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“Churchill”, Camden: evoking wartime Winston

"Churchill Security" burglar alarm, Camden • Unlike yesterday's Union Jack, this has an unambiguously WWII slant. Churchill is not an uncommon name – there's the insurance company with the talking dog for instance – but even if Churchill is the surname of this firm's owner, the addition of a waving national flag can't help but evoke the legendary wartime Prime Minister, which is undoubtedly intentional. A Thatcher alarm similarly decorated wouldn't summon up quite the same subliminal image, and as for Blair Security, the mind boggles... though it would be amusing to discover one. • Spotted: Betterton Street, Camden, London, WC2, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
“Churchill”, Camden: evoking wartime Winston

“Britannia Security Systems”, Tower Hamlets: pre-war

"Britannia Security Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Today I'm launching the theme that originally got me interested in the idea of seriously documenting and categorising burglar alarms, namely designs evoking World War Two in some way. The Britannia alarm shown here isn't specifically WWII-related, but the Union Jack-decorated letter B conjoined with a heraldic lion is certainly patriotic, and sums up the Fortress Britain (or, less kindly, Little England) mentality that seemed prevalent in the late 1990s when I first started noticing – and, not long after, photographing – these bizarre building adornments. This example is spruce and pristine, in what I like to think of as a "pre-war" state; but there are many more bruised and battered "post-war" Britannias to be found, one of which I'll feature at the end of this category. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“Britannia Security Systems”, Tower Hamlets: pre-war

“Town & Country”, Great Missenden: leafy glade

"Town & Country" burglar alarm, Great Missenden • A natural niche rather than an architectural one, this swathe of leaves is protecting an aptly-named Town & Country alarm (which has an excellent clamp-based logo that I'll feature in more depth another time). I found it in the chi-chi Chilterns town of Great Missenden, long-time home of author Roald Dahl, who now lies buried in the church graveyard (he's dead, obviously). • Spotted: Town centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, HP16, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Chesham and Amersham
“Town & Country”, Great Missenden: leafy glade

“Thorn”, East Grinstead: prim and proper

"Thorn" burglar alarm, East Grinstead • I've already recounted the tangled corporate history of the modernist Thorn alarms, which you'll find here. This 1970s-designed Thorn is protruding through the twee terracotta tiles of a no doubt historic roof, from which – East Grinstead being a prim and proper kind of place – the proud homeowner has cut a neat circular niche to accommodate their big red anti-burglar device. • Spotted: London Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Sussex Mid
“Thorn”, East Grinstead: prim and proper

“Spy Alarms”, Lambeth: a creepy Masonic sign?

"Spy Alarms" burglar alarm, Lambeth • Once upon a time, a proud Lower Marsh retailer had this burglar alarm smartly fitted into a niche in their shop sign. Such was their attention to detail, that before the Spy label was stuck on, they even had the alarm's case painted dark blue to match the fascia. Then along came the sun, the wind and the rain – and off started to peel the Spy label, because it didn't stick to the paint properly. The result is a scarily blank crying / beaming Egyptian-style eye above a decaying paranoiac logo, peeking creepily out of its hole like a weird old sign for some defunct Masonic lodge. (Although Lower Marsh is so odd it wouldn't surprise me if there actually was a Masonic lodge there.) • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
“Spy Alarms”, Lambeth: a creepy Masonic sign?

“Swift”, East Grinstead: they make spit-nests!

"Swift" burglar alarm, East Grinstead • I've got a few Swift alarms of varing designs, but this is the only one with the image of a bird, so the others presumably just refer to a speedy response. And the common swift pictured (rather badly) here really is fast, capable of 134mph speed-bursts, though preferring to cruise at a legal 30mph. The only bird known to mate while flying, its burglar alarm credentials include spending all night on the wing, and repelling nest intruders with vicious fighting and screeching. On the other hand it disappears to warmer climes for eight months of the year, so it's not the most constant of guardians. True fact: that cliche of Chinese cuisine, bird's nest soup, is made from the gluey saliva of cave swifts, which they use to construct cup-like nests. So popular and pricey is this delicacy that the swift spit-nests are now industrially farmed. Eeeuuuw. • Spotted: High Street, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Sussex Mid
“Swift”, East Grinstead: they make spit-nests!

