I used to live in a village in South Africa. There were about 20 phones, of black Bakelite, with a crank handle. You had to grind the handle to ring the operator, and then ask for the number you wanted. The operator worked 9 - 5, Mon - Fri except national holidays.At other times you could only phone people within the village, by grinding out a specified signal specific to the number you wanted. For instance, to get telephone number 23, you would have to grind out a long and two shorts. Then if that person was in, they could pick it up and talk.
Sometimes, halfway through a conversation, the operator would interrupt with a helpful comment or suggestion. She made no secret of the fact that she listened to everyone's conversations.