Monday, April 06, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Red Phone?

I was watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote last night that centered around the top secret doings of MI5. Jessica had found a body in a hotel room near hers during her visit to London. She of course reported it to the police, but by the time the police arrived the body was gone! This happened to her again later (same body, this time in the kitchen). The police started to warn her about making false reports to the police and how she could get arrested for it. She threatens to go to the press and make it all public.

This is enough for the police to call a bemulleted sleazeball and tell him that that "Fletcher woman" is getting too close for comfort. Herr Mullet rings off from the inspector and picks up the handset of the Red Phone. It requires no dialling for him to reach an old man sipping brandy in a leather chair. They blathered on being purposefully obtuse in order to mislead the viewers to think they wanted to harm Jessica rather than ask her for help in their investigations.

I was immediately distracted by the red phone. How long since I had seen one on TV or in a movie, even ironically? I can't recall, actually. Was there one in Get Smart? I'm not sure...Have we as a people outlived the need for this direct line to some old white guy? What with speed dial, it kind of takes the punch out of the one-line red phone, doesn't it? Besides, what if you're out to lunch at the deli, having a reuben with chips and a pickle and you suddenly see arch enemy number 4 drinking coffee at the next table? Wouldn't you grab your cell, snap a photo and send it to the old fart with an accompanying "OMG guess who I just saw!" rather than choke down your lunch (or abandon it all together), rush back to the office building, flash a badge at security, make your way to the basement, open the secret door behind the out-of-order vending machine, slide down the pole, hop in the mine cart, careen down the steel tracks past the cubicle farms into your office to pick up the red handset to call the old man and get some kind of lip back like, "Are you sure it's #4?"

I'm thinking the cell phone has killed the red phone. It makes me sad in a way, however. I have a real strong nostalgic reaction to 70's and 80's office equipment. I love the rubber fingers that help you flip through paper work, the stamp pads and rubber stamps, the postage stamp moistener, the postage scale, typewriters, and spindles upon which to spear receipts. Having spent a good portion of my childhood playing under the desks in my Grandpa's insurance office probably has a good deal to do with my fascination with this stuff. It probably made me the bureaucrat I am today.

Maybe I'll have one of those red phones installed in tribute to the glory days of communication with one individual that is so important it has a dedicated phone line. Who should it call? I'm thinking Ryan Seacrest. Who would your red phone connect to?


  1. Did they dismantle the red phone to the Kremlin during the Bush/Gorby era?

    "Who would your red phone connect to?"

    The Missus, because then she couldn't claim she thought it was somebody else while she ignores the ringing.

  2. I miss the Red Phone (requires capitalization, that's how important it was). I think that the days of super power vs super power are gone. Now we don't know who the enemy is, so we don't know who to connect to!

  3. What are you, 90? Yo're watching Murder She Wrote? ;0)

  4. CB: Your Missus and my Doc seem to have similar phone aversions...I thought about having my Red Phone connect to Doc, but I threw that idea over, knowing he probably wouldn't answer it anyway.

    SD: We also don't seem to have any superheros with a direct connect to the comissioner. I mean have you seen a Red Phone in the new Batman movies? I haven't...

    Dr. Monkey: No, I'm not 90. I just love mysteries. Plus my dearly departed mother-in-law was a fan of the show and watching it reminds me of her. So not only do I watch it, my DVR records it for me.

  5. Murder She Wrote??? Who the hell WATCHES that? (ha ha, inside joke that only Flan and other CPW readers are privleged enough to get....)

    I have a red phone!!! But it's a newer model than the classic one you depict. Nonethess, maybe I'll mail it to you for your next birthday, holiday or bat mitzvah.

  6. I bought a red cover for my blackberry. Does that count?

  7. We used to have a red rotary phone when I was growing up. I'm sure I picked it up a few times, yelling some important directive at a non-existent spy on the other end.

  8. there's only one problem: where you gonna FIND a red rotary dial phone these days? And do they still MAKE houses with wall jacks??

    I'm with you on th' office stuff!! BRING BACK THE IBM SELNETRIC TYPEWRITER!!


  9. I wear rubber fingers at work, I couldn't do my job without them.

    Red phones were the coolest!

  10. CP: You are too good to me!

    CID: I think it counts...does it only connect to the head of the Politbureau?

    Beckeye: Awesome...

    Capn': It's one place on memory lane that we both like to linger.

    Spooky: Rockin' the old school rubber fingers!

  11. OMG guess who I just saw? Funny! I'm liking your blog and your style of writing. Glad I stumbled upon it.