British Telecom’s 1980s phone box design caused uproar 40 years ago — now, campaigners are battling to save it

How a public phone box proves that if you wait long enough, everything comes in to fashion.

In 1985, a storm hit Britain — caused not by climatic conditions, but by the installation of new aluminium and glass phone boxes by the then-newly privatised British Telecom. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s distinctive red K2 and K6 telephone kiosks were being replaced en masse with a new model: the KX100.

It’s not hard to see why people were up in arms. The original designs are true classics, which elegantly combined design flair with functionality. By contrast,  the cheaply made aluminium KX100s were never loved. Until now, at least — and strangely enough, the same organisation that once abhorred these newcomers is now at the heart of efforts to save them: The Twentieth Century Society.

BT’s original decision stimulated a successful campaign by the Twentieth Century Society (then called the Thirties Society) to save the older models of kiosk, resulting in the listing of about 3,000 telephone boxes around Britain.

Though precious few phone boxes (of either design) still house working telephones, the listed red phone boxes have been creatively repurposed across the country, often as community book swaps or similar.

The KX100s, meanwhile, are disappearing at speed — and with 1980s and 1990s nostalgia in full swing, it’s perhaps unsurprising that people now see the value in trying to save them.

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The solution for the once-reviled KX100 is essentially identical to the solution for the original models, albeit on a smaller scale: the Twentieth Century Society is campaigning for a tiny sample of the KX100 public telephone boxes to be listed.  The society is proposing listing a single exemplar of the type in each of England, Wales and Scotland, the latter nomination handsomely sited near Maaruig on the Isle of Harris — pictured at the top of this page. The location isn’t simply chosen for its beauty:  this was also the last place in Britain to have a single-digit phone number.

According to Oli Bell, the society’s campaigns director, at their peak in the 1990s there were upwards of 100,000 public payphones across the country. Now, there are fewer than 20,000. 

‘Hundreds are removed each year, particularly as councils are keen to remove obsolete and often vandalised street clutter. But once the digital switchover happens next year, we expect there will be a mass extinction, with most going in the next few years. Hence, we are making this proactive listing bid of a handful now.’

Find out more about the campaign at