It's a favourite game of young tourists visiting Britain: taking pictures of each other in a red phone box, then seeing how many people they can pack in. That the natives generally stand by and laugh, rather than impatiently banging on the glass, shows how much telephony has changed – so much, indeed, that the red phone box has become an endangered species.
Thanks to mobiles, the use of pay-phones has halved in just two years. Many of the distinctive red kiosks have already been removed; others have been sold to private buyers – and, oh the shame of it, even exported as souvenirs. More than half of the 12,000 or so remaining could soon be gone, and with them, a little piece of our townscape.
BT, though, has had a bright idea. It has started fitting cash-machines into some of its boxes, taking rent from the supplier sufficient to keep the kiosk on the street. So, we wonder, what else would fit neatly into a phone box? How about a ticket dispenser for public transport? Or a water fountain? Or a set of chargers, for devices as various as mobile phones and electric cars? Or a mini-laundrette, or a coin-operated shoe-shine – which could be a boon with the sort of weather we've been having lately. Save the red kiosk, we say, before it's extinct.