Skip to main content

BT’s classic British red phone box rings up 80 years

Press Release   •   Oct 06, 2016 11:24 BST

BT’S CLASSIC BRITISH RED PHONE BOX RINGS UP 80 YEARS

Giant images appear in London

Special Union Jack birthday edition goes on sale

Giant images of BT’s much-loved classic red K6 telephone box were projected onto several of the company’s central London buildings last night, including its headquarters building near St Pauls, to celebrate the design icon’s 80th birthday.

Arguably even more famous around the world than the red double-decker bus and the red post box, the familiar K6 red telephone boxor “Jubilee Kiosk”, was designed by renowned English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and first introduced in 1936 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The kiosk became the first standard phone box across the UK. Sir Giles was also responsible for designing landmarks such as Battersea Power Station, Bankside Power Station (now home to Tate Modern), Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, which also contains a K6, and Waterloo Bridge.

David Hay, head of BT Heritage, said: “The red telephone box and in particular the classic K6 is an important part of the UK’s history and regularly tops the polls as a design and cultural icon. They’re recognised by people around the world. The K6 is held in great esteem and is an ambassador for the UK around the globe - many are now found in countries as diverse as the US, Cuba, Brazil, Switzerland, Hungary and Germany.”

Out of a total number of 46,000 working public payphone kiosks on the streets of the UK, around 8,000 are traditional red phone boxes, of which the majority are K6s. The architectural significance of the traditional phone box has seen2,400 kiosks designated as grade II listed buildings.

BT is also providing for sale a limited number of refurbished examples of traditional phone boxes so that people can buy their own piece of history. To commemorate the K6’s 80th birthday a small number of kiosks are being specially painted in a Union Jack design instead of the standard bright red.

Since 2008, BT has been encouraging communities where their local phone box is not being used by people making phone calls, to preserve it by buying it, with the payphone removed, from the company for just a £1 under the Adopt a Kiosk scheme. This has enabled towns and villages across the land to preserve their own part of Britain’s heritage.

Adopt a Kiosk has captured the imagination of people up and down the country and more than 3,500 kiosks have been adopted and transformed into a huge variety of new uses.

Many decommissioned phone boxes have been fitted with life-saving defibrillation machines, others have been turned into art galleries,mini libraries, exhibitions and information centres. One village turned theirs into a one-night-only pub, when their local closed down.Fans of the BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama The Archers will know that even the villagers of Ambridge adopted their phone box for use as a mini-information kiosk.

Neil Scoresby, head of payphones for BT, said: “Happy Birthday K6. The success of the Adopt a Kiosk scheme has shown the huge amount of affection communities throughout the UK have for red phone boxes, particularly the K6. They’re loved around the world, so much so that lots of people have actually bought one from us. Owning your own phone box has been a huge hit and we think the Union Jack design will prove to be really popular.”

To buy your own piece of history, contact BT’s only approved reseller X2 Connect Ltd. Visit: www.x2connect.com/home, call +44 (0) 1636 61 11 10 or email: info@x2connect.com.

Enquiries about this news release should be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369. From outside the UK dial + 44 20 7356 5369.

All news releases can be accessed at our web site: http://www.btplc.com/News

Images of K6 phone boxes are available here

Notes to editors

Top 10 K6 facts

  1. The K6 or “Jubilee Kiosk” commemorates the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
  2. The K6 was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station now Tate Modern.
  1. Sir Giles also designed the K2 and K3. The K4 kiosk was developed by the Post Office Engineering Department based on the K2 design.
  1. The K6 was the first kiosk installed nationwide and the standard kiosk until the introduction of the K8 in 1968.
  1. The K6 kiosk is made from cast iron with a teak door. It is 8’3” tall (2.4 metres) and weighs three quarters of a ton (762 kilograms).
  1. The K6 design was approved by the Post Office and the Royal Fine Arts Commission, which endorsed “Post Office red” as the standard colour. Sir Giles agreed to the use of “Post Office red”, but initially suggested the outside be painted silver and the inside greenish-blue. He strongly urged rural kiosks be painted dove-grey.
  1. Two K6 kiosks were installed in France during 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
  2. 60 red K6’s have been transformed into combined payphones and cash machines.
  3. There are 8,000 working traditional red phone boxes in the UK, the majority are K6s.
  1. The K6 was voted nation's favourite top British design in 2015 and is regularly listed in lists of top British icons. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/top-25-british-designs-revealed-the-iconic-red-phone-box-is-voted-nations-favourite-10111569.html

