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“Kingfisher Fire and Security”, Southwark: realism

"Kingfisher Fire & Security" burglar alarm, Southwark • This is a more recent version of yesterday's burglar alarm. I don't feature two alarms by the same firm unless they're different enough to make an interesting comparison, and these two show the march of design and technology progress: from yesterday's monochrome silhouette on a rectangular box to today's photorealistic plumage on a jewel-shaped one. Despite a slight name change they've managed to keep continuity by retaining the same typography and ensuring the bird has the same pose – although now it's printed in full glowing colour, we can see that by choosing a back view, the designer has lost the kingfisher's most distinctive feature, its bright orange breast. • Spotted: Old Jamaica Road, Southwark, London, SE16, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Kingfisher Fire and Security”, Southwark: realism

“Kingfisher”, Winchester: flying blue flash

"Kingfisher Security (UK) Limited" burglar alarm, Winchester • Yet another seemingly-arbitrary bird, the kingfisher's main burglar alarm credentials are hunting skills, feisty territoriality and the appearance of a blue flash as it flies (suggestive perhaps of a strobe, though this is a mite fanciful). It doesn't have an impressive cry, so its "siren" properties are not a qualification. However its main attractions are surely its attractive looks and name: the implied monarchy theme is ever-popular with security firms. The most interesting non-security fact I could discover about about kingfishers is that they have a transparent third eyelid and extraordinarily complex eyes, which work in two modes: sharply monocular in air, and blurrily binocular in water – all the better for spearing fish. • Spotted: Town centre, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Winchester
“Kingfisher”, Winchester: flying blue flash

“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!

“Macaw”, Nottingham: where’s my perch?

"Macaw Security" burglar alarm, Nottingham • The brightly-plumaged macaw protects its nest with aggressive wing-flapping and a raucous screech, presumably the rationale for its use on an alarm. This unhappy creature has been transplanted from a tropical forest to Nottingham Forest (well, nearby); hunched sullenly in thin air, it's been deprived of both colour and perch. Maybe they got nicked – it seems I'd stumbled into some kind of crime paranoia hot-spot. Shortly after photographing this I was chased down the road by a raucously screeching homeowner, who was convinced I'd been casing the joint; she claimed her large and impressive villa had recently been broken into four times, despite having a burglar alarm. Not this one, I hasten to add. • Spotted: Mansfield Road, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Nottingham East
“Macaw”, Nottingham: where’s my perch?

“Dove”, Rugby: the burglar alarm of peace

"Dove Security Systems" burglar alarm, Rugby • An unusual bird choice for an anti-theft device: the allegedly sweet-natured dove, traditional symbol of peace and love. The simplified dove-with-olive-branch graphic popular with peace movements today derives from a post-WWII design by Picasso, but even though this photo is blurred (the alarm was really high up and shot at dusk), I can tell it's not one of Pablo's. Presumably that is an olive branch in its beak, though it looks more like a leech – which would be appropriate to represent a burglar, but seems unlikely. Technically, as a branch of the Columbidae family, the dove is just a small non-feral pigeon. But "Small Non-Feral Pigeon Security Systems" doesn't have quite the same ring. • Spotted: Market Place, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Rugby
“Dove”, Rugby: the burglar alarm of peace

“Thames Security”, Windsor: fierce royal swan

"Thames Security" burglar alarm, Windsor • Swans may look graceful, but they are fiercely protective of their nests and capable of breaking human limbs with the merest flick of a haughty wing (or so I was always warned as a child, when we lived next door to a swan-infested creek). This alarm has a posher location near the Queen's main castle at Windsor, which lies on an equally swan-infested stretch of the river Thames. Swans were once highly prized as game meat, and in the 12th century only the rich were allowed to own them; ever since then, the Crown has retained rights over all "unmarked" swans (ie those not owned by anyone else) in open water. In Windsor, this means the Thames, home of a yearly ceremony called "Swan Upping",  in which ridiculously-dressed men count the swans for benefit of tourists, and presumably to make sure none of the Monarch's birds get nicked. Thus Windsor, the Thames, swans and security are inextricably linked; and this burglar alarm is not as surreal as it may at first appear (apart from the giant floating T). • Spotted: Town centre, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4, England, 2009 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Windsor
“Thames Security”, Windsor: fierce royal swan

“Frome Security Centre”, Frome: a duck enchained

"Frome Security Centre" burglar alarm, Frome • Frome (pronounced Froome) is an arty little Somerset wool town that was once a hotbed of non-conformism, and is full of interesting old architecture including a plethora of quirky churches and chapels. So, rather than have a fierce hawk or a wise owl on their burglar alarms, they have this distinctly non-conformist design – a wacky cartoon duck tethered to what looks like the ball-cock from a lavatory cistern, but is in fact a convict's ball and chain. Why the duck needs to be imprisoned, or what it has to do with preventing crime, is impossible to guess. It's just one of those whimsical West Country things. • Spotted: Town centre, Frome, Somerset, BA11, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Somerton and Frome
“Frome Security Centre”, Frome: a duck enchained

“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

“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!

“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!

“Yale”, Cambridge: an Ivy League pairing

"Yale" burglar alarm, Cambridge • This Ivy League pairing of a Yale in Cambridge is the last "Modernist" alarm for now. I'd intended to write up this theme with brief musings on stylish shapes and clean design, and instead got drawn into researching the fates of a tangled web of venerable old firms which became the global trading chips of late 20th-century multinationals. And it's not just the traditional UK brands that have suffered this fate: Yale is the US equivalent of Chubb, a storied name dating back over 150 years that's now in the hands of an overseas corporation. The company was started in around 1840 in Newport, New York, by Linus Yale Senior, an innovative locksmith of Welsh extraction. The family firm's future was assured by his brilliant son Linus Junior, who invented both the standard combination lock, and – inspired by a 4,000-year-old Egyptian design – the Yale cylinder lock, used to this day. I can't find much hard fact on the internet, but based on various Wikipedia citations and Yale's own multifarious sites, the timeline is briefly thus. Yale soon became Yale & Towne – Henry R Towne being a business partner – and expanded worldwide. Yale UK was founded in 1929 in Willenhall in the West Midlands, and in 1987 their US owner First City Industries Inc sold them off for $400m to Valor PLC, a long-established gas fire manufacturer from Birmingham (the UK Brum, despite the US spelling of Valor), becoming Yale & Valor. After various other corporate machinations, they were bought in 1991 by Williams Holdings, a 1980s conglomerate (a lumpy word for a lumpy business model) formed to snaffle up underperforming businesses; in 1997 they also snaffled up Chubb, so for a brief period the two historic names were conglomerate bedfellows. In 2000 Williams, now a trendy PLC, sold the Yale Lock Company to Finno-Swedish security giant Assa Abloy. Confusingly, Chubb's locks division also ended up at Assa Abloy, where they're now sold under the Union brand (another historic locksmith that got swallowed up); while Chubb's alarms division ended up at US behemoth United Technologies Corporation, where it's used as the umbrella brand for all the other security firms UTC has acquired. Assa Abloy still use the Yale brand, and – to return to my original idea of writing sweet nothings about design and styling – have created a rather beautiful identity. This shiny round yellow siren with its cleverly incorporated blue strobe is the best new design I've seen for years, its sophisticated curves suggesting a Modernist sculpture (Brancusi, perhaps). It's a true successor to the Modern Alarms "jelly mould" which kicked off this Modernist category, and a vast improvement on the fussy faceted gem-shapes of the last decade. There's also a wedge-shaped version of this Yale, which functions as a dummy box; it's OK, but – like a boring chunk of Cheddar to the siren's gleaming golden Gouda – far less attractive. Cheddar's actually tastier than Gouda, but we'll let that pass. • Spotted: Regent Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of South Cambridgeshire
“Yale”, Cambridge: an Ivy League pairing

