The iconic British red telephone box
A row of iconic British red telephone boxes in London
There are many aspects of traditional life in Britain that are changing – and in some cases, changing fast.
The latest casualty is the iconic British red telephone box. Loved by tourists who are only too happy to pose inside one, these famous red boxes are vanishing at an alarming rate – all victims to the mobile phone revolution.
Fortunately, they are not being scrapped, but instead are being refurbished and sold to an admiring public. Prices start at 1,950 British pounds (Php122,000) each, rather more than the original price in the 1920s of 35 British pounds (Php2,200).
Called a ‘K2’, the distinctive red phone box was designed by distinguished British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who was invited in 1924 to enter a competition to design a public telephone kiosk.
This old red telephone box has been made into a cocktail cabinet
The shape of his design was inspired by the central domed structure of the tomb of the 19th century architect John Soane, his wife and son. Designed by Soane in 1815, the tomb is regarded as one of his most romantic designs.
By rooting his classical design on Britain’s architectural heritage, Scott transformed the telephone kiosk from what was then seen as an intimidating symbol of modernity into something that seemed reassuringly familiar.
When the wooden models of the competing designs were exhibited in London, Scott’s was chosen as the winner.
The kiosk was an instant hit and they were soon a familiar sight on the streets of Britain and in some of its outposts including Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar. The color red was chosen to make them easy to spot.
Alas, these days the number is definitely up for these famous red telephone boxes – most are rarely used thanks to the ubiquitous mobile phone.
But they are being put to good use. These distinctive boxes can be spotted in many parts of the world, especially in the US.
Some have been installed on American university campuses such as the University of Oklahoma where they continue to serve their originally intended function.
Briton John Long converted his old telephone box into a CR
There’s one outside the British Embassy in Washington DC. And two red telephone boxes are on display at the World Showcase area at Disney’s Epcot in Orlando, Florida.
They can also be found across Malta, Gozo, parts of the Caribbean such as Antigua, Barbados, as well as in Cyprus, showing that the British colonial influence is still present. Some of the kiosks are now being used as internet booths.
Back home in Britain enthusiasts are putting them to all kinds of novel use such as libraries and even cocktail cabinets and sofas.
And for those Brits wanting a touch of nostalgia to grace their homes in far-off places like the Philippines, one British company is making lightweight replica kiosks as flat-packs and they are shipping them around the world.
As for the originals, it’s almost the end of an era, but it’s good to know these beautiful red kiosks are not lost forever. One only hopes that the powers that be in Britain keep a few on the streets, especially in London, not only to satisfy the curiosity of tourists, but also to keep alive for many more years to come these classic symbols of the British way of life.