British Phone Booth Alive and Well

by Dave Michels

I love telecom stuff. Though not particularly enamored with the iconic British box, I am happy and suspicious to report it is alive and well.

Red is the official colour of UK icons – the post box, the phone booth, the double decker bus, and the Royal guards.

I lived in the UK for a brief stint in the mid 90s. At that time, there was a growing concern over the disappearing booths. People were very upset about it then. Not because they used them, they had cell phones before us, but because of they are such a visible part of their culture. No other country adopted such bold phone booths – no other country’s booths were so iconic or such a trademark (with the possible exception of the US due to Superman). But the booths were disappearing, thanks again to that notorious killer, the cell phone. The cell phone has killed enough products and technologies to make Jack the Ripper envious.

The fact is phone booths are typically an eyesore – just a big box with a phone in it. The British box is actually attractive – especially with Anne Hathaway.

But something changed over the past decade or so, because there was no shortage of phone booths. In fact, I saw them everywhere. I can’t say I ever saw one being used, but should the need arise there was no shortage.

This is quite contrary to the US where public phones, particularly full blown booths, are very hard to find. Even airports have significantly reduced them. Here, pay phones are rare, but more likely to be spotted in a kiosk than an actual booth. Unlike overseas, the pay phone racket was privatized decades ago, and most of the “bells” got out of pay phone business. Now that the business proposition isn’t so good, the booths are disappearing with no benevolent guardian.

BT is pseudo private/public – but I suspect – theory here only – that there is an initiative to protect these fine boxes from extinction. The phone booth, just like the royal family, appears to be protected and loved- albeit useless. I am curious to know if they will still be there in another 10 or 20 years from now, I suspect so.

Throughout London, I saw both red and black versions. Some had fancy phones in them with alpha numeric keypads, most were pretty basic. Most were full of adverts – particularly adverts for adults.

I have to say, I like them. I can’t imagine using one, but I like them. God Save the Booth.