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(Possibly) Laurence Olivier's Phone

Dear Dear Larry would've been 100 this year. But did the voice of The World At War ever boom into this telephone?

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by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2007
I found a few pictures of Larry on the blower
by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2007
I found a few pictures of Larry on the blower

Provenance is everything in the world of antiques, collectables and all that other detritus that dealers try to bump up the price of. If you don't have it then it's not worth a bean.
So. I give you - "possibly" Laurence Olivier's telephone (LOP). There it is up there. I bought it. It sits on my desk. Though not connected - try dialling a mobile phone number on an old phone, it takes ages and then you get through to somebody you don't know - it does work.

In a West London antique shop I occasionally frequent: A respectable old couple come in with a cardboard box of things wrapped in newspaper.

"I wonder if you'd be interested in any of these" they say and unpack the bundles on to the counter in front of the owner.

I can see some old china, a vase, a telephone. "This used to belong to Laurence Olivier. It was left in his old house in Brighton when we bought it off him".

Turns out they had just taken it to one of the main auction houses where they were consigning some paintings but because of lack of provenance the auction house had passed on the phone. Or so they said.

Still that was good enough for me. After they had sold the phone and other bits I bought the phone from the shop for no more than a non celebrity bakelite phone would have cost.

"Possibly" LOP was good enough for me but I thought I'd look into it a little and see if it was even slightly possible that it was "definitely" LOP.

The couple had given the name of the street in which this house had been. That checked out but even a cursory look at a Larry biography would have given them that. There was a number on the dial but that was a later addition - or was it? You can find Laurence Olivier's old phone number online through the British Telecom archive. It was similar but not the same. I found a few pictures of Larry on the blower. Inconclusive. I couldn't find a photo of Larry with a phone at home.

Then the phone itself. That's where I thought it had all come apart. Possibly LOP was looking definitely not LOP. I searched online for phone information and discovered that the markings on this phone meant that it had been manufactured in Portugal and not in the UK. The date of manufacture (1959) was right but Portugal? Surely Larry wouldn't have had a foreign phone. That was it. Or so I thought.

But now. A few months on I have had an email from one of the (actually possibly the only) British Telephone Experts who run a mind-boggling comprehensive website documenting every aspect of the British phone. I had clicked on the "ask a question" button on the site looking for information on the phone and its unlikelihood of being LOP.

Turns out that at the time this phone was made the GPO were just getting ready to launch a new model and that the old style models were being manufactured abroad and shipped in. In the late 1950s it was common for UK users to get parts from Portugal or even whole phones. Indeed my expert says he knows for a fact that one of his relatives who lives in Sussex was issued with a Portuguese phone that they kept throughout the 1960s because he was given it when they moved house in the 1970s.

So there you go. For me its proof enough. LOP is definitely LOP. And when I pick it I can imagine dear Johnny G or Ralph R at the other end of the line once more.

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Lake
Editor, London

the first journalism Lake ever had published was a history of Johnny Thunders for Record Collector magazine, since then he has written for publications including the Guardian, Dazed and Confused, the Idler and more recently, outsideleft.com as you have just seen.

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