It is with great sadness that we observe the death of John Birkett, proprietor of the legendary surplus radio and electronics store, on an outstanding street in the British city of Lincoln at the age of 93. Electronic assembly for decades, and although many may not have heard of it from where it was written, chances are if you follow electronics enthusiasts from the UK you will inadvertently see the parts that go through its hands.
There was a time when surplus stores were a relatively common sight, with huge quantities of post-war and Cold War military equipment windowing their opportunities at knock-down prices. There was one in my town when I was younger, but although it did sell electronics for its part, it might be all you need for a tight olive green outdoor wear or all the British military uniform items from the 1930s. J. Birkett was different, as a purely electronics store the store quickly became the go-to place for both the most necessary and the most unexpected parts.
His motto was “not a piece of rubbish in sight”, and although there was plenty of rubbish available, his look was most interesting and useful for storing rubbish which made his selection especially. It was as if most of his clients, including me, had never been to Lincoln and the store, instead we approached him through his mail-order business and attending radio rallies. I remember expecting to receive a Birkett parcel, and I still have a lot of parts that came from it. An FM tuner converted for use as a 2 meter receiver is still in a box somewhere and I’m sure my storage unit still has a pair of Pie Cambridge VHF transceivers supplied by him.
According to Google, the store is open and we expect that situation to continue. The surplus may not be what it once was, but we thank John Birkett for what he has given to a generation of British hardware hackers. If he could rest in peace.
Header image: Oliver Mills, (CC BY-SA 2.0).