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Accoson Sphygmomanometer

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Amerex Alpha One Spycorder

Amstrad NC100 Notepad

AN/PRC-6 Walkie Talkie

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Baygen Freeplay Lantern

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Fisher-Price 826 Cassette

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GE 3-5805 AM CB Radio

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General Radiological NE 029-02

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Juliette LT-44 Tape Recorder

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MPMan MP-F20 MP3 Player

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National Hyper BII Flashgun

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NatWest 24 Hour Cashcard


Widget Of The Week

BT Rhapsody SR 1012A/8012 Leather Phone, 1982

Some really weird things happened in the 70s and 80s, so the fact that BT started marketing telephones clad in tan leather shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Even so you still can’t help wondering what was going through the minds of whoever came up with such a bizarre concept in the first place...


To be fair it wasn’t BT who dreamt it up, that honour goes to a Belgian company called Atea, though what was to become the BT Rhapsody SR 1012A (or TSR 0812) that you see here was based on a phone called the Unifoon, designed by Dutch Telecom and launched Holland in the late 70s, initially with a rotary dial. Incidentally, the SR and TSR prefix on a lot of interesting and oddball GPO and BT phones issued from the early sixties to the late nineties, stands for Special Range/Telephone Special Range and the differences in the model number denote whether or not it was fitted with the now standard BT plug. Just thought you’d like to know…


Anyway, back to the leathery Rhapsody phone and even without its cowhide cover it is still an interesting design, with several unusual features. Starting with the case it's a flexible design that can be used on a tabletop or wall mounted. Look closely and you might spot a rectangular opening in the recess where the microphone rests. This serves two purposes. Firstly it can be used as a handle, so you can walk around with the phone while making or taking a call, and second, it makes it easier to keep clean by avoiding the problem of dust and fag ash accumulations, which can clog up the microphone grille. Ironically this apparently sensible idea backfired and led indirectly to a fairly common fault on this model. If the area around the front of the phone were regularly cleaned with an aerosol polish the spray would be directed up through the hole into the microphone capsule, eventually causing it to fail…


As you can see from the photos it has push-button dialling and BT marketing couldn’t resist jazzing it up by calling it a ‘Pressure Point Keypad’. The keys are very low profile and this was supposed to make it easy to keep clean and suitable for use in messy environments, like a kitchen or workshop. It was another apparently good idea with a sting in the tail. The membrane type keypad used wasn’t very resilient and reportedly didn’t fare well when repeatedly exposed to strong detergents, or used heavily.


By the way, the keypad uses the old ‘pulse’ dialling system; in other words it simulates the action of a mechanical rotary dial. At the time UK exchanges were being converted to digital operation and DTMF or ‘tone’ dialling hadn’t been fully implemented. Consequently on this phone there are no Hash or Star keys but there are two extra buttons marked ‘S’, for secrecy (mutes the microphone) and ‘R’ or last number redial.


In spite of those shortcomings it was still quite advanced for an early 80s phone, but instead of a fancy electronic ringer or warbler there’s a pair of good old-fashioned mechanical bells. It’s not completely antiquated, though and a switch on the back is for nighttime use. This stops the striker from hitting the bells, so instead it produces a low level buzz.   


Finally we come to that leather covering. On the plus side it’s a really neat job and the quality of the material and stitching are both excellent, but that still leaves open the question of who would want such a thing? Leather wasn’t especially trendy in the early eighties and the other colours in BT’s Rhapsody range (blue, grey & ivory) were much more in keeping with the styles of the time. Leather is a tough material but it has its drawbacks. It needs looking after, regular cleaning and can deteriorate if left in bright sunlight or kept in a dry atmosphere. It wasn’t a cheap option either. In the early eighties the vast majority of BT customers were still renting their phones; you couldn’t officially buy a Rhapsody phone so the only way to get one would be pay BT £25 for installation and shell out an extra £2.50 over and above the normal quarterly rental fee.


I struck lucky with this one, found at a large open-air antiques fair in Surrey. It was in amongst a lot of expensive Art Deco ceramics. I call this the fish out of water scenario and it can often help with the price. And so it was; the stallholder had no real interest in the phone and was happy to accept an offer of £5.00 for it.


It looked as though it had been in storage for quite a while – the novelty had probably worn off quite quickly -- and underneath a few light layers of dirt it appeared to have been little used and in really good condition. It worked too and apart from the limitations of the vintage keypad, it performs as well as any modern phone.  


What Happened To It?

The early 1980s were a very busy time for BT. It is unclear when the Rhapsody model was withdrawn but it probably didn’t hang about much beyond 1985 as by then BT had been fully privatised and the changeover to a digital network was nearing completion. All of this resulted in a growing demand for more compact, sophisticated and novel phones. The choice and design of standard residential phones had also improved in leaps and bounds, and a growing number of BT consumers were opting to buy their own phones, rather than renting from BT. No doubt the Rhapsody’s innards could have been updated but the styling was starting to look dated, it’s time had passed and not even the fancy leather covering could save it.


I doubt that more than a few thousand leather Rhapsody phones were issued and the majority of those would have been returned to BT for disposal as and when they were replaced. Technically they were still BTs property, so any that escaped into the wild and have survived until now are few and far between. They do come up ebay every so often and prices are generally in the range £30 to £50, which isn’t a lot for such a rare and idiosyncratic design. If you can do without the leather trim then standard Rhapsody phones generally go for well under £20, but the lowish prices probably reflect the fact that the numeric keypad limits its functionality in today’s digital universe.     


First seen                 1982

Original Price           £25.00 installation plus additional £2.50 quarterly line rental)

Value Today            £30 (0816)

Features                  Push-button digital keypad, bell ringer with mute, ‘S’ secrecy (microphone mute) button, redial last number, table top or wall mounting, integral carry handle

Power req.                    n/a (line powered)

Dimensions:                  237 x 162 x 85mm

Weight:                         1.5kg

Made (assembled) in:    Belgium

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6




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