Trevor Mabbett’s comments on ‘The Man on the Beat’

Last year, my friend Lloyd Davis did some work with the British Council, digitising their film archive. He kindly allowed my father, Trevor, and me to see an early screening of The Man on the Beat, which is now on their website (sadly, not under an open licence). The film was made on and around Ledsam Street in the Ladywood district of Birmingham, where my father was born and grew up.

Merlin Films presents The Man on the Beat - RCA sound system

The following are my father’s comments on the film, transcribed and annotated by me. Times are in minutes and seconds.

00:26 Little Miss Barber, mascot of a local brand of tea. A few of their painted adverts, featuring said female, remain on local (Birmingham/ Black Country) buildings; some as “ghost signs”, while others are lovingly repainted by whoever owns or lives in the buildings. Sadly, every now and again, one gets painted over. Andy wrote a Wikipedia article about her.

00:34 Top right as camera pans left is the Belliss and Morcom factory. St Margaret’s church is behind the Rann St sign — my parents were married there in 1919. The church is the building at 52.47875,-1.92304 on the old Ordnance Survey map. Rann Street is to the South of that, running SW-NE (roughly the line of modern-day Guild Close; which you can see by toggling the map selection, top-right). Monument Road LMS sheds can be seen further NE (now Kilby Avenue). My parent’s shop is a few blocks behind the camera. I used to climb on the wall on which the Rann St sign is fixed, often. The phone number on the back of the van is not genuine — perhaps it was changed for filming?

00:39 The pub is possibly the Ladywood House. “Discol” was a brand of diesel fuel.

01:25 Birmingham’s coat-of-arms.

01:47 An RAF corporal; I’m not sure what chevrons on his arm denote (possibly years of service?). The brick “box” in front of the shop in background is the entrance to a cellar bomb-shelter.

02:18 The man in a peaked cap looks like a railwayman (Monument Road LMS sheds were nearby).

02:19 St John Ambulance badge on arm denotes first-aid training. Note finger post (sadly unreadable) behind policeman’s shoulder. “A” on policeman’s collar denotes division to which he was allocated. The dome on top of the phone was blue flashing light, used when station needed to speak to a beat officer (these were the days before police radios).

03:37 Birmingham’s coat of arms in helmet badge.

03:58 Probably Steelhouse Lane Police Station (in city centre); certainly not Ladywood Police Station, which was inside a courtyard. Steelhouse Lane Police Station is still in use, so easy to check.

04:07 BDC — possibly Birmingham Dairy Company?

04:19 White bands on street furniture were added during blackout.

05:20 Reference to Witton on first tram, so Villa Park.

05:22 Second tram is route 3X.

06:38 Bus route 12.

06:40 Rhodes, a fine china shop. Left-hand shop has an owl, sign of Harrisons Opticians. This shop was on corner of Snow Hill (Andy’s mom adds that she remembers being taken to see a large owl sign on top of the building illuminated once the war ended). Note streetlamp above owl, with glass mostly painted black for blackout. Building on right may be the Gaumont cinema.

06:50 Street sign says “Steelhouse Lane”. When facing Rhodes, the city centre is to the left.

08:15 The box on a pillar, painted red, was a break-glass fire alarm, with a telephone connected to the fire station.

09:43 The shop under the street sign may be Mrs Noyce’s tripe shop, where I used to go with a jug, to collect tripe for my family and our neighbours.

10:09 “The Gunpowder Shop”, named after 19th century IRA man who lived
and plotted there. I found a picture in “Britain in old photographs — Ladywood” by Norman Bartlam (1999, p32, lower picture, ISBN 0-7509-2071-8) which also has a brief history of the incident.

10:27 The modern brick annexe with a concrete slab roof is an air-raid shelter.

10:44 The white-painted rocks in the wall are another remnant of the blackout.

Misc: None of the policemen have medal ribbons, which you would expect at the end of the war, so they’re possibly actors, not real officers.

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All your video are belong to us: open licence recordings of local government meetings

I’ve written before about what open licensing is and how to apply it to your pictures; and I’ve called for councils and other public bodies to open licence as many as possible of their photographs.

There’s recently been a welcome and encouraging increase in the number of councils that are live-streaming, or videoing for later consumption, their meetings. Such videos — and similar audio recordings — should also be made available to the public for reuse under open licences, which means no unnecessary restrictions such as “no commercial use” or “no derivatives” (the latter prohibits people from providing edited highlights or making compilations).

Some councils have an old fashioned attitude to the reuse of their videos
Photo by Taki Steve, on Flickr, CC-BY

There are a few reasons why this doesn’t currently happen, and they’re based on reasonable but unfounded concerns. Some council people (employed officers and elected members) are worried that they’ll lose control. They think that people will edit the videos in such as way as to misrepresent what was actually said. And some people will — but such people will do that regardless of the licence in place, and will misrepresent councillors even if only text minutes are available. Councils’ responses should be to point members of the public to the unedited originals, which they will of course host themselves, or on a service such as YouTube, using an account which they control. Are councils really going to resort to copyright law to stifle satire or prevent lobbying? Perhaps they should read about the (where resorting to legislation focusses greater attention on one’s actions than the subject of that action ever could).

Another issue is that some fear that if councillors use videos for political campaigning, that would break the rules on misuse of public money and council resources. The answer is simple: remind councillors of such rules and let them be responsible for their actions.

Such concerns are vastly outweighed by the potential benefits of allowing free (both senses: as in beer and speech) reuse of videos of our democratic processes in action. Bloggers (hyperlocal and others), journalists, lobby groups, Wikipedians and documentary makers will be able to report on the issues discussed by our elected representatives; and this can only encourage more involvement from lay people in the running of the services that they pay for.

Restrictive, non-open licences do not harm mendacious armchair activists, nor satirists, nor rogue politicians; they only hinder people who wish to use the material in a law abiding way to increase such engagement.

What licence is your council using for its videos of meetings?

My thanks to Tom Phillips for suggesting I write this post, for discussion in this evening’s #lgovsm chat on Twitter.

Posted in hyperlocal, local government, social media, Wikipedia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a Twitter spam case study

As my Twitter followers and other friends will know, I actively campaign against balloon releases — they litter, and harm wildlife.

This post isn’t about that, but about something odd which I discovered while doing so.

Each day, I search Twitter for people who are planning a balloon release, and politely ask them not to do it. A sufficient number to make this worthwhile, oblige.

About a year or so ago, give or take, I saw a tweet, the URL of which I have long since lost track of, saying:

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a beautiful balloon release. Headed to Slavic Pentacostal Church.

(Both venues are in Herkimer, New York, USA, if you wondered.)

But then a while later, I saw exactly the same text tweeted by someone else. Then again by another account, a few days later, then again. This went on, week after week. Gradually, the frequency increased, and now at any time there are hundreds of recent tweets with that text:

You can try the ‘Herkimer Elementary beautiful balloon release’ search yourself.

If we examine one of the accounts tweeting that, say @janinemccormi (picked at random), we can see he’s tweeted other things:

(Interestingly, a Google image search shows that @janinemccormi’s avatar is shared with @sanevekaxu7, whose account is suspended.)

Those messages have each been tweeted by lots of other people:

(‘ASOS Topshop killlllllllling meee’ search).

and again:

(‘preciso sair e passar nos outros fcs ‘-‘ beeijos.’ search).

And so it goes on: hundreds of identical tweets, from accounts making hundreds of other duplicate tweets. You’ll be able to find plenty more examples.

Now, at the risk of casting aspersions on innocent bystanders, I think it’s safe to assume that those are not genuine accounts (or if they are, they’re compromised).

If I were Twitter, I’d be looking into this and suspending some accounts. A lot of accounts.

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For I’m a Jolly Good Fellow (of the RSA)

I may have been overlooked, once again, in the new year’s honours list, but in mid-December I received an unsolicited and very flattering email; I’d been nominated, by their Regional Programme Manager, to become a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the Royal Society of Arts, for short, or RSA, for shorter). The nomination was “for your work on open data, Wikipedia and social media”.

You could have knocked me down with a metaphor.

Royal Society of Arts - from the Strand, London

RSA headquarters
Photo by Elliott Brown, on Flickr, CC-BY

Founded in 1754, the RSA is an independent enlightenment organisation committed to finding practical solutions to today’s social challenges (their email pointed out). That sounded right up my street. I was delighted to accept, and confirmation arrived by e-mail on Wednesday.

I’m in some illustrious company. My fellow fellows include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dr Sue Black, Stephen Hawking and Gareth Malone. Past fellows have included Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Karl Marx!

As a fellow, I shall have use of facilities at the RSA headquarters, off The Strand, pictured above. I shall henceforth refer to this, tongue firmly in cheek, as “my London club”.

My fellowship also means that I now have extra initials after my name. I’m “Andy Mabbett, FRSA”.

But you can still call me Andy.

Posted in about me, humour, open data, social media, Wikipedia | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How may I merge or duplicate Twitter accounts?

I manage multiple Twitter accounts. At some point, I will need to retire one; let’s call that Account A.

Is there a tool which will allow me, with ease, to make my Account B follow all the people currently followed by Account A?

Some people may find it useful, too, to be able to create a new account and have it follow all the people followed by an existing account which they or a third party own.

If there isn’t such a tool, would somebody care to make one?

Any such tool would need to deal with any duplicates (i.e. people already followed by Account B); and perhaps any limits set by Twitter on the number of follows made in a short period.

