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Hello, hello, hello.

21 Feb

Last week I, somewhat disingenuously, said that I hoped that Douglas didn’t make any weapons for the MOD because he didn’t like violence. It’s true that he didn’t like violence, and it’s true that I don’t know what he did for the MOD, but I do know that he made several designs over the years for the police that could be classified as weapons, or at the very least, aggressive. Here’s a clue:

6c7ae2db5c3c4d9f994b74999d7ef595

Police truncheons, sometimes called batons, were first officially recorded in the 1850s in the UK. Wooden sticks between 6 and 18 inches long, either painted or with a badge affixed, they were the official symbol that someone was a policeman, and as such carried a certain weight of authority over and above their heftiness as a weapon. 150 years later, British police were still using wooden truncheons as part of their uniform. However, the police force at the time was struggling with its image, after clashes and accusations of brutality and racism throughout the 1980s. Thatcherism and the brutal cuts had led to unrest and protest, not always handled well, which built on resentment already simmering, and new laws such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 which extended police stop and search rights, and the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 which laid the groundwork for the later Terrorism Act of 2000 did little to help the matter.  If you’re interested, you can read more about it here, but I will try not to get distracted by interesting social history, and focus instead on what Douglas did about it. In 1993, this little article appeared in the Shropshire Star:

telescopic-truncheon-preserves-the-image

Why would the police need a new truncheon? And why would it improve its community relations with a more ‘caring’ image?

Instinctively, if you pick up a straight truncheon, you are likely to use it to hit things. Try it, it feels like a weapon rather than a form of self defence. And yet self defence is what they are supposed to be used for. Sussex Police, for example, state in their policy that ‘Batons are issued to allow officers to perform their duties and defend themselves or others in accordance with the principles regarding the use of force.’ To defend themselves or others. In addition, wooden truncheons are heavy and awkward to carry, wear and handle, meaning that they could get left behind when getting out of the car or office to deal with a situation; at crucial moments the police officer wouldn’t have it to hand. Maybe after so long, it was time for a new version of the traditional truncheon. Douglas started drawing. I don’t have all of his sketches from that time, but I did find these:

truncheon-handle

 

truncheon-sketch

Douglas’s truncheon was made from lightweight metal rather than wood, was telescopic, meaning that it was easier to wear and carry but could still be useful, and the side handle gave greater scope for defence moves and turned it from an aggressive weapon into something more ‘friendly’. The fact that it could be adapted from one shape to the other was unique. Here’s Douglas demonstrating it:

douglas-with-truncheon-1993

douglas-with-truncheon-elbow-1993

You can read more about the use of batons here (the authors seem to be creepily interested in exactly what kind of wounds can be caused by each type of baton, but there’s also a lot of interesting information too, including the pros and cons of side handles versus straight batons, and why telescoping is a good thing). Looking at that page, and at what the police use now, it’s clear that the batons currently used by the police are not the one that Douglas designed; for example, the handles to side-handled truncheons appear to be screwed into place, whereas it’s clear that Douglas’s handle was not like that. Police having to use them complain about the side handle getting tangled in seatbelts so they have generally fallen out of favour, something that may not have happened if they had used Douglas’s adaptable design. In addition, current police batons seem to be telescoped like an aerial, with a smaller end nested into larger sections, whereas you can see from the photograph that Douglas’s baton had a larger end section. Once again, this shows that Douglas had a really good idea but for some reason or another it didn’t get made, or followed through. I am going to have to find out what happened to this idea. One thing I do know is that Douglas worked with the Met police’s Scientific Department for several years, so I’m going to have to delve into police history to find out how that worked, and why this truncheon didn’t get made and distributed to the police population.

Top secret, hush hush and totally 0n the QT.

