Cable London

Brief history

Cable London plc was the operating name and brand of a cable telecommunications company that operated in five north London boroughs from the 1980s until the company was purchased by Telewest in 1999. Following the privatisation in 1984 of BT, the company was founded as Cable Camden in 1984 by Stephen Kirk (see [] ), with investors Malcolm Gee (of Levy Gee) and Jerrold Nathan; the original premises were in the Elephant House building, and across the road in the then premises of Chrysalis, in Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP. The first sales office was set up in Royal College Street, Camden Town and later at 62 Camden Road, NW1 9DR.

Cable London provided cable television, cable telephone and internet services to over 100,000 business and residential customers by late 1999, employing 574 people. A text-only television channel - CLTV - was provided as a requirement of the franchise to offer local television services. In the early 2000s the company brand and identity fell into disuse as the company and customers became fully integrated in Telewest Communications plc [,RNWH:2005-14,RNWH:en%26sa%3DN] ; Telewest subsequently merged with NTL and the former Cable London area is now fully part of Virgin Media plc. For a general history of the cable industry in the United Kingdom, see [] and for information about services see [] . See also History of telecommunication and [] and [] .


Cable London operated in five London boroughs through four franchises regulated by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The four franchises were named for four separate companies, all part of Cable London plc:
*Cable Camden Ltd - for services in the London Borough of Camden
*Cable Enfield Ltd - for services in the London Borough of Enfield
*Cable Hackney and Islington Ltd - for services in the London Borough of Hackney and London Borough of Islington (this was one franchise: there was no separate franchise for either borough)
*Cable Haringey Ltd - for services in the London Borough of Haringey

Investors and fate

Cable London had various small and large investors in its history including, in the early-mid 1990s the large American cable operator Comcast [] and the "Baby Bell" company US West, but ultimately two large companies owned 50% each - NTL [] and Telewest. By the late 1990s the company had become the best-performing cable operator in the UK. A "shoot out" between the two investors resulted in Telewest's purchasing Cable London for £1bn in August 1999 [] . Cable London, as a brand, gradually fell into disuse in the years 2000-2002.

Cable network - construction and legacy

Construction of the cable network by Cable London, all of the fibre-optic cable laid in green ducting beneath pavements [,RNWH:2005-14,RNWH:en%26sa%3DN] or roads, began in the late 1980s in the London Borough of Camden, around Camden Town, and was completed in that borough by 1996. The first Cable London customers were in Camden Town and the first cable telephone customer was connected there, too, in about 1990 (see History of the telephone). Construction of the cable network in the London Borough of Enfield, around Lower Edmonton and Ponders End, and in the London Borough of Haringey, around Hornsey, also began in the late 1980s. Construction of the cable network in the London Borough of Islington and the London Borough of Hackney began around Newington Green in 1995. The busiest years for construction of the cable network were 1994-96 and most of the planned construction of the cable network was completed by the end of 1998, thereafter only construction work necessary to connect new contracted business customers was generally being undertaken. By 1999, the majority of the cable network construction in the four franchises was completed, though small parts of the London Borough of Haringey and the London Borough of Islington were not completed and about one-third of the London Borough of Hackney had not been cabled. Of the then approximately 436,000 homes in the five boroughs, some 400,000 had been "passed" by cable, meaning that cable ducting was in the pavement or street outside those homes.

Construction of the cable network under the streets, and the associated technical premises, was a very expensive business and represented a significant investment by Cable London in the telecommunications infrastructure of each of the five London Boroughs. By 1999, the investment in Cable London's cable network was some £300m.

In the early years, therefore, priority for constructing the network was given to high density areas of population, especially blocks of flats and council and private estates, where the prospect of selling residential cable television - and cable telephone - services to customers was reckoned to be higher, and the cost per 'home passed' significantly less. The policy of some local authorities of discouraging satellite dishes on council estates was helpful, incidentally, in promoting sales of cable television. Similarly, construction was undertaken early in business districts, such as Holborn, to enable sales to be made to lucrative large businesses; business telephony provided, by far, the most important revenue stream in the 1990s. Success in providing modern and less expensive business telecommunications services to the public sector also helped to determine the pace and location of construction of the cable network.

The legacy of Cable London remains below, and above, the streets of north London, with the cable network beneath, evidence of the brand in covers for openings of pavements, and hundreds of street cabinets on pavements still active and serving Virgin Media cable customers.

Services and principal competitors

In the 1990s, the principal competitor for television services was BSkyB - British Sky Broadcasting. Cable London provided satellite television through its cable network without the need for a satellite dish outside the home, as well as some cable exclusive channels; in 1994 the "line-up" allowed for a maximum of 47 numbered channels, with some channels broadcasting for only part of the day. In 1994, the monthly subscription charge for the standard service of over 25 television channels was just under £2.75 per week.

Cable telephone lines to residential customers were pulled through the same ducting, the main competitor being BT. Cable London at first provided telephony in association with Mercury Communications.

There were rather more competitors for business telecommunications services, though again BT was the principal competitor. Business television services were not big business in the 1990s and internet services were offered from the mid-1990s onwards.

The main business advantage for cable companies in the 1990s was the ability to offer all three services: telephone, television and internet. For a while Cable London also offered an FM radio connection for stereo tuners; this facilitated reception of, for example, the BBC World Service in London homes. Customer "churn" was a serious issue for the cable industry in the 1990s.

Telephone "exchange" numbers that were originally allocated to Cable London included the London (area codes changing from 01 to 071 and 081, to 0171 and 0181, and finally to 020) and "exchanges" 911 at first (now 7911) and, later, 681 (now 7681) and 916 (now 7916), among others.

Principal establishments

*2 Stephen Street, London W1P 1PL - on three floors of this landmark building were located the company headquarters (including business sales and residential customer service centre) (opened 30 August 1994; former tenants had been Amerada Hess). The main telephone number was 0171-911 0555, residential customer service was 0171-911 0911 and business services was 0171-911 6000.
*Clarendon Road, Hornsey, London N8 0DJ - technical and engineering centre, satellite dish farm and some sales staff, in various buildings including Progress House (late 1980s onwards; headquarters until August 1994). One of the buildings was on the site of the former Hornsey Brewery; this was marked in about 1996 by the commissioning of a special ale (brewed by Woodforde's of Norfolk) that was issued in commemorative bottles, with a label that was in the style of the Hornsey Brewery's but which bore the Cable London logo.
*Spectrum House, Unit 4, St Pancras Commercial Centre, Pratt Street, Camden Town, London NW1 0BY - small switch and technical centre; formerly satellite dish farm (opened c.1987)
*Network House, Great Cambridge Industrial Estate, Lincoln Road, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1SH - switch and some sales staff (opened 19 October 1995)
*Broadband House, Fountayne Business Park, Broad Lane, Tottenham, London N15 4AG - planning and construction offices and some sales staff (opened 1996)
*Connect House, Tottenham Road, Dalston, London N1 4BZ - switch and some sales staff (opened 1997; former the premises of a religious publishing house)
*Centro House, Mandela Street, Camden Town, London NW1 0DU - customer service centre (from late 1980s and vacated by end 1994) [,RNWH:2005-14,RNWH:en%26sa%3DN]

Managing Directors - from 1984-2000 (with period in office)

*Stephen Kirk (1984-1989)
*Sally Davis (1989-1992) (see [,1000000085,39288210,00.htm] )
*Dave Edwards (1992-1993)
*Gerry (Gerald) Campbell (1993-1996) (see [] )
*Neil Johnson (1996-2000)
*Ian Fishwick (2000-merger)

Directors (as at December 1999)

*Finance Director - David Smyth (from 1993-2000)
*Business Marketing & Sales Director - David Burdett (from 1998-2000)
*Residential Marketing & Sales Director - Frank Mizen (from 1997-2000)
*Operations Director - Gordon Marchant (from 1998-2000)
*Engineering Director - Joe Barrett (from 1998-2000)
*Director of Corporate Affairs - Lester May (from 1994-1999) (see [] [] )

Senior Managers (as at December 1999)

*Head of Business Sales - Amanda Eliades
*Business Services Manager - Tracey Cain
*Residential Sales Manager - Hal Stamford
*Residential Sales Trainer - David Moore
*Head of Customer Services - Roberta Dryden
*Switch & NCC Manager - Tony Wells
*Network & Business Installations Manager - Pat(rick) Sheridan
*Network Manager - Ibrahim Bassiouni
*Service Manager - Alan Game (1966 - 17 October 2007)
*Installations Manager - Gary McMahon (see [] )
*Assignments Manager - Gill Parker
*Construction Manager - Alan Everritt
*Planning Manager - John Mills
*Procurement & Stores Manager - Alistair Bruce-Smith
*Financial Accounting Manager - Javeed Bhayat (died c. 2005)
*Customer Accounts Manager - Fred Wilson
*Management Accounting Manager - Grainne McCarthy
*Computer Systems Manager - Alan White
*Human Resources Manager - Jan Roddy (née Tilling - employee number one in 1985)
*Facilities Manager - Mick Franks
*Public Relations Manager - Rachel Turner


# Buried Alive! The UK Cable Revolution by Ian Scales (Bowerdean Publishing, 1996)
# Ringing the changes - a short history of telecommunications in the UK (BT, 1994)
# Guide to Business Telecoms (Cable London Business, 1998)
# Cable London Jargon Buster (Cable London, November 1996)
# Cable London marketing and sales literature (1990s)
# Cable London staff list and organisation charts, 7 December 1999

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