back to article Ofcom announces plan to protect endangered species – the Great British phone box

Grotty, soaked in urine, and plastered with escort ads if the windows haven't already been kicked in – the public phone box is a British institution on its last legs. And yet comms regulator Ofcom has a plan in place to protect the endangered species. BT has been tolling the bell for copper phone lines for some time now, but …

  1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I last used a phone box in 2002 or so when I left my mobile somewhere in the high street and rang home to say I'll be late back from the shops.

    My kids have never used a phone box and have no idea how to use one.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      And yet some of us old farts can remember pushing button B on the offchance that a previous user had failed to, and having four pennies drop out...

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        I remember a weird payphone at boarding school that needed at least 10p inserted, but could only hold four coins. So you'd insert four 2p coins (that were enormous), and then push the fifth one in really hard. The first would fall out into the return slot, but the phone would register that you actually had 10p and could thus make a call. Upon connection it would start dropping in the coins, so you had to insert that extra 2p as fast as you could after the coins started to drop.

        The senior phone was much more friendly. It always gave a dialling tone, so if you don't have money you could make a call by tapping out the number by quickly bashing the handset cradle. The phone would ring and you'd get about two seconds before it cut you off, but that was enough to say "call me back".

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Some of us can remember lugging massive laptops to phone boxes to er legitimately pay for phone calls to dial the internet after their dads bollocked them for a massive phone bill. The crocodile clips? I’m not doing anything with them, honest.

  2. Roland6 Silver badge

    >"BT has begun installing what it calls "Street Hubs" in 300 locations across the country where it can get the go-ahead from local planners. "

    given the use of the stock "artists impression picture" I wonder if any have actually been installed...

    1. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

      There's a few of them around in London. They're just electronic billboards. They do offer free calls - but no receiver. Not sure how the option of yelling into a speakerphone on the High St is going to be of much use to a vulnerable kid that wants to call Childline.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        BT street hubs - where people gather

        They put up a number of these "InLink hubs" in central Southampton about 4 years ago.

        They quickly became a gathering point for people - who would beg, deal drugs and/or misbehave - all this while charging their phones though the free USB charging points.

  3. Chris G

    Aside from providing communications for serial killer's and muggers victims or quick change facilities for super heroes, the phone boxes that used to be in the village close to where I kept my horses in the 90s, provided the young teens of the village somewhere for a knee trembler out of the rain.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      I think the kids today do that in the metaverse

      (pleased to note my phone doesn't believe that is a word)

      1. the Jim bloke
        Thumb Up

        (pleased to note my phone doesn't believe that is a word)

        .. finally..

        Something worthy of being called a smartphone

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Back in my day you didn’t need a hat with goggles for a wank and if you wanted pictures of tits with stars on you need not look further than in the bushes at the local rec.

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    All the phone boxes I've seen around here (rural France) are mini libraries nowadays.

    As for the books on offer, my god. Let's just say that if the Daily Mail clocked their eyes on that, there would be many many column inches of "outrage". Over here, the attitude is more "meh, boobies, so what?".

    1. OssianScotland

      The Fallen Madonna?

  5. Danny 2

    Life line for the homeless

    The last time I used a public payphone was about a decade ago, but it was a life saver. Full parliamentary disclosure of interests, I was homeless and I needed to make a call. I did have a £10 mobile phone but no money or charge in it. I had a pocket full of coins and a long walk to find a phone box as all the boxes I remembered had been removed.

    I eventually found a row of three in the city centre. All of them were pitch black inside because all the glass was covered in advertising. The first one didn't work, the second one didn't work and kept my coins, but third time lucky.

    I suppose I could have asked passers by to use their phone, but would you give your phone to a homeless man? I think phone booths should be maintained at current numbers with free calls subsidised by the tax payer, and if covered in adverts then they should be lit inside.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Life line for the homeless

      Public phones are a public good, and should be retained at as many locations as possible. As you've mentioned, Danny, claiming that "most people" have mobile phones doesn't cover all the situations. Leaving aside the coverage/battery/credit issues, mobile use can be monitored. I'm not particularly talking about tracking, even though we know it can be done relatively trivially, but simply by looking at call logs and Internet history. I know women whose male partners went through their phones every day to see who they'd been calling. These women desperately wanted to be out of the relationship, but couldn't use their phones to call support organisations or the police. Easily accessible public phones would have saved them anxiety and beatings. Children have similar problems, but they may not have a mobile at all.

