A retired police officer was telling me recently of life in suburban London stations in the 1950s.
One of my favourite stories was of a beat officer (do they still exist?) who found a petrol tanker blocking the High Road while the driver went for his breakfast. He found the man in a café and ordered him to move the offending vehicle and then to come back either for a summons or what he called ‘the treatment’.
When the man returned naturally he wanted to know what ‘the treatment’ was. He was told that he would only find out when he had made his choice. He took the ‘treatment’ option and was made to stand on a roundabout in the high road and sing, ‘The Esso sign means happy motoring’ while the officer shouted at him, ‘Louder, louder, they can’t hear you’.
It was apparently the same officer who one Christmas spent his night duty rearranging the costermongers’ barrows in the market so that when the catsmeat man arrived in the morning he found his position had been taken by a drapery stall and so on. Complaints were made but it was decided the barrows must have been moved when the officer was somewhere else on his beat. He retired shortly afterwards and went into the confectionery trade.
Another member of the force was a detective who, after a narrow acquittal at the Old Bailey, was transferred to a station where he sat in an overcoat until, at 11am every day, he would get out of his chair and say: ‘Them bolts is drawed’. He would then disappear to his local, not to be seen again for the day. No action could reasonably be taken against him because a much more senior officer, who rose high in the Met, used to have a tot of whisky at 9.15 every morning at his desk.
It was another inspector who was called into the witness box at the Old Bailey after the conviction of a number of defendants whose alibi witnesses had got their stories
in a complete tangle. The judge told the officer he hoped a close watch would be kept on one of the witnesses in the future. ‘You must not worry yourself, your Lordship,’ replied the officer, ‘I have his boat’. One must hope his Lordship kept a slang dictionary with him.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor