A Policeman’s Lot

Whenever I recount stories about my 32 years service in London’s Metropolitan Police Force (sorry, Service) I usually get the response, “You really should write these stories down!”….I have already posted some blogs on SC relating to policing the River Thames, where I spent the final seventeen years of my total service and where I am still involved in running the Thames Police Museum at Wapping. These can be viewed in my ‘Tales of the Riverbank’….However, I didn’t make my way to the Thames until 1988 and since I joined ‘The Met’ in 1973 that leaves 15 years of my life in the police unaccounted for….So I thought there might be some people on SC who might find some of these stories of interest.

I joined the Met as a fresh faced (Well, quite spotty faced, actually) lad of just nineteen years of age….One of my first problems was (as the instructors at Training School lost no time in pointing out to me) is that I only looked about 16 years old…..Now, as a 66 year old man, I would dearly love to look younger than my actual age…..But being 19 and looking just 16 was a bit of a liability for for a young copper trying to ‘clean up’ London’s West End! …. But let’s start this story at the beginning.

I joined the police on May 14th 1973 and the first step on my career ladder was the Hendon Police Training College in Colindale, North London. The training course in those days lasted for 16 weeks and during that time I underwent an intensive course of instruction in criminal law. The course was also designed to improve fitness and included sports, PT, drill instruction (and I never did learn how to march properly) and last but not least, self defence.

Having successfully completed my training I was posted to West End Central Police Station in Savile Row, Mayfair (well known to anyone who has ever played Monopoly)

West End Central (Or CD, to give it its station code abbreviation) was at that time said to be the busiest police station in the world….Whether that is true or not, I have no idea….but it was a good place place for a keen, young officer to obtain a grounding in basic police work and in dealing with the public….As one experienced officer explained to me on my first day “Welcome to West End Central, Son….Working at this place you will meet and deal with con artists, card sharks, thieves, drunks and people of loose morals….Then once you leave the police station, you’ll find that members of the public are EVEN worse than the coppers!”….He walked away chuckling….I’m pretty sure he was joking!

Once at their allotted station, every officer began a 12 month probationary period during which time they would not only work as a constable but would also continue their academic training….At the end of that 12 month period, each successful officer would be confirmed in the rank of Police Constable…..After two years in the rank of constable, officers can start to consider their future career in the police….They could, for example, start studying for promotion…or perhaps consider a move to a specialist department…..Obviously, I considered none of these options, I was having far too much fun as a young man working in uniform in London’s West End to worry about furthering my career.

For the first two weeks at their new police station every new recruit would be paired with a more experienced officer in order that they could be shown around the area covered by each station (And obviously to try and steer them away from getting into too much trouble)….In the case of West End Central, the area covered was (unsurprisingly) London’s West End….This took in two well known area areas, the ‘famous’ Mayfair, and the ‘infamous’ Soho….These first two weeks of every officers working career were known as ‘Puppy Walking’ and each day I was paired up with a more experienced officer and he or she would guide me around the 12 ‘beats’ that made up ‘The Patch’. At the end of that two week period I was finally let loose on an unsuspecting London Public armed with a police whistle, a pocket book and a truncheon. My only contact with the police station would be my two way police personal radio also known as “The Batphone” or Talking Broach”.

Of course, It didn’t take me long to drop myself into trouble. On my very first day out alone on patrol I was posted to ‘four beat’. This was a foot patrol area (all the beats in the West End were foot patrols at that time, due to traffic congestion) at the Western end of Mayfair….A patrol that took in Oxford Street, Marble Arch, Park Lane and Grosvenor Square….The one thing about that particular patrol area was that you were guaranteed to come across American tourists….The US Embassy was located in Grosvenor Sq. and Oxford Street was a magnet for American shoppers wanting to spend their dollars…..Now, American tourists LOVE London Bobbies and every American tourist will want to have at least one photo of themselves talking to a Bobby….So police officers patrolling in that area can expect to be engaged in conversation and asked a great many questions and asked to give lots of directions….Now that is fine for experienced officers who know where most of these locations are….However, a young ‘Rooky’ PC, yet to to become fully conversant with his patch will have to frequently refer to his NIcholson’s London Guide book (Other London guide books are available) on pretty much EVERY occasion.

At around 11am a middle aged and rather loudly dressed American gentleman and his wife approached me in Grosvenor Square and asked if it was OK to take a photo….I happily obliged and the gentleman than asked me “Now, can you tell me how we get to Oxford?” At last! Here was a question that I could answer without looking like a complete novice!….I had already noticed during my ‘Puppy Walking’ that a Green Line bus ran from Park Lane all the way to Oxford and I directed them accordingly….They went in search of the bus stop and I continued my patrol, happy in the knowledge that I was at last getting to grips at last with giving local directions…..About 4 hours later I received a call on my personal radio from the station sergeant telling me to return to the police station to see him immediately…..When I walked into the front office and presented myself to the Station Sergeant he looked sternly at me and asked “Have you been giving directions to American tourists today?”

“Yes, Sarge, a few, why?”

“Did you direct a couple of American’s to Oxford by Green Line Bus at about 11am?”

“Erm….Yes Sarge, Why?”

“Listen Son, when an American tourist asks to be directed to Oxford….He does NOT usually want to go to the city called Oxford (Many miles away)….It is much more likely that he is actually asking to be directed to Oxford Street which is only a few hundred yards away….YOU IDIOT!!!”

“I see Sarge…Am I in trouble?”

“Amazingly no!….It seems they walked into Oxford Police Station asking to be directed to Selfridges Dept. Store (Oxford Street) and when the desk sergeant pointed out the error, they saw the funny side of it….Apparently, they are now going to spend the night in the “City of Dreaming Spires” and possibly try to buy it!

This was my introduction to policing in London’s West End…..More cock ups, excitement, fun, games and the occasional tear would follow…… I will have more tales to tell in future blogs.

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