Photos: ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI
There will not be the announced revolution in London’s “urban furnishings”. The classic iconography gives us the capital of the United Kingdom in the images of the Underground signs, in the wooden benches with armrests, in the vending machines for newspapers, in the boxes postal services of the Royal Mail and, above all, in the red telephone booths, those with the so-called English-style glass frame.
In fact, last year, the news broke that starting from 2025, London would have to say goodbye to landlines. And therefore the telephone boxes on the public roads should also have disappeared, the dear old red booths, which in recent times we have unfortunately seen transformed into receptacles for waste of all kinds. The transition, dictated by the times – so they said – would be managed by telecommunications companies, ever more ravenous and increasingly oriented towards focusing on individual consumption.
The announcement, needless to say, caused a real revolt. Ofcom, the national telecommunications regulatory authority, also strongly opposed the idea of removing telephone booths from the streets. So that, like protected species, even the red and metallic structures will be saved from extinction. To prevent its removal by British Telecom, new rules came into force from June 2022.
According to Ofcom, public telephone boxes are still useful in rural areas where mobile network coverage is inadequate. But there are also other reasons why it is worth preserving their existence. The red cabins, a cult object in the United Kingdom, will in fact be fully safeguarded in the same way in areas where there is a high rate of accidents and suicides. Or when their systematic use is found. That is, if there are frequent calls from the individual booths (at least 52 calls in the last twelve months, based on the criterion established by Ofcom).
Together with Ofcom, many had reported the possible problems also for the over 75 years population and for around 5 million families who do not yet have access to the internet. It is true that calls from public payphones in the UK have fallen dramatically over time: from 800 million minutes in 2002 to 4 million in 2021-22. However, Ofcom managers have pointed out that thousands of calls to emergency services have been sent from those same locations. For example, towards numbers such as those of Childline and Samaritans (25,000 and 20,000 phone calls made in 2020 alone) which provide assistance to young people in the event of abuse, bullying and mental suffering, or emotional support for those experiencing a crisis, depression and at risk of suicide.
The red booths will therefore remain in use, also as a historical find and symbol of an era in which communication had other rhythms and was not marked by today’s neuroses. And then, let’s face it, London’s red cabins, if well maintained, are beautiful to look at. An aesthetic element that characterizes the British daily life. As documented by these photos. Indeed, they are a favorite subject of visitors to English cities. And they can continue to be.