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2007

“Knight”, Camden: peeling Venetian violence

"Knight Security Services" burglar alarm, Camden • Yet another slice of the Kilburn High Road's architectural riches, this peeling, honey-toned wall would not look amiss on the medieval streets of Venice. Appropriate then that the nicely matching alarm is titled Knight, though its razzle-dazzle pink logo is more suggestive of a 1980s knitting store. The alarm has replaced a bigger version since the wall was repainted (some time ago, clearly); I like the way it's been accurately placed in the bottom left corner of the bare patch. Knights and their world of courtly, aristocratic violence are a hugely popular burglar alarm trope, and one I shall return to. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
“Knight”, Camden: peeling Venetian violence

“Rely-a-Bell”, Camden: biblical queen

"Rely-a-Bell" burglar alarm, Camden • After yesterday's burglar alarm on a George Gilbert Scott church, another piece of High Victorian Gothic, also on a biblical theme: Hephzibah was an Old Testament queen, though here she adorns a dusty shopfront on the Kilburn High Road. The glorious Italianate windows have survived rather better than the super-rusty Rely-A-Bell beside them, however. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
“Rely-a-Bell”, Camden: biblical queen

“Windsor Alarms”, Camden: fan-shaped finial

"Windsor Alarms" burglar alarm, Camden • A lovely fan-shaped finial which is worthy, like the adjacent alarm, of genteel Windsor – but was actually found in hardscrabble Kilburn High Road, which despite its grinding traffic and endless parade of plasticky budget shopfronts is full of architectural wonders if you look upwards. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
“Windsor Alarms”, Camden: fan-shaped finial

“Britannia”, Camden: proud and ragged flag

"Britannia" burglar alarm, Camden • I started the World War II category with a Britannia alarm, and I'll end with one. This is older than the first example, and being made of metal rather than plastic has rusted quite spectacularly. Ironically, the graphics themselves are more modern (in the design sense) than on the later alarm: a swinging sixties logo in strict Swiss graphics style, its restrained sans serif font stating simply "Britannia". The North London elements have reduced it to a sorely ragged flag, but it still has an austere dignity and is a fine introduction to the next category, beautiful decay. • Spotted: Kilburn High Road, Camden, London, NW6, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn
“Britannia”, Camden: proud and ragged flag

“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

“Banham”, Westminster: tilting at niches

"Banham" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • My final niche for now is pushing it a bit, because I accept that this isn't strictly a niche. However, this tilting Banham alarm, looking as if it's trying desperately to break free of its restricted slot on a smart SW1 balcony, doesn't really fit within any other theme, and is a nice counterpoint to the bricked-up Banham a few entries back. And that's niche enough for me. • Spotted: Vauxhall bridge Road, City of Westminster, London, SW1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
“Banham”, Westminster: tilting at niches

“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

“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

“OTS”, Tower Hamlets: an owl on a key – how sweet!

"OTS" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • A chubby owl sitting on a giant key in front of a crescent moon – how sweet is this? The initials OTS  are branded on the owl's breast and below its feet, but there's no clue as to what this unexplained acronym stands for. The firm itself is equally mysterious; all I can discover is that it was once based in the Northumberland Park area of Tottenham, London, and by the noughties had merged with a Chingford company called Davenheath. The 081 number dates it as pre-1995, and there's also a later 0181 numbered version which must be pre-2000. On this latter iteration, the key, moon and chest tattoo are gone, and the owl is simply perched on a big OTS logo. It was probably meant to look more sophisticated – but, charmingly, it still looks just as much like a children's book illustration. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“OTS”, Tower Hamlets: an owl on a key – how sweet!

“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

“DIS Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: super-naive

"DIS Alarms" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Once again a Whitechapel alarm boasting church bells, even though the inscrutable acronym DIS makes no reference to campanology. These bells are even worse than the amateur Rotring drawing on yesterday's Sound Alarm – in fact it looks as if the DIS designer has paid a red biro double homage to that hapless effort, in the manner of Andy Warhol making a multiple Marilyn. This blog is essentially an ever-growing taxonomy of burglar alarms, which means I'm assigning each design to various categories. As these are artistic rather than scientific groupings, my judgments are often subjective, and never more so than for the category "Naive". Burglar alarm design is a vernacular art, so the vast majority of logos are naive in some way (which is one of the reasons I like them); but a category which includes nearly everything isn't worth having, so I've had to work out gradations. My master database, a monster Lightroom catalogue holding a decade's worth of photos, loosely sorts them under the headings "quite naive", "very naive", and "super-naive" (I said it wasn't scientific). It's always a hard call deciding what to put where, but when you see a super-naive design you know it – and we have one here. In it goes! • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“DIS Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: super-naive

“Sound Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: badly-drawn bell

"Sound Alarms" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • One of my favourite alarms, this is so naive it's like fine art. I love the simple yet double-edged name, the basic typography, and just look at that wonky Rotring bell drawing – Tracey Emin couldn't have done better. It's been mightily laboured over, with valiant attempts at shading, texture and even soundwaves – but you wouldn't confuse it with the work of a trained designer. And all that effort wasted, because the church-style swinging bell depicted is precisely the type never found in burglar alarms. Although it's a really old alarm box, there are still plenty knocking around in the Whitechapel area, which perhaps not uncoincidentally also houses the oldest bell foundry in Britain. Tracey Emin also lives nearby – go figure. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“Sound Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: badly-drawn bell

