TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:UK phone number formats - a bit long! From:Iain Harrison <iharrison -at- SCT -dot- CO -dot- UK> Date:Thu, 26 Sep 1996 10:53:14 GMT
David Somers replied:
I thought the area code should be set in parenthesis, but then again things
have probably changed since I left the UK - either that or most people just
ignore the BT specification for setting 'phone numbers.
I hadn't planned to go into detail, but I guess I ought to. Sorry to all
the readers in foreign lands who have no interest in UK phone numbers!
It certainly used to be the case that area codes were written that way, but
that is becoming less and less common, partly because of changes in the
numbering system. Most numbers were written as (0234) 567890 and London
numbers were generally written 01 234 5678.
When the London code split to 071 and 081, then subsequently all geographic
area codes gained a 1, those numbers became (01234) 567890 and 0171 234
5678, but many other towns changed to 7 figure local numbers at the same
For example a Leeds number would have been like 0532 567890 but when the
numbering scheme changed, it became 0113 256 7890.
Some people found the layout of this confusing, and at first it wasn't
unusual to see the number written (01132) 567890. This was incorrect, as
other people in the area had to dial 2567890. Generally, there was a lot of
confusion about how to present numbers.
I think that this confusion in the public mind, particularly as the changes
are still ongoing (numbers like 0234 345 6789 will be arriving in a year or
two), has led to the way numbers were written being reconsidered. The style
previously used only for London numbers has become more popular in recent
Although (01234) 567890 is certainly not wrong, there seems to be a trend
towards the alternative of 01234 567890. This has the advantage of removing
the possible confusion between ) and 1, and also looks neater and easier to
read. For once, I'm in agreement with a popular change!
Official BT advice about presenting telephone numbers was in the 1995 phone
book, suggesting (01234) 567890 for UK use and +44 1234 567890 for
international use [and numbers were listed (01234) 567890] but the 1996
phone book doesn't give any advice at all.
In the 1996 book all the BT numbers are presented in the form 01234 567890,
though there are plenty of (01234) 567890 formats in the 'useful numbers'
section at the front. The numbers in the yellow pages (a directory from a
different company) are presented 01234 567890 in the 1996 editions.
I can't check the BT alphabetical list numbers in the 1996 book, because BT
has reduced the scope of the area covered by the phone book so much that
all the numbers in the office's 1996 book are within the 0161 code, which
is not included in the listings!
Sadly, the privatisation and deregulation of telecoms in the UK has led to
some rather muddled numbering arrangements, and I fear this will get worse
before it gets better.