14 Feb

Douglas didn’t just do design work for the prison and police services, he also did some work for the Ministry of Defence. To be honest, I have no idea what he did for them. I know he visited. I know he signed a confidentiality agreement. I really don’t know what they asked him to work on. He really did keep whatever secrets they asked him to keep. However, there were some ideas related to armies that Douglas did work on at home and that he talked about openly. Now Douglas, being unable to help himself, had lots of ideas and most of them were speculative, based on him spotting a problem and trying to solve it so I can only assume that these were not the top secret things and were simply Douglas thinking about how armies work and what problems they might have. At the (extremely unlikely) risk of getting in trouble with the M.O.D., here are a couple of Douglas’s ideas for armies. They are related to occupying new territory and the challenge of moving things around. Here’s the first one:

personal-equipment-transporter

In case you can’t read the notes clearly, his targets are:

  • Must be practical
  • Folding
  • Lightweight
  • Thin sections of … steel. If they bend they could be straightened. No exotic materials.
  • Wheels could be replaced by caterpillar tracks for …. conditions.
  • They must be capable of being joined together to act as stretcher or several could make a bridge.

He also drew a slightly adapted version:

p-e-t-2

It’s a bit faint to see, but it is basically an adapted version of the trailer that hooks over the shoulders and can be pulled more like a backpack with wheels, leaving your hands free. In addition to this, there was also something he called the A2B (names are tricky, you try coming up with a name for something new – a regular dinner time conversation point in the Buchanan household). Here it is:

atob-conveyor

I have no idea how or why this idea came to him, but here’s another sketch of it with notes:

a2b-hand-crank

Personally I can’t see much use for this in war situations, but then, I’ve been lucky enough not to need to know what it’s like. Douglas in general was not interested in war or weapons and wasn’t at all aggressive (other than being generally rude to incompetent staff in shops and restaurants) so I like to think that the work he did for the M.O.D. was all along these lines, aimed at solving logistical problems and aiding rescue situations. I hope I’m right.

Knife Proof Armour

18 Jan

One of Douglas’s most iconic inventions, for me at least, is his knife proof armour. I asked Mum how Douglas got involved with the police on this, and apparently his second wife’s cousin worked for the Metropolitan Police’s Scientific Department (there’s a whole TV series right there…) and he wondered if Douglas could help. Mum remembers visiting the department (in Isleworth?) and watching the cousin explain the problem. She says he stood next to a bench on which was a piece of flesh simulant (I’d post a picture of this stuff but Googling for it produces nothing but pictures of guns and porn, so, sorry about that, imagine a large block of pinkish plasticine and you’re not far off), on which he had piled four separate armour samples, one on top of the other. She said he casually, almost without looking, took a large knife and stabbed all the way through all four layers into the simulant below. ‘No good,’ he said.

Now, many of you may think that the police have armour already, I mean, what about bullet proof vests? Well, a bullet proof vest is made of layers of a fabric called Kevlar, usually about 30 layers inside a fabric cover. It’s pretty good for stopping bullets, but absolutely hopeless for stopping a knife or needle (at the time people were stabbing the police with dirty needles as well as knives). In fact, the fabric in the vest, which is shiny and slippy, lines the wound, meaning that a knife penetrates further than it would without the vest, actually causing more damage. In addition, Kevlar vests are heavy, bulky and quite rigid from the tightly packed fabric and are therefore uncomfortable to wear, particularly for women.

Douglas took the problem away and had a think about it. Very little remains of Douglas’s sketches for the armour, but I did find this very, very early doodle which I recognise instantly.

armour-plates-3

You can see him thinking about interlocking tiles, thinking about what shapes fit together and how they might be joined. Here are a couple of other ideas:

armour-plates-2

armour-plates-1

What eventually came out of this process wasn’t far from these sketches at all, a series of titanium plates held together with nylon rivets inserted through holes. You’ve already seen a few of them on the dog armour leg protectors. Look closely and you can see the flexible blue rivets, which start as lengths of nylon cut into pieces, then moulded at one end into a mushroom shape, then inserted into the holes of the overlapping plates from the inside to the outside, and then a grey washer is slipped over the end to grip in place and the excess nylon is trimmed to fit. You can see the larger plates on the outside, and then the smaller rectangular plates on the inside that overlap across the joins of the large plates, ensuring full coverage with no cracks or joins where a needle could find its way through.

leg-guards

Here’s Douglas wearing the full vest in a press article:

police-queue-for-full-metal-jacket

Titanium is light and strong, it’s what they build planes with, so it’s perfect for vests. The rivets are flexible, meaning the vest bends to suit your shape, making it relatively comfortable to wear. The strength of the metal made it almost bulletproof too (and for years we had some flattened bullets in a little bag in a drawer that had been fired at the vest in tests) and combined with a few layers of Kevlar it was just as bullet proof as the original bullet proof vests, as well as knife and needle proof. Rows of little holes punched into the plates also acted to catch knife tips, meaning that if you were stabbed the knife wouldn’t slip down on impact and accidentally cut you somewhere else. It was, and probably still is, some of the best armour in existence. It got some great press attention, including this:

250-vest-could-have-saved-hero-pat

Exactly what happened with Ross and Catherall and the armour contract is a story for another day, but there was an interesting sideways development that I did not see coming at the time. Douglas was approached by Sainsbury’s for some armour, because it turns out that staff in their butchery department sometimes suffered from slash wounds to their stomach and thighs from accidents dealing with meat carcasses, and Sainsbury’s wanted safety equipment for them. Douglas lengthened the original vest to include a thigh-length skirt, and off they went to protect butchers. Here’s Douglas wearing the long apron version (nothing to do with the salmon story!):

Douglas Buchanan armour Times.jpg

The animal catcher

8 Jan

noose30n-1-web

This is a noose. I don’t know about you, but the idea of putting my head into one of these is not particularly appetising. Now, imagine that you are in the middle of a fight with some threatening creatures who are larger than you, outnumber you and are doing their best to corner you. One of them waves a stick with a noose on it in your direction. Are you likely to voluntarily put your head into it? No, of course not.

Well, a noose was, and probably still is, the standard method for trying to catch a dangerous dog. Here’s that picture of Metropolitan Police dog handler Gary Evans wearing Douglas’s dog armour again:

gary-in-dog-armour-1992

That’s a standard dog catching pole in his hands. Trying to persuade a dangerous dog, probably on the defensive and in distress that it should put it’s head into one of those was slow and difficult, and caused the dog further distress as well as more opportunity for either the dog or the humans to get hurt, or for the dog to escape. Douglas took a look at it and knew that he could do better. He began to sketch new ideas. Here’s his notebook in October 1992:

dog-catcher-sketches

There are a couple of problems that he was trying to overcome. Firstly, the non-appeal of the noose. Secondly, you don’t want to strangle the dog you’re trying to capture, that’s not the aim of the dog team. They needed something firm and strong but also gentle. He threw out the noose idea and began to think along new lines. Here he is a month later:

animal-catcher-early-sketch

The shape was coming together, so it was time to further develop the mechanism:

Animal catcher mech early sketch.jpg

The idea was that if you had a rigid pole with horns that were controlled by a cable through the handle, you could grab at the dog quickly and efficiently and pull the moveable horns closed. As the idea developed, one horn became fixed, making the whole structure stronger. The added gearing meant that even if you pulled really hard on the handle, the horns would not over-close, never strangling the dog. Here’s Douglas with a prototype in this article a couple of years later:

inventor-douglas-gest-us-big-break

It really worked! Bertie, lazy and tolerant, tried it out many times, but even he would not have submitted if he had been in any pain at all. Douglas also realised that the same principle could work on other things.

cuffs

Here’s a sketch of a proposal for handcuffs, because handcuffs have a similar problem to a noose, in that they can easily be pulled too tight, causing pain and injury to people wearing them. Douglas’s cuffs would not over-close, meaning they would be safe to use.

We still have one of the animal catchers, and while filming it just before Christmas, I dared the filmmakers to try it out on my hand. Despite having sat in a shed for a good ten years, the mechanism still worked, and the filmmaking team were able to capture my hand between the horns and pull the mechanism as hard as they could without causing me any pain.