Posted in ideas, Twitter | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Teaching OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia editing, Tupperware Party style

I’m writing (and posting — thank you Chiltern Railways’ free Wi-Fi!) this on the train home from High Wycombe. I’ve spent a fun day there with Louise Brown, her husband Simon, and three of their friends, teaching them to edit OpenStreetMap and, after a fab lunch cooked by Simon, how to edit Wikipedia.

This came about after I mentioned on Twitter some other Wikipedia training I’d delivered, and Louise said she wished I lived closer, so she could have attended. I said I’d be wiling to travel to her home to do so if she could get a few like-minded friends together, to justify me giving up a day of my time and making the journey. This she quickly did.

Though we didn’t add much to OpenStreetMap to start with, I’m confident that the attendees will soon fill in the gaps around their homes and work-places in High Wycombe, West Wycombe and Marlow. We certainly improved some Wikipedia articles though, and created some new articles, including:

St Lawrence, West Wycombe
Photo by amandabhslater, on Flickr, CC-BY-SA

I’ve previously taught Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap editing, separately, in a variety of situations including universities, council offices, at Social Media Surgeries, at hackdays, and elsewhere, but this is the first time I’ve done so in someone’s home, in an informal and social setting.

A bit like a Tupperware party in fact, but without the plastic kitchenware.

If you have skills in editing Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap, or using social media, or indeed anything else that can be done around a domestic dining table, why don’t you see if you can share them in a similar way. If you’ve not delivered training before, it’s a good way to get experience.

It’s also a great way to sign up new contributors to these worthwhile crowd-sourced projects, in a fun, friendly and supportive environment. There are no venue costs to worry about. And you’ll meet some lovely people!

So what are you waiting for?

Posted in social media, Uncategorized, Wikipedia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My interview, about Wikipedia, with Jamillah Knowles, for BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Outriders’

A couple of weeks ago, I reached out on Twitter to Jamillah Knowles, and asked her to kindly record her voice for , as part of the Wikipedia voice-recording project I initiated.

This she generously did; then surprised me by asking if I would talk about Wikipedia for her Outriders show on BBC Radio 5 Live.

We pre-recorded the interview, and it was broadcast at the unsociable hour of 3am this morning. Fortunately, it’s also online, as part of the Outriders podcast (indexed under today’s date, 20 November 2012), so you can hear it at your leisure. It takes up the first twelve minutes of the show.

We discussed , my current role as Wikipedian in Residence with Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service, and my favourite Wikipedia article, .


This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (3.0 Unported) licence. Attribution should include a link to the post, or, in print, the short URL

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Open Up Your Content – a piece written for Hyperlocal West Midlands

My friends Kate Sahota, Dan Slee and Simon Whitehouse, and Liz O’nions from our sponsors Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, and I ran the ‘Hyperlocal West Midlands‘ (‘HyperWM’) unconference today; the third of these annual events, for local government and other public sector workers, and hyperlocal bloggers interested in working with them. As usual, I got to be compère, a role which I greatly enjoy.

It was great to see many old friends, even though the opportunity to chat to them was of necessity limited.

For the event, we produced a newspaper. Yes, a real newspaper, made from dead trees. The idea was to give some information to the many attendees who are not yet fully engaged with the digital world.

Two of my articles were included, a shortened version of my blog post “Tips for Unconference newbies“, and the following, written specially, and reproduced here in its original form, before Dan got his sub-editing mitts on it, and with added links:

Open Up Your Content

No doubt you’ve heard a lot about open data (and if you haven’t, you soon will do). But what about “open content”? And what is open content?

The commonly accepted definition refers to content (text, images, audio or video) which may be used by anyone, freely (free as in speech, and as in beer), under what is known as an open licence. The “four Rs” apply: people should be able to Reuse, Revise, Remix (combine with other content) and Redistribute (give away or sell) the content. There may be a requirement to give attribution (in other words, you have to say who the author or owner of the content is) and an open licence does not negate moral rights (so you shouldn’t misrepresent the author or owner).

Open content sources include all of Wikipedia (except a few images, such as DVD covers), everything on Wikimedia Commons, many images on Flickr (check the individual licences, or use the “Creative Commons” option in their advanced search) and much, much more, and you can use any of that, on your website and in your paper publications and reports. For free!

So how does open licensing work, in the public sector?

Suppose you’ve written an FAQ about food hygiene. If a blogger, or a neighbouring council or health authority, or suchlike, ask for permission to use some or all of it, you’d probably say “sure, just give us a mention”. If you receive a request for a photograph of your new chief executive from the same people, you’d probably provide them with one. You’d do that, even for a local newspaper which makes money by selling adverts, and by being sold in newsagents.

An open licence, such as one of those provided by Creative Commons as a set of boilerplate terms which you can use without paying a lawyer to write them, simply formalises such sensible responses.

