You know, of course, all about the iconic K2 from reading “Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers”. Yes, that one, the one shown below. The one that Aunt Beatrice purchased from eBay for her time travel project.
Bea knew that, with some modifications, the K2 would be the perfect vehicle for time travel. So, if Kiosk #2 is the second generation of phone booths, what about the first? How did the telephone box start? Who do we thank for providing a British cultural icon and for providing Sky and Zac with their chrononautmobile?
Alexander Graham Bell, a Scot living in Canada, received the first patent for the telephone in 1876. A few years later, the General Post Office (GPO) in Britain changed the rules regarding telephone exchanges which allowed for the development of the first public telephone network.
But, having a phone was expensive, so only the rich and some businesses had one. Telephone service was owned and operated by several private companies which operated a series of local exchanges to which households and businesses could subscribe. This pricey subscription provided them with a telephone and connection to the network. Gradually, phone services were consolidated under the National Telephone Company (NTC) and the GPO.
In 1912, the assets of the NTC were acquired by the GPO, effectively nationalising the telephone network. With the combined staff and assets of the two organisations, the GPO sought to standardize equipment, including telephone boxes (or ‘kiosks’). However, the outbreak of the First World War meant that such standardization would have to be postponed.
The first telephone kiosk was designed in 1921 for the GPO and we are glad that they used their imagination in naming the first kiosk “Kiosk No 1” (abbreviated to K1). But the design of the K1 did not tickle the fancy of the British public, who cried “too conservative!” and “rather old-fashioned, I’d say!”. In fact, some even resisted the introduction of K1 boxes on the streets.
The Royal Fine Art Commission had to intervene. So, they organized a competition to design a new kiosk.
The commission received entries from respected groups and architects, including the winner, Giles Gilbert Scott. Scott was a well-known architect who had designed many of Britain’s popular landmarks such as Cambridge University Library and the Battersea Power Station. But, his most popular creation was the ubiquitous K2, the red telephone box.
Scott designed a rectangular box with a domed roof. Each side had fluted architrave moldings on the outer edge and a blank rectangular panel with trim moldings at the base. Above, on three sides, Scott put six rows of three rectangular panes of glass, with trim moldings and internal beading. The entablature above (the upper portion of the building or portico) was set back from the face of the kiosk and finished with a crown-molded cornice. The entablature featured the illuminated “TELEPHONE’ sign, and above it, prow-like, Scott carved a royal crown.
Scott based his K2 design on the mausoleum of Eliza Soane, wife of Sir John Soane, a renowned architect. He wanted the K2 to be silver, with a blue-green interior, but the General Post Office chose red. Beginning in 1926, some 1,700 kiosks were built and installed around London.
A few years later, the GPO realized that the K2 was too big and costly to produce, so Giles Gilbert Scott produced a revised design, the K3, that was smaller and with less architectural styling and thus cheaper. The design of the telephone kiosk continued to evolve, but the basic structure remained the same—a rectangular box with a domed roof.
Over the years the telephone box became a British cultural icon, a beaming beacon of Britishness in the oft English rain and although their use has diminished and changed over the years, hundreds of them still stand all around Britain.
In 2006, the British public placed the red telephone kiosk in the top ten of all of Britain's favourite design icons since 1900. The international star, however, might be the TARDIS police box, from the BBC science fiction series 'Doctor Who', which first appeared on British television in 1963. But, as Aunt Beatrice noted, “[The TARDIS] is dimensionally transcendental; that is, its bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. No such magic here [with the K2].”
But time travellers everywhere know that the K2 was, and still is, the best design.
 You can go to Hull; the city of Hull, that is, if you’d like to see a telephone box that is not red. In Hull, the boxes are a crème colour. Nor do the Hull boxes have the Royal crown above their 'Telephone' sign.