Phone box linked to Wirral band OMD returned after campaign by fans

Reporter:

Jonathan Barnett

AN OLD red telephone box that had become synonymous with Wirral chart-toppers OMD is now back on the street thanks to a campaign led by fans.

The telephone kiosk on Greenwood Road, Meols, is loved by OMD fans as it is the subject of the band’s second single release, “Red Frame/White Light” in 1980.

The band used to make calls to organise their early gigs in the late 1970s and the number of the telephone, 632 3003, is a key feature of the song lyrics.

The telephone box was removed earlier this year as part of BT’s payphone removal programme, with no objections having been received as part of the public consultation process towards the end of 2016.

However, once fans realised that the kiosk had been removed, they quickly organised themselves into a campaign group to call for its reinstatement, if not as a public telephone as a kind of tourist attraction for OMD fans from near and far, who regularly visited the site as part of their travels.

Their lobbying drew support within Wirral Council and particularly from the cabinet member for transport and infrastructure, Cllr Stuart Whittingham.

Officers from within the council’s highways team and Wirral West Constituency Committee liaised with colleagues from BT and the box was secured and placed into quarantine while arrangements for its recovery were put in place.

The campaigners originally named themselves ‘Save 632 3003’ but have now become the ‘Friends of 632 3003’ and as a properly-constituted ‘Friends’ group have committed to maintenance and management of the telephone box now it is back in place.

One of their first tasks will be to give the kiosk a lick of paint, in that famous ‘currant red’ colour with a supply of paint provided free of charge by BT.

Steph McCahill, chairman of the Friends of 632 3003, said: “Seeing the phone box returned and installed today is a significant milestone in the work of the Friends of 632 group who campaigned hard to get it back into its rightful place. The OMD fans have been with us every step of the way and, like the Friends Group, are ecstatic about the box being reinstalled. Many overseas fans will be visiting the phone box when they are in the area for the OMD gig on 29th October.”

Cllr Stuart Whittingham added: “We’re just really happy to have been able to play a part in rescuing this significant local landmark before it was lost forever.

“It has been an unusual thing to have been part of – both BT and the council followed the correct process in managing the proposed phone box removals and indeed some of the 26 planned removals were refused after public objections. But in the case of 632 3003, its cultural status is unofficial and the objections didn’t come until later.

“The important thing was we acted quickly and decisively and, having made suitable arrangements with the new Friends group, we have been able to work together to find a way of satisfying all parties.”

Mark Johnson, BT payphone manager, said: “We’re pleased that we’ve been able to work with Wirral Council to reinstate this phone box that has captured the hearts of OMD fans across the world, and that the council are adopting it to keep a piece of local pop music history alive.”

Andy McCluskey from the band also welcomed the return of the telephone box, saying: “The old telephone box at the corner of Greenwood Road was our communication centre to the rest of the world in the very early days of the band when neither Paul Humphreys nor I lived in houses that had a telephone. It had a nostalgic connection for both of us as we needed it to call school friends and girlfriends and seemed an appropriate subject for a song by a band that specialises in the interaction of humans and machines.

“Using 632 3003 we arranged concerts, phoned music newspapers and kept in contact with our manager and record label. It was here that I heard the news that we had our first top twenty single.

“I was sad to see it removed, but frankly amazed at the level of support that the ‘Friends’ gathered in having it reinstated. Many thanks to all who have taken part in preserving this small piece of our history. I am delighted to see it back because I am still playing music and touring 40 years after our ‘little red office’ started us on the journey!”

The Friends Group are now focusing their efforts on getting the box refurbished and will be organising fundraising events to help them with the upkeep of the phone box, such as an 80s disco to be held on November 24 at Melrose Hall, Hoylake.

Tickets for this event can be purchased by contacting the team at Friends of 632 3003 on Facebook or @save6323003 on Twitter.

Email:

jonathan.barnett@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Chester Leader

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