A Plod Round Brum
Author: Ralph Pettitt
Publishers: The Memoir Club
Publicity on the Book
This account of Ralph Pettitt's 30 years in the police force is an amusing and entertaining work which will appeal to anyone who can remember The Beatles, Concorde's first flight and the Silver Jubilee.
Focused on Birmingham, A Plod Round Brum traces the intriguing path of a young man who embarks upon a career in policing and encounters a great variety of experiences, some good, some not so good, before closing the door of the police station for the last time.
The author takes us on a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable journey through his reminiscences and illustrates the lives, fortunes and deaths of his companions and colleagues as well as showing how the police force and society as a whole have changed and progressed.
The book is a modern history of a community moving from the slums to high-rise flats and a police force moving from whistles and truncheons to computers and helicopters.
Ralph Pettitt’s Book ‘A Plod Around Brum’ describes his fortunes and experiences as a Serving Police Officer from 1960 to 1992. Starting his career in the Warwickshire Constabulary as a cadet, he soon became disillusioned with petty rulings by Senior Officers and policies, which sapped his motivation and resilience. Transferring to the West Midlands Police, and in particular on the beat in the Birmingham City Centre, salvaged his career and set him on course for a most rewarding and interesting introduction to the idiosyncrasies of life at that time. His book is a valuable insight as a genuine piece of Social History, of interest to not only those colleagues who have trod the streets both before and since, but also to the myriad of people who seem fascinated by Police documentaries, drama series and general intrigue.
In this partial autobiography Ralph is brutally honest, telling the tale as it was, paying only scant respect by keeping anonymous the identity of the characters. He betrays himself as a man of staunch and uncompromising principles, which manifest themselves in a personal crusade to know right from wrong, good from bad and to uphold the ethical credibility of the Service. Ralph amuses and intrigues us with his graphic descriptions of encounters with the fairer sex to whom he is drawn like a moth to a flame, sometimes offering detail which leaves me musing ‘Too much information thanks Ralph’, however many novelists before him have exploited our sexual curiosity and this spiced up account is certainly difficult to put back down once started.
Ralph’s account is factually accurate from a point of view of policy and procedures, all of which are of course skilfully interpreted by the staff that have to make the plot work. I suspect that a simple diary of events as scribbled daily in a pocket notebook would reveal the raw material of the theme but lack any motivation for a reader to absorb and press on. What Ralph achieves is to make the book come to life, moulding the characters into their own micro case study and ensuring that the reader feels that they have actually met them themselves. Police Officers and Police support workers in particular will instantly relate to the oddities of Ralph’s working life, whilst the public will either be introduced to a new perception or wrongly dismiss the content as fanciful and fictional.
Ralph descriptions and perceptions do not stop at the Police perception and he has been careful to include and benefit from the public themselves who are weaved into the tale. With a kind heart and benefit of the doubt, Ralph easily distinguishes between the unfortunate yet lovable rogue and the despicable and deserving criminal, showing no difficulty in ensuring fair play and occasionally ‘summary justice’.
Expanding in his likable character, Ralph describes his thoughts feelings and ironic experiences from childhood into adolescence, bachelorhood and marriage, reflecting and lamenting on his sadness at the distant relationship with his daughter. Eventually finding peace and contentment in life with his partner ‘June’, the reader is relieved and reassured that Ralph can finally relate to someone on an equal standing, strong enough to combat his inflexibility and inspiring enough to ‘tame the giant’ and share experiences with.
It is with not a little sadness that it is the job itself which finally breaks Ralph Pettitt’s spirit as he struggles and stumbles to relate to a world which changes so rapidly that it is difficult to recognise as the career he chose just 28 short years previously. In his own words he describes himself as ‘A dinosaur’ unable to adapt to the modern day requirements. This is a phenomena known only too well to so many employed in the Police world – keen as mustard at the start, plodding on in the face of adversity mid -term, and counting the days during the last chapter – In the words of the Gilbert & Sullivan musical “ a coppers lot is not always a happy lot” ! and the march of inevitable change takes a heavy toll.
Fortunately Ralph Pettitt is shrewd enough to cut through this gloomy epitaph and his jolly caricature on the front cover of his book depicts a man who undoubtedly enjoyed and valued his Police Service greatly – he not only lived it, he also survived it to tell the tail. In fact the very act of picking up a pen, scanning his memory and taking the time and effort to research his chosen subject, reveals a man who is proud of his achievements and wants to share them.
