Book review: What’s Tha Up To?: Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby by Martyn Johnson

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He worked with some of the finest men he had ever met, the camaraderie was second to none and they were all proud to pound the beat...

But in these days of endless rules and regulations, former Sheffield bobby Martin Johnson and his colleagues would not even have qualified to join a modern police force.

In the 1960s and 1970s when Johnson was patrolling his patch in the poverty-ridden streets of the city’s East End, wages were low, there was no paid overtime and the job was more of a vocation than a profession... but to a man, the bobbies were totally dedicated.

As Johnson observes in his eye-opening, warm and funny memoir of policing in a bygone age, ‘There was no political correctness. We just applied common sense and got on with the job.’

This could mean squaring up to local lads spoiling for a fight and giving as good as they got, turning a blind eye to thefts that were ‘for need’ rather than ‘for greed’ or enjoying a free glass of beer at the local pub.

No two days were ever the same for Johnson who joined the police after working for a few years as a blacksmith because all he ever wanted was to be on the beat, ‘working with people, not against them.’

Come rain or come shine, he patrolled his patch with a sharp eye for troublemakers and a kind word for those in need of a friend.

Whether he was tracking down peacocks gone AWOL or investigating mysterious flying saucers over Sheffield, he faced every new challenge with a smile and a healthy dose of his copper’s common sense.

In the days before police radios and mobile phones, beat bobbies had to meet at pre-determined times with fellow constables, they were armed with only a truncheon and a whistle and calls had to be made from roadside police boxes, the inspiration for Dr Who’s famous Tardis.

Johnson worked in an age when police officers genuinely cared about the people on their patch, when humour still played a role in dealings with the public and when personal integrity and compassion were as important as catching crooks.

There were the same horrific road accidents, tragic deaths and suicides and brushes with cheats and scoundrels but there were also high moments like meeting Brazilian football legend Pelé when his team, Santos, played Sheffield Wednesday.

Johnson’s witty and entertaining memoir captures the essence of a gentler time with a different outlook, a more shared sense of community and a less regulated and browbeaten police force.

‘I’ve turned boys into men and policemen into coppers,’ said Johnson’s first sergeant. ‘Policemen have got brains, but coppers, they’ve got brains and common sense.’

(Sphere, paperback, £5.99)