It is with sadness that we note the passing of John Birkett, proprietor of the legendary eponymous surplus radio and electronics store on an unassuming street in the British city of Lincoln, at the age of 93. He has been a fantastic source of esoteric parts and electronic assemblies for many decades, and though many of you from beyond where this is being written may never have heard of him the chances are that if you follow electronics enthusiasts from the UK you will have unwittingly seen parts which passed through his hands.
There was a time when surplus stores were a relatively common sight, given their window of opportunity by the huge quantity of post-war and Cold War military gear at knock-down prices. My town had one when I was a kid, but though it sold its share of electronic goodies it was more of a place for sturdy olive green outdoor wear or all the 1930s British military uniform items you might ever need. J. Birkett was different, as a purely electronics store the shop rapidly became the go-to place for both the most necessary and the most unexpected of parts.
His motto was “Not a piece of junk in sight”, and though as with much surplus equipment there is plenty of junk to be found it was his eye in managing to stock the junk which was most interesting and useful that made his selection special. Such was its reach that most of his customers including me never made it to Lincoln and the store itself, instead we came to him through his mail-order business and attendance at radio rallies. I fondly remember the anticipation of receiving a Birkett parcel, and I still have plenty of parts that came from him. An FM tuner converted for use as a 2 meter receiver is still in a box somewhere, and I’m pretty certain my storage unit still holds a pair of Pye Cambridge VHF transceivers he supplied.
According to Google the shop remains open, and we hope that state of affairs will continue. Surplus may not be what it once was, but we thank John Birkett for what he gave to generations of British hardware hackers. May he rest in peace.
Header image: Oliver Mills, (CC BY-SA 2.0).