My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full – Part 3




My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full

A Life Lived to the Full

03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

Brian Matier

Part 3 –  Pages 23 – 35


I had joined the Met.  Not the Metropolitan Opera but the Metropolitan Police whom I served in two capacities for the next eight and a half years.  I remember once more the train journey from Heysham down into London and seeing, again, the backs of the houses in North London, immensely depressing to me.  Even today over sixty years on, I feel the same feeling if I am on a train going north.

I cannot remember how I got to Hendon, but obviously I did and I have some photos to show that.  The Police College was built next to an RAF Station, in Aerodrome Road in North London.  I read recently that the last flight from Hendon took off in 1957. Very soon I was provided with a dark blue uniform with a tunic jacket, blue shirts and black tie.  I met up with my classmates; about 25-30, I think and given a bed in a long dormitory, which was much like a prison I remember thinking. In fact we called it Cell Block 38.

There were two lines of single beds up the sides of the room to a total of about 30.  Each bed had a free standing locker and a small half size lockable storage unit for personal items.  It was very much like I imagined the Army to be.  We were all young men aged 18 and probably never considered anything else.  I do not remember if there was a lights out policy; there probably was and probably a wakeup call as well.

The public parts of the buildings were mostly single storey classrooms, while the administrative offices ran to three stories.  All of this was graced by a large pond in front of the main building.  I cannot recall if it was in turn graced by the presence of goldfish. This was to be my home for the next three months, so I was determined to make the most of it. Not the pond but the training school.

I then met up with my fellow students, all of whom seemed to be decent enough chaps.  Some were more worldly than others, the latter including me as a shy person.  However in due course, no doubt encouraged by the others, my shyness dropped away.  There was Jim Nicholson, perversely nicknamed ‘Paddy’ because he was Scots.  I also remember Ken Norman, Tony Stevens, John Lockie, Doug Taylor and the ‘Densh’, Colin Densham who subsequently became a very good friend.

I do not recall much about what we were taught.  It was all to do with the history of the Metropolitan Police and its subsequent development and progress.  Clearly the law and police practice were also very important and I lapped it all up.  The two instructors I remember were an Inspector Higham and Sergeant Perry. Inspector Higham was a small but angular man with glasses.  He looked, and acted, more like a professor than a policeman

The other instructor was affectionately named ‘puddin’ head’ by his pupils which was an expression he used a lot.  He was a cheerful chap who smiled and joked a great deal

Inspector Higham once had a difficult lesson to give on rape and buggery.  He drew a shape on the blackboard which looked like an island with a deep cleft at the front and an equally deep cleft on the back, representing, he said, the female body.  I have to say that his illustration put me badly off the whole idea of sex. We must have had other instructors as well as those I have mentioned but I cannot recall any.

Not everything was in the classroom.  We spent lots of time outdoors dealing with mock traffic accidents and public order matters.  Once we even had a double decker bus as part of the role play.  I do remember what the conductor said when questioned about the mock accident in which his bus had been involved.  “I did not see what happened.  At the time I was upstairs collecting fares.”  I wish I had a fiver for every time I subsequently heard this one.

Both in and outside the classrooms we had domestic incidents and crime scenes to investigate, all in pretty stilted language.  All of these were great fun.

In addition, as it was still only 1956 and the War had only been over for just over ten years, we had Civil Defence exercises where we all trooped off to a CD training unit somewhere in London and spent a couple of hours crawling through a semi demolished house. That was great entertainment for all.

Inside or out, we were worked pretty hard and I always slept pretty well at night.  We could all eat pretty well as young men of eighteen usually do.  The other police senior cadets were a bunch of lads from all over the country with, however, very few Londoners. The boys from London seemed to possess a lot of street wisdom, which the country bumpkins envied.  One or two were junior cadets who had reached the age of eighteen and became ‘senior.’  One lad reached the age of nineteen while on the course and became a constable.  He stood out on parade with his helmet which we all envied very much.

There were Scots and Yorkshire men and miners’ sons from the North East.  At first, I couldn’t understand what was being said.  There was one other Ulster man, a tall gangling country boy from Fermanagh.  Sadly, he found he couldn’t take the course and resigned after a month.

Great emphasis was placed on swimming, which, as winter was approaching, was not, necessarily, the most popular of pursuits.  However, saving life was possibly what we might be called upon to do, one day, so we complained and got on with it.

On perhaps the second Sunday I was at Hendon, I decided I should go to Mass, so I got up early, dressed respectably, and drifted out.  To my surprise I found a fellow student from my class doing the same.  He was Harry Ellis and we wandered off together, found the church, and attended to our devotions.  Many years later I met up with Harry who had joined the Federal Police in Canberra, in Australia.  It can be a small world sometimes.

