50 YEARS ON, REEL BACK TO 1962-63

The prolonged Christmas break has been good for catching up on normal reading other than those ever attention seeking committee papers. The Kindle has been dusted down and loaded up with a variety of E books and all sections of the daily paper browsed at length. I’ve knocked of “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies”, both by Booker Double prize winner, Hilary Mantel. But back to what the papers say!

Three events of 50 years ago, the dreadful winter, the all pervading smog and the Profumo affair have been well aired in my newspaper this week. The winter of 62-63 was truly grim and snow fell until March one paper recollected. I couldn’t remember that level of detail only that most of the winter was unforgettable as it was the first I had experienced on the streets as a Metropolitan bobby

I joined in April 1962 and the summer gave way to being trained as a bobby; all nicely ready to hit the beat as the year came to a close. I was given Christmas Day off but had to be back on Boxing Day and at the age of 22, was faced with the daunting journey from Norfolk to West Hampstead in my first car, a sturdy Triumph Mayflower. I started off at daybreak on roads like ice rinks and was soon extracting myself from snow drifts on either side of the road as the car spun out of control. It was madness to have gone on but my there was no question of not getting back to duty; I just had to get there.

Making speed along a by-pass, Mayflower swerved out of control and came to rest in the trunk of a convenient roadside tree. The wing got dented. No mobile phone to call for assistance in those days and now near to tears, I surveyed the damage. Not too bad in fact. Better than it looked. A friendly somebody produced a crow bar, straightened the metal so the wheels could turn freely and off I went again. Hours later, a cold and deeply traumatised WPC 711 limped into West Hampstead Yard and reported very late for duty. My kindly woman sergeant, Jean Young; sent me to the canteen for a brew and then told me to get back to my police hostel and report for duty the next day.

I spent my several night duty tours that winter with the CID in their newly acquired, newly produced Mini. It was so low slung that we kept bashing the sump on the heaps of frozen snow strewn across the gentle slopes of Hampstead. Far better than patrolling on foot and I was ever grateful to the chaps for taking pity on me in that bleak mid winter so long ago. Further down the hill in Harrow Road “Nick” the men were allowed an “indulgence” (not the one for having sins absolved by saying lots of rosary’s),but being let off foot-patrol when the temperature plummeted. In those days women where in charge of women although the blokes were always superior even on the same rank. The chaps warmed themselves within but the nasty female inspector would have none of it. Out as usual and only come in at scheduled breaks. I also got the same treatment to a lesser extent as it seemed the girls were given no respite just to show we could do the job.

In the 60s, we did not have truncheons, in those days trousers were unheard of. No boots, just thick soled shoes, heavy stockings and a greatcoat were the only protection through those bitter nights. No way was I always spared the night street patrol despite the help of my friendly CID chaps. Fingers and feet numbed fast. There is nothing one can do but to try and forget the pain and just keep plodding around the beat begging the clock to reach the appointed time to be allowed inside for a hot drink.

Double Decker buses sailed across icy roads in some slow motion gently choreographed ballet. It was the constable’s job to help push them clear of piled up snow top start their stately pirouetting again. In that bleak mid-winter, 50 years ago.

NEXT UP- THE SMOG.

Leaving West Hampstead Nick after late turn, I walked into a blanket of cold, penetrating fog. Hardly seeing hand in front of face, I crawled to the tube station surrounded by eerily yellow lights and a slightly sulphurous smell. On the platform, hardly anything was visible. The London lights down the hill were no longer seen and only the clatter of the rails indicated the tube was approaching. It loomed out of the murk but so deep was the smog, we all stumbled into the open carriage door. Silently the train glided away and by the time I reached my destination lower down in Notting Hill, that alien, all pervading smog had thinned. How did we young women police officers from so many different backgrounds ever survive? Mine had been a convent education and in a sleepy Norfolk village. But survive I did despite all the nasty experiences life threw at me.

AND FINALLY THE PROFUMO SCANDAL.

All new constables were on probation for two years. Life was busy enough with shift work and gruelling classes to be tested on law and soak up chunks of legislation needed to do the job. Much had to be learnt by heart and failure meant you risked the chop! Not time for reading newspapers but the clamour of press interest over the minister, the call girl and the Russian spy was a total fire-storm that rolled on and on & even caught my attention. Some stupid mix up over my performance at West Hampstead; (some female boss had got her wires crossed and recommended me for a livelier posting), meant I was posted to Paddington. No matter! Albany Street was the sister Nick and it was a pleasant stroll around Regents Park to visit the station. Right opposite the Barracks, Cumberland Mews was in the thick of the action 1963 being the highly attractive bijou property of one of main players in the Profumo scandal. It backed onto Regent Park and whenever we patrolled by, the press were kept away by a 24 hour police presence. Colleagues were coy about whose house they were guarding. Its location and ambience certainly was more than a “call-girl” could afford.

We settled for the Minister of War John Profumo as the likely owner. In our salad days on the beat, even we thought who could be such a mug to give up a Cabinet career and a millionaire pad for a bit of rough and tumble with a “Tom” (our rude name for prostitutes). Of course with all the scandals that have erupted since then, the passing of 50 years on, nothing changes!

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