An old friend – Steve Anderson (@irregularshed) – built a 1950s telephone system for us. I don’t pretend to understand what he did, other than recondition an old 1950s phone (all the way down to putting the correct telephone number on the dial centre).
So… a 1950s phone at one end and a long wire running to a 1970s phone at the other end. Attached to it all was a magic box that contained an Arduino and a 9V battery and a bunch of other stuff.
We kept the 1970s phone in our out-of-character room with the box of tricks. If you pressed a button on the box, the 1950s phone would start ringing. When someone picked up, you could have a conversation. In practical effect it wasn’t a huge difference from two tin cans and a string and a handbell, but appearances are everything! From the players’ point of view it simply seemed to be a phone. The butler kept it – when a player wanted to make a call, they’d ask the butler and he’d let us know, so we could have an ‘operator’ ready at the other end, then he’d carry it in to them.
This was one of our early technological failures – the voice part didn’t work (although the ringing did) when it was unpacked on site, after it worked fine at home. A frantic call to Steve on Friday morning didn’t get very far, but I just went through and refixed a bunch of wires and it suddenly started working again.