trunk Dialling number for London is 020. It used to be 01, as we probably all remember from childhood when the BBC would often tell viewers “Call for more information on 01, if you’re outside London, 811 8181”, helpfully ignoring that 85% of the country are outside London. Then they split London into inner 0171 and outer 0181. Then they combined both again into 020. When they created 020, they added 7 or 8 to the front of the local number to make more numbers. Since then, they’ve introduced 3 at the start of the number for some subscribers, with 5 to follow soon.

Similar changes of numbers have happened elsewhere too. Leeds was 0532 (0LE2 on the old dials, see?) but they changed it to 0113 and put an extra 2 on the front of the subscriber number. So a Leeds number is 0113 2XX XXXX. It isn’t 01132 XXXXXX. Locally, you have to dial the 2, even if you don’t have to dial the 0113.

So when the BBC said to call 0208 576 9785, they meant 020 8576 9785. Why is this important? Because these little things are important. If the BBC can’t even research correct telephone numbers for a trailer, why should we expect them to research correct background information for a news report?

If the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners? If there’s a phone vote, can they be trusted to count the calls correctly? If they can’t even get a phone number right, can anything they say be trusted? From such acorns do mighty oaks grow.


  1. Southampton and Portsmouth have exactly the same problem; both cities used to have different area codes (01703, 01705) but then a new single area code 023 was introduced that’s used for BOTH cities, with 80 added to the front of Southampton numbers and 92 in front of Portsmouth numbers.However I’ve lost count of the number of times people have given the Southampton area code as 02380 (presumably the same problem blights Portsmouth as well), and this sort of thing annoys me much more than it really ought to. I blame mobile phones myself.Anyway, the BBC will soon be reduced in size to a single office in the basement of Sky TV producing half an hour of public service information per week, so accuracy won’t really matter anymore when that happens.

  2. Why it matters. (I have had a long conversation about this with somebody from Ofcomm. I accused them of not doing enough public education and they agreed – insufficient budget, they said.) If you are calling from a landline in the 020 area, you don’t have to dial the 020. You just dial the 8 digits of the actual number. Of course if you do dial the 020, you still get through but you have wasted time and effort. Unfortunately the concept has been undermined by the advent of mobile phones: if you are calling from a mobile (if I have understood correctly), you have to dial the whole thing every time, including the dialling code, even if you are within the area concerned. The man from Ofcomm suggested that one should put the (020) in brackets, which is what I always do.

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