23 February 1963: The case of the electrified Land Rover

Most of us would probably do almost anything to avoid getting a parking ticket. But few would go as far as a Sussex farmer in 1963, who, in his own words, was waging a “private war” against an enemy that was new to the capital – traffic wardens.

His lorries bulging with produce from his farm, 40-year-old Peter Hicks would regularly drive to Covent Garden to set up shop. But as anyone who has driven in central London knows, finding somewhere to park is all but impossible, especially when you have a fleet of lorries. So, he parked them illegally on Shorts Gardens, near Seven Dials.

Before long, the parking fines started to rack up – about £30 a week. That’s around £560 in today’s money. But Hicks wasn’t exactly the sort of small business owner to just roll over. On the contrary, he would put his mischievous sense of humour to good use.

He took a device that usually runs an electric current through the fences on his farm and attached it to his Land Rover. His car now had 2,000 volts running through it – enough to give anyone who placed a ticket on it a jolt.

(Remember, it’s not the voltage that’s dangerous, but the level of amps – the flow of electric current. So, while 2,000 sounds like a lot, the amps were kept low.)

He then placed his Land Rover so it was bumper to bumper with his parked lorries. Now the whole convoy was electrified. And lo and behold, the parking tickets dried up.

“I’ve watched quite a few wardens cop it, trying to put a ticket on my truck”, he told the BBC. “They gave up in disgust – and shock!”

Then one day, 23 February 1963, a passing police constable stopped to examine the strange ticking noise coming from the Land Rover. He “received a nasty shock”, as did his intrigued sergeant and a police inspector. Hicks was arrested for assault.

The prosecutors would later decide that they couldn’t make the charges stick, and his electric fence device was returned. Hicks agreed that he’d made his point, and traffic wardens across London breathed a sigh of relief.