The Thatcher Crisis Years

An era of protest and fury

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Back in 1979, the lawless and only recently financially bankrupt city of New York spawned a group of vigilante do-gooders called the Guardian Angels. But their attempt to set up in London was a bit weird. To be honest, the sight of them on the London Tube used to annoy people greatly. Vigilantes are just not a very British thing.

In New York, the idea was that these trained young individuals would ride the city’s subway system looking out for any wrongdoing. Like anybody else, they could make a citizen’s arrest.

Their early activity in New York got quite a bit of publicity in the UK media at the end of the 1970s. This was an era obsessed with the perceived threat of muggers and robbers. The founder was a New York called Curtis Silwa who subsequently became a conservative radio talk show host and apparently is planning to run for mayor of New York as a Republican at the next election.

DISCOVER: Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978

Guardian Angels get a thumbs down in London

The reason it didn’t take off in London is I think we Britons have more fixed ideas about who dispenses law and order. There’s less of the frontier spirit and toleration of weapon ownership that you get in the United States. So, even though the Guardian Angels were unarmed, the idea of non-police standing guard on tube trains and telling you what to do flies in the face of the British way of things.

Anyway, it didn’t work. You’d be on the tube and these guys in their T-shirts and berets would be standing at the end of the carriage like an ominous and looming presence. It was too weird and alien for Britain and mercifully the whole Guardian Angels thing petered out.

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