Gavin Clarke

Imagine a time when the UK had just one national telephone provider and video calls were the stuff of science fiction. Welcome to 1947. It has to change – it does!

This was the framing of a working, interactive exhibition Flowers to Fibre I helped deliver on behalf of the Communications Museum Trust (CMT) and The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC).

Modernisation of Britain’s phone network began with engineering genius Tommy Flowers, the mastermind behind one of Bletchley Park’s most important codebreaking machines – Colossus.

Flowers and his successors at the GPO and BT developed groundbreaking ideas that are now commonplace and they built the world’s first digital phone exchanges for the UK.

Flowers to Fibre, running until March 2024 at TNMOC, takes visitors on a 60-year journey from pilots of the prototype digital exchanges to the planned national switch from copper to fibre after 2025.

Communications infrastructure was built to help us communicate – so the thrust of our story had to be people. We therefore had to create an experience for visitors of all ages and backgrounds – from children who’d never even experienced a landline phone to aficionados and industry engineers.

I helped structure and interpret a story that weaves around working machines, 20th-century artefacts from early digital exchanges, and authentic recreations from CMT’s unrivalled collection. A chronological trail was conceived, giving visitors a fun, hands-on experience of everything from electromechanical machines that once connected the nation’s phone calls, to 1990s internet dial-up and more. Displays feature original newspaper cuttings and photos, and period videos.

Through imaginative displays, we invited visitors to evaluate key historical moments for themselves and investigate communications technologies on their street – and in their homes.

We challenged conventional narratives, too: reappraising a Tommy Flowers story dominated by WWII codebreaking, and giving due recognition to his colleagues.

This was a six-month project delivered through close collaboration with two large, multi-disciplinary teams spanning subject, artefact, design and exhibitions.


    The Communications Museum Trust and The National Museum of Computing


    Concept development and evaluation, content strategy, source research, artefact and object assessment, copy development, experience and interactive development, exhibition design, strategic creative planning and delivery, project management and delivery, social-media integration.



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    Photo Credits: NOAA, Alex Iby, Daniel Eledut, Austrian National Library, Secret Spitfires & Joyce Kolk.