This post at Scouting NY (as in film locations, not as in scout’s honour) makes me realise how many little cultural differences between the UK and US are still below my radar.
There are only four outdoor phone booths left in Manhattan - and they’re all on West End Avenue.
I’d never really thought about it, but in all the time I’ve been in the US, I don’t really remember seeing that particular item of street furniture. Presumably Americans, and more importantly their utility companies, are ruthlessly led by the bottom line, and are quite happy to remove booths at the first sign they can get away with it.
By comparison, I can think of two places in London where you can five telephone boxes in a row (at Smithfield Market and Broad Court) without even trying. (I may be a bit broken.) London is still suffused with boxes; as well as the old-style K2 and K6, the more modern 1980s BT boxes (which also have doors) are still to be found, along with the less popular post-deregulation interlopers.
They’re still popular, too, even if the most use many of them seem to get is as a prop for tourist photos. Just this evening I saw a group of people finishing placing a knitted cosy over the top of a telephone box on Parliament Square. I really should have got off the bus to take a photo of it, and I regret not doing so now.
However, there are some British phone boxes which are almost as rare as outdoor booths with doors apparently are in Manhattan. The K8 telephone box, introduced in the 1960s as a modern version of the classic K2 and K6 boxes, was down to twelve examples when the 20th Century Society put out a press release in March 2007, compared with the 3,000 listed examples of the K6.
While I agree they’re a bit uncompromising, it’d be a shame to lose them (especially as the older designs are so well-loved you can even find them in Oxford, Mississippi). I hope that as phone boxes slowly die out, someone in BT (and the overlapping magisteria of the DCMS, English Heritage and the like) spares them as much as the more traditional red phone box.