The history of the Phone Booth: Part Four

Ah, the phone booth – yes, that very same thing in which Mr. Kent prefers to slip into his spandex and don his hero-garb before rushing off to save many a damsel in distress – has since perhaps the mid 1900’s, become inextricably mixed with popular culture.

When delving into the arcane history of Superman, it however, becomes quite clear that there are in fact very few references to The Man of Steel changing in a phone booth. But despite Clark Kent’s apparent modesty, the first instance where he did use a public phone booth was in The Mechanical Monsters way back on 28 November 1941 (have a look at a clip from the video here). And thus the phone booth entered pop culture.

In 1942 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the very creators of the legendary hero, also used a phone booth for Clark Kent to change in. Whilst inside the the phone booth he famously said to himself, “This definitely isn’t the most comfortable place in the world to switch garments, but I’ve got to change identities – and in a hurry!”

The blokes who came up with the idea of phone booth stuffing, conversely, thought it was a perfectly fine place chill…

Only a couple of years after the phone booth made its comic-debut in Superman, two dozen South African students in Durban decided to see how many men a phone booth can accommodate – however uncomfortable it might get! They managed 25. Yep, twenty-five beef-eating, beer-drinking students, in a box roughly 83 x 33 x 33 inches!

The Americans soon saw this as a fun challenge and decided to try and perfect the art of human Tetris. The fad swiftly grew and in 1959 the St. Mary’s College made an attempt on the record but only managed 22 students while LIFE Magazine was on hand to snap pictures of this historical effort.

And here’s a video from 2009 where students from the same college try to reproduce the original results…

Various sets of rules came into existence – depending on the country and university – and British rules required at least one stuffee to make or receive a call whilst stuffed, if of course you can find a working phone booth!

Currently the Guinness World Record stands (sits, lies, squats and crouches) at 27 people crammed into a booth designed for ten (so it’s a bit of a cheat really…) but no photos of the event exists which brings to mind that brilliantly suited 21st century axiom: Pics or it didn’t happen!

On a magical front the 13th most powerful woman in Britain (Woman’s Hour, 2013), J.K. Rowling, decided that the Ministry of Magic should be accessed by that mystical and much loved object that is the red phone booth.

The booth whisks wizards and witches from the ground floor to the Artium on floor B6; all they have to do is dial 62442 on the telephone. Why 62442? Because it spells “magic” you muggle!

Other popular movies have also referred to or featured phone booths. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 cult classic The Birds, Melanie Daniels hides from the attacking avians in a phone booth. In Dirty Harry (1971) Clint Eastwood’s character has to race from telephone booth to telephone booth in order to save a young girl who is being held hostage by a serial killer.

It is, however with Phone Booth (2002) where the booth becomes the star of the show as the entire film takes place in a phone booth. Stuart Shepherd, played by Collin Ferrell, finds himself trapped in a phone booth by a psychotic sharpshooter for the duration of the film. Poor Collin, if Superman found it a bit of a tight squeeze just to change in, imagine what being trapped in it for 81mins. must have felt like.

Closer to home, the artist, Banksy, has used phone booths in several of his works. Appearing overnight in Soho in 2006, this bent and bleeding booth gave rise to BT spokesman saying, “This is a stunning visual comment on BT’s transformation from an old-fashioned telecommunications company into a modern communications services provider.”

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Image courtesy of eddiedangerous, Banksy at Red Auction, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Adding to his booth collection, the artist transformed the side of a house in Chaltenham earlier this year (and tripling its value…) to show secret agents eavesdropping on a phone booth, which was already there.

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Image courtesy of abrinsky, Listen to Nothing, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It seems then, that despite the rise of the cellphone and the demise of the booth, its legacy will live on in popular culture.

Proving to be as popular as its street-faring inspiration, the Air3 Office Phone Booth can be put to use in any modern office environment. Customizable and flexible, the Air3 Phone Booth allows you to have those confidential conversations without having to leave the office. And if, unlike those Durbanites and St Mary’s students, you don’t like to be crammed, bigger Air3 options are available.

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