Ralph Pettitt’s autobiography and account will neither age nor wither in interest, it is an encapsulation of a couple of brief decades but will serve to entertain and educate for many years to come, perhaps in time being regarded as ‘a classic’.
Insp 549 Richard Woodcock
Sector Commander for Warwick & Kenilworth.
Ralph Pettitt was born in Warwickshire in 1943 and was state school educated. He joined the Warwickshire Constabulary as a Police Cadet in 1960 before moving to Birmingham City Police in 1962, and retiring 30 years later in 1992.
As well as being an avid motorcycle enthusiast and a keen driver, Pettitt has enjoyed many camping trips all round Europe, and in later years he has taken a motor caravan to three other continents. He is married to June and they keep two Clumber Spaniels. He is a keen collector, of stamps and Observers Books in particular, and has a collection of over 1000 bottles of whisky in miniature.
So You Want To Be A Policeman
Author: John Tomlinson
Publishers: The Memoir Club
Publication Date: Nov 2004
This is one of those books that for some reason you just do not want to put down. There’s something compelling about it that is difficult to explain. Perhaps it is because it is not, as one might expect, the memoirs of a police officer who reached the top echelons of the service or had spent a lifetime dealing with high profile cases which captured the headlines and enabled the author to indicate the number of commendations that had been given from Judges down to Chief Officers. Instead, this is a book written rather late in life by a person who came to the police service as a Cadet, served a few years as a Constable and then went off to industry and banking. His path followed so many, who over the years have become police officers, only to have an urge to leave, probably at a time when they might have aspired to greater things and certainly at a time when in terms of experience their use to the police service was probably at its greatest.
What caused the author to put pen to paper after a gap of around 30 years, is not clear but such a period of time does sometimes play tricks with one's memory and as a long serving police officer and as an almost as long serving pensioner, the reviewer is of the opinion that there would appear to be an element of journalistic licence apparent in the pages. Having said that, the thrust of the book is about old fashioned policing and this will be readily recognised by many police pensioners who will enjoy the read and reflect on days of yore.
It is perhaps quite fitting that this review is being written at a time when there is some controversy between those holding the office of Constable and those employed in a civilian capacity in relation as to who might hold the post of custody officer under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The point is made because the early part of this book relates to the author being employed as a Cadet, an unsworn officer, and the work to which he was put in the county police force, Staffordshire, which he had joined. It reflects, very accurately, work that should have been done by a police officer but was often done by a young lad, such as dealing with sudden death and being left in charge of a police station. That was the state of the police service throughout the middle of the last century. Salaries were low, promising officers left for more lucrative employment and establishments were kept low. The state of County Constabularies were particularly bad, with large rural areas to police with poor communications and the bicycle a major form of transport.
The leadership at this time left something to be desired. Many forces had Chief Constables who were retired Armed Forces officers or products of the Hendon Police College which had closed its doors in 1939. Into this situation, incredibly the author found himself a member of the force Mounted Branch. Without any specialist training he was allowed to use a police horse out on the streets among a largely unsuspecting public. One shudders to think what might have happened had the author become involved in some sort of third party personal injury incident. At page 105 there is a photograph of the mounted cadet and on the following page is an account of an inspection by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary along with other dignitaries, including the two top ranking officers of the force, all apparently condoning this quite remarkable situation. The reviewer regrets to say that the position has not changed very much to the present day with officers allowed to use police vehicles at vastly excessive speeds and unsworn uniformed personnel out on to the street, with little training and varying policies dependent upon the whim of the individual Chief Constable.
Another feature highlighted by the author, is the complete lack of approval of ‘police lodgings' in County Constabularies. Few, if any Standing Joint Committees or Chief Officers had the foresight to purchase properties in their larger towns to house young single recruits, an issue which led the series of amalgamations in the 1970's to County Officers being dubbed ‘wandering gypsies' and the safeguarding of City and Borough officers being allowed to continue serving within their old force area.
There are some matters which leave the reviewer in some doubt as to the complete accuracy of the text. Some 30 pages are devoted to time spent at a cadet camp at Elan Valley just outside the small Dyfed town of Rhayader, not Rhyader as printed on page 71. This was an Outward Bound type of camp as the author states, run by the Birmingham City Police. The pages devoted to this establishment describe in some detail the period the author spent there and the lesser periods some did not because they were unable to stand the regime. The reviewer must now reveal a secret. He was a visitor there and over a period of some years he had the responsibility of sending cadets to Elan Valley, not one returned injured and certainly none were prematurely returned to the force. One thing that all returned cadets made a point of making public, was the sweeping of the football pitch with handbrooms.
This is not mentioned in the book. It does call for a little explanation. Much of the centre of mid - Wales was purchased in the 19th century, with great foresight, by the Birmingham City Council, with a view to providing water for that City by damming the valleys. This process was carried on over the years until the 1950s when the last reservoir was built and named Claerwen, not Clarwin, as mentioned on page 78. The vast acreage of grassland around the water was ideal for sheep and at one time Birmingham City Council was alleged to be the largest owners of such animals in the country. Obviously the ground at the bottom of the valleys was the most fertile and the flat football pitch and drill area was nibbled to leave a surface that would have done credit to many good club sides. There was, however a problem, namely the sheep droppings, which is where those attending the course came in. Every little speck had to be cleared. There must be many police pensioners alive today who look back with fond memories of the time they spent at Elan Valley.
Note by Books Reviews Editor.
The Town does have an excellent website which explains much of this in detail with photographs, apparently it is pronounced (Ray-ad-er). SEE http://www.elanvalley.org.uk/
There is another mention in the book that indicates some slack researching and that relates to the matter of first aid training. At page 114 reference is made to different methods of lifesaving techniques. Olga Neilson is not one such method and it can only be concluded that the author is referring to the Holger Nielson method.
The working police officer will readily recognise the aggressive behaviour experienced by police officers, particularly when fuelled by alcohol, and there are some graphic descriptions of major disorders at weekends. It is perhaps these which make this book more compelling than it should really warrant.
Finally the author decided that the grass was greener on the other side and decided to resign. This left the reviewer wondering why he had never sat for promotion. Could it be that he had come to the conclusion that he had met too many police officers of all ranks who were in some way inferior to him? Certainly that is the impression some of the comments in this book infer in the mind of the reviewer.
Brian Rowland 982/06/05 3rd June 2005
Hung Out to Dry
Author: Jonathan Frewen
Publishers: The Memoir Club
Publication Date: June 2004
This is the story of what happens when an individual is caught up in criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom for the first time. How the individual is powerless against the machinery of the state, the authorities and big business (Banks). The frustration in not being believed, simply because one is alone, and being forced down the whole road to the dock in a criminal court in order to have the chance to clear one's name. And, not least, the devastation to one's life, professional and personal, much of which cannot ever be repaired. It is difficult to exaggerate the trauma and psychological damage: one moment, one's life is sailing along serenely in the trade winds; the next moment a hurricane has capsized one's vessel, the mast of one's career has snapped and part of the rigging of one's private life is washed away as close friends disappear.
The body of the book takes the reader, day-by-day, through the diary of a three-month trial. The fear, the anger and the raw emotions are all bared exactly as described each evening. I have tried to give a sense of what it is like to face criminal charges, never having been in a court in anger before (save for minor driving offences on two occasions).
Inevitably, I express myself forcefully in my own defence and against my detractors. These expressions are mine and mine alone and I make no apology for any of them. I have lost count of the number of times that I have re-read the manuscript to make sure that all the facts are truthful; indeed, I have had help on the many legal points. However, expressions of character and motive are more subjective and can only be the opinion of this writer, whether right or wrong. I accept full responsibility for them as such.
By OCTOBER 1973, I spent all day crossing and re-crossing the border between Denmark and West Germany. I withdrew some Kroner from Den danske Bank on the Danish side of the border and changed them into Deutsche Marks. When I crossed the border in my Land Rover, I went into the Dresdner Bank branch to withdraw some more Deutsche Marks, because I knew I would need more than I had been able to withdraw in one go in Denmark. There, I noticed that the exchange rate was different from that being advertised two hundred metres to the north and not just by an odd number or two to the right of the decimal point. Using my first pocket calculator that I had acquired in Montreux that April, a liquid quartz Bowmar, I realised that there was ‘daylight’ between the selling rate in Germany and the buying rate in Denmark; in other words, I could make money by buying Deutsche Marks in Germany and selling them in Denmark, at no risk!
Over the next five and half hours, I crossed the border sixteen times and made myself almost £200, which was a small fortune in those days, when I carried a well-thumbed copy of Arthur Frommer's Europe on $10 a Day and stayed in Youth Hostels. The foreign exchange markets in the autumn of 1973 were in turmoil and the Dollar was swinging wildly and widely against the European currencies. In Denmark, as in most of Scandinavia, the Banks were kept up-to-date hourly by their head-offices. In Germany, a more regional banking policy was pursued, as it has been until quite recently. There, the branch of Dresdner Bank received its revisions only twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and, consequently, were `behind the market'. Even though I explained what I was doing after the third or fourth visit, they did not seem to care: they were, in the timehonoured German way, just following orders.
These transactions were all cash-for-cash. Assuredly, it was an age that preceded drugs and money laundering; it was still more acceptable to pay in cash rather than with a credit card. I have never lost a deep-seated mistrust of credit cards, which can get you into debt too easily. Cash, on the other hand, is real and if you have it in your fist, it is yours with which to do what you like. There is no false sense of security - if your fist is empty, you stay at home.
This episode only served to confirm my long-held desire to make a living out of changing money. Since the age of fourteen, the movement of exchange rates had always intrigued me. To this day, I always carry good amounts of cash on me, in many different currencies, even after the demise of twelve of them with the recent advent of the Euro.
Less than a month later, I was back in London and I went to work for a foreign exchange broker, M.W Marshall & Co., on my twentieth birthday. In accepting this position, I gave up the opportunity to work in any of three Banks that had offered me a place at salaries that were fifty per cent higher than the one I accepted, because none of the Banks would guarantee that I would end up in the Foreign Exchange Department after a general two-year grounding throughout their organisations. I wanted to be in foreign exchange from Day One - and I was.
Later, my career journey took me into banking in Stockholm, Oslo and New York, with much time spent travelling to the Far East and Australasia in the mid-1980s. Back in London in 1988, I returned to broking for four years, although I spent long stints in Tokyo and in New York again. By 1992, I was trading the foreign exchange markets using my own computer driven models, initially for a small number of private clients and then, from May 1995, for Banks, as a sort of outsourced proprietary trader.
I also became involved in a number of cash transactions, but always conducted through, within and with the approval of the relevant Banks. These deals included, notably, the purchase of Kuwaiti Dinars for Dollars during the occupation of Kuwait; the conversion of a Canadian mining company's Venezuelan subsidiary's assets back into Canadian Dollars from Venezuelan Bolivars; and a $1 billion sale for Roubles the month following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Gorbachev handed over power to Yeltsin, an event I witnessed in Red Square.
It was against this background that I conducted another cash transaction,within the banking system in The City of London, which led to a personal nightmare and represents the catalyst for this narrative.
Jonathan Frewen was born in Sussex in 1953 and educated at Eton. He went to work in the Foreign Exchange markets in the City of London on his 20th birthday and his career took him to Stockholm, Oslo and New York before returning to the UK in 1988 and starting his own business as a Fund Manager four years later.
He supports charities that help with chemical addictions and dyslexia and he campaigns against new roads being built in green valleys. He is married to Anita, his Norwegian wife of twenty-five years and has a teenage daughter Antonia.
This is an insight into the world or banking. Jonathan Frewen managed to make what could be boring, an interesting read. As well as banking it is an insight into the jury system. Many people are strongly in favour of it, though there remains the argument that juries do not understand enough to deal with complex white-collar crime trials. There is a counter argument that the use of 'experts' could lead to injustices.
There are some books, and this is one of them, that really need to be read twice, the first time for the story and then again for the details once the mind has got into the flow. You may miss the fine detail the first time, a problem, some say, juries have in fraud cases.
The narrative shows that the Author obviously must have felt utter frustration during those three years or so, by what he thinks is incompetence by the people accusing him; hung out to dry by incompetence is his description. He implies that incompetence runs right the way through all levels of the governing and administrating classes of the country.
This is a very honest account by someone who looks upon the Authorities as Big Brother who disregard people’s rights. It is told, as the saying goes, Warts and all.
Two Lives Of Brian, From Policing to Politics
Author: Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
Publishers: Memoir Club
Publication Date: 2004
The reviewer was especially pleased to write these lines, not only because he and the author share the same Christian name, but also because they appear to have had a similar upbringing and most importantly of all, they have both had the honour and privilege of holding high office in the smallest, but arguably the most influential, staff association within the police service. They are also both blessed with the same happy home life.
This is autobiography of not only a police officer, but of a man, who has obviously enjoyed life to the full outside the service. It also forcefully brings home that there is still much to do before the service can come to terms with all that modern day society demands, but at the same time efficiently perform the function for which it was originally established. Whether that can be achieved in such fast moving times and the trend towards policing becoming a business, as opposed to a vocation, can only be a matter of conjecture.
In many ways this is a rip-roaring read of a working policeman, not a memoir of high profile cases, although major crime does figure in the book. Indeed it would be hard for any policeman of over thirty years standing to exclude the subject in some shape or form from any book he may be tempted to write.
Brian Mackenzie was just twenty years and two weeks old when he joined the Durham County Constabulary. He was the then typical recruit from a working class artisan background with little in the way of educational qualifications. It is doubtful whether he would have been accepted today, but time has proved that there was then, and is still today, many of his ilk, who were late developers. This is something that appears to have been forgotten by educational researchers. Twenty years of age is regarded by many today as being too young to be a police officer and the tendency has been to recruit those, who it is alleged, have more experience of life. It also happens to be the case that we have seen more of the declining standards over the years and this may well account for the unacceptable behaviour of some police officers that all too often occupy space in our newspapers today.
Life in the Durham Constabulary followed the pattern of many policemen with those, including Brian, finding he had found his niche in life and was determined to make the most of it. He shows concern that he was not able to gain access to the Special Course and wonders whether it was because of his northern accent. That was probably not the case, but the fact that he left school at 16 without qualifications almost certainly was. One of the few who overcame that hurdle was a young Essex lad called Peter Nobes who went on to become the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and sadly died young in retirement. Even to this day, money is being spent on what is now called the High Potential Development Scheme and over the years a number of those passing through the course have moved on to academic or media work and been lost to the police service. So do not worry Brian, there are many out there who did not make the grade, you are in good company and you did not appear to find it a problem when later you successfully completed your FBI course.
Socialising plays a huge part in the life of Brian and his knowledge of those who have over the years enjoyed his company and hospitality is encyclopaedic. There is usually a complimentary adjective or two in the descriptions given and a hint of regret occasionally creeps in when mentioning those with whom he has lost touch. He is without doubt a most gregarious person. On the other hand he is not afraid to criticise some of the senior police officers with whom he came in contact during his service. Anybody who has been a police officer will readily recognise he types he mentions, all full of bluff, bully and bluster, who made little contribution to the good of the service and were the cause of prematurely ending many promising careers. Surprisingly the odd name appears without any further reference, when perhaps, if the rules Brian has followed, they should. For instance at page 37 reference is made to the ‘Johnson Scheme’ pioneered by a man called Johnson. That man was, of course, Sir William Johnson of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and twice reference is made to an Alex Rennie, could he be the former Chief Constable of West Mercia who hailed from the north east? In a similar vein there is the odd error here and there; at page 93 on the first line of text 'at' should read 'to' and at page 130 the 43 divisions of the Crown Prosecution Service should read 42, because the Metropolitan and City of London forces are combined. Then at page 155 the worthy member for Hornsey and Wood Green, Barbara Roche has had an 'a' added to her surname. None of this detracts from the rattling good story Brian sets out to tell.
Like any thinking police officer, Brian wondered what life would be like after half a lifetime inside a cosseted rank-conscious and disciplined body. He need not have worried, the contribution he had made to the well being of this country had marked him out as destined for greater things and so it proved when he was appointed a life peer. This has ensured that he will be able to build on what he has already achieved and could well mark him out as one of the major criminal law-reformers of the future. In saying this, one must not forget the immense sacrifice Lady Jean has made. The nation must be grateful to her in providing her husband with the support that is required to sustain him in office at the other end of the land.
This book should be read by every police officer because it sets out in plain language what has been achieved by diligence and sheer hard work. It also highlights the necessity, so often found lacking in the service, of the need to follow the events that occur all round the world. In these days of 24 hour international coverage, the need to be well-versed as to what is going on is of massive importance for all ranks, and yet training in the police service appears to be a diminishing issue in matters of law and has never been part of the wider issues of world events, so far as the lower ranks are concerned.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, you have done a service in putting your thoughts on paper, they are there for perpetuity and one can only hope that some budding police recruit in the years, or generations, to come, will read your book and find in it the motivation to aspire to the heights you yourself have achieved.
Brian Rowland 14th March 2005