A brief history of the telephone Kiosk

  • In 1921, the first standard kiosk appeared, the K1 or Kiosk no.1. Two years later, the GPO held a competition to design a new kiosk. In 1926 the chosen design appeared, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's K2. The K2 was too big and too expensive for mass production so the K1 Mk 236 was introduced. The GPO still wanted a new design and asked Sir Giles to produce another design, in 1929 the K3 appeared, a smaller, concrete version of the K2.
  • Introduced in 1927, the K4 was intended to be a 24-hour post office with a stamp machine and letterbox added to the back. Nicknamed the “Vermillion Giant”, it was a fantastic failure with only 50 produced. In 1934, a K5 was produced, made of plywood as a temporary kiosk for use at exhibitions and fairs etc.
  • With problems occurring with the K3, a new cast iron box was needed and in 1936 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George V, the K6 appeared for the first time on the streets. The kiosk was perfect, it had all the good points of the K1 and K3 mixed with the solidness of the K2 and most importantly, the small size and elegance the Post Office were looking for. The K6 was widely used to replace K1’s and K3’s.
  • The K6 was similar, but smaller than its predecessor the K2 and also designed by Sir Giles. The K2 had been installed mostly in London and a few other large cities, but the “Jubilee” model became the first genuinely standard telephone box to be installed all over the country.
  • Kiosk no. 6’s were given to every town or village with a post office, regardless of cost. As a result, more than 8,000 new boxes were installed in 1936 and by the end of production in 1968 there were nearly 70,000 in Britain. Many areas did not approve of the red colour and so were allowed to paint them in alternative colours. Most of them have now been repainted red, but a few survive in dark green and grey.
  • In the 1960's the Post Office were considering a new design. Neville Conder's design for a K7 was chosen. It was made in aluminium and was tested in 1962. The K7 was not adopted as a new design and only five were made.
  • In 1965, another competition was held to design a new kiosk, the K8. Bruce Martin was the winning architect and his design appeared in 1968. It was a very new design to the previous ones. The main differences were that the glazing bars had gone to be replaced with just one big window on each side of the kiosk and the domed roof was replaced with a much flatter design. Nearly 4,000 K8s would appear, some of which replaced K6s. Vandalism was always a problem with telephone boxes and during the 1970’s British Telecom made another modification to the K6, many kiosks had their glazing bars ripped out and had a single piece of glass put in like the K8.
  • The popular design of the K6 survived the introduction of K7’s and K8’s in the 1960’s, but during the 1980’s and early 1990’s they were frequently replaced with the modern KX series of payphone booths. Thousands of old K6s were sold off at public auctions. However, the Department of the Environment and English Heritage worked with BT to identify kiosks worthy of listing as being of special architectural and historical interest, mainly near existing listed buildings or in attractive town and country locations.
  • By the 1990s, BT's approach had almost gone full circle due to the popularity of the design and instead of replacing them, the policy changed to retain the kiosks in certain heritage sites. In 1999 there were more 15,000 of these old style kiosks and the K6 was by now a registered design of British Telecommunications plc.

About BT’s heritage

BT is the world's oldest and most established communications company. Our roots extend back to the UK's Electric Telegraph Company, incorporated in 1846 as the world's first national telecommunications provider. This year we celebrate our 170th anniversary. Few companies in the world have a heritage as rich as BT www.bt.com/history . BT’s Archives have been recognised by UNESCO and Arts Council England as having unique significance to the UK’s cultural heritage. In July 2016 BT was awarded Archives Accreditation by The National Archives, only the third corporate archive to meet the new national standard for archives.

BT has always acknowledged that we have a duty of care to safeguard this unique legacy on behalf of the nation. BT is the only UK plc to give a firm and clear heritage commitment with a published Heritage Policy www.bt.com/heritage

About BT

BT’s purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world. It is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to its customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband, TV and internet products and services; and converged fixed-mobile products and services.BT consists of six customer-facing lines of business: Consumer, EE, Business and Public Sector, Global Services, Wholesale and Ventures, and Openreach.

For the year ended 31 March 2016, BT Group’s reported revenue was £19,042m with reported profit before taxation of £3,029m.

British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York.

For more information, visit www.btplc.com