Quite right. BT are responsible for many of the world’s ills, but the Big Number change is not one of them. That particular debacle was the fault of Oftel.
One of the main problems was that Oftel didn’t predict the big rise in direct-dial switchboards, second lines etc. Quite why they didn’t predict this is another matter.
Just for the benefit of Americans and other folks with halfway decent telcos, this is the basic story…
In the long, long distant past, each exchange in london had a three-letter code (BEL for Belgravia, CIT for City, etc). The numerical equivalents of these eventually became the first part of the London number, prefixed bt 01 for London, e.g. 01 234 5678.
Then, when the numbers started running out, they decided to split London into “outer” and “inner” regions, with inner getting the 071 code, and outer getting 081. That was in 1990.
In 1995, all area codes got an extra “1” after the initial zero, apart from a few which changed altogether. The idea was that this would free up extra capacity by opening up codes starting 02… etc. So London became 0171 and 0181. “This is the last change you will have to make in your lifetime,” said Oftel.
Sadly, five years later we were forced to change yet again, with London being reunited into a single 020 code. The old 7-digit numbers were prefixed with either a 7 (old 0171 numbers) or an 8 (old 0181 numbers), to form an eight-digit local number, eg 0171 234 5678 became 020 7234 5678.
However, this seems to have confused most people - they can’t get their heads round the fact that the codes are not 0207 and 0208, there’s just a single code of 020. I’ve given up trying to explain this when giving my phone number to other people in London.
“Yes, it’s 7782 XXXX”
“Is that 0207 or 0208?”
“No, it’s 020. But you don’t need to dial that if you’re in London”
“Oh, forget it. OK, it’s 0207 782 XXXX”