You know policemen, of course; if you have never met one, you must at least have seen pictures of them. Great big men in blue uniforms, with helmets and chin straps which are never round their chins, and a dominating personality which enables them to disperse a revolution simply by walking into the middle of the fighting and saying: “Nar then, what’s all this abart?”

Just as boys insist on being boys, so policemen will be policemen all the world over (I always say) no matter what they wear on their heads, be it the British tall helmet or the German inverted coal scuttle. All, except the French, have that manner which commands silence and respect as they stroll upon the scene.

The French police are, of course, a little different. To begin with, there are so many sorts of them. Some wear soldier’s uniform and have pistols hung all round their belts, some wear flat hats like bus conductors, some have funny trousers, some have breeches, and all smoke cigarettes and get very excited. But, like all the policemen in the world, they are a force to be reckoned with.

London policemen are wonderful and have usually been to Oxford and/or Cambridge. They do things to the traffic with a lift of the eyebrows which no Frenchman could dream of managing with all the wavings of rolling pins and blowing of whistles in the world. They know such a lot of things. They know the way to places. They know where the car parks are. They know what to do in any emergency and they can arrest a man and whisk him into clink quicker than the onlookers can realize.

But country police are just as wonderful and, to explode a well-known fallacy, know about a lot of things not in the book of words of their Metropolitan confrères.

For instance, Robert in the village knows all about motor laws, knows how to take down statements after accidents, and all that, and, at the same time, he knows about foot and mouth infirmities, he knows about game and guns and gambling and robbers and footpads and sheep worrying and murderers and the by-laws which stop you bicycling over the common. Yes, sir, they know a whole lot.

Funny, the reactions various motorists have towards policemen. Some bristle up like the fretful porcupine and get rude before the P.C. has opened his mouth. That’s a bad way of going on and produces the officer’s note-book quicker than anything, whereas others simply quail and quiver like the aspen at his approach and stammer and say silly things.


Put your twenty-first century sensibilities aside and settle back to chuckle with some 1930s humour as Athos ponders on the variations and vagaries of policemen from Britain, America France and Germany.


Reprinted from "The Motor"

March 29, 1938

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I was once pursued by a policeman in a three-wheeler through a built-up area. He said I had travelled at a speed equivalent to 38 m.p.h., 42 m.p.h. and 35 m.p.h. at various points which he mentioned. And could he see my licence and what not?

Now I, flabbergasted, had done all these things, because I had been chatting gaily to my passengers and not noticed the how-fast-ometer. So I said I was sorry and oo-er and words to that effect. The upshot was surprising. He said that goodness knew few drivers were as polite as that and it was a real pleasure to pinch me. Come to think of it, if I promised no to do it again, I need not stay there hanging around as he had no doubt I was going some place. And lo! it was so, and with face wreathed in smiles we parted, firm friends, which only goes to show.

I have known quite a few policemen in my wicked past. I the first I remember among them was behind a hedge with a stopwatch seeing how fast I was covering the measured furlong way back in the days when 20 m.p.h. was as fast as the Law thought about right for motor cars. And I, spotting him, was able to stop, turn round and go back the way I had come, and the second policeman I remember among others was the chap at the start of the trap who was looking very red and cross about something.

In Flagrante Delicto

I have given rides to policemen who liked my car and urged me to go faster. I knew one who, hearing that I was even then in the shadow of a summons on account of the non-silencing of my sports car, opined that he thought that it had a pleasant ’um.

Not so affable was the young motorcycle policeman who chased me in my decrepit sports model one day and hailed me to stop. Now the trouble with my car had no brakes. To stop it I had to whistle loudly against the wind and push backward in the driving seat. (I was a bold, bad lad, 50 or so years ago.) I had swept down a hill at an exhilarating gait and then, overtaking a lorry, I had perforce to pull out and pass part of it before I slowed down sufficiently to tail in behind it. You see, there was a corner just ahead and I didn’t go round corners hub to hub with a lorry.

I assured the policeman that my brakes were perfect. That I had decided not to pass the lorry because of the corner and that I merely applied the immensely powerful anchors and pulled in behind – a very correct procedure.

He scoffed a bit, I must say. However, he passed that one, and then spotted my Road Fund Licence screwed to the side of the car, and said it was illegal thus. I said it wasn’t. He said it was. I said it wasn’t. He said it something well was. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so I said, all right, I’d move it. He said I’d better. I agreed. I kept this up until, Bristling with wrath, he moved away, telling me all things he would do if he saw that licence there again. And departed.

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". . . the wavings of rolling pins . . ."

I had been well and truly ticked off. My face was red. But the joke was on him. If he had wandered round my car he would have seen (a) the front brake cable on the off side wasn’t there, (b) the front brake cable on the other side was tied with string to the chassis (c) the Road Fund Licence was out of date anyway, and (d) the number plate on the front did not bear the same letters as the one on the back.

Tough Guise

Of course, I can’t vouch for American police because, to date, I’ve never even been to America, although I hear it has been discovered quite some time now. My only data on American police is what I see on the movies, from which it would appear that they are a very peculiar body of men, mostly recruited from Ireland. They spend their days crouched low over handlebars of 100 m.p.h. motorbicycles, chewing cigars as they whirl round corners at impossible angles, sirens wailing, in pursuit of wrong-does in black sedans. They go around shouting: “Hey, you! Pull in here while I give you a ticket,” and they while away the time slugging people with night sticks and calling them rats or giving them the thoid degree in most peculiar looking police stations. They also wear odd caps with enormous badges and get bumped off a lot.

The German police, as you know, wear inverted coal scuttles for helmets and lot fearfully military. But there is another brand which wears a tram conductor’s hat and a bright blue uniform. When they want to shout: “Hi! You!” because you are going the wrong way up an einbahnstrasse, they shout: “Hullo!” instead, but it is not shouted in the gay manner the word suggests. I once said: “Gruss Gott!” to a German policeman when he said “Heil Hitler!” and I had a feeling, started by the look on his face, that I’d said the wrong thing – which I had.

French police don’t mind what you say to them so long as it is polite and accompanied by an English cigarette. French police are rather muddling. There are divers kinds. My French friends tell me there is one sort you can be rude to and get away with it, but the other sort will lock you up on the spot. As I don’t know which is which I am going to be polite to the lot and hand out cigarettes all round on the spot. As you know, when you have made a contravention and are about to become the object of a verbal process, the only thing to do is look vacant and say: “No spik French.” This always works, and after they have told you what species of fool they think you are they go away shrugging their shoulders. You can't arrest a man for some technicality when he doesn’t understand a word you say.

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". . . at impossible angles . . ."

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". . . they shout 'Hullo' . . ."

Talking of French police reminds me that I once had the extreme diversion of watching then at work doing a baton charge at the top of the Champs Elysées one evening. Very pretty work it was. Some 100 communists were getting up a revolution as hard as they could go (the French take politics very seriously, you know) with some comrades standing on café tables and haranguing the multitude.

Someone must have thought this had gone far enough for suddenly a lot of whistles blew, and out of nearby streets came the police at a gentle trot with white rolling pins and stout helmets.

They trotted gently up to the revolution and then there was a fight in which anyone was at liberty to join. Watching from a safe distance, I could see little white rolling-pins rising and falling rhythmically. The air was full of the strangest oaths. Bottle flew around. So did marble-topped tables. It was by no means a walk-over for the police. But at half time when they changed ends the revolution was getting the worst of it.

So you see from the few words in this brief treatise on policemen that they are a genus that repays study. They are like other men, they feel cold, glow with heat like you or I. Pinch them and they squeak, steal their hats and they howl. Their boots are big but so are mine, and I for one should not like to be parked for some hours on a traffic–crossing waving my arms. I feel that after about an hour on a cold, wet day I should wave all the traffic on into each other, turn a deaf ear to the collisions and go quietly home smiling to myself and thinking how nice to be in a Courtesy Squad.

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