 

 

Boots for dogs

18 Dec

Well, so Christmas week is upon us, and it seems only right that I give you all a little Christmas present. Back in 1993, there was a major disturbance at Wymott prison in Lancashire, and during the riot several prison dogs were injured when they got glass and other sharp objects in their paws. Head of HM Prison Dogs Service, Steve Allen, decided it was time to better protect prison dogs, and set out to look for someone to help in solve the problem. Two year later, in 1995, a small article appeared in the Prison Service News July/August edition, with the headline ‘Prison Dogs get the Boot!’ He had found his man, the boots were now a reality. And their creator? Douglas Buchanan, of course. Here’s his prison dog boot design:

dog-boot

And here’s a prison dog wearing them:

heel-boy-and-try-not-to-scuff

The boots had to solve several design problems. Firstly, dog feet splay in and out as they walk – you can replicate the motion by spreading your fingers as you open your hand and lay it flat on a table, and then lift it up again- the fingers naturally draw back in. Most fabric only stretches in one direction, i.e. in a straight line, and won’t cope with spreading in all directions at once. It’s similar to the grain in a tree, the threads are laid just one way, and couldn’t cope with the movement of a dog’s foot, so would rip, slip or get into tight, uncomfortable rucks. The answer, eventually, was Neoprene, which is wet-suit material. Neoprene is made differently to normal fabric so is able to spread in all directions at once, and is also, as a bonus, tough and water resistant, so could be worn in all weathers.

Secondly, the soles. If you watch a dog walking on a smooth surface, you can see that they naturally slip a bit (or a lot, if they’re running, especially if they then try to turn a corner!). When making boots for dogs, you have to try to replicate the same amount of natural slippage, otherwise the dog just doesn’t understand why its feet are suddenly just sticking to the floor in a strange way and can’t walk in them. Douglas went through lots of different rubber samples to find something that could cope with different conditions, wouldn’t get cut up by glass etc, and would be just slippy enough that the dog could walk normally. He then added metal plates and padding to the insides of the boots to make them truly protective.

Finally, sizing. Like humans, dogs come in different shapes and sizes, and were going to need different size boots. They also, peculiarly, usually have smaller feet on their back legs than at the front, so most dogs take two different sizes of boot. After some deliberation – how many sizes is a useful number to have? 2? 20? 100? – Douglas came up with nine different sizes, with most larger dogs like Alsatians, taking a six, seven or eight in size. Our domestic models, our pet dogs Bertie the labrador and Perdita the pointer, took a size four/five and five/six respectively. Perdita loathed the boots and always walked as though she was trying to step out of them, high-stepping like a dressage money, however Bertie was always chilled out and didn’t mind them so much – here he is getting his close up.

bertie-dog-boot-filming

They were a huge success with the prison service, and we made thousands of boots for their dogs for some years. When I spoke to the Prison News magazine this year, they said that boots for prison dogs were standard issue now, very commonplace. We stopped making them years ago, but I’m so pleased that Douglas’s original idea has gone on to protect thousands of dogs over the years. He was always a dog lover.

However, the story does not stop there. Being a somewhat quirky idea, the idea of boots for dogs attracted quite a bit of media attention and, after appearing on TV, Douglas started to receive hundreds of letters from individual dog owners asking for boots for their dogs, often including paw prints, drawings and photos of the dogs, and details of all the individual ailments of their beloved pooches – allergies, chewing and sucking problems, injuries that wouldn’t heal… the list went on. He started to make a domestic version and we began a sort of impromptu mail order, sending them out to individuals who had written or phoned in, including to one person who had simply addressed their request to Mr Inventor, Ludlow. They were about to pale into insignificance, however, when our next client phoned.ones-boots-are-made-for-walkies