“Secom”, Southwark: not impersonal but inscrutable

"Secom" burglar alarm, Southwark • I've never been very interested in these polite Secom alarms – both the graphics and the name are so impersonal, like something from a Swiss clinic. Even their unique proprietary sounder, a flattish sort-of-triangle reminiscent of a clunky British electrical plug, is fundamentally boring. Having always assumed that these were the signifiers of a dull European multinational, I was surprised to discover a far more exotic provenance: for Secom are Japan's biggest, and oldest (according to them) private security firm. So, inscrutable rather than impersonal – my impressions were at least semi-correct. Founded in 1962 by Makoto Iida and Juichi Toda, Secom claim to have pioneered the "man-machine philosophy" – not, sadly, an army of tiny robots, but a combination of "highly trained personnel and high technology security equipments" (sic). They expanded in a similar manner to the classic British alarm outfits of the 60s – except, rather than being eventually absorbed by an external multinational, they did the absorption themselves, listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1978. In 1991 they acquired the large UK firm Caroll Security Group, itself a successor to the family-owned Lodge Lock and Safe Company, founded in 1918 (I've never spotted a Lodge alarm, though Caroll's unusual round-topped boxes are still around). There are now Secom operations in 12 countries, including the USA, Australia and much of Indo-China, and I bet they use the same boring identity in every single place. Secom's Japanese website certainly uses the same colours and logo, alongside a version in Japanese script and a badly-designed tangle of cute cartoons. It's so impenetrable that I haven't been able to find any images of native Japanese Secom boxes, but I can report that they do to offer Secom food, which looks pretty revolting. • Spotted: Farnham Place, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Secom”, Southwark: not impersonal but inscrutable

“Shorrock”, Camden: red star of Blackburn

"Shorrock" burglar alarm, Camden • I've always been attracted by this subtly stylish pentagon with its flaring red sun, but most examples have faded to blank-faced anonymity. Originally called Shorrock Develoments, the firm was founded in 1962 by Stanley Shorrock, said by some to have invented the first UK burglar alarm (though there had been several UK alarm firms before this, so I'm not sure if that's true). I could find virtually nothing about Stanley Shorrock on the internet, despite an obsessive search; I think he ended up a Sir, and probably started life in Blackburn, which is where he based the firm. Shorrock is an old local place name, cropping up regularly for hundreds of years around the Lancashire town, where there's a Shorrock Lane to this day. It's also a common surname in the area; in fact the current Labour councillor for Shadsworth, the ward where Shorrock's factory was based, is called Jim Shorrock – coincidence? I did turn up a textile machinery designer from Blackburn called Stanley Shorrock, who in the 1950s co-developed the first British tufted carpet manufacturing machine with Brian Mercer, but I have no idea if that's the alarm firm's founder – the dates tie in, so it's entirely possible. The known facts are less intriguing, being – as with all these big security firms – mainly a string of post-1980s mergers and acquisitions. Shorrock, under the mysterious but successful Stanley, expanded thoughout the 1960s to become a large and respected firm. They designed and manufactured their own security systems, building two factories in the Blackburn suburb of Shadsworth in the early 1970s; the blue metal Shorrock boxes with faded white lettering still occasionally seen perhaps date from this era. In 1985 Shorrock listed on the stock exchange, and in 1986 they were snapped up by BET PLC, a UK conglomerate once called British Electric Traction and better known for its bus operations. This must have led to the era of the fine pentagonal box shown here, its hint of the launderette harking back to the days when modernist graphics were considered suitable for everything from electronics to detergent. In fact that spiky star is a twin of the once-familiar logo of Rediffusion, a TV company owned by BET until the mid-1980s. In 1996, BET got taken over in a hostile bid by Rentokil Initial PLC, the unholy alliance of a pest-control firm and an industrial launderer (perhaps they were attracted by the washaday-style logo). At this point their alarms became branded Initial Shorrock, and by 2000 just Initial; they retained the chic pentagons, but the graphics became an undistinguished 90s affair, still much in evidence on the high street today. After several years of grumbles about under-investment and poor management, the division was bought out in 2007 by serial security-firm-gobbler UTC, a US leviathan on a roll after their 2003 aquisition of Chubb alarms. By 2010 all UTC's security brands had been rationalised under the venerable blue triangle of Chubb Systems (perhaps that's why I've recently seen a pentagonal Chubb) – and so Initial Shorrock was no more. Maybe one day I'll find out what happened to Stanley Shorrock, too. • Spotted: Covent Garden area, Camden, London, WC2, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
“Shorrock”, Camden: red star of Blackburn

“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

“Chubb”, Hackney: the oldest brand of all

"Chubb" burglar alarm, Hackney • It's ironic that I selected this iconic blue Chubb box for its Modernist design, as it turns out to be the oldest brand name of all; and also, sadly, a blueprint for the decline of British industry at the hands of high finance over the last 40 years. The company was launched in 1804 by Charles Chubb, who started out selling ships' ironmongery, but moved into security when his brother Jeremiah invented a new type of lock. After gaining a Royal Warrant in the 1830s, the Chubb family enjoyed five generations of global growth, providing security for everything from the Crown Jewels to the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Winston Churchill's wartime papers. By the end of the 1960s the Wolverhampton-based company had swallowed up Rely-A-Bell and many other smaller rivals and was a respected bastion of British industry. According to ex-employee David Ibbs, the rot set in during the 1970s when Chubb damaged its finances by acquiring – under government urging – the failing Gross cash register business. And so, as the era of deregulation dawned, the weakened Chubb shifted from being a proud family-run manufacturer providing careers for life, to being the financial plaything of City moguls driven only by the bottom line. Starting with a misguided acquisition by Racal in 1984, Chubb demerged and remerged with other multinationals several times, "downsizing" (ie making skilled and loyal staff redundant) each time, and gradually splitting apart so that locks, safes and alarms ended up with different owners. Today, the alarms division is just a small part of American conglomerate United Technologies Corporation (UTC), while the other pieces are owned by Swedish multinationals. Chubb's last family boss, George Charles Hayter Chubb, aka the third Baron Hayter, was a highly-regarded Lords cross-bencher who tried to block Maggie Thatcher's destruction of the GLC, and once chaired the Design Council. Presumably his interest in design led to the 1970s introduction of this minimalist blue branding with its striking triangular box, known for obvious reasons as the "Delta". This powerful design has survived Chubb's many changes of ownership and lives on still, its current incarnation being a chunky-looking round-cornered Delta in posh navy plastic. In earlier times there was also a square blue metal box bearing the same logo, and I recently spotted a distressing new pentagonal variation. The example pictured here is a classic old metal Delta with faded paint and sharp corners, possibly dating from the 1980s. The (intentionally?) "chubby" initial C is, apparently, based on the front view of a mortice lock – a last poignant link to the glory days of the original Chubb brothers and their once-great British company. • Spotted: Kings Wharf, Hackney, London, N1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
“Chubb”, Hackney: the oldest brand of all

“Capstan”, Kensington: not the evil cigarettes

"Capstan" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • Because of their clinical 1970s-style design and a name recalling the fiendish hand-blackening Capstan Navy Cut Full Strength cigarettes still common in that era, I've always assumed these were quite old. The shield-shaped box also looks like the product of an earlier, more rigorous era; it's a design classic, but not widely used nowadays except by Banham. I was surprised, therefore, to discover that this firm is very much still in existence, and indeed has its HQ not far from my home. Unlike all the other outfits sporting "Modernist" designs, Capstan seems not (yet) to have been involved in a web of global takeovers; but it's still a long-established firm, founded in 1978, which may be when the design dates from too. Its restrained colour blocks are reminiscent of Swiss graphics, the sort of livery found on the pill packets Damien Hirst loves to use. He loves using cigarettes too, bringing me neatly back to Capstan Navy Cut – which, befitting their nautical branding, were notorious as the most tar-laden tabs on the market. These unfiltered beauties were once advertised to harassed mums thus: "When the kids are getting out of hand and driving you insane – Relax! Relax! Relax! Relax! Let Capstan take the strain!" • Spotted: Gloucester Road, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW7, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington
“Capstan”, Kensington: not the evil cigarettes

