December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

The Guardian Angels – on the London tube

2 min read
The Guardian Angels were set up in New York in the late 1970s to patrol the subway but when they came to London - the idea flopped badly

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.

1 thought on “The Guardian Angels – on the London tube

  1. It was really good seeing Guardian Angels out on patrol in London during the 2021/22 lockdown. My family got alot of help when council services foodbanks & care worker agencies were shut, police nowhere to be seen when vandals went all out bat crazy for weeks. It was frightening. We are grateful for the group of red beret wearing saviours. We now have an active Neighbourhood Watch the G.A helped us to set up and get support from time to time from the local Police safety team now thanks to those Guardian Angels. Thank you so much.

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