Yep, the Queen bought some boots for her corgis. Douglas mostly dealt with her staff, however, one day the Queen’s dog keeper did phone and say to Douglas that someone wanted to talk to him. ‘The voice!’ he said later. ‘That voice came onto the phone!’ The Queen herself told him that she thought his dog boots were marvellous. And, from one queen to another… this one always made me smile.

dog-in-boots-for-danny-la-rue

Danny La Rue! So, surely, this was it, the big time, fortune made. Well… as always, not so much. It turns out that it is very expensive to make a product that has so many different parts (off the top of my head, six parts per boot, so 12 for a pair, or 24 for a full set) that are all cut out, hand sewn and finished… in nine different sizes. We had to buy industrial sewing machines capable of sewing the thick, complicated fabrics, tools to cut out all the different shapes of Neoprene, rubber and more, wages to staff to sew them all together, and we could still only make so many in a day. To make the quantities needed to make enough to make some profit, we needed major investment in tools and staff time upfront. And we just couldn’t get either the investment or big enough orders to make it worthwhile. No company would buy enough of these quirky things, and replying individually to hundreds of dog owners was too time intensive to be worth the small amount that people were prepared to pay for them. There is an atmosphere in this country that loves a fun idea, that enjoys laughing at it, and then, ultimately, would rather stick with the way things are than look in anyway strange, new or different. Dog boots, whilst embraced by the prison service as useful equipment, were just a step too comical-looking for everyone else. Even now, all these years later, if you see a dog in boots, I bet your first instinct is to giggle.

ive-heard-of-puss-in-boots

 

All the stuff I don’t know

10 Dec

The interesting thing about writing about something that was part of my life for so long, is not just how the stories embed themselves into life, but also just how much information is missing. Take the dog armour. I’m not talking about armour for dogs, although… anyway, I’m actually talking about armour for police people who worked with dangerous dogs. Back in 1992/3 Douglas designed these:

wrist-armour-front-left

And these:

leg-guards

These are wrist and leg guards to wear if you know you have to go out and catch or handle a dangerous dog. Here’s our friend Gary who tested the training arm protectors from last week, in full gear:

gary-in-dog-armour-1992

Now, the thing about this armour is that I actually don’t know much about it. I know Douglas designed it for use by the police dog teams, probably because he had already started talking to them about the training sleeves, but I don’t know much more than that. That’s the thing about being a young teenager when the nitty gritty of these deals is being talked about. I know it existed, I know we sold some, I know how it feels to wear them, because of course I tried it on (and that’s my hand in the top photo just today) and I can tell you how they fit together (metal plates shaped and riveted together with nylon rivets so they flex as needed), but I don’t know how they came about, I don’t know how many we sold, I don’t know much at all. They are just part of the mythology of our family life, in the way that you remember other family stories; such as when Cousin Such-and-Such fell off the trampoline, or when Uncle Thingy was drunk at Christmas. We had the dog armour. My stepbrother used to play in it (although he comments that he realises now how unusual that was), at the time it was normal for us and I didn’t pay much attention.

So, quite a bit of this project is about turning detective as I try to fill in the gaps. My mum was a keen documenter of our lives in general, and it is her that I can thank for the photos above, as well as the fact that she kept a file of press cuttings, sometimes labelled. She got fed up of the inventions at some point, and stopped working with my stepfather to go and earn some money to keep us all alive, but fortunately, she was diligent enough to have kept this:

christine-jennings-dog-armour-article

So, we learn from this article that the metal is titanium (of course, it’s one of the lightest, toughest metals around), we learn that it is being made and pitched to the police rather than commissioned by them, and it also introduces the character of Terry Bilboe. I remember his name, but can’t say that I remember his face particularly. However, I do know that Terry is part of a long list of partners/licensees who took Douglas’s products at one point or another and tried to make a go of them. This is important, because, whilst Douglas was brimming with ideas, each idea takes so much work to get made and sold that you have to decide what to do – do you just stick with one idea and push it and push it until it either works and sells or you admit defeat, or do you make lots of ideas and keep throwing them into the world in a less determined way in the hopes that something sticks? James Dyson, for example, took the former approach, reputedly taking 17 years from having his initial idea for a vacuum cleaner, to actually having a factory that made and sold them and made a profit. 17 years. You have to be really single-minded and sure to make that happen (and I wonder what he did for money throughout that time – did he have a day job?). Douglas was never going to be that kind of person, he always had eight more ideas up his sleeve, and one of the ways to cope with that is to strike a deal with someone to licence one idea and do the legwork on it while you get on with other ideas, agreeing to take a cut of any profits accordingly. Terry Bilboe and his company Allsop Engineering, clearly took that risk with Douglas and the dog proof armour. I have no idea how it went. I don’t know at what point they stopped working together. I don’t know if it was amicable. I wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he would talk to me if I could find him. I wonder if I can find him. My list of ‘wonder ifs’ grows, and I’m adding his name. Maybe one day I’ll be able to tell you the whole of this story.

How much do you trust it to work?

1 Dec

‘You just have to show them who’s boss,’ said my mother firmly, stepping towards the van parked next to our garage. This was late November, 1991.

‘I’m the boss!’ she shouted at the occupant, who immediately hit the side of the van with a massive thump and an even bigger volley of barks, causing the van to sway and rock. We both took a hasty step backwards. The policeman with us chuckled and said a quiet command to the dog inside as he unlocked the van door. The dog instantly calmed down and leapt gracefully from the van when the door opened, sitting neatly at its trainer’s feet and awaiting further instruction.

They were in our back garden to test out one of Douglas’s ideas: a training sleeve for police dogs. At the time, when training a police dog (which takes years) to chase down and catch a perpetrator, the trainer would wrap their arm in strips of leather and then train the dog to chase them down and bite them on the arm to detain them as they would a real life criminal until their colleague could handcuff the person and take them away. Police dogs are big, their bites are potentially very painful, especially when they are learning to moderate their grip, and the leather straps would get heavy with saliva, leaving the trainer with a soggy, bruised arm, not to mention other bruises as they are knocked to the ground by over-enthusiastic trainee dogs. Douglas, a dog lover, had seen this training process in action and thought that he could do better. He designed a metal cone, shaped to cover the elbow, with an opening at each end that could be slipped onto the forearm like a sleeve, covered it in foam and a washable fabric case (to stop the dog’s teeth from breaking on the metal) and attached lengths of rope along the cover to give the dog something to grip.

dog-training-sleeves

This should both protect the arm and not hurt the dog, and be light enough that you could wear it for hours at a time without getting tired. The cover could be removed and washed to stop it from getting smelly. All very well in theory, but there comes a moment in every period of research and development when someone has to test it out. To begin with you can simulate testing conditions, replicating the crushing and tearing effects of a dog’s mouth with tools that you can control and using a dummy for the arm, but at some point, you have to put your trust in the idea and the craftsmanship and decide that you’re going to let a large dog loose on a real person wearing the sleeve to find out what would happen. And someone has to put their hand up and face a dog rushing towards them with an unknown contraption on their arm.

This was the day. Three policemen and one dog turned up, and, after some jostling amongst themselves, one man put himself forward for the first try. Meet Gary Evans (I’d love to talk to him about this now) and his canine colleague, testing the training sleeve in our back garden, November 1991.

gary-dog-training-sleeve-smoke-garden

gary-dog-training-sleeve-garden-1gary-dog-training-sleeve-garden-3gary-dog-training-sleeve-garden-2

We were relieved to find that the sleeve worked perfectly (but probably not as relieved as Gary). It worked so well that the Metropolitan police bought at least 54 sets for its dog handling team to train with, a good amount of work for our small workshop team. There they are below getting ready to be sent off. They formed part of a larger suite of armour for dog handlers that Douglas developed – I’ll write more about that next time.

54-sets-of-dog-training-sleeves

P.S. Mum let Gary put the dog back into the van without saying another word to it. We knew who was boss.