“ADT”, Derby: hexagons and tax barons

"ADT" burglar alarm, Derby • I've just emerged from a bout of research on my selection of "Modernist" alarm boxes – Modern, ADT, Thorn, Chubb, Capstan, Lander, Shorrock, Yale – and my head is spinning. I'd chosen them purely on design grounds, but with the exception of Capstan, they form a mind-boggling web of company takeovers, at least proving my theory that these stylish designs were created for the big boys. Security is a serious business, and this is globalism in action: the major firms are like a bunch of ever-larger Pac-Men chomping each other up from the 1900s to the present day, merging, PLC-ing and reverse-takeovering along the way, and led by figures including an emigrée philanthropist, a millionaire professor, a tax-dodging Baron, and a Croesus-salaried CEO currently in jail. Grandaddy of them all is ADT, an American firm formed in 1874, when a bunch of telegraph delivery firms incorporated as the American District Telegraph Company. By the 1960s they were a huge public concern, already operating in Britain, and in 1984 they were taken over by the Hawley Group, an acquisition vehicle run by business mogul Michael Ashcroft – aka controversial Baron Ashcroft of Belize, who was treasurer of the Conservative party while being non-domiciled in Britain and paying no UK tax. He renamed the company ADT Security Systems, registered it in tax haven Bermuda, and in 1997 sold it on to globalcorp Tyco (who make undersea cables and the like), via a reverse-takeover which gave Tyco Bermudan tax status too. At this point Tyco absorbed Modern Alarms and Thorn, and the all-conquering ADT we see here was born. Ashcroft bowed out, and in stepped CEO Leonard Kozlowski, who after trousering $81m in dodgy bonuses – some of which he allegedly spent on $6,000 shower curtains and an ice-sculpture of Michelangelo's David pissing vodka – ended up in jail from 2005 till 2022. I'm sure that nowadays everyone at Tyco and ADT is lovely and kind, and doesn't evade tax or have weeing ice-sculptures. But that's not what I'm really interested in: before I started learning all this, all I cared about was the yellow hexagonal box. So, to get back to the important stuff, it was designed by Colin Marsh for Modern Alarms to replace the round Eurobell featured yesterday, and taken on by ADT when they bought up Modern. ADT have used this so-called "nut" ever since, and they now have branches in over 50 countries, millions of customers, revenues in the billions, and – apparently – a 45 year contract to maintain the security of the British and American governments (expires 2034, so ex-CEO Len will be out of chokey by then). I don't know who Colin Marsh is, but he's obviously a talented designer: it would be nice to think he was getting a royalty for each of his ubiquitous yellow boxes. But given the lack of justice in the world – even the burglar alarm world – he probably isn't. • Spotted: Town centre, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Derby South
“ADT”, Derby: hexagons and tax barons

“Modern Alarms”, East Grinstead: faded optimism

"Modern Alarms" burglar alarm, East Grinstead • This week I'm looking at what I think of as Modernist burglar alarms: those with an unusual rigour of form and branding. They are few in number, and seem mainly to have been bespoke designs for big companies. They also tend to be old, with minimalist design styles recalling the 1970s – before the sloppy post-modernism of the 1980s kicked in, and before purist geometrical boxes were supplanted by fiddly plastic faceting. So where else to start but with Modern Alarms, whose superb name and logo date from the mid-1970s, when the firm's boss, the late Dennis Smith, had it rebranded from Modern Automatic Alarms. It is housed in the classic Eurobell "coke cap" case, designed by Colin Marsh for the Middlesex-based company Scantronic, who specialised in mid- to high-end security equipment (thanks to Richard Wilson for that info). Modern Alarms went on to use a variety of other cases, but they were always of simple form, solid yellow, and with the logo unchanged and well-placed. There are plenty of examples still to be found around London (and doubtless elsewhere), but Modern they are no more: most are sadly faded and effaced, often resulting in wonderful architectural compositions lent a rueful irony by the sunny optimism of that now-decaying name. • Spotted: High Street, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Sussex Mid
“Modern Alarms”, East Grinstead: faded optimism

“Strident Bell”, Marlow: found art object

"Strident Bell" burglar alarm, Marlow • My final bell-themed alarm for now is the superbly-named vintage device which starred as centrepiece of my recent post on red alarms. I've got no idea how old it is; the typeface looks 1930s, but it's more likely to date from the 1950s. Its owners must be fond of it, because at some point someone has repainted the red case, carefully avoiding the lettering – and taking it straight into the realm of the found art object. • Spotted: Riverside area, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Beaconsfield
“Strident Bell”, Marlow: found art object

“Bell”, Borehamwood: not the Tory spin-doctor

"Bell" burglar alarm, Borehamwood • I'm not saying the town where I found this is boring, but there's a reason they call it Borehamwood. It's also a true blue Tory stronghold, which seems to be de rigeur for areas boasting these smart blue-and-silver Bell alarms. For that reason they always make me think of famous Tory spin-doctor Tim Bell, now Baron Bell of Belgravia (really), a founding member of the Conservatives' 1979 election-winning ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and the man credited with creating Margaret Thatcher's deep-voiced, iron-haired, pussy-bowed image. But even though he once led a company called Chime Communications, Lord Bell doesn't really have a connection with Bell alarms – apart from the fact that you will find them both in Belgravia, which is good enough for me. • Spotted: Shenley Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Hertsmere
“Bell”, Borehamwood: not the Tory spin-doctor

“Smart Alarms”, Sheffield: cute little critter

"Smart Alarms" burglar alarm, Sheffield • Sheffield's a quirky place, and this is a quirky design. I think it's meant to represent a circular bell of the type actually used in alarms, rather than the church bells normally portrayed – but it's more reminiscent of a cheerful children's character than a security firm's logo. To me, it looks like a cute little critter with a big round eye hugging and licking the letter A, whose rounded Avant Garde-style typeface only compounds the impression of a CBeebies logo. Who knows, perhaps that's what the designer intended – any place that can produce both Pulp and The Human League has got to be conversant with whimsical weirdness. • Spotted: Alma Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central
“Smart Alarms”, Sheffield: cute little critter

“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

“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

“Rely-a-Bell”, Tower Hamlets: a rare 60s survival

Rely-a-Bell burglar alarm, Wentworth Street London E1, 2010"Rely-a-Bell" burglar alarm, Tower HamletsYesterday's post showed the most common and beloved style of Rely-a-Bell, dating probably from the 1950s. This one, covered in pigeon netting, is far rarer; in fact it's the only example of this design I've seen. It's not the only logo variation to be found – there are a few others on Flickr, where I've made a gallery called Rely-a-Bell: History showing variations from the 1920s–1960s. According to a Flickr comment by ~Notes"The Rely-a-Bell Company dates back to 1921 and was a market leader until 1961 when it was purchased by the Burgot company, which later became Chubb". I'd guess this jaunty and professional-looking logo dates from the mid 1960s (assuming Burgot kept the brand name after they took over); it reminds me of the lettering on detergent packs from that era, and the circular device has something of the launderette about it too. I wonder if this was the last-ever iteration of the Rely-a-Bell livery? For more background on Rely-a-Bell, see this memoir by Dave Robertson, MD of Full Stop security (who have an excellent burglar alarm design I shall feature one day), which starts with his time at Rely-a-Bell in the early 1960s. • Spotted: Wentworth Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Rely-a-Bell burglar alarm, Wentworth Street London E1, 2010
“Rely-a-Bell”, Tower Hamlets: a rare 60s survival

