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“Siren Security”, Tower Hamlets: Fairfield maiden

"Siren Security" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Yesterday I featured a mermaid from Fairfield Shipping Offices, Glasgow, and today – ushering in the theme of mythological burglar alarms – I give you a mermaid from Fairfield Road, London. Siren Security is a play on words, obviously, between the blaring sirens of the law and the sweet-voiced temptresses said to serenade sailors to their doom, but sirens and mermaids are not strictly synonymous. Though the word is Latin, sirens come to the modern world from Greek mythology: as described in Homer's Odyssey, written around 800 BC, they were winged, sharp-clawed bird-women who lived amidst the rotting corpses of their victims (which would certainly be a deterrent to burglars). The fish-woman comes from even older Assyrian tales of the popular sea goddess Atargatis (called Derketo by the Greeks), disseminated to seaports far and wide by Syrian merchants. Pagan Europeans got these ideas all muddled up with their own folkloric tales, not quelled by a dose of Christianity, so that today in many languages the word for mermaid is "sirena", or similar. In Haitian voodoo there is even a spirit or lwa called La Sirene, a European mermaid mixed up with West African beliefs, often pictured with a siren-like trumpet (see below for examples of all these ladies). Whatever her origin, Siren Security's logo is a charmingly modest mermaid, shown clutching an unidentified tablet – maybe the same one the bizarre wasp-man is holding on Wilton Alarms. And while there are plenty of of male images on burglar alarms, this is one of only two depictions of women I have found, the other being Liberty. • Spotted: Fairfield Road, Tower Hamlets, London, E3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow Top left: "The Siren of Canosa", a Greek-style siren (note bird-feet) circa 300 BC from the National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Top right: John William Waterhouse's foxy "A Mermaid" (1900), from the Royal Academy, London. Below: a Haitian sequinned voodoo banner depicting horn-blowing water spirit La Sirene.
“Siren Security”, Tower Hamlets: Fairfield maiden

“Thorndon Security”, Camden: typographic relic

"Thorndon Security" burglar alarm, Camden • Graphic design heaven: a load of decaying type on a wall. The numbers are a good old 1950s font, typical of that era when presumably there weren't many different styles of signage lettering to choose from. The alarm sports one big initial, a very common device, and one I'll return to. I found it in the gem-dealing area of Hatton Garden (famously featured in Dustin Hoffman's 1976 film Marathon Man) and, although legitimately photographing in a public street, got very heavily hassled by a security guard for my pains. That was just three years after 9/11, and it would probably be even worse now. It's actually quite difficult photographing burglar alarms –  it often makes me feel like a criminal myself! • Spotted: Hatton Garden, Camden, London, EC1, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
“Thorndon Security”, Camden: typographic relic

Nameless burglar alarm, Southwark: manorial cafe

Nameless burglar alarm on The Manor Cafe, Southwark • The alarm here , carefully placed above the street number, doesn't even have a name. But what a beautiful bit of decay! And a fine illustration of my contention, yesterday, that roads called "Manor" – here, Manor Place, in the lost triangle between Kennington, Camberwell and Walworth – are usually the opposite of their upmarket names. This entire row of shops later got boarded up with lurid purple hoardings, which are still visible on Google Street View; all that remained uncovered were a bookie, an off license, and the Sound Wickford alarm, far left. • Spotted: Manor Place, Southwark, London SE17, England, 2001 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
Nameless burglar alarm, Southwark: manorial cafe

“Hoffman Security PLC”, Hounslow: cracking up

"Hoffman Security PLC" burglar alarm, Hounslow • Another alarm I've already featured in close-up (see WWII), but whose surroundings also deserve an airing. Nothing spectacular: just a subtle colour combination of faded pink, green and cream. Everything's cracking and falling apart, and even the 'g' has peeled off the sign. But that's sleepy Chiswick Mall for you (it's a demure riverside walk – not the kind of mall they have in America, or even Brent Cross). • Spotted: Chiswick Mall, Hounslow, London, W4, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Brentford and Isleworth
“Hoffman Security PLC”, Hounslow: cracking up

