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From boots for dogs to knife-proof armour; ideas of a real-life inventor

Douglas Buchanan was an British inventor and designer. You probably haven’t heard of him, but he worked full time in his workshop with a small team creating new products for 30 years, and had more patents granted in his name than most other people in this country. His ideas included some wild and wonderful ones, such as boots for dogs, made to protect prison dogs from glass in riots; knife proof armour, designed for the police to upgrade their existing bulletproof vests, the Spectangle, a device for holding your specs; a revolutionary golf putter; and, his favourite, an underwater bike, perfect for snorkelers. In addition, he also designed jewellery and buckles for high end designers, including Jaspar Conran, Bruce Oldfield, and a special commission for Diana’s dress designers, the Emanuels.

A charismatic, clever man, he attracted press attention and was a guest on shows such as Tomorrow’s World and Eureka! with Matthew Kelly, as well as winning prizes at invention exhibitions in the UK and abroad. However, despite the acclaim, he had varied success with his ideas, including being victim of con artists and incompetence, and, combined with being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002, he was eventually declared bankrupt.

Douglas was my stepfather. Come with me now as I delve through his notebooks, showing you his ideas and telling you the stories attached to each one. Let me tell you about a certain royal customer, or two, a court case that went into the textbooks as an example of how not to run a court case, of policemen running about in our garden, of the people who came to Douglas with a problem to solve. Let me also share with you what it’s like to sell a ‘wacky’ idea to the general public, how to get a patent and the daily routine of an inventor’s life. This book is a celebration of Douglas’s ideas, and even though he is no longer with us, his story deserves to be told.

Rachel Buchanan is a writer and producer who started her working life as an assistant in Douglas’s workshop, polishing buckles, assembling spectangles, making jewellery and trying to wrestle the filing system into shape. Since then she has worked mostly in the arts, including managing an art house cinema and the Free Word Centre, a centre for literature and free expression in central London. Her love of words comes from growing up in rural Shropshire, where you have to make your own fun, and she has a degree in American Literature, as well as a slightly more obscure master’s degree in legal research. These days she combines writing with producing festivals and events throughout the country, including the inaugural Killer Women crime writing festival in Shoreditch, and the Wye Valley Chamber Music festival. Vice Chair of the Camden Poetry Group for several years, she has realized that poetry is not really her thing, but is really enjoying telling this particular true story.

Boots for dogs

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. Here’s his prison dog boot design:

And here’s a prison dog wearing them:

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