Black alarms: a rare and ageing crew

Burglar alarm colours: black • Despite their smart and sinister appearance, black alarms are rare, so I’ve cheated a bit here. The Rely-a-Bell and Granley boxes probably started out as blue – but they’re so ancient they’ve faded to an indeterminate monochrome. A few more here are blackened by rust, while another is simply black plastic innards. As for the Homeguard alarm, it’s been carefully painted black to match some proud homeowner’s Tudorbethan gables. So apart from The Alarm Company’s newish matt-black effort, which appears to be channeling the logo of a 1970s mobile disco, and the aptly-named Squire, which was found on a half-timbered clothes shop, this is a rather sorry and ageing crew. • Below: a motley selection of alarms passing for black
Black alarms: a rare and ageing crew

Silver alarms: the next generation

Burglar alarm colours: silver • Although I've come across the odd silvery box over the years, 2010 saw a notable trend for super-shiny silver alarms – epitomised by the aptly-named Young & Young and Next Gen examples. Long-standing firms are constantly upgrading to this look, for instance East Tower, whose clip-art Tower Bridge logo has advanced from kitsch to swish by swapping coloured plastic for a mirror finish; or Briar, whose bonkers monogram, a B made of padlocks, looks quite sensible now it's reflective. Silver is one of the few box styles that sits well with slick architecture – but if alarms were all to become this tasteful, I'd soon lose interest in documenting them. • Below: a selection of silver boxes, old and new
Silver alarms: the next generation

Green alarms: a strangely unpopular hue

Burglar alarm colours: green • Apart from the brilliant old Computa Guard and the boring modern Classic, I have found no predominantly green boxes at all, and it's a rare colour in burglar alarm graphics in general (perhaps a niche for avant-garde security firms to exploit). Thus, out of necessity, this small selection includes not just self-coloured designs, but those which use even a modicum of green in their livery. • Below: some of the few alarms I've found which use a bit of green in their design
Green alarms: a strangely unpopular hue

Blue alarms: faded relics and fancy concepts

Burglar alarm colours: blue • Once, blue was the colour of burglar alarm relics – sun-bleached metal boxes that had seen better days, their simple modernist shapes faded to evocative shades of seaside turquoise. But recently a brash Tory navy has been hitting the scene, shiny and strident in complex moulded plastic, boasting fancy concepts such as First Choice and Eurotech. Call me old-fashioned, but I know which kind of blue I prefer. • Below: a selection of old-style light blue alarms (top) and new-style dark blue alarms (bottom)
Blue alarms: faded relics and fancy concepts

Yellow alarms: eggy orange meets ripe urine

Burglar alarm colours: yellow • From eggy orange to ripe urine, yellow is the perfect burglar alarm colour, evoking both sunset and sirens. Yellow boxes attract bold graphics, and cluster at both extremes of the design spectrum: genuinely professional (Yale, Modern); and charmingly naive (most of the rest). The most profuse of all yellow alarms, ADT, combines both approaches – the box is a smart modernist hexagon, while the logo is a strangely naive monogram. ADT have stuck to the same design for years, so they must like it. • Below: a selection of yellow alarms, from modern to manky
Yellow alarms: eggy orange meets ripe urine

Red alarms: more ancient than modern

Burglar alarm colours: red • The most numerous of single-coloured  boxes – more ancient than modern – red alarms sport a lively array of vernacular graphics, usually detailed in white, because not much else shows up on them. It makes them look like fire alarms, and matches those traditional British icons the pillar box and the telephone box (government ministers have red boxes too – what is it with the UK and red boxes?). However, all three types of box are rapidly disappearing: the post and telephone varieties into oblivion, while red alarms tend to be replaced by less strident hues such as white, silver and dark blue – in much the same way as car colours change fashion. I prefer a strident bell, myself. • Below: a selection of vintage red and white alarms
Red alarms: more ancient than modern

Colour photo-essay: A burglar alarm rainbow

This week, an exploration of popular burglar alarm hues – there’s lots of red, yellow and blue, but why so little green? Burglar alarm rainbow Most burglar alarms are a mish-mash of colours on white, but a significant minority are predominantly single-hued, which is far more striking. This week I'm exploring these "found monochromes" (to put it poncily) – starting with a spectrum of the most common. As with other domestic goods, from curtains to cars, burglar alarm colours go in and out of fashion: over the years there's been lots of red, yellow and blue, with silver coming up fast on the inside, but very little green or black – and I've yet to find an orange, pink or purple box. Over the next few days I'll take a closer look at each part of the spectrum. • Above, from top: red, yellow, green, blue, silver, black…
Colour photo-essay: A burglar alarm rainbow

“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!”

“Trustee”, Westminster: a taste of porridge

Trustee burglar alarm Westminster 2004"Trustee Alarms" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • While proceeding through the burglar alarm category of "the law", our failed felon has been punched by a policeman, collared by a bevy of boring detectives, sentenced by a transvestite judge, and has now ended up in chokey. Being a pantomime burglar, he soon becomes a "trustee", a term familiar to watches of classic jail sit-com Porridge as referring to a slightly despised class of prisoners who perform menial duties for the "screws". His final stop – after the cushy playground of his Sky TV-enabled luxury open prison – will be a in the embrace of a very large woman called Liberty, to be posted tomorrow. • Spotted: Tavistock Street, City of Westminster, London, WC2, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster Trustee burglar alarm Westminster 2004
“Trustee”, Westminster: a taste of porridge

“Judge”, Herne Bay: cross-dressing for justice

Judge burglar alarm Herne Bay 2004"Judge Alarms" burglar alarm, Herne Bay • Ah, a stern British judge in his white powdered wig and shiny black tights – what a reassuring picture of justice. I love this hopelessly literal design, though sadly I don't have an in-focus photo of it. Below the main image is another version which, in an example of perfect product placement, I found on a shop called Chainstore Massacre, offering prices both slaughtered and murdered. These alarms predate the UK's court dress reforms of 2008 (a controversial redesign by Betty Jackson), prior to which the entire British judiciary seemed to ponce around in bizarre 18th Century fancy dress. Things have loosened up since then, but in many circumstances wigging up is still required, and even today a High Court judge dresses like this on special occasions. If you want to follow suit, the actual wigs are available here, yours in dark blonde or light grey for two grand apiece. A snip! • Spotted: High Street, Herne Bay, Kent, CT6, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Thanet North Judge burglar alarm Herne Bay 2004 Judge alarm on Chain Store Massacre shop Herne Bay 2004
“Judge”, Herne Bay: cross-dressing for justice

“Arrest”, Glasgow: policing by stealth

Arrest burglar alarm Glasgow 2010"Arrest Security Systems" burglar alarm, Glasgow • After days of dull detective work, once Sherlock was brought in an arrest was smartly made. But whereas burglar alarm firms make free with detection themes, they can't overtly reference the police, so they do it by stealth, employing blue-and-white colour schemes, and names such as this. I once spotted a "Cop" alarm too, somewhere down the immense length of South London's Old Kent Road (aka Murder Mile, so the Cop is well positioned), but I haven't managed to re-find it and photograph it yet. • Spotted: Merkland Street, Partick, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, G11, Scotland, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Glasgow North Arrest burglar alarm Glasgow 2010
“Arrest”, Glasgow: policing by stealth

