The 20,000 fake phone numbers used on film and television

  • 20 April 2015
A telephone

It is nearly 15 years since UK phone numbers were given a shake-up. Some 20,000 numbers were kept unused, except for appearances on television screens. Why are so many required, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

Ask a Doctor Who fan to identify the phone number 07700 90046 and they'll say in a flash it's the direct line to the Doctor, as mentioned in a 2008 episode of the television programme. But ring the number, and an automated voice says it's not recognised.

The number is one of 20,000 kept aside by Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, for use in television and radio drama and films following the Big Number change on 22 April 2000, which freed up more capacity on the network. Of these numbers, some 15,000 are geographical ones, often based around large cities or regions, including Leeds, London, Bristol, Tyneside and Northern Ireland. A further 4,000 numbers are held back from everyday use to stand in for mobile numbers (07700), freephone calls (08081), premium rate services (0909) and UK-wide telephones (03069).

"For viewers, it's all about realism," says Ofcom's Joe Smithies. "The idea is to present a number they recognise as being relevant to the context of the story. That could be a local area number, an 0161 number for Coronation Street, or 020 for Eastenders, or 07 for a mobile number."

Another 1,000 UK numbers are set aside in a fictional geographic area with the dialling code 01632, for those series or films that don't want to peg themselves to a certain area, or are set outside those covered by Ofcom's reserved numbers database. In the United States, the 555 area code has traditionally been used for television programmes and films, though some 555 phone numbers are active connections.

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10 things we didn't know last week

  • 17 April 2015
pizza

1. Emails sent in the morning receive longer replies.

Find out more (the Times)

Read full article 10 things we didn't know last week

Go Figure: The week in numbers

  • 17 April 2015

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Clinton declares White House run

Monday: Hillary Clinton declares White House run

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Nigeria abductions: Vows to remember Chibok girls

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Weekend edition: The best of the week's reads

  • 17 April 2015
A McDonald's sign

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

"This story makes me hungry" warns Ryan Smith on Facebook. It's about the world's most recognisable burger chain, which celebrated 60 years since the opening of its first franchise restaurant this week. It has been growing ever since, opening its first UK outlet in 1974. We set out to discover the working culture of the fast food behemoth.

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Caption Challenge: Robot road

  • 16 April 2015
A robot makes its way through the streets of Hanover, Germany

Winning entries in the Caption Challenge.

The competition is now closed.

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The Vocabularist: Where did word 'manifesto' come from?

  • 16 April 2015
Bronze statue of Sir Robert Peel dating from 1852
Sir Robert Peel created the Tamworth manifesto

The week's election-speak has been dominated by the word "manifesto" - whose final "o" echoes the romance and grandeur of Italy, where it was borrowed from, says Trevor Timpson.

Manifestus - meaning clear, public or notorious - is common in classical Latin. The gods whose images Virgil's hero Aeneas saved from burning Troy later appear to him "multo manifesti lumine" - manifest in a great light.

Read full article The Vocabularist: Where did word 'manifesto' come from?

Who, What, Why: Why did giant fish hurl themselves at rowers?

  • 14 April 2015
Asian carp

Giant Asian carp were filmed propelling themselves through the air at a college rowing team in Missouri, US. Why were they doing it, asks Tom Heyden.

They've been called the "Terminators of the fish world". They've been accused of "bludgeoning boaters". It's fair to say Asian carp have attracted a pretty bad reputation. And when an innocent team of young rowers are apparently ambushed by them, perhaps that's understandable. The scenes look like a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, resembling some sort of aquatic apocalypse.

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10 things we didn't know last week

  • 10 April 2015
Woman using smartphone

1. It took 45 minutes to write God Only Knows by the Beach Boys.

Find out more (The Guardian)

Read full article 10 things we didn't know last week

Weekend edition: The best of the week's reads

  • 10 April 2015
Helicopter hovers over a rhino carcass in the Kruger National Park

A collection of some of the best reads from the BBC News website this week, with an injection of your comments.

Last year in South Africa, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed for their horns. This slaughter is fuelled by the mistaken belief in Asia that rhino horn cures cancer and is an aphrodisiac. One rhino horn can fetch $250,000 (£170,000). Poachers usually work in groups of three. One shoots the rhino, one cuts off the horn and the other acts as a look-out. Eusebio, 27, is a poacher. He lives in one of many small Mozambican villages scattered along the South African border. Though he's not proud of killing rhinos, he says his family might otherwise be going hungry: "Cutting the horn is hard, but we in the countryside are used to cutting wood with a machete, so it's not difficult for us." Now a whole industry to protect the animal has arisen, with a series of anti-poaching security companies springing up. In 2014 42 poachers were killed by rangers and police. But the authorities acknowledge that poverty - one of the root causes of poaching - won't be eradicated any time soon soon.

Read full article Weekend edition: The best of the week's reads

Go Figure: The week in numbers

  • 10 April 2015

Look back at the week in numbers with our Go Figure images, which are posted daily on social media.

Jeb Bush

Tuesday: Ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush comes clean about his (lack of) Hispanic origins

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Brian Robson, who spent four days inside a wooden box after posting himself from London to Australia

Read full article Go Figure: The week in numbers