SO what’s red, iconic and hangs around Middlesbrough Town Hall ?

Well, it’s that row of old phone boxes between the Empire Club and the town hall crypt.

Well, it’s that row of old phone boxes between the Empire Club and the town hall crypt. That set has, it seems, arrived in a volume celebrating all that's good in British design

But perhaps not for much longer. For I hear that BT is to launch a detailed study of its 66,000 payphones as it seeks to put pressure on the telephone regulator to rethink rules that force it to fund and maintain the boxes.

Funny things, phone boxes. I can’t remember the last time I used one. But I would hate to see them go, for they are part of my past. I made my first dates from an old red box. And got my first romantic heave-ho via one too. More brutally, I had to navigate my first family death through a phone box call to an elderly aunt.

They had a funny smell, from, I think, the regular disinfectant wash they got. And there were intact phone books in them as well as a list of STD codes for lots of places I had never heard of.

And now they might all soon be gone. BT, to be fair, is saddled with them. Some, they say, are never used, and they are now trying to provide proof to the regulator, OFCOM, that, in an age of mobile phones, payphones no longer play the vital social role they once did.

But if they go they will be missed. And, forgetting the anodised steel monstrosities that litter our high streets, I can think of one good reason for keeping at least a few of the old classic red boxes alive. For a start they were designed just after the First World War by a master architect, Giles Gilbert Scott. In between his work on telephone boxes, he managed to knock out a few odd buildings like Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge and Battersea Power Station.

His original telephone box can be seen in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in London.

There were always odd exceptions. The Irish got a few of the original boxes, but quickly gave them all a lick of deep green paint. In the UK there is the oddity of Hull’s cream coloured boxes, denoting the fact that the city up to a few years ago owned its very own telephone system.

So what can we do with these relics? I have one simple idea. Why not turn them into mobile telephone masts, and from the revenue that this would bring in, allow free phone calls to be made from them!

- Park Bencher


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