‘The Pleasure Telephone’: proto pay-per-listen service, 1895-1926

No, not one of those compact devices designed to give one an initmate sensual tingle when an incoming call arrives on your mobile… ‘The Pleasure Telephone’ is a 45-minute long BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature documentary about the ‘Electrophone’, a patented 19th Century technology that used early the telephone network to relay entertainment to subscribers.

Opera was to have an honoured place in entertainment-by-telephone history – Covent Garden performances could be accessed live in private homes, gentlemen’s clubs and hotels. In the USA, subscribers were ‘taught’ operas by an interweaving of spoken libretto and recordings of arias. The Pleasure Telephone also looks at the breadth of entertainment offered via the telephone by companies in the UK, Hungary, France and the USA. In London, for example, the Electrophone company offered a range of West End productions to subscribers – including via coin-in-the-slot machines. There was also live worship on offer from prominent churches…

You can catch the programme on Listen Again until next Friday 21 May.

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