There are not many things that could knock a Spitfire, a Routemaster double decker bus and the Union Jack into a cocked (bowler) hat when it comes to the pinnacle of British design.
But the red telephone box did just that when it was voted number one in a public poll a couple of years back.
And just when Richard Parker and his team at X2 Connect did not think they could puff out their chests with any more pride, their shirt buttons started flying off all over the show.
You see, X2 Connect are the custodians of the iconic crimson call points that have stood sentinel on street corners up and down our isle for generations.
Their business evolved from pay phone coin handling mechanisms in the 1990s to the moment they received an astonishing call five years ago; BT were on the blower asking if they would like to carry out refurbishments of all kiosks – a number the communications giant is required by law to maintain as working community telephones across the UK and those removed from service that can then be bought privately.
X2 Connect became the only approved reseller of the British red phone box.
They mustered a team of skilled craftsmen and set to work. They now handle 80 a year and have a waiting list 50-strong of people desperate to own three quarters of a tonne of British history.
Although the stainless steel and glass variety are also on their books (the KX100 for the uber geeks amongst you), it is the K6 model that is heavy with the romance.
Richard said: “So many memories are connected to these boxes; waiting in the rain for the phone to be free, calls to your sweetheart. We have people asking to buy specific boxes for all manner of reasons.
“We are extraordinarily proud of our responsibility here.”
One wonders what designer Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – also famed for significant horizon-hoggers Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station, since transformed into Tate Modern – might make of the fact that one of his boxes is currently a shower cubicle standing next to a swimming pool in a Sydney garden, one is a donutterie in Dubai and one is a (now water-tight) home for goldfish.
They are little libraries, distinctive defibrillator stations, pint-sized potting shed, a diminutive discotheque, even a green version sporting solar panels so as to work as a charging point for mobile phones. In Sweden, a company installed a number in their offices to allow staff to make private phone calls.
BT deliver the box to the workshop in Nottinghamshire. If it is beyond repair, it is broken down into spare parts. If it is destined for a new future, it is stripped back to its bare cast iron and wooden door. The glass is carefully removed and cleaned or replaced, along with all the door furniture.
Buyers can request any number of bespoke options with the top spec featuring a full set of original phone equipment complete with the push buttons. The restoration process takes 12 weeks. The original paint colour ‘Currant Red’ remains the first choice.
Richard said: “My greatest pleasure is derived from seeing a box come in in need of love and care and then in three months’ time, it’s standing proudly on the flatbed ready to roll off to its new home. That is a happy day.”
When it is time for an original phone box to be reviewed, the community around it are consulted. They can join together to adopt it for £1, all the communications paraphernalia is taken away and there it stays in situ for whichever purpose they wish for it. X2 Connect have responded to the call from parish groups countrywide for help with their own phone passion projects. They are also the supplier of all spare parts and accessories.
Richard said: “There is only a finite number of these phone boxes, so if you would like one, please get in contact with us.”
To learn more about the story of the red phone box, see a live map of where they are in the world and how you too can own one, log on to www.x2connect.com, search X2 Connect on Facebook and @redphonekiosk on Twitter. You can also reach them on the ‘dog and bone’ +44 (0)1636 611110.
- Richard’s great British business grew in 2006 when he acquired part of the Marconi group – extending his customer base to North and South America, Europe and Asia. Maybe a little less spellbinding than his firm’s other area of expertise, granted, but he added: “The popularity and necessity for payphones is a diminishing trade for obvious reasons, but in some countries, they remain absolutely vital.”