London: Calling All Perverts

Posted on June 5, 2006


phone booth.jpg

by anglofille

One of the iconic images of London is of course the red phone booth.  If you walk around the touristy areas of London, you will almost always stumble upon visitors having their photos taken while pretending to make a call.  It’s lame and embarrassing, but also a requirement.  [You may not be aware that when you arrive at the international terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick, one of the conditions of entry is to swear an oath that you’ll humiliate yourself in such a way.]

While these phone booths may look charming and quaint from the outside, many of them harbour a dirty little secret: They are filled with pornographic images in the form of advertisements for prostitutes.  Many phone booths in London are plastered with these ads, called “tart cards.”  I have travelled fairly extensively and I have never seen this phenomenon in any other city.

Photo credit: Samtenserri

The majority of these tart cards feature extremely graphic and vulgar images of women.  In 2001 they were banned and anyone caught distributing them can be put in prison for up to 6 months or fined £5000, but it’s obviously not enforced.  Nearly 40,000 of these cards are distributed throughout the city each day and you see them everywhere.  

As someone who does not own a mobile phone (I know, I suck) I often use public phones, though I wish I had a hazmat suit when doing so.  While some people may believe these cards are just harmless kitsch, I refuse to be that apathetic.  I think these cards create a climate of coarseness and degradation.  People should be able to make a phone call without having to stare at graphic ads for underage school girls, “hot Asians” and the like.  I think they also contribute to antisocial behaviour.  I once saw a guy exiting a phone booth in Russell Square while zipping up his trousers – in broad daylight.  There are plenty of sexual predators roaming around and I don’t think they need any more encouragement or validation.

Lest you think I am all talk and no action, I remove these tart cards and throw them into the rubbish bin whenever I can.  You can just imagine me doing this, can’t you?  

Phone booth in Russell Square before Anglofille arrives:


…and after she departs:


You can thank me later.  I need to go wash my hands now.   

Posted in: london, urban living