Friday, May 16, 2008

A British icon - the humble telephone box

A-British-icon-the-humble-telephone-boxBritish Telecom (BT) announces plans to shut down more than 14,000 telephone boxes in the UK. Currently, the number has fallen to just over 60,000 from its peak of 92,000 in 2002. Needless to say there were some outcries against the removal of what many would consider to be a British icon.

BT's stance is that many of these boxes are severely underutilized; some of which are used just once per month. That doesn't justify the thousands of pounds required to maintain each one annually.

However, since the first one was installed in the 1920s, it has become very much part and parcel of the British life. People actually planned their life around the humble telephone box. Not hard to imagine that happening when mobile phones are non existent, isn't it?

One instance was highlighted in BBC's Morning Breakfast show this morning: enough people with the boats actually stopped by this particular pier to use the telephone box such that other services began to spring up around it.

A-British-icon-the-humble-telephone-boxBanksy, UK's most celebrated graffiti artist, has also included the telephone box in many of his works. Needless to say, he's not the only one. The red icon has featured in numerous works of art and photography by local and foreign artists.

A-British-icon-the-humble-telephone-boxIn fact, it has become one of the world's most instantly recognizable British icon. Many merchandise has reaped intangible benefits from it.

I recalled milling around in Harrods shopping around for souvenirs for folks back home. As there's already a Harrods branch in our local Takashimaya, there was nothing really unique. That was until I chanced upon this tin of biscuits with the image of a red telephone box imprinted on it. I was immediately smittened by it.

A-British-icon-the-humble-telephone-boxHowever, I do recognize that it's rather unfair to expect BT to bear the loss in keeping this icon afloat. At the end of the day, it's simple economics, isn't it?

Perhaps the government can channel some funds into keeping this national icon that is very much adored by both British and the many tourists that flocked to the UK year after year.

Do you have any fond memories of the red telephone box that you'll like to share? I'll love to hear them!

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12 comments:

My Bug Life said...

But it's an icon. Don't they see something special with the tel box?

Over here, ppl lack a spirit of conservation..:( Every other place or building...thoughtlessly torn down.

C K said...

@my bug life,
Oh well, someone has to pay the bill... and understanderbly so BT doesn't want to be the one.

It's really a pity that such icons are disappearing one after another.

LadyBanana said...

As a kid we didn't even have a phone in the home, so calling anyone meant a walk to the end of the road.. It was quite an event to go and make a phone call..

It is sad to see them go but the red boxes have diminished greatly over the years being replaced by the more open style non red kiosks - and now even those are going due to mobile phones.

It's years since I've had the misfortune to have to use a public phone - I think I'd now feel the need to clean it with anti-bac wipes first!

C K said...

@ladybanana,
Thanks for sharing that.

Perhaps we pay more attention to hygiene as the years go by? :)

But some red boxes can get abit unkempt. Most around Leicester Square and Covent Garden are filled with strip clubs' stickers, which I felt was a little undignified. Hmm...

Nick Inglis said...

I wish we had those in the states. Ours are brown, glass, and ugly... but most have been gone for about a decade. Good to see the telephone boxes have held on this long.

C K said...

@nick inglis,
I've didn't notice the telephone box in the States. Aren't they the ones that Superman always runs towards at the first sign of trouble? :)

If the British public have their way, the red boxes will still be around for quite some time before taking its place in the museum.

eastcoastlife said...

It's hard to find a coin phone in Singapore these days! We are expected to carry cellphones... unfortunately I'm one of those who don't like to carry phones around. :(

C K said...

@ecl,
I've not seen a coin phone in S'pore for a long long time. In fact the last time I used it was to call my then girlfriend (now wife), kind of show how far back it was. lol

Even those Singtel phone booths that operate with phonecards are being phased out with the advernt of mobile phones.

Quick get yourself a free mobile with those 2yr plans before all public phones are gone!

SheR. said...

Ah.... those little red boxes. Only see them in Central London. In SE, most of them are just ugly black boxes. Most of the time, it's full of porn pictures pasted all over the interior of the booth.

Most of the booths are destroyed, phones disfigured, burnt, smashed glass. Full of filth that I wouldn't want to step into one!

That's my experience of the UK phone booths! Horrific!!!

C K said...

@sher.
I think the installation of red boxes stopped sometime back. Those black functional looking ones looks definitely much cheaper.

I've only used the black one once. Not exactly a pleasant experience I must say.

Michael Aulia said...

I remember learning English through a video called "Follow Me" when I was a kid, and all I could remember about it is the red phone box lol

C K said...

@michael aulia,
Really? Have not came across that show before.

It's funny how we have different memories of the red box from different parts of the world, isn't it?