London: It wasn't that long ago you could pick up the phone and speak to anyone you wanted be it Sir Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier or even the man who started it all, Alexander Graham Bell.
Nowadays, footballers, politicians and pop stars go ex-directory to stop members of the public ringing up and haranguing them.
But phone books dating back to 1880 have now been made available online and show that, until fairly recently, almost everyone was listed.
Other 'celebs' you could have contacted include actor Sir John Gielgud, film director Alfred Hitchcock and Dracula author Bram Stoker. A close reading of the 1941 edition also reveals that you could have phoned a Capt John Terry, of London, a number of George Bushes and James Kirks, as well as the odd Lily Allen.
Back then, people could still ask to go ex-directory but there was little point because numbers were created for names in strict alphabetical order.
The online collection contains more than 250million names ,430 books were printed for London and the Home Counties alone.
Genealogy website ancestry.co.uk has joined up with BT to launch the complete online history of phone books from 1880 to 1984.
Ancestry.co.uk spokesman Josh Hanna believes it will provide a unique snapshot of 20th-century life ,as well as being invaluable to researchers tracing their family trees. "People today will find it remarkable that, in the those days, you could contact a celebrity just by picking up a phone book,And if they were a politician you could just ring them and lobby them" he said.
However, it was not until the 1940s that phone ownership became common, according t o Sian Wynn-Jones of BT Heritage. "Anyone listed before that was likely to be rich and famous, Being included in the phone book showed you were up with the crowd and people were proud to be included."
Bell is widely considered to have invented the phone in 1876. He and his backers formed the Bell Telephone Company in the US and a year later demonstrated it to Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight. The first list of phone numbers appeared in 1880.