“Videotech”, Islington: detection on drugs

Videotech burglar alarm Islington 2010"Videotech Security" burglar alarm, Islington • I know Sherlock Holmes was into drugs, but this is ridiculous. He's grown to immense proportions and is squinting at a rubbery gingerbread-style house through a magnifying glass, as if inspecting the chimney for crumbs. It's more like a suburb of the nightmare world inhabited by the sobbing, half-human house on the scary TR Security alarm than the glossy fusion of Video and Tech promised by the firm's title. But at least it's quite amusing, unlike most other detection-themed alarms – as has been demonstrated over last few days. • Spotted: York Way, Islington, London, N1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury Videotech burglar alarm Islington 2010
“Videotech”, Islington: detection on drugs

“Detect Fire and Security”, Bournemouth: sundowner

Detect Fire and Security burglar alarm Bournemouth 2010"Detect Fire and Security" burglar alarm, Bournemouth • Even the apricot glow of an autumnal seaside sunset can't rescue this detective-themed alarm from the depths of dullness. I have a very large set of burglar alarms labelled "boring", and this is firmly in it. Its tedium prompts me to enter lecture mode: note how the rounded neo-humanist font and smooth DTP drop shadow date its design to the late 1990s or beyond, which shows how telling just a few small design details can be. • Spotted: Pier area, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH2, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Bournemouth West Detect Fire and Security burglar alarm Bournemouth 2010
“Detect Fire and Security”, Bournemouth: sundowner

“Detection Protection”, Lambeth: dated doggerel

Detection Protection burglar alarm Lambeth 2009"Detection Protection" burglar alarm, Lambeth • What can I say? Like all the other detection themed alarms, dull, dull dull – and ancient, and faded, and cheaply done – exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a road called Lower Marsh (believe it or not, there's an Upper Marsh, too). But at least it rhymes! • Spotted: Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall Detection Protection burglar alarm Lambeth 2009
“Detection Protection”, Lambeth: dated doggerel

“Detec New Romney”, Bexhill: nuclear quill

Detec burglar alarm Bexhill 2009"Detec New Romney" burglar alarm, Bexhill • The isolated marsh town of New Romney is more ancient than its name suggests, and I "detec" that this alarm's been around a long time too. Painstakingly drawn in scratchy pre-DTP pen lines, it combines the tropes of detection and tech in a naive 1970s blast of letters, as if radiating from the ageing nuclear power station at nearby Dungeness. The famous driftwood garden of overrated 1980s film-maker Derek Jarman is also at Dungeness, while Jarman himself lies long-buried in the graveyard of New Romney's Norman church. Unfortunately he doesn't add any circularity to my thesis, because I actually found this alarm in Bexhill. • Spotted: Marina Arcade, Bexhill, East Sussex, TN40, England, 2009 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Bexhill and Battle Detec burglar alarm Bexhill 2009
“Detec New Romney”, Bexhill: nuclear quill

“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

“Crimefighter”, Whitstable: “Shut it, you slaaaag!”

Crime Fighter burglar alarm, Whitstable, 2002“Crimefighter” burglar alarm, Whitstable • There's a nice 1970s feel to this, perhaps inspired by seminal TV cop show The Sweeney – though it’s not clear whether the fist represents a window-smashing felon, or a big fat punch from the long arm of the law. I prefer to think it's the latter, accompanied by Regan and Carter's immortal phrase: "Shut it, you slaaaaag!" • Spotted: Oxford Street, Whitstable, Kent, CT5, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Canterbury Crime Fighter burglar alarm, Whitstable, 2002
“Crimefighter”, Whitstable: “Shut it, you slaaaag!”

“Crime Stop”, Hackney: the fine art of crime

Crime Stop burglar alarm, Hackney, 2006"Crime Stop" burglar alarm, Hackney • After a parade of shadowy intruders and pantomime burglars, the time has come to firmly lay down the law. Despite its simple message and drippy background, this manages to sum up the prime directive of all burglar alarms, albeit backwards: stop crime. I actually find its washed-out minimalism rather beautiful – it makes me think of stain paintings by Morris Louis or text works by Ed Ruscha. There's obviously something very, very wrong with me. • Spotted: Downham Road, Hackney, London, N1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch Crime Stop burglar alarm, Hackney, 2006
“Crime Stop”, Hackney: the fine art of crime

“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

“TR Security”, Tower Hamlets: Grimm psychodrama

TR Security burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets, 2010"TR Security Alarms" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • This isn't a cartoon, it's a psychodrama. It's so troubling it reminds me of a Grimm's fairy tale, or one of those scary 1960s eastern european animations so brilliantly pastiched in The Simpsons as jerky cut-price replacements for Itchy and Scratchy. Let me describe the scene. The sun is high; the shadows small. A stocky, bizarrely-dressed man with the bulbous nose of a heavy drinker sprints across a featureless wasteland. In his white-gloved, malformed hands he cradles an intricate jewelled crown, the sort normally kept in a monarch's treasury. Peering over his shoulder, masked eyes glinting, he grins triumphantly back at the victim of his crown theft: a neat suburban house. A house that is half human. A house that is sobbing. Its sides heave with emotion, its door gapes in horror, its upstairs windows have become scrunched-up eyes squeezing out huge tears. By its side sits a writhing tangle of shadows, so dark it's impossible to work out what lies within. Maybe it's the house's existential despair; maybe it's the burglar's black soul; maybe it's just a bad drawing of a bush. But the moral is clear: don't store a crown in a suburban house, and if you must, then don't leave the front door open when there's a weird-looking bloke hanging round. • Spotted: Commercial Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow TR Security burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets, 2010
“TR Security”, Tower Hamlets: Grimm psychodrama

“Tops”, Aylesbury: burglar or banker?

Tops Security Solutions burglar alarm, Aylesbury, 2010"Tops Security Solutions" burglar alarm, Aylesbury • Peer closely at this and you'll see a frowning, potato-faced fellow in an eye mask and stripey t-shirt positively pelting along beneath the logo. His defining features are a swag bag as big as he is, and a towering top hat. While it may be unusual to turn to burglar alarms for searing indictments of modern capitalism, it's hard not to see this badly-drawn chancer as a booty-laden banker or toffish politician, fleeing with the hard-earned savings of ordinary folk – a kind of reverse Robin Hood. Adding a further heady whiff of class war to this box are the police-blue colourway, the Tory constituency, and the bits of rubbish stuffed behind it. As for why the cartoon is buried under the logo, my theory is that a relative of Tops' boss did the useless cartoon, and the graphic designer hated it so much they tried to hide it. • Spotted: Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Aylesbury Tops Security Solutions burglar alarm, Aylesbury, 2010
“Tops”, Aylesbury: burglar or banker?

“ES Security”, Southwark: don’t mix crime with mime

ES Security burglar alarm, Southwark, 2010"ES Security" burglar alarm, Southwark • Another window-clutching mime artiste (see also Securitech, Exeter), wearing a strange beret-like hat possibly inspired by annoying Gallic "clown" Marcel Marceau. Unhappily for the lithe snooper, there is a highly advanced second burglar alarm hidden inside the window (I'm assuming this is an interior view), whose powerful sound waves have brutally severed his right foot. That'll teach him to mix crime with mime. This is my last "shadowy intruder" for now, and I must admit I'm rather bored with their anonymous silhouettes – I prefer the bizarre cartoon felons I think of as "pantomime burglars", of which some prime specimens will follow shortly. • Spotted: Southwark Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark ES Security burglar alarm, Southwark, 2010
“ES Security”, Southwark: don’t mix crime with mime

“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

“Regal”, Wandsworth: a work by Neville Brody?