“Security Services”, Stoke-On-Trent: an owl’s face?

"Security Services" burglar alarm, Stoke-On-Trent • You may disagree, but I contend that this represents the face of an owl. An owl made of rope, with the initials SS for eyes, to be sure – but still distinctly an owl, down to the suggestion of ears. Yes, it could be a kinky bra, or a pair of goggles, or just a knot – but that wouldn't be so burglar alarmish. I rest my case. • Spotted: Hanley town centre, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Stoke on Trent Central
“Security Services”, Stoke-On-Trent: an owl’s face?

“Wessex Alarms”, Salisbury: an owl from Hardy country

"Wessex Alarms" burglar alarm, Salisbury • Wessex is the historical stomping ground of the West Saxons, a place name which long predates the invention of burglar alarms, if not owls. But although it is the sharply-drawn setting for Thomas Hardy's depressing bucolic novels, and sounds like a county to rival Sussex, Middlesex and Essex, in administrative terms Wessex doesn't actually exist. The proud name lives on, however, in the collective consciousness of a large swathe of south-western England, and is used to brand everything from radio stations to colleges to – as here – burglar alarms. Wiltshire, the "Wessex" county where I found this, is famed for its neolithic standing stones and bony, chalky hills – an ancient and mysterious landscape, at its most other-worldly by twilight. So a silhouetted owl seems appropriate, though being perched cutely on a 1970s disco-style logo somewhat detracts from the atmosphere. • Spotted: Town centre, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Devizes
“Wessex Alarms”, Salisbury: an owl from Hardy country

“Owl Alarm Systems”, Southwark: it winks!

"Owl Alarm Systems Westerham" burglar alarm, Southwark • Having spent the last couple of weeks researching the tangled corporate histories of modernist-styled alarms, I've decided to take things easier for a while by writing about birds. Our feathered friends are very popular on alarms, with plenty of hawkish hunters and thieving magpies, but many less obvious suspects too, such as ducks, swans and doves. Owls cover all the alarm bird bases: they're wise, they catch prey at night, and they're cute too. One of my favourites is this charming 1970s-style drawing reminiscent of the early work of illustrator Jan Pienkowski (famous for his Meg, Mog and Og kids' books). Brilliantly, the owl has got a little light in each of its eyes: if you look closely, you can see that the left one is lit up red, while the right one is off. It's winking at us! • Spotted: Sawyer Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Owl Alarm Systems”, Southwark: it winks!

“Lander”, Tower Hamlets: a Scottish family tale

"Lander Alarms" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • I have always been intrigued by these Lander boxes. There are plenty still around, but the well-preserved example here is an exception: most are extremely rusty and sun-bleached, and appear to have been abandoned decades ago. I was first attracted by their abstract geometrical logo, which can also be read as two Ls with a red sensor in the middle, echoing the bulb beneath. If repeated, it would make a snazzy piece of 1970s fabric design, and like the Capstan identity of a few days ago, harks back to the heyday of rigorous Swiss graphics. The two Ls surely represent the two Landers behind this Scottish family enterprise: old father Lander, who founded the firm, and whose first name I can't discover; and his entrepreneurial son Ronald (aka Ron), who by his 20s had got a BSc in Electrical Engineering and established the only mortgage brokerage in Scotland. He joined his father's alarm business in the 1970s, rapidly building it up and then in 1979 progressively selling it out to RMC Group (a building supplies conglomerate later notorious for the 1989 Marchioness disaster, when its aggregate dredger Bowbelle rammed a Thames pleasure boat with the loss of 60 lives). Ron stayed on as MD of Lander Alarms until 1985, growing it by acquisition into one of the UK's three largest electronic security firms, upon which RMC offloaded it for nearly £50m to Automated Security Holdings, later bought by Lord Ashcroft's ADT, itself ending up part of global behemoth Tyco. Ronald Lander, meanwhile, exited a millionaire – which meant more in the 1980s than it does now – and got into educational software and civic duties, becoming one of Scotland's best-known business figures and earning a Professorship and an OBE. His internet mentions seem to dry up after 1997, but neither have I come across an obituary – so who knows where the man behind Lander is today, though his alarms look like they gave up the ghost when he sold out in 1979. Fortunately they age exceptionally well, fading gracefully into sepia-toned tableaux of beautiful decay – a theme I'll be returning to later. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“Lander”, Tower Hamlets: a Scottish family tale

“Thorn”, Cirencester: reassuring red drum

"Thorn" burglar alarm, Cirencester • There are two main variations of these reassuringly large red drums with their mysterious blue-black panel: ones saying Thorn, and ones saying Thorn EMI, which helps establish their date. This is pre-1980s, as it bears the stylish logo of Thorn Electrical Industries, named not after spiky vegetation but its founder Jules Thorn, a Viennese Jewish emigré later knighted for his philanthropic efforts (there are lots of Lords in burglar alarm land). From its inception in 1926 (the high days of Modernism indeed) until his retirement in 1976, Sir Jules grew Thorn from a specialist lighting company into one of UK's largest electrical businesses; but after his death in 1980, a familiar tale of deregulated slash and burn kicks in. The EMI merger occurred in 1979, then in 1994 the alarm division went solo again as Thorn Security Group, having been subject to a £38m partial management buyout (so being spared the hubristic noughties debacle of EMI's colossally debt-financed takeover by Guy Hands and subsequent seizure by US bank Citigroup – another fine British company lost). In 1997, Thorn merged with its two biggest rivals Modern Alarms and ADT to become ADT Fire and Security PLC, its familiar name finally disappearing forever. So, to summarise the red drums' design timeline: those saying simply Thorn are pre-1980s; those branded Thorn EMI are 1979–1994; there is also a version with a substantially different logo saying Thorn Security, presumably from the 1994–1997 post-EMI period; and Wikipedia reckons that although ADT replaced most of the famous red boxes after 1997, they also continued to manufacture heritage Thorn systems till quite recently, so possibly that included the reassuring red drums too. • Spotted: Town centre, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cotswolds
“Thorn”, Cirencester: reassuring red drum

“Bell Intruder Alarms”, Aylesbury: Quasimodo

"Bell Intruder Alarms" burglar alarm, Aylesbury • This is presumably an updated version of yesterday's design, now divested of its awkward diagonal logo, though the clip-art church bell remains. In reality, alarm bells are the circular kind that get hammered at high speed, so it's not a strictly accurate portrayal; imagine how much more lively our streets would be if there really was a tiny church bell in every burglar alarm, being tolled by a mini-hunchback swinging on a rope. • Spotted: Cambridge Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Aylesbury
“Bell Intruder Alarms”, Aylesbury: Quasimodo

“RJC”, Southwark: protozoan ambiguity

"RJC" burglar alarm, Southwark • Amazing the level of abstraction the human brain can resolve: thus I can discern that this useless silhouette is meant to represent three bells, not some form of deep-sea protozoan. The firm's title is even more cryptic: at which letter should we start? Based on western reading conventions, it could be RJC if going top to bottom and left to right, JRC if followed strictly from left to right, or RCJ if going clockwise. I've plumped for the first option, but however you decode it, what it stands for is unknown. A study in ambiguity indeed. Oh, and note the tiny flecks of green paint on its base and sides – touching evidence that it's been carefully painted around at some point (it was found in Borough Market, where bankers buy vegetables priced in gold ingots, and practically everything's painted green). • Spotted: Park Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“RJC”, Southwark: protozoan ambiguity

“Minder”, Lambeth: knackered nuclear device

Minder burglar alarm Lambeth 2011"Minder" burglar alarm, Lambeth • With its red button light and circuit-laced dial, this it looks like the decaying control panel for some superannuated nuclear device, and is the first of this design I've come across. I only found it yesterday, on some railway arches near one of Damien Hirst's many studios; if I'd discovered it earlier I'd have posted it after the Crime Fighter alarm, whose graphics so reminded me of The Sweeney's opening credits. Comedy crime caper Minder was Euston Films' equally classic follow-up, and also starred Dennis Waterman, albeit on the other side of the law – he played Terry McCann, minder of small-time spiv Arthur Daley, for those too young to remember. Minder was big in the 1980s, and though I'm no expert in electronics, the antique wiring on display here appears of the same vintage as Tel-boy's Ford Capri, and the graphics even older. I only hope Damien Hirst appreciates having such an unusual vintage alarm box opposite his premises. • Spotted: Newport Street, Lambeth, SE1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall Minder burglar alarm Lambeth 2011
“Minder”, Lambeth: knackered nuclear device

“Liberty”, Derby: “Noooooo!”

