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Modern times (part two)
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The payphone service was in trouble. The widespread unreliability of call boxes through vandalism and failure to repair damage speedily was a major public concern and an acute embarrassment to the newly privatised British Telecom. In 1985 it announced a major programme to rectify the situation. Payphones were to be transformed, and one aspect of this was to be the widespread use of a new 'KX' range of housings.

British Telecom was enthusiastic about its new designs, describing them as attractive, functional and modern. For the company, the use of stainless steel and anodised aluminium meant the end of routine painting. Regular cleaning would be all that was needed to maintain their appearance. They were also expected to be more resistant to vandalism and theft and so easier to keep in operation. There were practical improvements for the user, too. None of the new models had a step to climb when entering, the doors were much easier to open, and the lighting was much brighter than in any predecessor.

Those who used the new designs were generally satisfied with what they offered. There might be a draught around one's ankles, but at least one did not have to step through rubbish to use the telephone and it stayed clean and in working order for rather longer. Nevertheless, the welcome was not universal. Some dismissed the new designs as little more than glazed boxes. Many were more concerned about the wholesale replacement of the older 'traditional' red boxes.

In July 1988 a new telecommunications company, Mercury Communications, then the only other licensed network operator, opened a rival public payphone service.

Three housing designs were launched with the heavily publicised opening of 26 sites on Waterloo station, London. One was an open booth, designed by Machin, intended mainly for open sites. The second design, by Fitch & Company, was for a range of indoor models suited to shopping malls, railway stations and similar situations. Both were intended for use either in groups or singly, and subsequently both were widely used. The third design, a classically styled concept by John Simpson, was for a range of kiosk-style housings, but this was not adopted.

Meanwhile, the KX installation programme continued at full speed, although by this time it was mainly concentrated on providing kiosks at new sites rather than changing older housings. The original smoked glass, which had made the boxes almost invisible in some locations, was re-placed by clear glass, with more prominent signs. Britain's public telephone service and its telephone boxes - had been transformed in little more than five years.

British Telecom became ВТ in the early 1990s and, with this, the livery of the KXs changed when the British Telecom T logos were replaced by the ВТ piper. The KX model has also seen further change, most noticeably in the form of the dome-topped 'KX Plus', and now some sites are occupied by a fifth generation of Post Office/BT box. Other operators have also been busy and, although Mercury has pulled out of the payphone market, others have taken its place - most notably Interphone and New World. Their designs have added enormously to the variety of kiosks and housings on Britain's streets and, even though growth in the use of mobile telephones might one day mean there is no need for payphones, there is no sign of this happening yet.

Only one thing is sure: the story of the telephone box is not over yet.


Modern times (part two)

The French-designed 'Triangulaire'. A similar model - the Anglian - was subsequently commissioned from a British manufacturer of replacement windows.


Modern times (part two)

Prototypes of the 'Croydon' range lined up for inspection in July 1985.


Modern times (part two)

The KX100, in British Telecom livery. These have frequently been installed in pairs.


Modern times (part two)

A publicity shot of the KX420. The style of the photograph fails to convey its main purpose, namely to supersede the Oakham on sites in vulnerable locations.


Modern times (part two)

A nest of triangular KX300s at Newport Pagnell motorway services on the M1. This versatile unit could be used in many arrangements and was available with the payphone either on the pillar or on a panelled side.


Modern times (part two)

Left: The Mercury booth, by Machin. When Mercury closed its payphone system these booths were removed and scrapped. Most of the sites were taken over by Interphone, which installed its own open booth design.
Right: A double KX200in 1990s ВТ livery. It was often possible to use the double unit to replace a single old-style kiosk.


Modern times (part two)

A typical pair of 1990s KX100s in Tottenham Court Road, London, where there are dozens of telephone boxes. The availability of credit-card telephones necessitated the introduction of several other signs.


Modern times (part two)

This 1994 Mercury design went on to be adopted by Interphone, re-dressed in a new orange and white colour scheme.


Modern times (part two)

A modern style of box, from Interphone. The siting of kiosks in pairs became the norm during the 1990s.


Modern times (part two)

The KX Plus is a normal KX frame, fitted with new side panels, a new interior and a light box top. Many conversions were carried out on site.

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