Table of Contents A Gloucestershire Lad ~ my early years by Paul Edmund Norman - PC49
Stories and Serials
I guess you're wondering what my connection is to PC49 – nebulous, in fact! As a young lad growing up in the small (4,000 inhabitants) village of Brockworth in Gloucestershire, I spent most of my formative years reading and writing, aided and abetted by an excellent primary school education which saw me pass the 11-plus examination at age 10. As I recall, there were a whole load of us considered good enough to enter, but only three of us got through in my year. I forget who the others were, and in any case, neither of them went with me to the Crypt Grammar School, so we inevitably lost touch. My circle of friends in Brockworth included boys and girls from the primary school, but as often as not, I would be content to curl up with a good book, even on those halcyon days when it seemed the sky couldn't get any bluer and the day stretched outforever.
In those days, during the mid-1950s, it was rare to see a policeman,and with so few vehicles on the road, even rarer to see a police car. To give you some idea of how rare motor vehicles were in rural England, I and my friends used to collect car number plates. No, not in the way you think. Abandon any idea of comparing this century's youth with those of the 1950s. We carried with us a notebook, and we wrote down in it number plates if we happened to spot a car. I well remember the bus ride through the city on the way to school, when we stopped in Southgate, and from the top deck of the bus I could look down on the roof of the bus stop and see an abandoned number platewhich began with AAA – how much would that be worth now, I wonder?
But back to the police. If we jump forward in time to when the careers officer came to the Crypt in 1961, I was seriously considering joining the police force, and actually spent an entire day at the police station in Cheltenham, where they showed us all manner of things, ranging from truncheons, handcuffs, and scene of crime photographs, which were pretty horrific. In the event, I didn't become a policeman, though I have remained enamoured of the force ever since, and lap up most of the police series to be found on today's television. I love Midsomer Murders, Dalziell and Pascoe, Inspector Lynley, Holby Blue, Morse, Lewis and so on. I draw the line at Waking the Dead, which seems to go out of its way to be over-zealous in its helpings of gore. I particularly liked Merseybeat, as it combined a modern police force with the lilting and most attractive Liverpool accent, and a cast of characters to die for. Why they killed it is beyond me.
But I'm straying from the point, which I made earlier, to the effect that it was rare to see a policeman in rural England in the 1950s. Back then it was safe to run down to the shops and leave your front or back door open. Thieves were an even rarer sight than a policeman in those days. The nearest we got to a break-in was when someone who fancied the vicar broke into the vicarage and set up camp there till he came home. There was no vandalism, there were no robberies, no broken windows, no car thefts. This may have been due in part to the fact that we had, living opposite us in Boverton Drive, our very own PC 49. Constable Lawrence occasionally emerged from his front door dressed in his Bobby's uniform, mounted his bicycle and went off to work. I don't believe anyone patrolled our neighbourhood; I'm pretty sure there was no need, as there was no crime.
Just seeing Constable Lawrence would ignite in me the need to read PC 49,created specifically for radio by Alan Stranks and later to be found in the pages of The Eagle. PC 49 (Police Constable Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby) was an ordinary bobby on the beat, solving crime in the late 40s and early 50s. He worked for 'Q' Division of the Metropolitan Police. Our PC49, of course, worked for the Gloucestershire Constabulary. As a youth, I frequented the local playing fields with my friends – we didn't have mates in those days, only Tarzan had a mate! Our purpose was one-fold – to play football, tennis or cricket. If we saw a policeman, we would stop to see if he was coming to tell us off, though why he would have done such a thing is beyond me. It was, I suppose, simply a mark of respect for someone in authority. If a policeman told you to dismount your bike, or walk slowly, you did it. You didn't argue. A policeman was there to tell you what to do. He would, of course, give you directions, or tell you the time, should you need it, but his primary duty, as we saw it, was to tell you what to do, what not to do, how to behave, and soon. What a difference a half-century makes.
I was in Norwich a few weeks ago,in Anglia Square, a pedestrian shopping precinct, where a youth was cycling. A policewoman told him to get off his bike, and he simply ignored her and carried on riding, even riding round her in circles to show how he was ignoring her and her "authority". The great shame now, of course, is that the police have a lack of authority in that they have to be so careful when dealing with the public for fear of litigation, a point taken up by my associate, Stan Dandyliver in his own article for this issue of Gateway. I was proud to be law-abiding and of the fact that I respected the law and its representative.I was told what time I had to be home by my parents, and I was never late. It suited me, as I more often than not had a book or comic I wanted to get back to, and my friends could wait till the following day.
The lack of respect the police are given nowadays is just further evidence of the growing army of do-gooders who argue for the hooligans and murderers and completely ignore the rights of the victims.
Back to PC49. PC49 was unique inthe 1950s, he was a one-off. I bought most of the boys' comics that were around at the time, and while there were plenty of space adventures, cowboys and Indians, highwaymen, school stories and so on, as far as I can remember, PC49 was the only Bobby on the beat with his own comic strip adventures. I'd be lying if I said I remembered listening to the radio show, which began in 1947 (I would have been one year old!) and ended in 1953 (I would have been seven!) but I do remember his comic strip adventures and the chances of someone giving me a PC49 annual or a book would have been of the highest order. One of my favourite early TV shows – the last series to feature a similarly-helmeted bobby on the beat would probably be Dixon of Dock Green, and maybe Detective Superintendent Lockhart's No Hiding Place, but by the time of Z-Cars it was all about cars, flat caps and detectives, scuffers, rozzers and the like. PC49 was lost to the mists of time. Full marks to Alan Stranks for giving him a hyphenated surname!
A Gloucestershire Lad takes an Indian summer break, and returns in the November issue
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