The other occasion when a group of us ventured out, it was at the invitation of John Lockie, fellow student and all round good guy.  John paid for a box at a London theatre and we all went to see ‘My Fair Lady’.  It was my first visit to a theatre of any kind and I was overwhelmed and uplifted at the same time.  It did not feature the lady with whom I subsequently fell in love, and remain in love with for the rest of my life, Audrey Hepburn.  But John insisted on paying for all of us.  He became the most popular student in our group.

The first eight weeks went past in a flash and it was time for a Christmas break. We were all granted a few days’ leave, which combined with the usual Public Holidays, gave me about ten days for my trip home.  Once again I found myself leaving from Euston to catch the night ferry from Heysham.  I think it was Friday 22nd December and I found the ferry the usual mixture.  The Met did not pay for a cabin, so I sat up all night amid the jollity of my fellow passengers, jollity in which I did not join.

What was I feeling the following morning?  I was not sure.  All I knew was it was nice to be home and see the folks again.  Mum was clearly pleased to see me but Dad was laid back about it all. 

During the two months I was away, I had kept in touch with my mother by the simple expedient of wrapping up my dirty washing and sending it to her.  She washed and ironed everything and sent it back.  I had never ironed in my life and it was well into the 1980,s before I was required to.  At the same time I sent Mum a part of my wages each week to help her out.

The few days passed quickly and happily and on 1st January 1957 I travelled again on the train heading southwards.  This time, however, the train was late and, as a result I was about an hour late reporting back.  I was immediately put on a charge.  This struck me as very unfair; after all I had no control over the train.  I was required to appear at six AM the following morning to do several lengths of the pool.  Yes, it was bloody cold.

To my surprise, Tony Stevens was also there, on the same charge and under the same punishment.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I was late back” was his nonchalant response.

“Where do you live?”

“Croydon.” was his equally nonchalant reply. 

This struck me was manifestly unfair.  I had travelled 250 miles and Tony had ventured about sixteen.

There was no time to take umbrage at this slight.  We were on the final road to graduation, and final exams. I did surprisingly well, coming third, which pleased me.  My foot drill and marching skills were not up to a third place standard. We then waited, with bated breath for our postings.  I got JD, Hackney, in the East End.  I knew nothing about Hackney, but quickly learned.

I moved into Ede House, a police section house, as they were called, in Mare Street, and settled down.  I had a single room, which was nice, but had to use the communal bathrooms and toilets.  Still it was better than Cell Block 38.There was a restaurant and other facilities which was convenient and pleasant.  It was managed by an ex police sergeant, a Scotsman called Ross.  If he had teeth, he chose not to wear them and this, combined with his Scots accent, made him nearly impossible to understand.

My duties were worked over three shifts, starting at six am, 2 pm and 10 pm.   We had to cover up our uniforms in the street when we were alone. At all times we were supervised by a uniformed constable. He kept us out of trouble.  I spent a lot of time with PC 343 J Ron Chamberlain, who taught me a lot. He had done his National Service in the Royal Navy, so he was a fairly hard cookie.

I remember one occasion at about seven in the morning when we were out at Hackney Wick by the greyhound Stadium.  There we discovered that a gale during the night had blown several tens of feet of the fence across the pavement.

“OK, cadet” said Mr Chamberlain, “What do we do here?”

I studied the scene.  “We let the Council know.  We tell the station, and….”

“OK,”said Ron.  “The first thing to do is to move the f’ing thing out of the way before some poor bastard trips over it and breaks a leg.  Go and grab the other end.”

With that we threw the fencing back into the stadium ground.  And Ron Chamberlain was right, as I found he usually was.

Hackney at that time was a Jewish area which was rapidly being overwhelmed by the black tide of immigration, which increasingly led to tensions, although in 1956 we could see only the start of the process.  In 2016, while visiting the Borough, I noticed the gentrification of Hackney had begun, as property prices were on the increase.

I only spent a month at Hackney which was a pity as I enjoyed it immensely.  One day I was called into the Superintendent’s office and told I was being transferred to JW, Walthamstow, after my weekend leave.  Walthamstow was a double bus ride away in Greenleaf Road.  On Monday morning, off I trudged. Walthamstow was different from Hackney in that it was a white lower middle class suburb and not facing the same ethnic tensions.  In addition the policemen seemed a bit different.

I started with a gentleman called George Askew. George was an ex mounted officer who had been, allegedly, kicked in the head by a horse which led to his return to duty as a street officer.  I presume the Met considered this a cheaper way of dealing with the matter than paying a medical pension.  So George was left to wander the streets, in a blue suit and high hat, as it happened, on this early morning with me in tow.

