Living in a box

This man will not appear in my blog very often.

Just a quick post today from the phone, to try out the excellent wordpress for iPhone app. I had a meeting on Wednesday in London at the Institute of Musical Research. It’s a group called the UK Popular Musicologists’ Collocquium and represents an all-too-rare chance for (popular) music staff from different universities to get together and discuss academic articles and analysis relating to popular musicology. There are about eight of us the meetings, which are chaired/organised by Allan Moore (editor of Popular Music Journal), and we get together every six months or so in Guildford or at the IMR (any musicologists reading this, do feel free to get in touch with Allan if you’re interested in becoming involved). I’ve made a basic WordPress/edublogs site so we can collect together study materials and YouTube links – UKPMC site.

This meeting’s theme was discussion and analysis relating to a particular track – Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. It is a fascinating song (noted for its lack of bass line) in that it appears to be based on one eight-bar chord loop – Am  | G   |  G   | Am   | Am  | G   | G   | E7  Am | – but is actually based on a four-bar loop that is only actually stated halfway through the track  – | Am  | Dm/A  | G   | E7+5/G#  E7/G# |  (hey, this stuff keeps me awake at night).

Like any multi-million-selling song, it’s always interesting to note just how well-constructed it is – and to make inferences about why it was so successful. It seems to obey most of the general ‘rules’ of songwriting (lots of primary and secondary hooks, lots of monosyllables, effective lyric imagery, economical use of language, clear meaning, unusual title) while deliberately challenging them in other ways (relentless/repetitive chord loop, quirky rock-funk guitar solo intro followed by guitar-less arrangement, slightly mad lyric lines “animals strike curious poses”, classical extended mono-synth outro). Prince, for me, is like Bono or Sting – however smug or irritating they might seem as people, you have to admire the sheer talent at work.

And, as a bonus, while walking past Hyde Park I got to see five K6s all together. If you’re unsure why I have become such a phonebox geek you need to read this previous post. After which you may still be unsure.

Five K6s near Hyde Park. Model A, 1936, if I'm not mistaken.
Five K6s near Hyde Park. Model A, 1936, if I'm not mistaken.

Open the door, get on the floor…

30.04.09 012The phone box arrived in Norfolk at Carl’s kiosk hospital last week. First step – take the door off fully, and drill out the concrete floor, exposing the whole of the cast iron frame ready for sandblasting. Apparently they come up good as new, even down to the detail of the original symbolic Tudor crown (replaced in 1952 at the Queen’s behest with a more contemporary one). The domed roof is probably past saving, so Carl is planning on replacing it with a reclaimed one from another K6.

In a previous post I marveled at the detail of the original 1950s K6 install instructions (and the devotion of whoever typed it in to get it online). But Carl was, of course, way ahead of me – I feel very much like an ‘apprentice anorak’ in this world. He has a huge archive of K6-related documentation, some of scanned from the original 50-year-old paperwork. It’s an impressive archive.

Blogging editorial note – I’m blogging four concurrent stories at the moment – the phone box, the studio build, the guitar book and the Widcombe song. To follow these as individual threads, use the ‘categories’ on the right hand sidebar – here they are as links.

Not enough love in the world

One of the backlit 'Telephone' panes, showing how bad the exterior rust has become over the years.
One of the backlit 'Telephone' panes, showing how bad the exterior rust has become over the years.

Here’s the phone box in its pre-loved state in Derbyshire, before a chap called Laurence aka ‘Kelly the Crane’ arrived to transport it to ‘kiosk hospital’ in Norfolk. My K6 is a Mark I (i.e. from the first batch, cast in 1935) and is a model ‘D’, meaning that the door is on the right hand side panel with its hinge on the right (I actually remember this from 1979 – it stood on a steep lane called Birches Avenue, and the door opened uphill).

There were four models back in 1935;

”Kiosk No. 6 (Mk. 2)”is available in four assemblies, for use under various conditions as follows:-
“Kiosks No. 6A”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6B”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged right
“Kiosks No. 6C”; door fitted on the left side panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6D”; door fitted on the right side panel and hinged right

(From the GPO ‘erection instructions’ dated 1955. Stop giggling at the back, there!)

Yes it’s true – more Googling has unearthed a copy of the original Post Office engineering notes on K6 installation, dated 11th March 1955. Here is the text of the original document in full (and you thought IKEA instructions were complicated!). And this file comes from a website where someone’s collected decades’ worth of phone installation instructions. Can you believe that anyone typed all these in?!


Download the full K6 installation instructions (pdf). All hail to thee, Internet.

See below for a gallery of the K6 in its garden setting, prior to being transported to Carl’s workshop.

“I’m in the phone booth it’s the one…” in the garden

The phone box stood for 25 years in a Derbyshire garden
The phone box stood for 25 years in a Derbyshire garden

I’ve inherited a phone box from my late father. It stood, between 1935 and around 1983, in the Derbyshire village of South Wingfield where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When the Post Office became British Telecom in the early 1980s, lots of the cast iron red phone boxes in the UK were decommissioned and replaced with the more spartan plastic & metal BT booths (coincidentially, Bath is one of the few cities that has maintained a few red phone boxes in public places – there were a few near the railway station very recently, I recall.)

Some of the rural phone boxes were sold off privately by local authorities (in this case Amber Valley Borough Council) in the mid-80s. My parents didn’t want to see the old phone box leave the village, so they decided to buy it. It then stood in their back garden for 25 years. In that time they didn’t do anything with it (ummm… not sure what you would do with a non-functioning phone box…?), so now I find myself owning three-quarters of a ton of 1930s cast iron.

Unsure of what to do, I Googled ‘Red Telephone Box’ and found, er, This is a company, based in Norfolk, called Remember When UK – and restoring red phone boxes is what they do. I got in touch with them and spoke to a chap called Carl, who runs the business. He’s a self-confessed ‘phone box anorak’ who just loves his job, and he told me lots of interesting stuff about the history of the English red phone box. The business restores phone boxes pretty much exclusively – there are, apparently, enough phone boxes, and enough interested customers, to keep the business going – they usually even have a backlog of work.

The classic red phone box is called a K6. They were launched in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, though weren’t produced in large numbers until 1936. This particular one is, according to Carl, a ‘Mark I’ – shown by the casting stamp on the back. It was cast, as were most of them, in a foundry in Glasgow. The design was found all over the UK, but also, interestingly, used in Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar (i.e parts of the Empire/Commonwealth). I won’t go on much more about the history of the K6 – there’s an excellent Wikipedia page with more detail.

Being more than 700 kilos, and being set in concrete, they take a fair bit of transporting. I’ll start the saga of the restoration – and the dilemma of what to do with the phone box when it’s completed – in a future entry. For now, here’s a photo of a 1930s GPO phone box installer. And you thought the Nokia 3310 was clunky…

K6 installation (early years)
A GPO worker installs a cast-iron K6 phone box in the late 1930s.