The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

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The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A concise and very entertaining history of the kiosk which dominated town and country landscape for so many years, from immediately after the First World War until quite recently, devoid of jargon and perfect for the non-technical reader. Profusely illustrated throughout, mostly in colour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445663081

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The mobile phone must be one of the most used, must-have accessories of the modern age, the one device you cannot escape from in public. Some of us with (relatively) long memories must look back on the age when the bright red phonebox reigned supreme as a long time ago.

Having collaborated on a book on the mobile phone, Linge and Sutton now take a step back to celebrate that iconic artefact which was once an essential part of town and country landscape. Just looking at the cover is enough to transport the reader to a bygone era. Between the covers is a concise but engrossing history that starts with the invention of the telephone and the subsequent creation of the public call office. Can you imagine what it was like to have to visit one such establishment and pay three (old) pence to make a three-minute call to somebody? It was a less than perfect facility, and the first case of vandalism to a call office was recorded in 1907 when an infuriated user tried to smash open the coin box. A magistrate fined him one shilling, remarking sympathetically that 'telephones are frequently very troublesome and annoying to those that use them'.

Red telephone kiosks were introduced after the First World War. Most of them followed the standard rectangular design, with occasional minor variations. If you lived in Eastbourne you had the good fortune to be able to use a thatched one, which from a distance must have looked like a giant mushroom. Boxes in Hull were painted a rather dull cream although the photo looks grey to me, and must have been rather inconspicuous against the road and pavement on a dull winter day. Far more striking was another one from the same city in dark blue and yellow, painted in tribute to a tireless fundraiser known for wearing a bee costume. Like postage stamps, the classic design did not last for ever. Blame the usual culprits of modernisation, privatisation and the advent of British Telecom, which sealed its fate. Oh yes, the Marconi multimedia terminal is very useful, especially if you have left your smartphone at home, but elegance is not the word. Definitely not the word. A separate chapter is devoted to police, AA and RAC telephone or wooden sentry boxes.

Nowadays the beloved red kiosk is disappearing all too fast. It is however encouraging to note that surviving ones are being adapted for other uses, such as nature hubs, coffee shops and salad bars. Holborn even boasts a rather picturesque Living Box art installation, with semi-tropical foliage painted on a dark blue base.

Although the authors are experts on the telecommunications industry, the text is devoid of jargon and perfect for the non-technical reader. Profusely illustrated throughout, mostly in colour, it makes a very entertaining history for all.

If you enjoy this, may we also recommend Eye Spy: Uncovering the Secrets of the World Around You by Justin Scroggie, an introduction to the world of hidden messages and coded communications. Also bringing together the worlds of communication and design, albeit in a very different field, First Class: A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps by Chris West may well prove worth your while.

{{amazontext|amazon= 1445663082} Buy The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton at Amazon.com.

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