Bread and butter money

26 Nov

police-buckles

I have been trying to track down photographer Kippa Matthews because I’d like to get permission to use this picture, preferably an original version rather than this one clipped out of a 1993 paper. What I’ve learnt is that all of the photo archivists I have spoken to, at both tabloid and broadsheet papers, are friendly and helpful and interested, but their records are far from complete, especially from the pre-internet years. So far, I have been unable to find out who owns 90% of the press cutting photos I would like to use, including the one of Douglas in his armour on the About page of this blog. If you own any of these photos, please get in touch – I’ve been looking for you.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to get hold of this photo for a slightly esoteric reason. Not because I am interested in Quaddus Ali or gang attacks, but because the photo is one of the last remaining images we have of something that fed our family throughout my teenage years: the quick release buckle. Douglas designed and made thousands and thousands of buckles for the Metropolitan police for several years, and they provided a good source of income whilst he was developing other ideas. But what is so special about this buckle that they needed an inventor to design it?

A normal belt buckle looks something like this:

50mm-2-solid-brass-belt-buckle-buc008-3798-p

Anyone who has had to do up a belt with one of these buckles in a hurry will know that it can be quite tricky to get the prong to go through the correct hole in the leather strap and you often have to fiddle with it for a few seconds to get it right. That’s fine for a normal pair of trousers, but not for the other type of belt that the Metropolitan Police regularly use: the equipment belt. The one with the handcuffs and truncheon and radio on it. If you are a police person sitting in an office you don’t necessarily wear all of that gear to do your desk work – it’s heavy and annoying and gets in the way – but if you need to respond to a call you want to be able to put your equipment belt on in a hurry as you’re running out of the door. Previous equipment belts had looked something like this:

35 You’ll have seen that type of clasp before, it’s used on all sorts of things from child seat belts to airplanes. And it’s very quick to get on. However, what the police were finding is that enterprising criminals and other rascals would come up to a police person wearing one of these on the street, reach out and Pop! release the buckle before scampering off, leaving the police person with a belt of heavy and expensive equipment crashing round their ankles. This had to stop!

Douglas made a buckle that looked at first glance a lot like the traditional buckle in shape (you can see them if you look closely at the photograph at the top), however, the buckle was just a front, literally, as it had a hook hidden on the back that fitted into a partner plate on the other side of the belt, meaning that whilst it looked normal, it was actually very quick to put on – you just hooked it together – but much more difficult for someone else to figure out if they were looking at it whilst it was on. He teamed up with a leather specialist to make a leather belt that conformed to the current police standards, which meant that when tested, the belt would be strong enough to pull up a person if they fell over a cliff. I love the idea of police officers whipping off their belts to rescue people in such a fashion, and I wonder if the same standard is still true… Either way, we lived on the profits from these buckles, as well as all the standard dress uniform buckles Douglas also sold to the Met, for years, and they helped to establish a relationship with the police and prison services that made some of Douglas’s other ideas possible.

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