London Calling: BT Artbox celebrates 25 years of Childline
The red telephone box is one of Britain’s biggest icons – it’s up there with red London bus, Big Ben, Beefeaters, the Union Jack and Queen Elizabeth II herself. But for tourists arriving in London ahead of the Olympics, may find themselves slightly confused by the bizarre-looking phoneboxes dotted around the capital.
However, these multi-coloured and embellished street furniture haven’t been vandalised, they are simply part of the BT ArtBox project to mark the 25th anniversary of children’s charity Childline. It has invited artists and companies to customise their own replica box, which have been displayed around the city. But don’t get too carried away, these boxes don’t include a working phone should you need one, they’re simply for your viewing pleasure.
With the use of telephone boxes on the rapid decline since the popularity of mobile phones, I think the ArtBox project is an ingenious way to celebrate this iconic structure that draws so many tourists to pose inside them, as well as raise awareness and money for Childline. Following their display around the streets of London, they are to be auctioned off.
Before we find out about some of the Artboxes I have come across, a quick history about the real things. The first public telephone box was designed in 1920 for the Post Office and named K1 (Kiosk No.1), based on the same idea as the Police Telephone Boxes and Posts. However, the London Metropolitan Boroughs weren’t too impressed with the design and so the Fine Arts Commission judged a competition to find a more attractive and practical design. The winner was a London-born architect named Giles Gilbert Scott (who later designed Battersea Power Station) who came up with a classical style with a dome on top – inspired by Sir John Soane’s mausoleums at St Pancras Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery.
So with the K2 design chosen, the Post Office chose to make it red so it easily to stand out to the public searching the streets for a payphone. Various different models followed, the K3, K4 and K5, but it is the K6 one which is most famous today.
Sir Giles designed the K6 model in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The model was rolled out across the country with the amount of public phone boxes in Britain rising from 8,000 in 1930 to 19,000 in Silver Jubilee year, rising even further to 35,000 by the time World War II broke out.
Today, with a majority of the boxes owned by BT and a lot less attractive, modern phone boxes instead and the widespread use of mobile phones, you will find the red telephone boxes aren’t in such demand as they used to be. The days of queuing for a phone box and huffing and puffing when you’re stuck in a line behind a right chatterbox appear to be long gone.
With the BT ArtBox auction having gone live on eBay on Monday 16th July (ending Sunday 22nd July), there isn’t much time left to check out the boxes on show.
Many tourists are likely to come across the two on a traffic island in Trafalgar Square – Mandii Pope’s ‘Big Ben’ and Lauren O’Farrell’s ‘Dial M For Monster’. A short hop away outside Charing Cross Station on The Strand is Fred Butler’s Mobile Phone, designed to look like a vintage mobile. With actual buttons, it creates nostalgia for a design already outdated by Smartphones.
Another popular tourist spot where the public will come across the ArtBoxes is in Potter’s Field Park – the green expanse outside City Hall on the south bank of the River Thames. Right beside the base of Tower Bridge is London & Partner’s ‘Welcome To London’ box, a white box covered in speech bubbles with different languages to represent the multi-cultural melting pot that is London.
Less than a minute’s walk to the East of City Hall are two ArtBoxes – Aboud & Aboud’s ‘Shocking Conversation’, which looks like an unfinished box which has been partially dunked in red paint. It has been described as the colour is ‘draining out’ of the box.
Next to it stands Peter Anderson’s ‘London Calling’, which features iconic images of Joe Strummer and The Clash from the 1980s.
While most of the ArtBoxes are in and around the City and West End, some are dotted a bit further out, including Westfield Stratford, Canary Wharf and Ravenscourt Park. Just outside the West End are two located in and outside the Royal Albert Hall.
The ArtBox outside, entitled ‘Ring-A-Royal Phonebox’ created by children’s TV presenter Timmy Mallett, has a royal theme, which is very apt considering the origins of the concert venue and the fact the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live a short walk away in Kensington Palace. Each side of the box contains some of the most popular members of the Royal Family – the Queen herself, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Kate Middleton is recognisable with her glossy brown hair and blue dress and is pushing a pram – significant to the pressure she is under to produce a royal heir. The Queen is accompanied by one of her beloved Corgis, while Prince Harry is pulling Usain Bolt’s classic pointing pose – so the ArtBox is both celebrating the Royal Jubilee, while making a nod to the Olympics.
- The BT Artbox exhibition is on around London from 18 June until 16 July 2012.
Read about another Giles Gilbert Scott creation, Battersea Power Station.
Or to learn about his grandfather Sir George Gilbert Scott’s creation, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.
For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.