By Anna Ellis •
Published: 06 Nov 2023 • 13:29
Ernie Wise's Near Miss: UK's First Mobile Phone Call. Image: British Comedy Society
On 1 January 1985, London’s St Katharine Docks witnessed an extraordinary moment in the history of mobile communication.
Comedian Ernie Wise made what is often considered the first civilian mobile phone call in the UK using the Vodafone network.
A curious crowd had gathered near the Dickens Inn to observe Wise as he dialled the Vodafone office in Newbury with a Transportable Vodafone VT1.
These early mobile devices were quite hefty, weighing around five kilograms and costing a staggering £2,000, which would be equivalent to £5,000 in today’s currency.
Although the exact content of Wise’s conversation remains a mystery, it’s entertaining to imagine that he might have placed an order for a delectable meal, perhaps a rogan josh, mushroom rice, and a Peshwari naan.
Interestingly, Wise chose to make this historic call amidst a backdrop resembling a 19th-century mail coach, wearing attire reminiscent of a Dickensian coachman.
However, an interesting twist challenges the traditional narrative.
It appears that the first mobile phone call in the UK had already been made a few hours earlier by another individual named Ernest, specifically Ernest Harrison, the inaugural chairman of Vodafone.
The story goes that Ernest’s son, Michael Harrison, decided to surprise his father during their family’s New Year’s Eve party at their Surrey residence.
To achieve this, Michael embarked on a journey to London and dialled his father from among a group of revellers in Parliament Square.
Michael recalls that the call was remarkably clear, possibly because the network wasn’t yet congested with the 20 million Vodafone users we see today.
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Originally from Derbyshire, Anna has lived in the middle of nowhere on the Costa Blanca for 19 years. She is passionate about her animal family including four dogs and four horses, musicals and cooking.
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