Regal Security Systems burglar alarm, Wandsworth, 2002"Regal Security Systems" burglar alarm (stickered over RH Alarms), Wandsworth • Oh, the ignominy – having another firm's logo plastered over your head. There's enough of the original design showing to discern that this is an RH Alarms box, the same as yesterday's faded felon – their trademark running figures had clearly become yesterday's men. The Regal design is also pretty ancient by now, and looks inspired by the 1980s works of Neville Brody (famed art director of style mag The Face), especially his 1984 record sleeve for Marilyn's Baby U Left Me. I'm sure the logo font is one of his: it's like a cross between Dome and Typeface 4. I can't find a digital version, but of course any old designer could have photocopied the letters from magazine headlines, as was common practice pre-DTP. However Brody did design things like estate agents' boards in his earlier days, so it's not inconceivable he had a hand in this – and a conspiracy theorist would note that his font foundry, Fuse, ran a design competition on the theme of security in 2005. The only regal connotations of the honeycomb device are royal jelly and queen bees (or, coincidentally, The Royal College of Art, where Neville Brody is now head of graphics), but the conceit of taking an aristocratic title is very common amongst the burglar alarm fraternity – and a theme I shall return to. • Spotted: Battersea Park Road, Wandsworth, London, SW11, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Battersea Regal Security Systems burglar alarm, Wandsworth, 2002
“Regal”, Wandsworth: a work by Neville Brody?

“RH Alarms”, Frome: faded felon

RH Alarms burglar alarm (faded), Frome, 2008"RH Alarms" burglar alarm (faded), Frome, 2008 • The ultimate in anonymous intruders: a burglar so bleached that only his generic silhouette remains. With a bit of tweaking in Photoshop, it is possible to discover the logo "RH Alarms" – a suitably uninformative name. • Spotted: Town centre, Frome, Somerset, BA11, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Somerton and Frome RH Alarms burglar alarm (faded), Frome, 2008
“RH Alarms”, Frome: faded felon

“Crime Stop Protected”, Birmingham: death disco

"Crime Stop Protected" burglar alarm, Birmingham, 2005 • The Mad Man burglar from IAS returns, only to be caught in a pulsating op-art circle, reminiscent of HAL's all-seeing "eye" in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's often hard to tell whether such wave visualisations represent sound or light; perhaps this is meant to conjure up both, a blaring hell of screaming sirens and strobing beams, pinning our suave criminal like a moth on a spotlight in a nightmarish 1970s disco. We can see you, Dave... • Spotted: Meriden Street, Birmingham, West Midlands, B5, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Birmingham Ladywood
“Crime Stop Protected”, Birmingham: death disco

“Securitech”, Exeter: mime artistes beware

Securitech burglar alarm, Exeter, 2009"Securitech" burglar alarm, Exeter, 2009 • Another shadowy intruder transfixed within a piercing beam of light (see also JB-Eye), suggesting burglary by mime artiste during a nuclear blast. I'd advise using a neutron bomb, it'll eliminate the felon but leave the building intact. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there actually is a Nu-Tron burglar alarm; I'll dig it out one day soon. • Spotted: Town centre, Exeter, Devon, EX1, England, 2009 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Exeter Securitech burglar alarm, Exeter, 2009
“Securitech”, Exeter: mime artistes beware

“JB-Eye”, Manchester: Pacman eats burglar

JB-Eye burglar alarm, Manchester, 2009"JB-Eye Security Systems" burglar alarm, Manchester, 2009 • "Please, Mr Pacman, don't eat me! I don't want to be a topping on your giant cheese pizza!" This looks like a tiny, pleading figure imploring a monster Pacman not to devour him. The unusual refinement of a shadow suggests a blast of nuclear light emanating from the chomping black blob. What the title JB-Eye has to do with it all is opaque – the name of some weird Pacman religion perhaps? • Spotted: Deansgate area, Manchester, Lancashire, M1, England, 2009 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Manchester Central JB-Eye burglar alarm, Manchester, 2009
“JB-Eye”, Manchester: Pacman eats burglar

“DSA”, Bath: a bizarre Freudian slip

DSA burglar alarm, Bath, 2007"DSA Bath" burglar alarm, Bath, 2007 • At first glance I thought the creator of this otherwise basic design had included touches that were positively Freudian. A doorway with a swishy fringed curtain, conjuring up both sex shop and butcher. A prominent knob, its position implying the door is firmly shut. A shadowy figure grabbing for it: desperate for entry, or escape? A peeping-tom camera spying impassively on the proceedings. And under it all the word "Bath", suggesting a scene from Hitchock. Then I realised the boring truth: the swishy lines are meant to be waves of some kind, emanating from the boxy thing I'd assumed was a camera. What the device really is, and whether it emits sound waves, light beams, or death rays, is left to the potential intruder's imagination. But there's no fringed curtain, and no Freudian subtext. Not intentionally, anyway. • Spotted: Town centre, Bath, Avon, BA2, England, 2007 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bath DSA burglar alarm, Bath, 2007
“DSA”, Bath: a bizarre Freudian slip

“CIA”, Emsworth: secret service snooper

CIA burglar alarm, Emsworth, 2003"CIA" burglar alarm, Emsworth, 2003 • Here's another CIA alarm, more happily composed than yesterday's diagonal effort. Apart from being placed too high up to focus on sharply, everything about CIA alarms is utterly classic: the strident colour, the tabloid typography, the furtive figure. And, of course, being named after one of the world's most notorious spy organisations. Though, assuming the real CIA is not in the UK burglar alarm business, what this memorable acronym actually stands for remains unexplained. • Spotted: Seagull Lane, Emsworth, Hampshire, PO10, England, 2003 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Havant CIA burglar alarm, Emsworth, 2003
“CIA”, Emsworth: secret service snooper

“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?

“IAS”, Sheffield: career criminal or Mad Man?

IAS burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010"IAS" burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010 • Most shadowy intruders seem to be based on the same stumbling silhouette, copied with varying degrees of simplification and skill. This is a particularly extravagant one – note the stack heels, the bulky and flowing jacket, the strangely bouffant hair. He's more like an extra from Mad Men or a drunken salesman than a sneak thief – unless career criminals actually do wear formal attire. The name "IAS" is equally shadowy: an unexplained acronym, beloved of so many burglar alarm firms. Intruder Alert Systems is my guess... (googles)... blimey, it could be, but there are loads of organisations called IAS. International Accounting Standards, that must be it – it's a pretty rumpled suit. • Spotted: Fargate, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central IAS burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010
“IAS”, Sheffield: career criminal or Mad Man?

“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

“Banham”, Kensington: the ponciest burglar of all

Banham burglar alarm, Kensington, 2010“Banham” burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea, 2010 • Unlike the shadowy intruder device, which is simply a generic silhouetted figure, pantomime burglars come in many forms. This refugee from Dexy’s Midnight Runners, on the venerable Banham shield, is by far the most poncey. Who does he think he is, posing in his fancy frame – a gondolier, a mime artiste, a strolling player, a jolly onion seller? He’s even dressed in golden cloth, playing on the beribboned motto “Another Burglar Foiled”. Banham knows it has a reputation as the posho’s burglar alarm, ubiquitous in London’s more gilded postcodes, but this is pushing it. He’s a burglar, goddamit, not a member of the Royal Academy. Interestingly (to some), this New Romantic-looking livery is a fairly recent Banham strategy; previously their alarms were of the minimalist typographic persuasion. From functionalism to frippery: it must be the way society’s going • Spotted: Cheval Place, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW7, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington Banham burglar alarm, Kensington, 2010
“Banham”, Kensington: the ponciest burglar of all

Nameless alarm, Hanley: a classic pantomime burglar

Nameless burglar alarm, Hanley, 2010Nameless burglar alarm, Stoke-on-Trent, 2010 • Felons on burglar alarms seem to come in two types only: the shadowy intruder, and the pantomime burglar. This is a prime example of the latter: stripey t-shirt, black eye mask (here resembling antique goggles), and a big lumpy bag marked swag. A striking work outfit, certainly, but a bit of a giveaway. For good measure, this chap’s wearing some manner of proletarian cap – or maybe it’s a knotted hanky – and has got mightily entangled in a “no entry” sign. No wonder he looks so unhappy. Unlike the artist, who considered this design so iconic that the company name has been omitted. Unless that’s the burglar’s phone number it’s advertising. • Spotted: Hanley town centre, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1, England • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central Nameless burglar alarm, Hanley, 2010
Nameless alarm, Hanley: a classic pantomime burglar

The mystery of “Dogs Full of Money” – solved

How I went in search of a Banksy, and ended up with a Dog Full of Money. Links to DFM Flickr gallery A few days ago I posted a burglar alarm from Bristol with a sticker of a funny dog on it. It looked a bit like a Banksy, so I decided to research it – and what I came across, via the magic of Google, was the phenomenon of “Dogs Full of Money”. Known as DFMs for short, these were a spate of photocopied stickers which appeared internationally in 2006, all bearing mutated variations on the outline of a dog-shaped charity collecting box with three coins dropping into its head, as above. The dog on the burglar alarm was too decayed to guess its author; what led me to hope it was a Banksy was its confident style, and the witty way it made the Shorrock branding read “Shock”. So I worried away like a terrier at the world of DFMs, chasing clues down a maze of ever-older and obscurer web-holes. [More]
The mystery of “Dogs Full of Money” – solved

“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

“Teeth” sticker, Hackney: safety with a snarl

"North London Security" burglar alarm with teeth sticker, Hackney, 2006"North London Security Systems" burglar alarm with teeth sticker, Hackney, 2006 • A burglar alarm that bites, ha ha. There's something martial about this: a Vorticist V-for-victory searchlight flaring above a snarling green hulk-mouth baring tombstone teeth. This alarm should be on the front of the Imperial War Museum, not some grotty shopfront in Shoreditch. Cropped from the bottom of the picture is the immortal graffito "Fuck the Turner" (prize), which about sums up the area's Hoxton art-hipster concerns. Those young folk are lucky they never lived through the Blitz (I'm talking WWII here, not the 1980s night club) – they'd have had far more serious things to worry about. • Spotted: Kingsland Road, Hackney, London, E2, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch "North London Security" burglar alarm with teeth sticker, Hackney, 2006
“Teeth” sticker, Hackney: safety with a snarl

“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

“Ssssh” sticker, Bristol: more mystery graffiti

Nameless burglar alarm with "Ssssh" sticker, Bristol, 2006 • Today, I intended writing an essay exploring the mutant dog stickers phenomenon introduced yesterday. However it's taking me longer than anticipated to research, so I'll post it in a couple more days. In the meantime, I'll feature the other burglar alarms I've found with graffiti-style stickers on them – not many, sad to say. This one is great though. It's from the same time and place as yesterday's dog sticker, so is possibly by the same person. It again looks a bit like a Banksy, and it's certainly witty enough to be by him – the face could be telling the burglar alarm to be quiet, but it could also be advising the burglar, or even warning drunken passersby to pipe down. It's also a bit reminiscent of Shepard Fairey's famous Obey Giant, but Bristol has a really thriving street art culture all its own, so it could be by any number of people. I'd love to get some further info on the artist behind this "Sssh" sticker, if anyone knows anything. None of the big Bristol graffiti blogs I could find had been updated very recently, but a good place to start is www.bristol-street-art.co.uk, which is beautifully designed and has a comprehensive list of links. • Spotted: Clifton area, Bristol, Avon, BS8, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bristol West
“Ssssh” sticker, Bristol: more mystery graffiti

“Shock”, Bristol: is this dog sticker a Banksy?

"Shorrock" burglar alarm with dog sticker, Bristol, 2006"Shorrock" burglar alarm with dog sticker, Bristol, 2006 • This charming dog-stickered burglar alarm is my all time favourite – and, just possibly, a Banksy. At first I thought those were butterflies above the dreamy labrador's head, but they're coins dropping into a slot: it's a drawing of an old-fashioned guide dog collection box, cleverly positioned on a Shorrock burglar alarm to make it read "Shock". So, why do I think it's a Banksy? Firstly, the style and pose of the dog's head – that confident line and slightly wistful, upwards-tilted look is something I associate with a lot of his figures. Secondly, I found it in Bristol, which is where Banksy is from. Thirdly, Banksy often depicts dogs. And fourthly – well, there is no fourth, but I've just always just half-thought it was a Banksy, and enjoyed the mystery. I've now discovered that there was spate of these photocopied dog stickers in 2006, all with their bodies redrawn in strange ways (this is the least mutated I've found) – and one of them did have a Banksy logo on it. However these other versions looked amateur, and any fool can xerox a Banksy logo, so the jury remains out. It's an interesting story, on which I'll post a separate visual essay shortly. In the meantime, I still don't know if this is a Banksy, but it's certainly a one-off, and I'm glad I spotted it. (Update: I later discovered it wasn't a Banksy – the full story is here.) • Spotted: Clifton area, Bristol, Avon, BS8, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bristol West "Shorrock" burglar alarm with dog sticker, Bristol, 2006
“Shock”, Bristol: is this dog sticker a Banksy?

“Bulldog Alarms”, Sheffield: naive triangular teeth

"Bulldog Alarms" burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010"Bulldog Alarms" burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010 • I found this above a boarded-up kebab shop on Wicker, a dreary strip of fast food joints surreally terminated by an immense Piranesian viaduct. The road is situated by a bend in the River Don, and its unusual name may derive from wick, meaning angle. This nicely echoes the angular Bulldog Alarms logo, a naive yet artful monogram whose jagged triangles form a rhythmic pattern which conjures up both houndstooth check and early 20th century geometric abstract art (both possibly unintentionally). It has exactly the same casing as the preceding entry, Kudos, and the outdated phone code and accretion of guano suggest it is of the same pre-1995 vintage. In fact, it could be even older: judging by the yellow-and-black Street Sounds records-style colourway and constructivist bent, its logo was designed in the mid to late 1980s. • Spotted: Wicker, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Sheffield Central "Bulldog Alarms" burglar alarm, Sheffield, 2010
“Bulldog Alarms”, Sheffield: naive triangular teeth

“Kudos”, Bath: soppy superannuated Alasatian

"Kudos" burglar alarm, Bath, 2008"Kudos" burglar alarm, Bath, 2008 • I love this soppy Alsatian alarm in so many ways. It's on a poncey pink-painted wall in the genteel Romano-Georgian city of Bath. It has a snobbish classical name – "Kudos", meaning glory or renown in Greek – and depicts a potentially vicious dog as a delicate, doe-eyed supplicant. Its logo is a sensitive ink drawing, rare on a burglar alarm, and is printed on an ill-fitting sticker, not guaranteed to inspire confidence. The alarm casing looks like a 1980s clock radio, while the dial-phone symbol is probably not ironic, because this area code went extinct in 1995. The whole contraption is spattered in mud, which complements the pointillist style of the drawing and adds to the general air of pathos. And finally, it's from a Lib-Dem constituency, which makes it a definite underdog in numerical terms. Sad superannuation, pompous overstatement, a cuddly creature, naive design, an attractive architectural setting – it ticks all my favourite boxes. • Spotted: Town centre, Bath, Avon, BA2, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bath "Kudos" burglar alarm, Bath, 2008
“Kudos”, Bath: soppy superannuated Alasatian

