Sunday, January 9, 2011

Remembering red phone boxes

I always find it strange how red phone boxes have become an iconic motif for Old England abroad. They pop up on all sorts of tourist brochures these day as well as on the covers of guide books.

And while they don't normally taste as good as Yorkie Bars, unless it has been a particularly heavy night on the Boddingtons, they are certainly as asthetically pleasing.

The classic red phone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and there were actually a whole family of models from K1 to through to K6.

Although red phone boxes are a powerful symbol of Britain, they were actally phased out with the privatization of British Telecom in the 1980s when cheap, plastic-looking replacements started to appear, although the classic red boxes have survived in places such as conservation areas and some parts of London like Covent Garden where Brits like to hoodwink visitors.

They are apparently red in most places, including Gibraltar, with the exception of the city of Hull, where the council was allowed to take them over and paint them cream. If you are unlucky enough to live in Hull, you probably lack the intellectual ability to realize your phone boxes are a different color than those in the rest of the country.

It seems strange to me that red phone boxes have become this cutsey emblem of Harry Potter England abroad. When I grew up they invariably smelled of cigarettes from all the butts crushed into their concrete bases and urine from drunken passers-by who would use them as improptu toilets.

Normally someone had spray painted a few anarchy symbols on the side of the boxes and knocked out some windows and, if the phone book was still inside, it would have been half ripped.

I have lots of quaint teenage memories of spending 20 minutes to pluck up the courage to make a phone call to a girl, only to find the receiver had been smashed in, or somebody had taken part in the contest to see how much chewing gum could be crammed into the coin slot.

In the 21st Century, when just about everybody over the age of 10 has a cell phone, these relics of the past are rather irrelevant.

But prostitutes still have to put their calling cards somewhere, I guess.

19 comments:

  1. One of the bars I go to regularly has a red phone booth in it. I have often been placed in it by my friends for telling jokes that are too much for them to handle.

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  2. I admit it I love the red phone box and think of it as an iconic British symbol. I have a key chain somewhere with one on it.

    My favorite British "box" though is the police box...as in Dr. Who's travelling vessel. :)

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  3. I have red phone booths and red double decker buses. I think they look nice too, unlike the Chinese red which is gaudy.

    I used to take the train from Liverpool station to Ipswich, then by car to a little town called Aldeburgh. Is this the same Suffolk where you used to live?

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  4. Hi David,
    I do love the red phone box and I agree with VL.
    Their shape and windows are so interesting!
    Thanks for this wonderful and informative post.

    Wishing you a beautiful week ahead,

    Betty

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  5. Nice one Oilfield Trash; sure Laura. I've never actually seen a blue police box as they disappeared years ago, unfortunately. For sure Grandpa. I actually live in Suffolk, Virginia, but used to live in East Anglia. Thanks for the follo. They do have a quality look Betty. Have a great week too, David.

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  6. Here in Florida they have one at Disney's Epcot center in the UK village. Growing up in Dundee, I will always remember them for the stale stench of piss.

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  7. you paint a nice picture Sausage Fingers. Unfortunately, that's spot on. They did usually smell terrible.

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  8. Ahh - thanks for the memories of a few wonderful weeks spent in London & York as a teenager. Fortunately, I only took pictures of the booths - never ventured inside. Sounds like that was a good move!

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  9. Well, we don't quite have the red phone boxes...but we still have red public phones now yellow at Train stations and small shops and of course the red(often dirty) buses of good ole Mumbai...things change and we romanticise/get nostalgic for a world that never was that good in the first place....Btw, I tasted a few Yorkies this time .... quite good though I love Cadbury more. ;)

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  10. oh man, i thought they kept these things in top shape. who knew

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  11. I can't imagine England without the red phone boxes. But I have heard that the same processes of washing out happened with English pubs.

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  12. It is quite rare to see red phone boxes these days, certainly not around Reading way. I still get excited when I see one! A lot of them have been painted black now.

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  13. I live in KC,MO and we have a few red boxes here, without the phones in them. They are used as decoration and for drunk people to take photos in. I think they are just a symbol of not only England, but a time when life was a lot more charming. Or so we would like to think. :P

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  14. I do like looking at them, too. I always wonder, though, "Is there an actual working phone in that thing?" Now I know. Thanks for the warning.
    xoRobyn

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  15. They are very authentic! Hope they will always be like this..

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  16. I love red phone boxes! The original one by Scott is right outside the Royal College of Art.

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  17. Hi Valley Writer - I think those in central London are fine, just the sketchy suburbs are a problem. Hey Rek - those buses in Mumbai sound wonderful. Thanks Poetry of the Day, certainly there are some decent ones in central London. Sure Olga - a lot of pubs have closed. Wow Happy Frog - black just isn't the same. For sure Jennifer. Love those rose tinted spectacles. Hey Robyn, yeah a lot of the phones were broken I recall. Thanks for the comment Reanaclaire, I think they will keep them. That's interesting Talli. I'd like to see that one.

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  18. I've never been to England, but I have seen red phone booths in a lot of pictures, and on the British tv shows I like to watch. They always look so cheerful, even in rainy weather.

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  19. You are right Marnie in that they are fairly well made and classy in design. When they replaced them, it was with cheaper plastic boxes that didn't stand the test of time.

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