Writing, life, politics

There Is No Such Thing As 0207!

It’s been several years now since the 020 code was introduced in London, and yet I still see people putting the code 0207 (or 0208) in their phone numbers, on signs, business cards, web pages, email sigs, and so on. So here, again, is the quick primer to the way that London’s phone numbers have evolved, and how they should be written. Let’s imagine someone back in the 1980s living in central London, with the following phone number:

01 123 1234

There are three elements to this code, reading from right to left: the number, the area code and a regional code. If you were dialling that number from anywhere inside of London you would dial:

123 1234

If you were dialling from outside of London you would dial:

01 123 1234

However, by the late 1980s, after the Big-Bang fuelled explosion of activity in the City, London was running out of numbers. So it was split into two areas, one for inner London (071) and one for outer London (081). So now, if you were phoning from inner London, our number would still be:

123 1234

But if you were dialling from either outer London, or from outside of London, you would dial:

071 123 1234

This new solution lasted a few years, but by the late 90s the entire country was running out of numbers. In addition, there was a desire to rationalise things such as premium rate numbers and mobile numbers. So as an initial, interim measure, all land-lines had a one added at the start of there regional code, after the zero. This meant that our number now became:

0171 123 1234

But of course, as always, if you were phoning from the house next door you would only have to dial:

123 1234

That was only ever an interim solution, and of course, the intention was to use the extra numbers thus released. London needed still more numbers, so an ambitious plan was arrived at. All the London area codes would be expanded from three digits to four, but at the same time the two London regions, inner and outer, would be consolidated back into one big region, just as it had been fifteen or so years before. The effect of these two changes was to increase the numbers available by a factor of five (adding an extra digit to the area codes increased the numbers by a factor of ten, but combining two areas back into one then halved it).

The new, all London code, was 020, which meant that our number would be:

020 x123 1234

The question was: what would x be, the number that would be added to our area code? Well given that previously, both the inner London (0171) and the outer London (0181) regions would have had an 123 area code, they clearly needed to have different values of “x” to avoid them clashing. The nice, easy solution picked was to give x a value of 7 in the old inner London area, and 8 in the old outer London area. Obviously, this only applied to the old codes, with a whole load of new codes now available with initial digits of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. So our number would now be:

020 7123 1234

But if you were calling from anywhere inside London (inner or outer) you could just call:

7123 1234

But what your number would never, ever, ever be, is:

0207 123 1234

That’s just wrong, and if you don’t believe me try dialling 123 1234 from inside London and listen to the automated error that you’ll get back. It’s not 0207 (or 0208), there’s no such thing as 0207, and there never was.


  1. Roger Gammans

    I seem remember the plan was there all along but we (those outside metropolitan areas) couldn’t migrate from 0xyz to 01xyz until London et al got off the 01x range first.

    • Jonny Nexus

      It could be. I’ve just looked up, and it turned out the change from 01 to 071/081 was in 1990, and the change to add the 1 nationwide was in 1995. (I must admit, I remembered it as being a longer period, but I was apparently wrong).

      So with that short a period of time, it does sound like maybe it could have been the plan all along.

© 2022 Jonny Nexus

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