Better still, you can apply an open licence in advance of receiving a request, or many such requests, thereby relieving you of a tiresome administrative burden.

If you have useful content (of course you do!), and you’re not going to sell it (of course you’re not!), make it available (on your website, or a third party one like Flickr or Wikimedia Commons), and let the community you serve and the world at large benefit from it. You might be surprised at the uses they put it to, and how you and your customers can benefit from them.

More from HyperWM


This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (3.0 Unported) licence. Attribution should include a link to the post, or, in print, the short URL

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Don’t link to my Twitter profile!

From time to time, people are kind enough to mention me, with a link, in their blog posts. Usually, in a positive way. I’m very grateful when they do.

A rusty chain

Lovely links (geddit?)
Photo by pratanti, on Flickr, CC-BY


They often link to my Twitter account, like this::

Here’s something about .

or like this:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett (he’s @pigsonthewing on Twitter).

(the relevant HTML markup being, in the first example,
<a href="">Andy Mabbett</a>).

Now, like I say, I’m very grateful for the attention. But I do wish they would link to my website, instead:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett.

or even both:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett (he’s @pigsonthewing on Twitter).

(the relevant HTML markup being
<a href="">Andy Mabbett</a>).


For two reasons. Firstly, though Twitter is fun, and I use it a lot, it’s ephemeral, and not everyone reading those post will want to use it. My website, on the other hand, has more about me and the work I do. Secondly, I need the Google juice (the value afforded to incoming web links by , the Google search algorithm ) more than Twitter does.

This isn’t just about me, though. The same applies every time a blogger or other web page author — and that probably includes you — links to anyone or any organisation, with their own website or blog. Please don’t just link to their page on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on some other social networking site. Of course, do that as well, or if it’s the only online presence they have.

But if they have a website, as I do, please make that the primary destination to which you link. And hopefully, they will reciprocate.

Thank you.

Posted in about me, ideas, social media, Twitter, web standards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Requesting open-licensed, open-format recordings of the voices of Wikipedia subjects for Wikimedia Commons

The Idea

A little while ago, my friend and fellow Wikipedia editor (he’s the Wikipedian in Residence at the British Library!) mentioned to me that Wikipedia could do with more sound files. We discussed recordings of music, industrial and everyday sounds (what does a printing press sound like? Or a Volkswagen Beetle? What do different kinds of breakfast cereal sound like when milk is added?), as well as people’s voices, so that we have a record of what they sound like.

A giant ear-trumpet

Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear) By John Baldessari, at the Saatchi Gallery.
Photo by Jim Linwood, on Flickr, CC-BY

In the spirit of Wikipedia, all such recordings would be open-licensed, to allow others to use them, freely. They can then be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (the media repository for Wikipedia and its related projects) in an open format, namely Ogg Vorbis (that’s like mp3, but without patent encumbrances).

So I’m working on a new initiative to provide short (under ten-second) open-licensed audio clips of examples of the speaking voices of notable people (i.e. people who have Wikipedia articles about them).

What To Do

As a pilot, I’m asking some of my (cough) celebrity friends to kindly record the following, or a variation of their choice, with no background noise:

Hello, my name is [name]. I was born in [place] and I have been [job or position] since [year]

(but without mentioning Wikipedia!) They can do that, in quiet room, with a modern mobile phone, or a computer.

[Stop Press: See update 4, below, for update regarding use of “Vocaroo”, to avoid this step]

Once they’ve done that, they can convert the file to Ogg Vorbis using this free tool and then upload it to Wikimedia Commons, with an open-licence, with no “non-commercial (NC)” or “no derivatives (ND)” restrictions, (e.g. CC-By or CC-By-SA), and add the category “Voice intro project”.

If that’s too much fuss, they can e-mail it, or its URL, to me (, using common file formats like mp3 or .wav, stating that it’s under one of those licences, and CC the mail to: to formally record the open licence. Then I or other Wikipedia editors will make the conversion.

Alternatively, perhaps, they can point to a suitable, open-licensed, example of their speaking voice, which is already online.

Anyone Can Help

If you’re not the subject of a Wikipedia article, you can still help, by recording and uploading to Wikimedia Commons audio files, as described above, of machinery or everyday activities and occurrences.


  1. A couple of Wikipedia article subjects have asked why they would do this. In short, so that there is a public — and freely reusable — record of what they sound like, for current and future generations. And so that we know how they pronounce their names.
  2. The uploaded files are now gathered in a Wikimedia Commons category. Thank you to the early contributors.
  3. I’ve been asked about multi-lingual recordings. The best thing would be separate files, one in each langugae, please.
  4. If you have a microphone on your computer (doesn’t work on iPhone/iPad), it’s possible to record directly into the Vocaroo website, and just email or tweet me a link. But you still need to agree to an open licence!
Posted in ideas, open data, Wikipedia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments