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Britain's phone companies have launched an aggressive campaign to explain to testy homeowners and annoyed business managers just why, come April, their number is up.

As Britain becomes more upwardly mobile, the country's phone numbering system has become obsolete, requiring the third -- and most chaotic -- overhaul in a decade.

"Obviously, this is not desperately popular," said Howard Sandom, campaign manager for Britain's $32.4 million Big Number telephone campaign.

Many customers were annoyed when the latest changes were announced. In 1990, their prefixes had changed from 01 to 071 or 081. Five years later, they were told to insert an 01 in the prefix and change again to 0171 or 0181.

It doesn't help that Don Cruickshank, the former director general of Britain's Office of Telecommunications, had boasted back then: "You will not have to change your number again in your lifetime."

That, however, was before Britain began its love affair with mobile phones, faxes and the Internet.

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