God Save the Phone Box

By ABC News

Aug 3, 2012 6:16pm
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                                                                                                              (Image Credit: ABC News)

ABC News’ Julie Foudy and Jake Whitman report:

LONDON – Never mind the queen, there’s another British icon that could use a little help from above: the famous red telephone booth. It seems like they’re on every corner, but don’t be fooled. Their days could be numbered.

“The problem with these red phone boxes is, they were first installed in the 1930s, so they’re quite old,” Richard Coltman, a phone box enthusiast, said. “They are endangered to an extent, especially in some of the more rural areas of the country.”

Thirty years ago, there were more than 80,000 telephone kiosks – the proper term, but everyone calls them boxes – across the United Kingdom. Now there are fewer than 11,000. Who needs a phone box when just about everyone has a cellphone?

“People were a bit shocked seeing these icons they grew up with being removed,” Coltman said. “So there’s been a bit of an outcry.”

To save their phone boxes, the Brits had to get creative. A few years ago the government began letting towns adopt them, for one pound each (about $1.50). Some have been turned into churches, a library, even a pub.

“Some people have converted them into shower cubicles,” Coltman said. “I’ve seen them converted into a fish tank.”

In honor of the queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, British Telecom started BT ArtBox, a project in which leading British artists transform the iconic box into new creations to be auctioned off, the proceeds going to ChildLine, a charity for children.

 

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                                                  (Image Credit: BT ArtBox)

The world record for people inside a phone box is 16. It was set in 2007 by a group of young Scottish gymnasts.

In the spirit of the Olympics, we recently tried to challenge that record with random passersby, turning Piccadilly Circus, into, well, a circus.

How did we match up against our prepubescent and flexible competition? As hard as we tried, the most we could stuff in was eight. At least it was a chance to bond with humanity, thanks to this simple British icon where you can still “reach out and touch someone.”

Watch the full story – including How Many Tourists Can You Stuff Into a Phone Box – tonight on “Nightline” at 11:35 ET.

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