Francis Danby, Samuel Jackson and William James Muller were the leading local lights of the impressionist movement in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. They were constantly on the move relaying conversations back and forth in the voices of the callers. Due to the fact they usually ran between the two parties conducting the conversation their collective of impressionists became known as The Bristol School of Panters.
To make calls subscribers to the system simply raised a flag to attract the nearest impressionist, usually, when not engaged in a call, positioned with a telescope on one of the hills overlooking Bristol. No calls could be made between 10.08pm and 10.37pm because that was when the buxom Mrs Chorky of Elbroad Street got undressed for bed. This fault in the system wasn’t repaired for eleven months until the Bristol School of Panters bought her a pair of curtains.
Calls were more expensive to make during business hours as the streets were busier and therefore took the sprinting impressionist longer to negotiate. The system of communication took the term ‘phone’ from the classical Greek ‘phone’ meaning ‘voice’ or ‘speech’. A lot of terms employed by subscribers back then would still ring a bell with users of modern communications technology today as these examples illustrate:
Phone Hacking – the sprinting impressionist has received vicious kicks to his legs delivered by an employee of a rival firm while making the call.
The Phone is Bugged – the sprinting impressionist has a flea problem.
Anonymous Call – the sprinting impressionist is wearing a hood.
Hung Up – the sprinting impressionist was unable to complete the call as past crimes suddenly caught up with him along with the public executioner.
Heavy Breather – the sprinting impressionist is out of condition.
Engaged – the sprinting impressionist has been caught short.
Trunk Call – the sprinting impressionist has to swim across the Avon.
Subscribers experienced other things that would strike a familiar cord today, for instance a sex line service was available at a premium rate. However this didn’t last long because the caller realised that compared to the sprinting impressionist he was getting the raw end of the deal. The only gripe for sprinting impressionists was dealing with the Mozart household. Whenever there was a call for him the sprinting impressionist had to wait for ages as he continually played one of his tunes (usually Eine Kliene Nachtmusik) and Mrs Mozart got the impressionist to hold one end of the cord the washing was hanging from as he waited, the other end being tied to a post. Occasionally the music was punctuated by Mrs Mozart’s apologetic voice which said, ‘We’re sorry that nobody is available to take your call at the present. Please continue to hold the line. Your call is so important to us.’
Danby, Jackson and Muller and the Bristol School of Panters were held in high esteem by Bristolians as their form of impressionism was put to great use to make the city a dynamic entity in the world of business and personal communications. Their spirit and endeavour has never been forgotten. During the great storm of 1827, for instance, Danby, Muller and Jackson hired a boat to negotiate the flooded streets to enable calls to still get through. Muller rowed – a street was named after this in Bristol as a mark of respect.