5 August 1988

How the Red Telephone Box became Part of Britain’s National Heritage

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In the late 1980s, just before the triumph of mobile phone technology, a heated debate took place about privatization and its effect on Britain’s red telephone boxes. The first version of this argument was published as ‘On a ring and a prayer’, New Statesman and Society, 5 August 1988. A revised version was incorporated into A Journey Through Ruins (1991). It later underwent further slight modifications to appear as ‘How Privatization turned Britain’s Red Telephone Kiosk into an Archive of the Welfare State’ in Francis X Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg (eds.), Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory: Essays from the Sawyer Seminar, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006, pp. 207-14.


One day in July 1988, I stood on the concourse of Waterloo Station in London thinking of the hopes once entertained by the late politician Anthony Crosland. As a leading Labour Party intellectual in the mid-Fifties, Crosland had dreamed of a less austere socialism where the uniformity of the reforming State would weigh less heavily on the life of the nation. As he wrote in The Future of Socialism, it was time for a ‘reaction against the Fabian tradition’. The mixed economy could be expected to deliver higher exports and old-age pensions, but only a ‘change in cultural attitude’ would make Britain ‘a more colourful and civilized country to live in’. There should be more night-life and open-air cafés, pleasure gardens, repertory theatres, and statues to brighten up the new housing estates. There should be better design, not just for furniture and women’s clothes, but also for street-lamps and telephone kiosks. It was the reference to telephone kiosks that brought Crosland to mind…

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 5th, 1988 at 12:00 am and is filed under Articles General, Articles in Books, Heritage & History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.