      Public phones should be much more accessible than they are now. As someone down-thread mentions, they don't necessarily need to be in ornate boxes. Shops and fuel stations would provide some protection from vandalism, for example, and would probably see regular usage because if the number of people passing through. This isn't an insurmountable problem, and we can roll back the post-Thatcher assault on civil resilience.

  6. steelpillow Silver badge

    Hey, I've got a great idea.

    Why don't we nationalise the phone boxes and the network connected to them? That way, they could be run as a public service.


    What did I say? What did I say?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hey, I've got a great idea.

      Would the public be happy keeping thousands of payphones operating for no good reason and wasting public money?

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Hey, I've got a great idea.

        The logic for getting rid of phone boxes is not that different from plans to get rid of fire and ambulance stations ... "you don't need an ambulance or fire station locally we can just drive over from the end of town if you have a heart attack or catch fire ... we'll be there in 30 minutes." The way things work these days all that needs to be done is to make phone booth use free of change and fund them by insert adverts into all the calls ...

        Does that sound stupid? try browsing the Internet...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hey, I've got a great idea.

          "insert adverts into all the calls"

          Yep, I will buy ad space selling hand guns, while you call 112 to report being attacked.

      2. ICL1900-G3

        Re: Hey, I've got a great idea.

        We keep Johnson operating for no good reason. A phone box seems a better investment.

      3. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Hey, I've got a great idea.

        "Would the public be happy keeping thousands of payphones operating for no good reason and wasting public money?"

        No. But keeping open payphones being used for say 10-51 emergency calls a year might just pass muster.

  7. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward


    Surely, the advertising cards on the box windows should be a subsidy to the cost of keeping the box? 10 pence per week, per card, or something like that?

  8. smudge


    BT has been tolling the bell for copper phone lines for some time now, but upgrading payphones to digital too would require significant investment.

    Does that mean to a digital landline? Could installation of a robust mobile be cost-effective?

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Digital?

      Could installation of a robust mobile be cost-effective?

      Hardly; if a phone box is too little used to be worth retaining when connected by line how would it become worth retaining if converted to a "robust mobile"?

      Some of the boxes that are likely to be decommissioned haven't been used at all in the last 12 or even 24 months.

      And before anyone asks I do not and never have worked for BT.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Digital?

        Some things are useless. Therefore all things are useless. Really? I hope you're not a programmer.

  9. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    Just helped a colleague move a [Bell System] phone booth from work (it was used in a "work of art")

    While unbolting it from its plywood base, I was treated to proof of its authenticity: the lower portion had a distinct "pong" to it...frequently smelled in restrooms. Perhaps this one was originally located outside a pub. My colleague applied a liberal amount of bleach to the booth, and all was well.

  10. Ken G Silver badge

    Public utility?

    How about leaving the boxes but putting a urinal in place of the phone (ideally lower down)?

  11. Tromos

    if you're a superhero who needs to make a quick change into your costume

    Not a problem for Flash

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    View from Superman's home turf

    Public phones are a necessary lifeline for the poor and, especially, the homeless. They can also serve abused people who don't have a cell phone.

    But, the traditional booth enclosing the phone is probably not necessary. As others have pointed out, it often serves as a public toilet. It does provide privacy but that's nice to have, not a requirement. In America, most public phones are weatherproof, standalone phones.

    Ideally, I would see weatherproof, standalone phones with no coin slots and free calling deployed as a public service.

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: View from Superman's home turf

      In some places it could well be. I happened to be in Loch Lyon last week and wholly impressed by a fully functional (and clean) phone box. There are already many examples however of fully derelict ‘boxes having been taken over by nature. They are actually an art form in themselves.

  13. ShadowSystems

    I wish I could get one.

    I'd do it up to look like the TARDIS, dress up like the Doctor, get a small robot decked out to look like K9 to follow me around, & jab my SonicScrewdriver (a Dremel tool with other fiddlybits attached) while making Theramin noises. =-D

  14. x 7

    Are the rare green painted ones at Abbotsbury and the London Embankment still there? Or did they get redwashed in the end?

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