“Crime Stop”, Hackney: crime start, more like

"Crime Stop" burglar alarm, Hackney • I've already featured a close-up of this red, drippy alarm under the theme The Law, but its environment is worth showing too. Did ever a door ever look less needy of a burglar alarm, and a "Crime Stop" one at that? Either the crime has already happened, or there's nothing worth nicking, and as for the surroundings – "Crime Start" might be a more accurate name. • Spotted: Downham Road, Hackney, London, N1, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
“Crime Stop”, Hackney: crime start, more like

“Chloride Granley”, Hackney: stencil graffiti

"Chloride Granley" burglar alarm, Hackney • Another study in London pinks and grey-blues, and a most unusual alarm. The logo Chloride Granley has been spray-stencilled, graffiti-style, onto an older Granley box, beating Banksy stylistically by some decades. Below it is some genuine modern graffiti in the form of a white arrow, setting off the alarm nicely (in the artistic, rather than the siren, sense). It's more normal to add a sticker when an alarm firm has been taken over, and this is the only stencilled effacement I've ever found; I'd be interested to know if there are any further examples around. • Spotted: Leonard Street, Hackney, London, EC2, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
“Chloride Granley”, Hackney: stencil graffiti

“Honeywell Shield”, Hackney: faded colour field

"Honeywell Shield Security System" burglar alarm, Hackney • Yesterday I featured a knight, and today a shield: another very popular alarm device. There's nothing spectacularly decaying about this scene, but it's a study in faded colour; the rusty red alarm toning with the soft pink wall, set off against the flat blue-grey expanse of inscrutable window by bars of dirty white. Not for the first time when photographing burglar alarm tableaux, it makes me think of 1960s colour field paintings, or a print by Ed Ruscha. But I can't afford those, so this will do for me. • Spotted: Kingsland Road, Hackney, London, E2, England, 2004 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch
“Honeywell Shield”, Hackney: faded colour field

“Knight”, Camden: peeling Venetian violence

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

“Rely-a-Bell”, Camden: biblical queen

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

“Houseguard”, Merton: George Gilbert Scott church

"Houseguard Security " burglar alarm, Merton • Centred above the pointy window is a decaying head looking down at the decaying burglar alarm, which although it's on a church is called Houseguard Security. St Mary's was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, responsible for just about every Gothic Revival building in England, including the brilliant Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station, which has just been restored. The church is in wealthy Wimbledon Village, and in its graveyard stands the mausoleum of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, who built London's grand Victorian sewers. • Spotted: St Mary's Road, Merton, London, SW19, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Wimbledon
“Houseguard”, Merton: George Gilbert Scott church

“HSS Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: snotty guano

"HSS Alarms Harlow" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Another weeping alarm, dribbling a snotty white trail rather than yesterday's tears of rust. I found it in a laneway off the Hackney road, but the colours and window grilles are reminiscent of a Hong Kong backstreet circa 1988. The pale streak looks like guano, but may possibly be the only clean patch on the grubby black-painted sweatshop wall. • Spotted: Pundersons Gardens, Tower Hamlets, London, E2, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“HSS Alarms”, Tower Hamlets: snotty guano

“Brocks Burglar Alarm”, Southwark: flame-grilled

"Brocks Burglar Alarm" burglar alarm, Southwark • Brocks was once a famous make of fireworks, and though I think the alarm firm's identical name is simply a coincidence, the beautiful moiré rust marks on this vintage example are certainly reminiscent of flame-grilling by a ferocious bonfire. • Spotted: King's Bench Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Brocks Burglar Alarm”, Southwark: flame-grilled

“Windsor Alarms”, Camden: fan-shaped finial

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

“ARG Security”, Islington: bouquet of barbed wire

"ARG Security" burglar alarm, Islington • Echoing yesterday's imagery, another pointy roof decorated with barbed wire and a rusty vintage alarm, this time enlivened by a spray of weedy foliage and – for some reason – a string of giant fairy lights entangled with the wire. The building is a defunct garage, one of an ever-diminishing clutch of old-style industrial units in the rapidly gentrifying hinterland of Kings Cross. • Spotted: York Way, Islington, London, N1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury
“ARG Security”, Islington: bouquet of barbed wire

“Maxim” and “Enright”, Southwark: unusual old duo

"Maxim Burglar Alarm" and "Enright Security" burglar alarms, Southwark • Two unusual old alarms clinging beneath a crown of barbed wire on the charmingly-named Sapphire Laundry, which – as the bottom image shows – is of the same vintage as the alarms. • Spotted: Pages Walk, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Maxim” and “Enright”, Southwark: unusual old duo

“Ambassador”, Southwark: jewel-bright decay

"Ambassador" burglar alarm, Southwark •  To paraphrase the infamous Fererro Rocher ad, "With this dodgy old furniture shop, Ambassador, you are spoiling us!" I've never seen an Ambassador alarm that's less than weathered, but this one has a particularly fine setting, on the jewel-bright tiled pillar of this spectacularly ramshackle facade. It's at top right, tucked in beneath the fulsome Victorian finial's paint-encrusted cornuopia. London used to be studded with such gems, but the redevelopment mania of the last two decades has made decaying shopfronts harder to find. This one is near Tower Bridge, and seems to have had a new bit of board added every time I go past (ie once a year). • Spotted: Grange Road, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Ambassador”, Southwark: jewel-bright decay

“Lander Alarms”, Lambeth: sepia symphony

"Lander Alarms" burglar alarm, Southwark • Depending on how you look at it, urban decay can be grotty or beautiful, and I err on the side of the latter. I got into documenting burglar alarms via photographing old buildings, and there's nothing I like more than a faded, forgotten corner – which is of course the vintage alarm's natural habitat. This photo looks like I hit the "sepia" button, but the scene really was these colours – even the Lander logo had faded to brown. It's above an arch of the immense railway viaduct which snakes south of the Thames from Bermondsey via London Bridge and Waterloo to Vauxhall. A lot of the arches have become quite smart and trendy (no bad thing if you live in the area), but happily this backwater of Lambeth still sports some authentic picturesque grubbiness. • Spotted: Newport Street, Lambeth, London, SE11, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
“Lander Alarms”, Lambeth: sepia symphony

“Britannia”, Camden: proud and ragged flag

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

“Hoffman Security PLC”, Hounslow: Dad’s Army

"Hoffman Security PLC" burglar alarm, Hounslow • I've included this nice logo in my World War II theme because not only do the arrows form a Union Jack, they look, coincidentally, very similar to the opening credits of the classic WWII-based sit-com Dad's Army, even using the same font (Cooper Black, as did the Blitz alarm a few days back). To be a PLC in the Public Limited Company sense, a firm requires a minimum share capital of £50k and must offer shares to the public, which is quite rare for a security startup. I became obsessed with finding out if Hoffmann really had been a "proper" PLC, and though there's very little on the web did manage to ascertain that it was a Middlesex company built up over 20 years by a guy called Erik Hoffman, who sold up to MRFS Group in 2006. However, the comment here informs me that Hoffmann, an Israeli, did indeed build up his eponymous business into a PLC, with a logo based on the joystick control of CCTV systems rather than a Union Jack. As for the much-loved Dad's Army credits (see the image below), they were in fact a last-minute compromise after the BBC objected to the original opening, which featured harrowing imagery of Nazis and refugees. The show's creators were very upset, but with hindsight it seems the BBC were right. • Spotted: Chiswick Mall, Hounslow, London, W4, England, 2006 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Brentford and Isleworth Above: The Dad's Army credits featured British arrows retreating from Nazi ones
“Hoffman Security PLC”, Hounslow: Dad’s Army

“Allied Security Systems”, Tower Hamlets: John Mills

"Allied Security Systems" burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • After three days of dastardly SS alarms, time to wheel out the plucky Allied forces, doubtless led by Sir John Mills. This sturdy old Eurobell sounder actually does resemble some kind of ancient air raid early warning device, what with its giant front-mounted red bulb – the only one of this design I've ever come across. The Allied powers morphed into the United Nations at the end of World War II, and eventually their ex-foes, the Axis powers, joined up too. Axis would be a pretty good name for a burglar alarm, but so far I haven't found one. • Spotted: Wentworth Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
“Allied Security Systems”, Tower Hamlets: John Mills

“Ace”, Lewisham: fit for a fighter pilot’s bomber jacket

"Ace" burglar alarm, Lewisham • I've just featured a couple of Spitfire alarms, so what better to follow than an Ace. There are loads of Ace alarms around, which – judging by their wide variety of surface graphics – emanate from more than one company. This is one of the oldest I've come across, and seems ideal to represent a WWII flying ace: worn and sunbleached, its naive hand-drawn roundel looks plucked straight from the side of a fighter plane or a pilot's battered leather bomber jacket. If you'd rather see some real WWII fighter aces, Wikipedia has an impressive illustrated list covering all nationalities. The Axis aces – especially the Germans – have way higher scores than their Allied counterparts; apparently they tended to continue flying missions until killed, whereas successful Allied pilots got rotated to other positions. However it's an area so clouded by propaganda that there doesn't even seem to be a hard and fast number of "kills" required to become an ace, and different countries use different counting systems. My favourite factoid is that the Soviets had the world's only female WWII fighter pilot aces: Katya Budanova and Lydia Litvyak, with around 11 and 12 victories respectively. Up the girls! • Spotted: New Cross Road, Lewisham, London, SE14, England, 2002 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Lewisham Deptford
“Ace”, Lewisham: fit for a fighter pilot’s bomber jacket

“Spitfire Security Systems”, Kensington: firebrand

"Spitfire Security Systems" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • The Spitfire fighter plane was brilliantly designed by ex-locomotive apprentice Reginald Joseph Mitchell, and while this alarm isn't quite in that class, its logo is a lot more sophisticated than yesterday's basic iteration. It employs the highly unusual burglar alarm colours of purple and gold, both associated with royalty, though what the comet-like thing underneath has to do with Spitfires I don't know – the Comet was a completely different plane. The firm behind this alarm still exists, but though it retains the same logo – now in aqua – it has dispensed with security services and, renamed plain Spitfire, concentrates on telecoms. I was interested in the connotations of the word Spitfire, especially as one etymology website suggests it replaced the earlier term "shitfire", from the Florentine cacafuoco. However according to the OED, its first-known use was by Samuel Rowlands in 1600, since when it hasn't gathered any meanings other than fire-spitting objects such as cannons and volcanos, a type of nautical storm-sail, and – most commonly – creatures of irascible bent, eg women and cats. And now a defunct plane and burglar alarm. • Spotted: Clareville Street, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW7, England, 2005 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Kensington
“Spitfire Security Systems”, Kensington: firebrand

“Spitfire Security Systems”, Chelsea: basic namesake

"Spitfire Security Systems" burglar alarm, Kensington and Chelsea • So far this week we've had patriotic WWII alarms celebrating Britannia, Churchill, Blitz – and now comes the Battle of Britain, courtesy of Spitfire Security Systems. I first discovered one of these in Westminster in 2002, but – as with my first Blitz alarm – took a useless photo. This is the only one of the same design I have come across since then, again found in a true blue Tory borough, and despite its age in a pristine condition worthy of the Imperial War Museum, which of course houses a real Spitfire. The Spitfire plane was noted for its superb design, but the same can't be said of this alarm namesake, which looks like a five-minute job knocked out on a word processor, and gains entry a category I've dubbed "basic", reserved for the most simple type-only designs. The fact that the rudimentary logo is set in a centred serif font with a rule underneath elevates it to the superior end of the "basic" category, but basic it is nevertheless. • Spotted: Godfrey Street, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Chelsea and Fulham
“Spitfire Security Systems”, Chelsea: basic namesake

“Blitz Security Group”, Southwark: shiny bomber

"Blitz Security Group" burglar alarm, Southwark • After taking yesterday's incredibly blurred photo of a Blitz alarm in 2002, I was always on the lookout for other examples, but never ran across any. When I decided to start writing this blog, I became so desperate to shoot a sharper version that I made a pilgrimage all the way back to the Surrey shopping parade where I'd originally found it, but the Blitz alarm was there no more. And despite an extensive exploration of the surrounding Old Coulsdon area, during which I snapped lots of other good vintage burglar alarms (to the understandable suspicion of several locals), I still came home Blitz-less. I assumed it was a small Surrey firm that had gone out of business many years ago, hence my failure to find one. So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I spotted a shiny new Blitz alarm just a short stroll from my home, in a road I visit practically every day. A brief recce turned up several more in the Waterloo area, which scuppers my theory that Blitz alarms only appeal in Conservative boroughs; but note that London SE1 is divided between Labour Lambeth and Lib-Dem Southwark, and so far I have only found Blitzes on the Lib-Dem side of the street – and they are in coalition with the Tories, after all. Blitz Security Alarms, meanwhile, have been upgraded to Blitz Security Group, and acquired a smart new design featuring the ever-trendy Cooper Black font. It's a very nice logo – even if it does conjure up images of a merciless fascist bombing campaign. • Spotted: King's Bench Street, Southwark, London, SE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Liberal Democrat constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark
“Blitz Security Group”, Southwark: shiny bomber

“Churchill”, Camden: evoking wartime Winston

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

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

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

“Banham”, Westminster: tilting at niches

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

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

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

Hidden alarm, Westminster: a hand-tailored hole

Burglar alarm with name hidden in niche, City of Westminster • A custom alarm niche in swanky New Bond Street, home of London's most expensive niche retailers. The sounder is clinging gecko-like to the roof of a shop doorway, which I happened across while it was undergoing refitting works during the transition from one rip-off fashion emporium to another. And so high class a job was it, that when the builders boarded the doorway up, they even cut out this snug little hand-tailored hole especially for the burglar alarm. • Spotted: New Bond Street, City of Westminster, London, W1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
Hidden alarm, Westminster: a hand-tailored hole

“Banham”, Lambeth: posh alarm, rough niche

"Banham" burglar alarm, Lambeth • This is brilliant – a posh Banham alarm in the most rough-and-ready bespoke niche. I found it on the wall of Pimlico Plumbers, who despite their toney SW1 name are located in the distinctly less upmarket area of Kennington, on the other side of the River Thames. • Spotted: Sail Street, Lambeth, London, SE11, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Vauxhall
“Banham”, Lambeth: posh alarm, rough niche

“Magpie Services”, Camden: one for sorrow

"Magpie Services" burglar alarm, Camden • Two security tropes for the price of one: a thieving magpie, and a garland of locksmithery (a subject I shall cover soon). I can't let my final magpie pass without remembering the rhyme famous from classic 1970s kids' TV show Magpie: "One for sorrow / Two for joy / Three for a girl / Four for a boy / Five for silver / Six for gold / Seven for a secret never to be told / Ma-a-a-aaaag-piiiiiiiiie!". Those too young to remember the tune can revisit Magpie's brilliant 1970s opening sequence, sung by the Spencer Davis Group, here• Spotted: Marchmont Street, Camden, London, WC1, England, 2011 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras
“Magpie Services”, Camden: one for sorrow

“Bluebird Securities”, Lewisham: a picturesque nest

"Bluebird Securities Crayford" burglar alarm, Lewisham • How picturesque: a fine yellow bluebird from Crayford, tangled in a nest of wires on the Ladywell Road. The old-style line drawing is far more characterful than yesterday's slick photographic bluebird, even though it could represent any blue or yellow bird really – a jay say, or a yellowhammer. Yellowhammer – now that would be a good name for an alarm. • Spotted: Ladywell Road, Lewisham, London, SE13, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Lewisham Deptford
“Bluebird Securities”, Lewisham: a picturesque nest

“Bluebird Security Systems”, Westminster: harmless

"Bluebird Security Systems" burglar alarm, City of Westminster • Following yesterday's kingfisher, another photorealistic bird. But you won't find a real-life bluebird living wild in the UK, as it's a North American native – an attractive, harmless and beloved creature, regarded sentimentally in the US much as the British view robin redbreast. As such, it's a peculiar choice for a security system; but the charming word Bluebird has been used to title everything from lethal speedboats to school buses to swanky cafes, so it seems fair enough to allow burglar alarms onto that list. • Spotted: Little Portland Street, City of Westminster, London, W1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
“Bluebird Security Systems”, Westminster: harmless

“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

“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!

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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?

“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

“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

“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

“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