FUN WITH THE FUZZ
Most of us have, or have had, friends or relations in the Police Service, and will have been entertained with funny stories from them. Some of us may have met members of the Force in other contexts; these encounters may also have given rise to amusing anecdotes. Let's hope so. Here are some of my own.
It has to be admitted that police humour tends towards the unsophisticated. For instance, a new recruit in Reading was called “Beany” (short for Beanpole) because he was six feet eleven and a half inches (two metres 10) tall and very thin. No doubt he was still being called Beany in later years once the standard police diet of greasy chips and Macdonald burgers had amended his physical configuration. Years ago I happened to be walking past a public house in Petersfield at a time in the afternoon when according to law it should have been closed. On hearing the sounds of merrymaking and clinking glasses, I ventured inside and was collared by the Chief Constable of Hampshire, who was holding a business meeting with his Superintendents. He bought me a pint. I ascertained that the Chief Constable was known as “Jugs”, short for “Jug Handles” with reference to the protruding ears that he had when he was a cadet. My friend Steve Coad, on his transfer to Oxford City Police, was allocated the badge number 999, so that when he stood up in court to give evidence he had to say: “PC 999 Coad” to general amusement.
At his interview, Steve confessed that a reason for seeking a transfer was that he wanted to join the Oxford City Morris Dancers. At that, the Inspector not only welcomed him to the team, but told him where we held our practices. How did the police know that? Also, the Inspector gave him a potted history of the Oxford Police Morris, who were active between 1926 and 1936, which was before the Inspector's time. They stopped performing as a result of a humiliating incident. During a public demonstration in Oxford City Hall, they all leapt up in the air simultaneously, and, being large and heavy men, they smashed straight through the floor and ended up in the basement.
Some years ago, having been booked as a guest speaker in Barnstaple, I had been invited to dinner beforehand at a member's house. I duly found the house and rang the doorbell. The occupier, my host Andy, answered the door with a bright red face and he was in tears. I asked him what was the matter. “This!” he shrieked, and thrust at me a copy of Horse's Arse* by Charlie Owen.
“I've just got to the bit where PC Psycho Pearce posts a lighted banger through the lavatory window while the Chief Inspector is having a quiet crap. I did that when I was a PC”, said Andy, “but in my case it wasn't a banger but a jumping jack, and it wasn't a Chief Inspector, it was a Superintendent.”
During the tea interval at my talk Andy introduced me to some other retired policemen who started exchanging stories about their police days. Being an outsider, I ventured a story that my retired police informant W had told me, dating from the time when the River Thames had formed the boundary between police authorities, about how, if they found a corpse floating in the river, they would push it across to the opposite bank with poles.
“Oh, we've all done that”, they said. “We used to call it “Punting the Stiffs”.
One of them told me about the practice, during his days as a policeman in East Grinstead, Sussex, of rounding up drunks on a Friday night and depositing them over the county boundary in either Surrey or Kent. Of course the Kent and the Surrey police had their own vans out and were depositing their drunks in one of the other counties. Sometimes the same drunk would have been picked up several times. He would wake up after a series of circular tours not knowing where he was or how he got there.
Actually Oxford City Police used to do the same. On one occasion they deposited Tipperary Tim and Methylated Murphy, two of Oxford's most conspicuous nuisances, in a ditch outside the village of Toot Baldon, just into Oxfordshire Constabulary territory. Unfortunately one of them died there among the old prams and discarded mattresses. The matter became a public scandal. A pompous Member asked in Parliament: “Is it normal practice for Oxford City Police to discard the most unfortunate members of society in a ditch like so much refuse?” In truth, the answer should have been “Yes”. Though in most Oxonians' view the unfortunate members of society were those who came into contact with Tipsy and Methy.
Many years ago, I think it must have been 1967, my work colleague ex-Sergeant Jones asked me one morning if I had seen PC Penrose on the television the previous night. I had. The story in that episode concerned the keen but green PC Penrose being sent in the middle of the night to an address: “Suspected intruder on premises”. After a lot of dithering, wondering what he would do if there was more than one intruder, or if they might be armed, he plucks up courage, makes an entry, creeps up the stairs, enters a bedroom, switches a light on, and shouts “Police!” It turns out that the occupants of the house are the Superintendent in bed with another officer's wife. Mr Jones said “Ho Ho Ho! I did the same to a young policeman when I was Station Sergeant, and he caught the Super just the same as in the programme. Ho Ho Ho!” Mr Jones went on to tell me a story from his past career about a sow and a lorry driver. I will not relate it here, because I adjudge it to be unfit for public consumption. Like the sow.
