Brian, Secure Communications Engineer at 10 Downing Street
I’m Brian and I’ve worked at Number 10 for ten years, joining in 2002, and previous to that I supported the Prime Minister’s Office from the Cabinet Office. My background when I first joined was in Secure Communications and when I first joined in 1992 it was based on that we had telephones in Number 10. We also had a variety of secure communications. The biggest one we had, the primary one, was the link to Washington, to the Americans. We had not only connections from Downing Street to the White House, but we were also able to connect it to Chequers and at that time to the constituency office of the Prime Minister, which was at Huntingdon. We used a local RAF Air Force base called Alconbury and we had a little office there where we used to go up to prior to the visit of the Prime Minister when he used to go home and we would set the equipment up so it enabled him to actually do communications with the Americans.
The UK had, in those days, a very, very archaic secure voice system and I do know not only did John Major but also Margaret Thatcher hated using the system because not only was it difficult to use, but the quality of the voice distorted it so much it was very hard to understand who was actually speaking on the phone! I know from speaking to my counterpart at the White House he was actually involved in the first installation of a secure phone between Number 10 and the White House itself. This happened during the Falklands War in 1982.
If you go over to the War Office there is actually a room there which actually shows you the first hotline as it was called, the first hotline between the United States and the UK. It was actually a big, a huge piece of equipment which was actually housed in Selfridges and was used during the War between Churchill and Roosevelt. But by 1982 of course the equipment was much smaller and it was able to be housed in 10 Downing Street. My counterpart, my colleague at the White House, told me that he actually was directed by the President at the time, Ronald Reagan, to come to London to install this piece of equipment. He was there, instrumental in handing the handset to Margaret Thatcher so that she could actually speak to Ronald Reagan for that first call.