In 1958, a small South African company patented the Colindictor, the world’s first telephone answering machine. They tried to sell the licence to operate their machine in England, Germany, France, Italy, Israel and the US, but without success. The company decided to focus on the British Post Office (BPO) and took a machine specially modified to meet BPO specifications to London. They later returned to South Africa, leaving the Colindictor with the BPO laboratory, as directed.
Subsequently, the BPO, which was very complimentary about the machine, requested many modifications. Several months later, with the modified equipment re-submitted, the BPO was satisfied, but withheld official approval.
The Colindictor inventors subsequently demonstrated the product in Coventry, Birmingham and London. One international chemical company based in England ordered 100 machines, subject to BPO approval.
The South African company expected the BPO to issue the licence and was therefore dismayed by a call to say the BPO’s legal department had withdrawn its application for a licence. In frustration, Colindictor company executive Lee Dickman, knowing that the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, was an avid electronics tinkerer, called Buckingham Palace and asked for an appointment with the duke.