Eddie Mair takes on… the beeping fire alarm

The radio DJ has had a lot of sleepless nights and here's why...

Keen listeners to PM may have noticed that I was even more rubbishy than usual on the programme the other week. For that I would normally blame the producers, the editors, the weather or Nick Clegg (everybody blames him for everything), but it was none of those. My poor performance was caused by… smoke alarms.


“A working smoke alarm is essential. It provides vital early warning and extra time to escape if there is a fire. Every home should have at least one working smoke alarm.” So says the website of the London Fire Brigade, and I want to make it absolutely clear that, regardless of what I’m about to say, I agree with every word of that, without equivocation. Smoke alarms save lives. Check yours now. And if you don’t have a smoke alarm, please go and buy one.

That said, there were times this week when I wanted to smash all three of my smoke alarms to smithereens, then bury the smithereens in a shallow grave, dance on it, and commission a headstone that read: “Here lie three smashed-up smoke alarms. You’re not beeping now, are you? Hahahahahaha.”I’ll grant you, most monumental masons would balk at that phrasing; and that many words would set me back a bob or two but let me tell you it would be worth every penny.

I returned from holiday to find smoke alarm one chirping intermittently. Within moments I was teetering precariously on an inappropriate chair, changing the battery. The beeping stopped. I’m a domestic God, as you can imagine.

The next night, alarm number two was doing the same thing. See previous paragraph. It was alarm number three that was put on earth by Satan him/herself. In the middle of the night, it began to chirrup intermittently. As you may know, the beep of a smoke alarm has more decibels than Shirley Bassey struggling to be heard over the sound of an aircraft taking off from a packed Wembley Stadium.

I replaced the battery, but the satanic alarm was having none of it. I returned to bed to be woken by a full-blown siren. The alarm appeared to believe the house was an inferno. Back up on the chair at 3am, I checked the wiring. The alarm is connected to the mains; the battery is a back-up. All seemed in order. The siren stopped. Then started again an hour later.

The next two nights were carbon copies. If you’re thinking: why didn’t I remove the battery/ disconnect the wiring/turn it all off at the mains..? I tried all that. IT STILL BEEPED! It was a RoboCop alarm.

Twenty-foour hours a day it would choose to chirrup like a cricket, or wake the dead with its amusing siren noise. Bleary-eyed at 2am I checked what the internet had to offer. It turns out that around the world smoke alarms behave like wet Gremlins. People resort to desperate measures to get away from the noise. They move house. They drive off cliffs. Others even watch Piers Morgan.

The internet taught me that all such alarms have a use-by date. I found one on the underside of the alarm at 1am. Gosh, it was fun. I also discovered that dust can cause a malfunction.

I never imagined myself on a chair in the middle of the night using the furry attachment to hoover a smoke alarm on the ceiling, but there I was. And it stopped the noise. Goodnight.

Eddie Mair presents PM, Mon-Sat 5pm and iPM, Sat 5.45am, both Radio 4