ANYONE WHO has ever run out of mobile phone battery at a crucial point in conversation will be aware of the latter day scarcity of the telephone box. Like the blue-footed booby outside its natural habitat (the west coast of South America, since you ask), phone boxes are notoriously difficult to find.Your local High Street may still yield one or two, although inevitably it will contain the only two teenagers in Britain who don’t yet own a mobile phone, or will have had the receiver lovingly removed by those with nothing better to do come Saturday night. Having shaken your head in disgust and trudged away down the road, you may wish to consider that it wasn’t always like this.
Phone boxes were introduced into Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century, some of them being staffed by attendants whose job it was to collect the fee. These were followed in 1926 by the cast iron red phone box designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a structure which would become as iconic a symbol of Britain as the red doubledecker bus and Big Ben, although the design by which it was later replaced probably put paid to mostfeelings of sentimentality.
Now, however, BT has announced that revenue has dropped by forty per cent over the last few years and that only a third of its 75,000 phone boxes actually make a profit, leading to what it euphemistically calls a “review” of the number of phone boxes in many areas. Despite protests, especially from those in rural areas, it seems certain that this decay can only continue, and desperate non-mobile phone owners will, it would seem, be forced to mug passers-by for their phones if they are ever to discover exactly how good it is to talk.
But perhaps all is not lost. It would appear that there are still some who harbour a deep affection for the phone box. The village of Kersall in Nottinghamshire, for example, boasts what it refers to as the “World’s Best Kept Phone Box”, which, if setting the standard for local landmarks, is a place you wouldn’t go on your summer holidays. For those who merely wish to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the phone box, a famous local landmark in Kingston-Upon-Thames is the sculpture by David Mach comprising twelve red phone boxeslying like dominoes. Otherwise, from only £2,550, will restore and deliver a red phone box to your door, although what exactly one might wish to do with it is not explicitly stated on their website. For the rest of us, however,seeking a hiding-place from inclement weather or simply making spur of the moment plans in the event of some improbable accident having befallen one’s phone will gradually become more difficult. In the midst of your mournfulmeditation on the passing of the phone box, spare a thought for those whose livelihoods will be seriously compromised by the change, and ask yourself the question, “Where exactly will Superman change now?”ARCHIVE: 1st week MT 2005