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In the Media

article imageOld red phone boxes regenerate into Doctor Who-style TARDIS blue

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By Mathew Wace Peck
Jul 1, 2013 in Technology
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Leeds - Old-style BT red telephone boxes are being given a high-tech makeover, “regenerating” them to look superficially like Doctor Who’s police-box time machine, the TARDIS, in the hit BBC science-fiction drama series.
According to techradar, the concept is being pioneered in Leeds, in the north of England, by local firm aql, who have “painted the old coin-operated boxes a nice shade of Doctor Who blue and fitted them with free public Wi-Fi in several popular locations around the city.”
In total, 24 Wi-Fi-enabled phone boxes will be placed in key locations around the city, each having “six touch-sensitive display screens showing ‘route-finder’ information and other details primarily aimed at tourists”.
The Yorkshire Evening Post comments, “Leeds residents, meanwhile, will be encouraged to use the boxes’ in-built technology to leave video messages with memories of the areas where they are located.”
The kiosks will be solar-powered, with all services accessible from the outside.
Speaking to the Post, aql’s Dr Adam Beaumont said that the police-box-blue telephone kiosks will be exclusive to Leeds. “We want them to become something iconic,” he said. “We won’t be putting the blue boxes in any other cities, as we want them to be a symbol of Leeds.”
Britain’s iconic cast-iron red telephone boxes – branded Kiosk No. 2 or K2 – were first erected in London in 1926, although the dissimilar-looking K1 had already been in service since 1920.
The K2 was created by the English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, whose design was chosen through a competition in 1924 to come up with a kiosk that was acceptable to the London Metropolitan Boroughs, who hitherto had been resistant to the K1.
Although many of the red telephone boxes were scrapped by BT in the latter part of the 20th century, many have survived throughout the UK and are still in regular use. As well as the UK, they can also be seen in Malts, Bermuda and Gibraltar.
Police boxes, meanwhile, were first introduced in the UK – in Glasgow, Scotland – in 1891; however, the most well-known type was created by Gilbert MacKenzie Trench, in 1929, for London’s Metropolitan Police (“the Met”). Unlike the Post Office red telephone boxes, police boxes were painted blue; except in Glasgow, where they were red.
Doctor Who’s most iconic symbol is its police box, which is, in fact, a space–time machine, the TARDIS (“time and relative dimension in space”), which is, in Doctor Who-speak, “dimensionally transcendental” – i.e. bigger on the inside! Whether or not the Leeds boxes are spacially ambiguous will remain a mystery, though, as, according to CNET, their doors “will be kept locked shut”.
In 2002, the BBC won a long-running legal battle with the Met over who should own the trademark of the police-box image, the Met having first launched their claim in 1996, after the UK Patent Office accepted that the TARDIS/police box as a BBC trade mark.
Most British police forces have abandoned their police boxes over the years since their hey-day use but, in 1997, the Met erected a new one outside Earl’s Court Tube station. The police box was equipped with CCTV cameras and a working telephone connected the public to the police. However, within three years, with funding at an end, the police box fell into disuse. Ironically – given the Met’s earlier fight with the BBC over ownership of the trademark design – with the return of Doctor Who to TV and its subsequent worldwide popularity, the Met resumed funding for its upkeep in light of it becoming a massive tourist attraction.
In May, last year, as reported by Digital Journal' s Robert Myles, Lothian and Borders Police decided to sell off their Edinburgh-situated police boxes. Back in England, however, Bournemouth Police announced their intention to re-introduce them.
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