We were in, I think, High Street Walthamstow at about seven in the morning, when we came to the local cinema and their double doors.  It was, of course, shut at the time.  George took off his helmet, placed it on the ground, and kicked it into the double doors with a great shout of “Goal!”  I was mortified and desperately seeking a hole into which I could disappear. This, I discovered was typical of George’s behaviour, although it seldom reached the same heights, or depths, as with the cinema.  While learning beats with him I learned a great deal else.

As a cadet I reported to the Chief Inspector, a Mr Duncan.  He was, even to my inexperienced eye, a weird bird.  To start with, he was unmarried, a state which in the 1950’s was unusual.  He seemed to take a dislike to me, which he was entitled to do, even if I could not understand why.  I was always respectful and deferential in my dealings with him.  I could not be otherwise.  He always found fault with many things I did, things which now escape me.  There was a feeling with some officers in the Met of dislike, or perhaps distrust of police cadets.

The matter came to a head later on the same year while I was doing duty on the area car when I got a call to see the Chief Inspector about a black eye I was sporting.  This badge of honour had occurred on the previous Saturday when I was playing cricket and had volunteered to keep wicket in the regretted absence of the real wicket keeper.  Yes, you guessed it. I was struck under the eye by the ball.  End of my wicket keeping career was instant.

Duncan accused me of fighting, which was something I denied vigorously. He did not believe me and I got a rollicking.  I returned to the R/T car in a very depressed state of mind. I got in and sat silently on the rear passenger seat.

The only other person in the car, a solid copper called Bob Fairbairn, who was the driver.

“Did he give you a hard time?”

“Yes.” I was close to tears.

“What was his problem +”

“It was my black eye.”

Bob thought for a while and then said “Right, I’m tired of this.  You are part of my crew and I am not standing for it any more.  Keep an eye on the radio.”

 He got out of the car. ”You would do that well from the front seat.”

I changed from the back to the front seat, better to attend to the R/T.

He was gone about ten minutes, and got back into the Wolseley.  “I don’t think you will have any more trouble.  If you do, let me know.”

 I didn’t have any more trouble.

Fast forward about four years to an Aldermaston March by the CND and I was on duty in Trafalgar Square with thousands of other policemen.  A superintendent, in uniform approached me.  It was Duncan.  He spoke to me. 

“It’s Matier, isn’t it?”

I saluted correctly.  “Yes sir.”

“Do you remember me?  Superintendent Duncan.  We were at Walthamstow.”

I stared straight into his eyes.  “I am sorry sir.  I can’t say I have ever seen you in my life before.”  By this time in my career I had learned to lie, when it was necessary.

He looked at me for several seconds.  “All right, it doesn’t matter.”

I wasn’t going to give the bastard the pleasure.

One day I was sitting in the car with Bob Fairbairn.  He was a grizzled older policeman, perhaps in his forties.  Bob was the driver and he rejoiced in the nickname, Fangio, after the world famous Formula One driver from Argentina.  For short he was called Fange.  The other members of the crew were PC 141 J White as R/T operator.  I never learned what his first name was.  He was always addressed as Chalky or Knocker.  Our final member was Derek Cox, who was the observer.  He was in plain clothes.

On this day, as we were alone I asked the driver something that had been bothering me.

“Mr Fairbairn, why do they call PC White Knocker?”

Bob looked up from the Sun which he had been reading.  “Because he is knocking off Petula Clarke.” he said and returned to the newspaper.

“Oh my God” I thought.

Pet Clarke was a minor sort of star in the 1950’s but would become a megastar in the sixties with songs like ‘Downtown’. I had no idea whether what Bob had said was true or not, but it was impressive.  After all, Chalky or Knocker was a young chap, active and quite good looking.  Pet Clark was born in Epsom, where I live now, but by the fifties had moved to Chigwell, next door to Walthamstow.

It was, in fact, some twenty eight years later, in 1985, that I actually met Pet Clarke.  I was security Manager for Mobil Oil Company Ltd and she was, well, a great big star.  We were holding a Retail Conference for our dealers and partners in Funchal in Madeira and I was assisted by my loyal number two, Pat Moroney.

Because of various activities by terrorist groups in Europe, the Company, on my advice, had moved the venue from Athens to the island of Madeira.  I had decided that everyone should be in possession of a photographic identity card which they were required to wear.  This was OK with Nigel Mansell, the Formula One driver, then, or later, the World Champion, and Michel le Grand, the famous French orchestra leader, who, on being so informed, gave a very Gallic shrug and said “OK.”

The one person who kicked up a mega fuss was Pet Clarke herself.  “I do not need an ID card.  Everyone knows who I am” was her argument.  It took me some time to overcome that argument.

“Miss Clarke, as you are the most important person here, if you wear your ID card, no other person can possibly refuse to wear one.”  It took me a lot of persuasion but in the end I won and we made her an ID card, although the subsequent photo looked anything but a glamorous singing star.

On the last day of the Conference, I occupied a seat at a table near the front door and the stage, alongside Pat and Nuno da Costa the Chief of Police and his wife.  Pet came on and sang up an absolute storm.  After her false finale she came back for a few songs and then announced “Michel will now play some dance music.  Please get up and dance.”

At this point she got down from the stage and came to where i was sitting.  She spoke to me.

“Will you dance with me please?”

I was, of course, almost speechless but I got to my feet and danced with the lady.  She said, “I wanted to apologise to you for how I behaved when I arrived.  I must have seemed like a proper bitch.  I had had a long trip with no sleep and I was frazzled.  I am sorry; you were only doing your job.”  We enjoyed the rest of the dance and when it finished, she kissed me full on the lips.

At that point I did consider asking if she remembered Police Constable 141J White at Walthamstow, but thought better of it.  I haven’t washed my lips since.

On 14th May 1957 I played my first game of cricket in England.  I was no more successful than previously.  I was a stand in for J Division and batting number eleven I scored nought not out. 

In the meantime, while wandering in Victoria Park on a weekend I had come across a team called Miltonians and had offered my services which had been accepted.  It was while playing for this ordinary East London team I had got my black eye.

During May, I played in six games and in June played no less than nine games altogether. I don’t know when I was working! Three of the games were for Walthamstow, so being a Police team helped.  I batted only once in these games for the station.  My job was to fetch the ball after the opposition had clouted it over the ropes, or fielding as it was called.

This one innings was worthy of note however.  I was asked to open for Walthamstow on 13th June 1957 and I scored twenty six in 65 minutes.  The station scored 120 for seven chasing a total by Leyton British Rail of 125 for 7 declared.  We fell short by five runs and to my horror; the blame was heaped on me for batting slowly.  Oh dear.

It was during this period that I batted against the first of two first class players I was to meet.  I was batting at number seven and took a bit of time to get ready at the crease.  I played forward but never saw the first ball which removed my off stump.  The bowler, by no means the quickest in the world, took my off stump out of the ground.  He was Barry Knight, of Essex and later England.  He was too quick for me.

The second first class player I met up with was a chap called Hill who had played once for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield.  Having taken his wicket and checking Wisden I appreciated why he had only had the one game for Victoria.

Overall my cricket in 1957 improved quite a lot without ever touching any kind of pinnacle.  In twenty six games I batted for twenty two innings, five times not out and score ninety one runs at an average of 5.35.  i was satisfied.

In the meantime my police career proceeded towards the next step, my nineteenth birthday.  I was rather anxious to know where I would be posted as, while I enjoyed Walthamstow, I realised that there were better opportunities elsewhere.  The matter was taken out of my hands and i was posted back to Hackney a few days before the big date. 

I was required, with a number of other cadets from all over the Met, to go into London about seventh July 1957, to be attested and swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. We paraded before the Commissioner, Sir John Knott Bower to take ther oath. We were now constables and I was posted to J Division, or Hackney.  This began a period of about eight years when I would serve the citizens of this borough.

Many years later I visited the Police Museum in the building near to Olympia and asked to see the original document I had signed.

“Sorry, old chap, but the original is stored in the National Achieves in Kew” I was told. “But you can view it on line and we can make you a copy.” Blimey, I was now in the National Archives!

This was duly done and I noticed that I had signed as Patrick Brian Matier.  I have no idea why unless that is how we were instructed.  I had never before, nor have I ever since signed anything using both my given Christian names.

Thus began my almost eight years as a Police Constable with the Metropolitan Police.  By and large I believe that I was a tribute to the Police.  I was honest, did not lie or steal and generally behaved as I should.  I was on probation for two years and at the beginning, living in the section house.

It began once again with learning beats again, to my pleasure, with Ron Chamberlain.  Sometime before the end of 1957 this burden was removed and I could go out on my own.

We again worked shifts, early shift being from 6 am until 2 pm. I quite enjoyed afternoon shift myself from 2 pm until 10.  Night shift from 10 pm until 6 in the morning, something I never really got used to.  It used to knock me up a bit.

On Sundays, it was quite normal for a bunch of us from Hackney to be bussed, or occasionally taken by train, to help with Petticoat Lane or Commercial Street Markets. This was called ‘aide to A Division.’ It provided a change, a change of scenery and of personnel.  Both places were always full of tourists and the general atmosphere was always jolly.

In addition we were sometimes called upon to direct traffic, something we were quite used to doing and our efforts frequently relieved the poor harassed special constables of the task.

I also in these months following my attestation started to pick up a few arrests.  They were all for drunkenness, including one in the Strand whilst I was aiding A Division.  The man was collapsed on the pavement and I called an ambulance and sent him to hospital.  A street trader, who knew better than me, said, “He’s not drunk; he’s pissed on meths.”

The street trader was right, but it was my Job to ensure the man’s safety.

There was a strange English game around the arrest of men, mostly men, for drunkenness.  At Court the magistrate would enquire “Any trouble, officer?”  The officer would reply, most of the time, “No trouble your worship” and the magistrate would respond, “Five shillings, next case.”

In the rare event that there had been trouble of some kind, the sentence would be “Ten shillings.”

None of these seemed to matter much in the great scheme of things.  What I wanted was an arrest for crime.  It came on Christmas Day 1957.  I was on night duty in Mare Street and had popped into the Section House for a cup of tea.  There was a party going on and a lot of alcohol had been downed.  I watched for a while and then tumbled out into the street.  Some distance ahead of me a man was staggering along, carrying something.  I called out “Stop.”

He started to run, and threw away what he was carrying.  I think he may have had a drink taken as I was much quicker than he was and I caught him easily.  It turned out he had broken into a shop further down the road and it was just about the easiest arrest I ever made.

Just before Christmas 1957, I had met someone who would change my life for better or worse, forever.  I had met Margaret Jex who would become my wife and the mother of my children.

It happened on 27th November and I was on Mare Street patrol and was walking slowly towards the Police Station with Colin Densham to book off. We met two girls and stopped to speak to them. They seemed to be quite amenable to being chatted up and we made dates to go to the cinema together the following night.  My girl was Margaret and Colin’s was a Anne Herron.

Margaret was a very pretty girl with short dark hair and pretty amazing brown eyes. She was seventeen. I did not pay very much attention to Anne. I spent the next day in a fair fever of excitement.

As it happened, Anne decided not to go ahead when I met Margaret on the appointed day and she invited Colin to join us.  I replied on behalf of Colin that he would rather not and Margaret and I went to the cinema in Hackney Road to see ‘My man Godfrey’ with June Allison and David Niven.

Colin had quite rightly interpreted my glower as a signal his company would not be required.

We became engaged on 10th March 1958 and I paid £14 for the ring, which was more than a week’s wages. We were married on 29th November 1958 in St Joseph’s Catholic Church. I paid for the Reception as no one else who might have paid had any money.

Looking back over the distance of nearly sixty years I suppose it is easy to say that we were both too young.  Margaret, at seventeen, was my first girlfriend and the first girl I had slept with.  In fact, for some twenty eight years she was the only woman I slept with. I thought we were in love and that was all that mattered.

Again, looking back, I wondered why her mother, Edith Jex, permitted her daughter, her seventeen year old daughter, to spend so many nights with a boy.  Did she not know what young folks got up to?  I think it was because she wanted to get her daughter married and a policeman was a safe bet.

I don’t think my mother, or father, were best pleased but, as I was under twenty one, she gave her permission to get married.

We were obliged by the rules of the Catholic Church at the time, to attend and have advice on what was required.  These involved family matters, like children and birth control.  It also involved a promise to bring our children up as Catholic.  We both made promises without intending to keep them.

Anyway, we got married with Andy Gallagher as my best man.  Andy was a solid citizen and good detective who later achieved some fame in his taking part in the investigation on the Krays, notorious villains in the East End. Margaret had a bevy of bridesmaids.  That was what she wanted.

We moved into a flat after we were married.  Though calling it a flat is painting it rather too highly.  We had one large room with a living space and a bedroom and we shared bathroom, toilet and kitchen.  No, not entirely satisfactory.  However I applied for married quarters and was eventually granted a married quarter in Leyton.

This was a very pleasant two bedroom, ground floor flat in a police block in Leyton to the east of Hackney.

I have looked at a couple of old albums of fading black and white photographs.  The first one was of my early years and of my mates in the Met.  The second album covered 1958 and 1959 was completely devoted to Margaret and I, both before and after our wedding.  We went to Ireland both before and after we were married.  I presume, before we were married, in Belfast, we slept in different bedrooms. I do not think my parents would have been as tolerant as Mrs Jex.

Pages 23 – 35


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