In the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States and other countries around the world, a telegram messenger, more often known as a telegram delivery boy or simply a telegram boy was a young male employed to deliver telegrams, usually on bicycle. In the United Kingdom and Ireland telegram boys were employed by the Post Office. In the United States, they were known as Telegraph boys.
History in the UK
Telegram boys became popular after the Post Office took over control of Inland Telegraphs from the railways and private telegraph companies. Many of the boys employed by these services to deliver telegrams transferred to the Post Office. In some respects the life of a telegram boy was not unlike that of someone completing military service. They were expected to behave in a manner befitting one who wears the uniform of the Queen, and were required to complete a daily drill. From 1915 to 1921, morning exercise was added to these requirements.
During the 1930s in the United Kingdom the Post Office introduced motorcycles. This started in Leeds where boys aged 17 were allowed to volunteer for training, but only with the permission of their parents. However, following the success of this motorcycles were introduced elsewhere in the country. The fleet was comprised almost exclusively of BSA 125cc bikes which boys were expected to ride at an average of 15 mph.
During its heyday in the 1930s, the service was delivering an average of 65 million telegrams per year; however, the service was running at a loss, estimated at £1 million annually.
Decline of the telegram
By the 1960s the number of telegrams being delivered had dropped to 10 million, and in 1976 only 844 were delivered. Consequently the Post Office took the decision in 1977 to abolish the service. The service continued for a few years and was briefly operated by British Telecom after it split from the Post Office. British Telecom announced on 19 October 1981 that the telegram would be discontinued, and it was finally taken out of service on 30 September 1982 after 139 years in the United Kingdom.
The telegram as such was superseded by the British Telecom Telemessage service, introduced in October 1982. Messages were dictated over the telephone or sent via telex, printed, and delivered overnight by first class post in a distinctive envelope guaranteed for next day delivery, rather than by messenger.
Notable telegram boys
- Frank McCourt, author and teacher
- Ralph Reader, founder of the Scout Gang Shows
- Dave Ward, deputy leader of the Communication Workers Union