“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

“Scaff Guard”, Kensington: a very gory bulldog

Scaff Guard Ltd burglar alarm"Scaff Guard Ltd" burglar alarm, City of Westminster, 2010 • The word slavering could have been invented for this comically rabid beast, my final Tory dog for now. Appropriately for such a hammy performer, I found him by the Royal Albert Hall on Kensington Gore (which is also the name of a famous make of stage blood, as seen in Hammer Horror films). He wasn't even protecting a house – just some scaffolding. And there wasn't a real guard dog in sight. • Spotted: Kensington Gore, City of Westminster, London SW7, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster Scaff Guard Ltd burglar alarm
“Scaff Guard”, Kensington: a very gory bulldog

“GD Security”, Kensington: mystery bulldog from 1984

GD Security burglar alarm"GD Security" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea, 2005 • Another smart royal blue silhouette, another Conservative borough: namely affluent Kensington, home to some of the most expensive property in the world, and where Madonna was burgled twice, despite having a burglar alarm. The initials are unexplained, but by having a fairly recognisable bulldog image above them, we're invited to surmise that GD stands for Guard Dog, though it could be Good Defence, General Dynamics, Gold Digger, God, or whatever you fancy. Google research suggests it doesn't actually stand for anything, but the firm was formed in 1984 – an excellent year for surveillance. • Spotted: Gloucester Road, Kensington and Chelsea, London SW7, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington GD Security burglar alarm
“GD Security”, Kensington: mystery bulldog from 1984

“Securipol”, Westminster: dodgy duo behind MI5

Securipol Systems burglar alarm"Securipol Systems" burglar alarm, City of Westminster, 2010 • I have a soft spot for silhouettes on burglar alarms, with their suggestions of shadowy activity. Despite having so little detail, they are often extremely poorly drawn, and this is no exception: note the Bunny-girl ears on the presumed Alsatian, and the awkward pose of the security guard, with his hint of jackboot on one side, and what appears to be an amputated stump or penile malformation the other. More successful is the equally bodged-up name: Securipol. It's a naive, unsubtle construction, but one with etymological power, because what instantly springs to mind? Security. Police. Loaded words with classical roots: Latin "securus" (without care) and Greek "polis" (city). It's rendered in navy and white, which also have police connotations (a trend I've noticed on other burglar alarms too), implying that somehow this potato-headed freak and his rabbit-eared mutt are state-sanctioned protectors of the national security. Appropriate then that I found this alarm in Westminster, the heart of British government, on a building situated right behind the HQ of MI5,  the UK's internal security service. Make of that what you will. • Spotted: Horseferry Road, City of Westminster, London SW1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster Securipol Systems burglar alarm
“Securipol”, Westminster: dodgy duo behind MI5

“Bulldog”, Derby: logo as abstract leg wound?

"Bulldog" burglar alarm, Derby, 2010 • Somehow, you feel the designer was not entirely in tune with the image that the word "Bulldog" normally conveys. With its popular "initial as logo" device and cheesy sci-fi-style fonts, this alarm's stickered livery resembles the cuff of a jaunty sports sock rather than a fierce beast. Maybe the way the B is formed by an absence of ink represents the chunk of flesh the bulldog will remove from an unwise intruder's leg, and the buzzing red-and-white stripes the raw blood and bone that will result. But I think not. It's on nice bricks, though: and I can recommend Derby as a repository of many fine historical buildings. • Spotted: Town centre, Derby, Derbyshire DE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Derby South
“Bulldog”, Derby: logo as abstract leg wound?

“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

“Watchdog”, Newham: the Cyclops of Olympic Park

"Watchdog" burglar alarm, Newham, 2010 • As if the gazillions of CCTV cameras watching us weren't enough, now we've got burglar alarms with eyes too. And despite being on public land, I was heavily hassled by a bunch of G4 "security operatives" simply for snapping the one here. That's because it's in an area where most alarms – along with the rotting industrial buildings they were attached to – have been swept away to make way for London's glossy new Olympic Park. I was once terrorized by a monstrous, crazed watchdog while exploring the Olympics area pre-demolition, and to me, this device resembles a blue-nosed dog with one mean, narrowed eye: the face of a wary Staffie with its ears flattened back, ready for combat. If the designer intended this, by the placing of the logo in relation to the snubby bulb below, then it's deceptively clever; it makes me think of the plastic debris masks by African artist Romuald Hazoumé. It's an all-seeing cyclops of the Olympics, a one-eyed Cerberus of the Bow Back Rivers. Or maybe that's just my bad memories kicking in. • Spotted: Marshgate Lane, Newham, London E15, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of West Ham
“Watchdog”, Newham: the Cyclops of Olympic Park

Essay: Do Conservatives prefer bulldogs?

Dodgy statistics show that 50% of dogs on British burglar alarms are bulldogs – rising to 75% in Conservative wards. I have only come across 10 unique dog-themed burglar alarms so far, not a lot for an allegedly mutt-loving nation, but they employ a good range of styles. Exactly half bear that stereotypical British emblem, the bulldog; two more portray alsatians (or what look like them); one is a non-specific watchdog; one a soppy Pointer; and one pointed graffiti. Since there are so few, it makes a good test-bed for my "alarms reflect their area" theory. You can see how they break down by political constituency below... [More]
Essay: Do Conservatives prefer bulldogs?

Nathan Barlex, Liverpool: a “fearful” art alarm

Allotrope of pyrolysis, 2010, by Nathan Barlex"Allotrope of Pyrolysis", 2010, by Nathan Barlex • My first alarm is in a category all of its own: an art alarm. It's a sculpture by recent RCA graduate Nathan Barlex, which I came across at this year's Bloomberg New Contemporaries (an influential yearly show of up-and-coming artists). Most of his current work is painting, but he also uses appropriated materials, though whether his name – which bears an uncanny resemblance to Charlie Brooker's hopeless Hoxton hipster Nathan Barley – is also appropriated, I have no idea. Speaking to Lydia Corry in Artvehicle 47, Barlex echoed my own thoughts on burglar alarms (though slightly more apocalyptically): "The alarm box is a ubiquitous object – it is everywhere. Alarm boxes have formed into a mini-culture of their own with a set of signifiers. There’s what’s printed on them; sometimes it can be an image of a dangerous animal, or a word like ‘thorn’. The shapes vary but they often use fearful geometric symmetry to imply an unnatural or even super-power. The icing on the cake is that many alarm boxes are just decoys, an empty promise filled with paranoia. They are the dubious uncle to the already malignant CCTV camera." You can see his work at New Contemporaries at the ICA, London till Jan 23 2011, or visit the artist's own Nathan Barlex website, where there's another burglar alarm dipped in sand. • Spotted: Bloomberg New Contemporaries, A Foundation, Greenland Street, Liverpool L1, England, 2010 • Details: alarm box, spray paint, crushed charcoal, approx 30 x 30 x 10cm Allotrope of pyrolysis, 2010, by Nathan Barlex
Nathan Barlex, Liverpool: a “fearful” art alarm

The discreet charm of burglar alarms

Eye 64 burglar alarm article Why do I photograph burglar alarms? I can't explain better than the article I wrote for Eye magazine issue 64, reproduced below. » WHILE pursuing a seemingly endless project photographing shop-fronts, I started to become equally fascinated by the naively-designed burglar alarms that adorned them. Hundreds of specimens later, this sad typographic obsession still has me in its grip; after a recent trip to Wiltshire, I returned with one photo of a standing stone, and 76 photos of burglar alarms. The mega-security firms apart, it’s a local art, and it’s fun noting how styles vary by area. Amateurish logos predominate, seemingly designed by a jobbing printer or the proprietor’s child, possibly under the influence of drink. Rural liveries tend towards the whimsical, with jaunty creatures and decorative fonts. Well-heeled towns offer pompous serif concepts such as Decorum and Quality, while inner-city walls blare bold tabloid exhortations to STAND FAST and AMBUSH! [More]
The discreet charm of burglar alarms