PC Penrose was one of the funniest programmes there has ever been on television. Paul Greenwood, who must have served time as a young policeman, wrote the scripts, and played the name part as a dapper young constable bullied by his mad mother, his domineering aunt, and his demanding girl friend. He is assigned to work with PC Wilmot, who is slovenly and slobbish, played magnificently by Tony Haygarth. The Inspector is prone to terrifying rages. What he hates more even than civilians and lawbreakers, he bawls, is young policemen who do not get on with their work. Penrose and Wilmot proceed in their car to a pleasant spot out of radio contact with base, and lounge about in the sunshine. Penrose takes his brightly polished new boots off for comfort. Wilmot craftily places one of Penrose's boots on the horn of a cow. We next see the Inspector drive up. Obviously he knows where all the radio black spots are. The first thing he sees, and the last thing we see, is Penrose, barefoot, riding the cow across the field at full gallop. I mention this because there used to be a radio black spot just round the corner from my house, and there was usually at least one police car parked there at all times of day and night.
When I lived in Littlemore, we were disturbed most Sunday mornings in summer by a police helicopter circling low overhead for a couple of hours. This became very annoying. One resident enquired of the police what it was all about, and he received the bland reply that it was “a training exercise”. As for myself, I worked out what it was costing the taxpayer per hour, and it was a lot. So I did some detective work, and discovered that the cause of the intrusion was a woman who liked to sunbathe naked on her roof and wave “Hello Boys!” at the helicopter crew.
Another story about the police causing a nuisance to the public concerns M, who used to collect and repair ancient motorcycles. One day, we heard a hideous din coming from the other side of the Bypass, over half a mile away. This din got louder and louder, until we thought our eardrums would be permanently damaged, when, embarrassingly, it stopped right outside our house. It was M, riding a vintage Scott. For any readers who might not be fascinated by old motorbikes, I need to explain. Scott Brothers of Dewsbury started making motorcycles in 1919, and discontinued in 1971. Their main business was making small components for the car industry, but when the car industry went into one of its periodic recessions, rather than lay off workers, the Brothers employed them to fabricate motorcycles of their own idiosyncratic design. Instead of air cooling, they had water cooling. Instead of four-stroke engines, they used two-stroke. Instead of cylindrical steel tubing, they used U-section girders. There were two gears, fast and very fast. Instead of a silencer, they used a megaphone... To continue: M told us that he had been stopped by the police the previous night in the Banbury Road, which is a posh residential thoroughfare subject to a thirty-mile-an-hour limit.
“Do you know how fast you were travelling at?” asked one of the policemen.
“No. This machine was built before the 1933 Road Traffic Act and it consequently does not have a speedometer.”
“Yes, yes, we know all about that. Do you know how fast your bike will go?”
“...You don't have a speedometer. How would you like to find out?”
So the police organised a time trial up and down the Banbury Road. In the middle of the night. In a residential area. In a thirty-mile-an-hour zone. Using a megaphone instead of a silencer.
One of the jobs that I will own up to having performed was working, briefly, for the newly-formed Greater London Council on a Land Use Survey. I and another student were placed under the supervision of a retired policeman called Ernie Whiffin, a jovial cockney. We were provided with a large scale map of the Spitalfields area of the East End. Each hereditament (that is, separate rateable property) was marked in outline, and our job was to encode each one according to an appended list of possible land uses. Somewhere just off Brick Lane we came across a large rectangular block of flats. At one corner was a bell push. A thin wire led from it diagonally all the way across the front of the building to the furthest end of the upper floor. Under the bell-push was a faded handwritten notice: “Ring Bell for Brenda”.
“Bleedin' 'Ell”, said Ernie, “Fancy Brenda still being at it. When I was a young constable she only used to charge us half a crown** 'cos she thought we might close her down.”
We marked Brenda down as “Domestic”. But later on we discovered a brothel in operation. We marked that down as “Light Industry”.
In 1974, it must have been, I was in Bonn, then the capital of the German Federal Republic, helping to represent Oxford as Bonn's twin town in Britain. I was there as a morris dancer. Morrells, the local Oxford brewery, had chartered a double decker bus, which was parked in the main square offering free beer to all and sundry. That evening I went into a nearby Bierstube, that is, a long narrow bar with seats along the bar and another row of seats against the wall if there was room. Somebody asked me: “Warum drinken Sie nicht Oxford Bier?” I replied: “Weil Oxford Bier ist Scheiß.” Word went down the bar from drinker to drinker:
“Der Englander, er sagt, daß das Oxfordbier sei Scheiß!”
For the whole evening I was plied with free German beer by the other customers in the bar. At any given time I had three or four full glasses at my elbow, and as fast as I could drink, more arrived. Eventually my companions caught up with me and asked why I had not been drinking free Morrells Beer. I explained that I had been drinking free decent beer as fast as I could hose it down, and unlike them I was not going to be sick.
If you are waiting for the point of this anecdote, here it is. The Oxford Police were also represented at these twin town festivities. They were given a tremendous welcome by their German counterparts, which mainly took the form of being force-fed beer, wine, and sundry liqueurs from breakfast-time onwards. Once their hosts were satisfied that their English colleagues were well and truly sozzled, they took them to their indoor firing range and gave them sub-machine guns to play with. With loud cries of glee they sprayed the ceiling with bullets. Later that evening, after a great deal more refreshment, they were expected to appear in their best uniform at a presentation in that very square where I was doing my best to lubricate international relations. Looking out on the square is a high balcony attached to the City Hall, where the Oberbürgermeister made a long speech and prepared to hand out plaques and medals to the English visitors. The senior police representative took his turn in mounting the steps to this balcony. To be fair, he got nearly to the top, but he had a fit of vertigo and rolled all the way down to ground level. Such was his state of relaxation that he was not hurt in any way. The Germans were most impressed.
In 1961 the Morris Men went On Tour in Shropshire. That was before my time. The most lasting legacy of that tour was the song Nicky Nacky Noo that had been collected from a man with a cleft palate and a drunken policeman in uniform. The two could not stand separately unaided, but they needed one hand free to perform the actions required of the song. So that my readers will henceforth be able to perform this masterpiece, here it is. It is a cumulative song. The first verse goes:
“With my hand on myself
What have I here?
This is my sweatybox (hand wipes brow)
Please teacher dear.
Sweatybox (hand on brow)...and NICKY NACKY NOO! (punch air above head with fist).
That's what they taught me when I was at school.”
The last verse goes as follows, with appropriate actions:
“With my hand on myself
What have I here?
This is my footslogger (foot in hand – remember that the performers are very drunk)
Please teacher dear.
Footslogger, Kneebender, Organ Grinder, Breadbasket, Chest Protector, Rubbernecker, Chinwagger, Bullshiter, Nosewiper, Eyeblinker, Sweatybox, and....
NICKY NACKY NOO!
That's what they taught me when I was at school.”
Finding two drunken morris men to exhibit this gem of performance art has never been difficult. But there is some skill involved. For a start, not every man, drunk or not, can play the part of the man with the cleft palate:
Uh Uh Huh O Uh-huh
Uh Huh Ih Huh
for the entire length of the song. For an exact reproduction of the original performance, the two singers have to get out of sync with each other and make valiant but not always successful attempts to catch up. Both parties falling in a heap at the end completes the faithful rendering. Not all modern audiences are attuned to the subtleties of this display of folk art.
Shropshire can seen rather remote. It has its own sense of priorities. For instance, while I was in the village of Six Ashes a fire engine, bell ringing, pulled on to the forecourt of the pub. The firemen rushed into the pub, each downed a very rapid pint of beer, then they sprinted back to their vehicle and continued on their way to the fire. One wonders how they intended to extinguish the blaze.
At one time I used to own a red car. It was a Nissan Bluebird, which, being red, attracted the attentions of dive-bombing seagulls. It also attracted the attentions of the police, and I was frequently stopped. “Just routine, Sir.” I never put on the offended citizen act: “Haven't you got any burglars to chase?” Rather, I pretended that I liked being stopped by the police and was happy to indulge them in a long chat. This tended to abbreviate proceedings more successfully. Once, though, I asked the police who stopped me:
“What colour do you need next?”
“I couldn't possibly understand what you mean, Sir.”
The reference was to the game of Car Snooker, played by police patrols everywhere. They needed to stop fifteen red cars to complete the sequence. When I discussed the game with my police informant W, he laughed and said that the pink ones were always the hardest to find.
I hope that this short memoir will aid the police recruitment campaign.
* This book is one of a tetralogy of police stories supposedly fictional and supposedly set in a town fifteen miles north of Manchester in the 1970's. The books are grossly obscene and utterly disgusting, full of mindless violence, and incredibly funny. They are dedicated to the author's wife and daughters. I could not reconcile the geography of the stories with what I knew of the area north of Manchester. It was only after I had been talking to a social worker from Harlow that I realised that the true location of Horse's Arse was Harlow New Town, fifteen miles north of Tottenham, that is, HA Division of the Essex Constabulary.
** Twelve and a half new pence in decimal currency, or one eighth of a pound. The price of fifteen boxes of matches, or five copies of The Times, at the time of Conversion, 1971. Ernie was probably referring to the late Thirties, when the Pound was worth four US dollars.