“Bels”, Tower Hamlets: form follows function

"Bels" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • A perfect example of form following function: a round case for a round bell for a company called Bels (I'll forgive that missing 'L'). Thanks to learned comments by Richard Wilson and John Durrant, I now know that these cases are called "sounders", that this particular shape is called a Eurobell, and that bells in alarms are considered very last century – which makes the bell-based relics still on display all the more charming. To deconstruct the graphics on this, one thing is puzzling me: what on earth are the funny round symbols at either end meant to be? They look a bit like screw heads, so I reckon the whole design is supposed to conjure up visions of a shiny 3D enamel nameplate. Which it doesn't. • Spotted: Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“Bels”, Tower Hamlets: form follows function

“Detecta Link”, Lowestoft: Detecta Dull

Detecta Link burglar alarm, Lowestoft, 2007"Detecta Link Fire & Security Systems" burglar alarm • To catch a thief requires detection, and detection is by its very nature painstaking and procedural, but do alarms featuring a detection theme have to be so dull? The answer, it seems, is yes: and this snorey object is one of the more interesting ones, because at least it's a bit 1970s, and features sound waves. (In general, concentric circles or arcs seem to represent sound, rather than light.) There are duller to come. • Spotted: Town centre, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Waveney Detecta Link burglar alarm, Lowestoft, 2007
“Detecta Link”, Lowestoft: Detecta Dull

“Wilton”, Salisbury: half man, half wasp

Wilton burglar alarm, Salisbury, 2007"Wilton Alarm Services" burglar alarm, Salisbury • Possibly inspired by Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, what we have here is a creature half human, half insect, and all bonkers. Its nether regions are waspish, with a striped thorax resembling a pantomime burglar's t-shirt, while its back sports just one weird bubble-shaped wing. Atop this sprout the head and arms of a pudgy middle-aged man, bald save for a huge, lop-sided sprig of hair. One arm clutches an object (maybe a burglar alarm) saying "WASP" to his breast, while the other brandishes a fencing foil, presumably denoting the sting of justice. Grinning manically, he hovers like a drunken fancy dress uncle above the firm's logo – whose initials inexplicably spell WAS, not WASP, and are printed in blue and white rather than the more logical black and yellow. What a mutant fencing wasp has to do with burglar-catching is anyone's guess: I like to think the character was designed by the security firm's owner, in the colours of his favourite football team, and portrays himself. One of the craziest burglar alarm designs I have found. • Spotted: Town centre, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Devizes Wilton burglar alarm, Salisbury, 2007
“Wilton”, Salisbury: half man, half wasp

“Corinium Security”, Cirencester: shell suited shadow

Corinium Security burglar alarm, Cirencester, 2007"Corinium Security" burglar alarm, Cirencester • An unusually athletic shadowy intruder in a pre-internet shell suit, performing Parkour across a DIY array of stickers in a manner reminiscent of the Milk Tray man. Most Corinium alarms feature elaborate classical designs (Cirencester, aka the Roman town of Corinium Dobunnorum, is that kind of place) – I'll get round to those later. • Spotted: Town centre, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cotswolds Corinium Security burglar alarm, Cirencester, 2007
“Corinium Security”, Cirencester: shell suited shadow

“DR Security”, Tower Hamlets: What’s up, Doc?

DR Security burglar alarm, London E2, 2007"DR Security" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets, 2007 • "Help, Doctor Security, can you make a house call? There's a huge red throbbing pimple on my roof! When you get here, just climb in through the giant No Entry sign, and mind that nasty gap in the floorboards..." • Spotted: Three Colts Lane, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow DR Security burglar alarm, London E2, 2007
“DR Security”, Tower Hamlets: What’s up, Doc?

“Masco”, Lambeth: fin-de-siecle skate-punk

Masco burglar alarm, London SE1, 2007"Masco Security Systems" burglar alarm, Lambeth, 2002 • An attractively distressed tableau from faded yet quietly groovy Lower Marsh market behind Waterloo Station (there's more about this lovely area on my other blog, Art Anorak). The box doesn't quite date from the days when William Blake lived nearby, but 01 phone codes disappeared in 1990, so no wonder it's rusty. The decorations date from around 2000, when there was a spate of artful graffiti in the area, probably related to customers of the uber-cool Cide skateshop (since closed down). The alarm itself falls into the ever-popular "unexplained acronym" category: MASCO could stand for anything, though I bet the S stands for Security – it always does. • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall Masco burglar alarm, London SE1, 2007
“Masco”, Lambeth: fin-de-siecle skate-punk

“Warren Bannister”, Derby: Ena Sharples meets bulldog

"Warren Bannister Partnership Gloucester" burglar alarm, Cirencester, 2007 • Printed on what appears to be a photocopy, this label is peeling from an elderly alarm in the West Country, where life moves slowly. Thus, rather than snarling, this decaying bulldog has an expression of quizzical disapproval; he looks less likely to take anti-burglar action than to harrumph and go back to reading his Daily Telegraph (or maybe it's a she: add a hairnet and you've got a dead ringer for Ena Sharples). Design-wise, it's a rare example of a black alarm, and features enjoyably retro 1970s disco typography. Closer inspection shows that the doughty mastiff has the initials WBP emblazoned on his collar. It's meant to honour his ambiguously-named organisation, the Warren Bannister Partnership (one person? Two? A spy ring perhaps?) – but it's also just a slip of the tongue away from the acronym for waste paper basket. Which is where this old dog looks like he's heading next. • Spotted: Town centre, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cotswolds
“Warren Bannister”, Derby: Ena Sharples meets bulldog