Co-operative Coppers

Along the century in which the motor-car has been invented, then improved to be made in vast numbers, all too much has been written about unfair, uncooperative and anti-motorminded policemen. I have encountered such members of the Constabulary, but for a change I thought I would try to recall some that were different. . .

I seem to remember an Inter Varsity speed-trial in which pure racing cars, noisy, stripped for action and very fast, were permitted to use an uncompleted piece of by-pass road near Oxford. The only problem was that this useful course was crossed by a public road which was in normal use.

But, lo-and-behold, a policemen was there to stop for a short time motorists on their (we hope) lawful occasions while, no doubt to their astonishment, the racing cars roared across their bows… And somewhere I have a photograph of another “Bobby” doing a like service for competitors at Mr Neil Gardiner’s speed hill-climb (he raced Delage II at Brooklands) which the Hants & Berks MC organised on the quarter-milelong drive of his Great Auclum estate at Burghfield Common near Reading with its banked bend, the Paddock being on one side of a country road, the starting-line on the other.

Then there was the occasion when I persuaded John Rowe, when he was PR for the Rootes Group, to bring on a trailer the 1924 Grand Prix Sunbeam “The Cub”, for display at one of the STD Register events my wife and I used to hold at Wolverhampton, the birthplace of Sunbeam cars. After lunch John and I were about to drive off to West Park where the cars assembled (for which, note, we were given a police motorcycle escort, traffic lights manned and all that) when these policemen said of the racing Sunbeam “Aren’t you going drive it?” Rowe explained that it had no mudguards, silencer or licence. “Never mind that”, responded these admirable cops. ‘If you fling in your Trade Plates it will be insured. So off you go.” Which we did, and it was most enjoyable, blasting round the Park ringroad. (We were followed by the police, who wanted to see the fun, which made those coming to the Park down side roads break into a run, thinking we were about to be apprehended!).

Moreover, having on one of these occasions forgotten a stopwatch, we enquired of the Chief Constable, with whom we were outlining the events, where we could buy or hire one. “Have ours” he said, “but please return it, or we won’t be able to operate speedtraps on Monday. . .”. Not only that, but he agreed to judge the Concours d’Elegance, bringing with him a constable to check battery acid levels and how clean and greased-up the cars were underneath, using a mirror on a stick… It took time, of course, and I recall that when we asked a similar favour of the Deputy Commandant at Sandhurst, where another STD event was held, marshalled by the Army Cadets as a military exercise, this officer preferred just to stand on the steps of the main RMA building and decide which car he liked best as the competitors paraded past him.

I remember, too, how at the Brighton Speed Trials the police used to shut their eyes to the racing cars returning along the main road after their timed runs, mingling, in continental fashion, with the ‘buses and private cars. Until some busybody presumably complained, and competitors were made to waste time coming back to the start down the Madeira Drive. . . And at Lewes the racing cars used to be push-started on the public road below the course, under the gaze of a friendly policeman. Alas, that changed, and names and addresses were then taken if an untaxed racer went a yard or so too far. . . But mainly memories of happy times, when the Roberts could be pro-motor racing, and used their discretion. . .