Liberty burglar alarm Derby 2010"Liberty Security" burglar alarm, Derby • To unpack the notions of "Liberty" and "Security" presented here would require more philosophical knowledge than I possess. I prefer to think of this Statue of Liberty not as the quintessential symbol of freedom presumably intended, but as the toppled post-armageddon wreck at the end of Planet of the Apes. Preferably with Homer (Simpson) prostrate before it, wailing "Noooooooooooo!" • Spotted: Town centre, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Derby South Liberty burglar alarm Derby 2010
“Liberty”, Derby: “Noooooo!”

“X Ray Alarms”, Hersham: an evil alien burglar

X-Ray Alarms burglar alarm, Hersham, 2002"X Ray Alarms" burglar alarm, Hersham, 2002 • An unusual shape which combines several top burglar alarm tropes in one naive logo: shield, lightning bolt, dated technology, and a poorly-drawn running figure, sporting swag bag, unidentifiable stick, and what is presumably meant to be an eye mask (did burglars EVER wear those?) but looks more like a motorcycle helmet. Or maybe the burglar’s meant to be an alien. Or an evil radiologist. Hersham also spawned Sham 69 and Shakin’ Stevens, so it doesn’t seem impossible. • Spotted: Ambleside Avenue, Hersham, Surrey, KT12, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Esher and Walton X-Ray Alarms burglar alarm, Hersham, 2002
“X Ray Alarms”, Hersham: an evil alien burglar

“Pointer”, Glasgow: a discreet “vandal” sticker

"Pointer" burglar alarm with "Vandal" sticker, Glasgow, 2010"Pointer" burglar alarm with "vandal" sticker, Glasgow, 2010 • A very discreet vandal indeed must have placed this tiny sticker. It's on an updated version of the ancient Pointer alarm from Hull I posted a while back. This design tames the bonkers dog logo within a circle, and replaces the stonking stencil font with tasteful Officina, the Helvetica of the 1990s, designed by type god Erik Spiekermann. The alarm's designer appears to be channelling a 1990s CD sleeve (presumably current at the time), and probably had to fight for that lower case "p" – it's an exciting life in the world of graphics. I still prefer the original naive design, though. • Spotted: Merchant City area, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G1, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow Central "Pointer" burglar alarm with "Vandal" sticker, Glasgow, 2010
“Pointer”, Glasgow: a discreet “vandal” sticker

“Pointer”, Hull: poignant poetic port dog

Pointer burglar alarm"Pointer" burglar alarm, Kingston upon Hull, 2005 • The isolated north-eastern city of Kingston upon Hull has been regularly voted Britain's worst place to live, but it suited resident poet Philip Larkin, who described it as having "a different resonance". I found the ex-fishing port to be wistful and atmospheric, which is reflected in this charming burglar alarm. The pointer is not a vicious or scary dog: in fact it is noted for its friendliness, intelligence and loyalty. What it can do is find prey once it's been shot down by a hunter – which makes one wonder about burglar-catching strategies in Hull. The design is unusual, and one of my favourites: a robotic-looking stencil dog with tea-crate lettering – apt for a port – that reminds me of an early 1980s record sleeve design (if I could be bothered to search my old vinyl collection, I'd find the precise one I'm thinking of). I've found later variations of this logo elsewhere in the north, but though the typography changes, the stylised pointer remains. Perhaps Philip Larkin would have appreciated it, because he was fond of animals, and waxes lyrical about both dogs and Hull in his famous poem "Show Saturday" – though he fails to mention burglar alarms. • Spotted: Town centre, Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire, HU1, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hull West and Hessle Pointer burglar alarm
“Pointer”, Hull: poignant poetic port dog