Tag Archives: GCHQ

Banksy, Cheltenham, CGHQ, stencil, phone box

Banksy GCHQ Reduced to Rubble – Or Is It?

A mist of news, rumour and myth swirls around Banksy and at times he doesn’t actually need to do anything to cause it.


Back in 2014 Banksy executed one of his best pieces, a trio of spies eavesdropping on the conversations of people using a phone box in Cheltenham (written about here).  Cheltenham is home of GCHQ or to give it its full official title and description, the UK Government Communications Headquarters which is “the centre for Her Majesty’s Government’s Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) activities”.

Banksy Spies - photo Martin Bull

Banksy Spies – photo Martin Bull

The subject, the placement and the execution were absolutely top notch as can be seen in the photograph above by Martin Bull (author of the highly recommended Banksy Locations and Tours Vols 1 and 2, among other books).


News broke yesterday that someone had removed the wall on which the Banksy spies had been painted, photographs show a rectangular cut out from the wall where one of the spooks had been and a pile of rubble on the ground.  There is a lot of uncertainty about what actually has happened to the Banksy and you perhaps should just read the BBC article here.

Banksy, Cheltenham, CGHQ, stencil, phone box

photo: from BBC report (link above)

A perhaps less noticed twist was that the Banksy incorporated the BT phone box into the piece, so anyone seeking to remove the piece and there are such people, see Mr Robin “Bankrobber” Barton mentioned in the BBC link, would need to strike a deal with both the owner of the property and BT.  Of course a phone box could be simply purchased though it would be unlikely to be the original phone box, so the piece would be not completely original.


Another little morsel of intrigue and curiosity is that it turns out the seemingly undistinguished end of terrace Victorian property on which the Spies piece was painted was a Grade II listed building.  Technically the owners would have been obliged and could have been compelled to remove the Banksy to restore the property to its previous condition.  However as can be seen in this BBC report a retrospective planning permission was given to incorporate the Banksy into the building’s listed status so that it could remain where it was.  That actually means that the owner of the building would have to preserve the Banksy, making the whole episode just a bit more murky.


This is the second time (to my knowledge) that a Banksy work has been protected in a planning application, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Banksy old, Banksy New

Lots of excitement in Banksy World at the moment with new pieces of street art appearing and old pieces being stolen.

First the two new new pieces, one has gone up in Bristol and has in effect been confirmed as a Banksy by its appearance on his website, from which these two photos are borrowed with thanks:

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

mobile lovers, Bristol

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

photos: Banksy.co.uk

The second piece is a brilliant composition mocking government surveillance of our phone calls and social media interactions, as described fully by The Guardian in various Pulitzer Prize award winning articles.  Everything from the subject matter to the style of the stencils, the colours, the humour, the use of the specific furniture and fabric of the street screams Banksy but as yet it hasn’t appears on his website.  The location is particularly brilliant, this piece is in Cheltenham, home to the UK government spooks at GCHQ.

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

photo: flickr user SaLLy

Everyone seems agreed it is a Banksy and I’m joining that crew!  This photo was taken by flickr user Sally, thanks Sally.

The new Bristol Banksy has already been removed though not without some controversy.  The piece was taken in “to prevent any vandalism or damage” by Broad Plains Boys Club based next door to the property with the Banksy on, they believe they can sell it to raise much needed funds that would help them avoid closure due to funding cuts.   Certainly they seem to believe that it may have been deliberately placed there by Banksy for them to use for fund raising, even though that isn’t really his usual modus operendi for contributing to deserving causes.   In their favour it seems unlike Banksy to install a nice piece like this in such a casual way that a couple of dozen easily removed cross head screws are all that stand between it and liberty.  Perhaps he did want them to take it.  There is a debate that the door actually belongs to the council and isn’t the Boys Club’s to remove or sell.  On the other hand, reports suggest that the wood sheet it is painted on was placed there by Banksy and therefore didn’t belong to the council.  Doubtless this one will run awhile until facts become fully established and lawyers chip in.


Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated development, a video has appeared by StealingBanksy.com showing the recent removal of a Girl With Balloon Banksy piece from a wall in Shoreditch, sometimes our tour swings by this spot.

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,


The organisation behind its removal is part of the Sincura Group.  Whispers started circulating two months ago that this Girl with Balloon was to be put on display in an exhibition this April with six other pieces of Banksy street art after which the pieces were to be auctioned.  If we heard that rumour, you can be certain Banksy heard it too.  We expected a publicity blizzard to blow up around this display of street Banksys but Banksy himself has hijacked the agenda by launching his own pre-emptive newsworthy stunt, cutting right across the promotional efforts to pump up the show of the street Banksys.

If Banksy hadn’t appeared on the walls at exactly this point in time, all the press coverage surrounding Sincura’s publicity hype would have focussed on “Banksy has done hardly anything in the UK recently”, now Banksy has prevented that train of thought developing steam.  Great timing Banksy!

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

I Hate This Font, Banksy, May 2012

Curiously, StealingBanksy.com seems to be somewhat over-reaching in a strange attempt to dress up their activity as some kind of glamorous vandalism.  Illegally stolen? Not if rumours that they bought the wall off the legal wall owners are to be believed.

Sloppy errors of fact relating to Banksy’s street art are littered across the StealingBanksy blurb. There were more than just the two Girl With Balloons they claim in London.  What is their objective, to attach some sense of scarcity value to their Girl With Balloon?

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

Girl With Balloon, 600 yards from King Johns Court, Shoreditch (buffed)

 Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

Girl With Balloon, honest (buffed), 300 yards from King Johns Court

 The film also claims that the Girl With Balloon from King Johns Court was painted in 2006 but we know for certain it dates from well before that.

Banksy,London, Shoreditch, street art,graffiti,tour,guide,guided,walk,theft,

Girl With Balloon, photo ArtOfTheState, 2004

Banksy certainly dislikes his street pieces being removed and sold like this, he’d much rather they lived a natural life on the streets, even if falling victim to the buff is their fate.  If speculation that he intended the mobile lovers in Bristol as a life saving gift to the Broad Plains Boys Club is in any way accurate that would be a radical change for the Master!

UPDATE: the always excellent Vandalog street art blog has just published a fascinating interview with a Director of the Sincura group, well worth reading here

Thanks to great friends ArtOfTheState and HowAboutNo for fact checking and opinion sharing and use of ArtOfTheState’s photo with kind permission, to Sally for kind permission to use her Cheltenham Banksy photo and to Banksy for use of his photos.