01 for London: One of London’s most potent symbols always used to be the 01 phone prefix. London took the premier easiest-to-remember code, in line with its national status, while the rest of the country put up with the leftovers. For example, Consett in County Durham took the insignificant 0207 prefix, while Bodmin in Cornwall was lumbered with 0208.
Then in the 1990s came an explosion of fax machines and second-, third- and fourth- phone lines, particularly in the capital. This forced an expansion of the phone numbering system, brilliantly mismanaged by OFTEL. They first assured Londoners that a split into 071 and 081 areas would be perfectly sufficient, then that the less-than-memorable 0171 and 0181 codes were urgently required, and finally that 0207 and 0208 were absolutely necessary. Londoners were forced to reorder new stationery three times in ten years, and many businesses around the capital still have out-of-date phone numbers engraved prominently on their shop-fronts. Meanwhile, in Consett and Bodmin, the behind-the-times shops now display current London numbers.
Yesterday we discovered that the supply of 0207 numbers is already drying up so yet another new London dialling code is required. OFCOM will be introducing 0203 numbers next summer (as used less than ten years ago in darkest Coventry). The 0203 code will only be used for new lines, not existing ones, and won't be restricted to either inner or outer London as before. And yes I do know that the official code for London is actually just 020, not the four-digit 020x, so there is some rationale behind the introduction of 020 3. Maybe one day the signwriters in the capital will notice this fact and businesses will learn to split up their phone digits correctly. But somehow London's not the same now that almost everywhere else's number starts with good old 01.