In the era of silent films, the mighty Wurlitzer sang to the audience. This organ was often accompanied by sound effects known as 'toys.' A toy counter often held 20 or more noisemakers, including various 'BELLS AND WHISTLES. The slang sense of this phrase, defined as ,"frivolous, or extras...accessories" most probably originated there. The literal phrase has been around since the middle of the nineteenth century, referring to the apparatuses on trains, streetcars and steamships. To sound a loud warning, really only two ways existed...you either tooted a whistle, or rang a bell.
One sees many 'BELLS AND WHISTLES' in our modern day. Car dashboards now resemble airplane cockpits which now look like rocket control panels. I've no idea what a rocket control panel looks like, but I'd imagine it's pretty darn fancy. Televisions have many extras, complicated by that always M.I.A remote control. I have never used all the buttons on my microwave, or set the time on my wireless phone. I think I could call for help on my cell phone if need be, but I wouldn't dare try to place an order on QVC. ( I might wind up with another microwave.) The BELLS AND WHISTLES on my wash machine certainly baffle me, but I've found I always have clean clothes using the standard settings...my sweaters can be used as doll clothing. Needless to say, I'm an idiot with self-check outs and digital alarm clocks. However, I have mastered the automated teller machines as one cannot live by bread alone.
The American journalist, Jim Lehrer said, "If people want bells and whistles and all that, there are bells and whistles available. If they don't want bells and whistles there are places to go where they are not available." Ah, my hero.