Monday, March 01, 2010

On gloveworthy childhoods and clips round the ear: or, the children of the poor find their own way home

What follows are some comments on the police from C. H. Rolph, a former police officer himself, from his edited book, The Police and the Public: An Inquiry (London: Heinemann, 1962).

One of Rolph's topics was 'the ear-clipping period', i.e., that (possibly mythical) time when police constables took a more, shall we say, rough and ready approach to keeping Britain's potentially feral youth in check, based on techniques of which today's Daily Mail reader would no doubt approve:

I have heard citizens of little more than thirty speak of it fondly, as though it belonged to a golden age before the invention of juvenile delinquency. But any man who is forty today was in his pram when I first joined the police service, and even then the ear-clipping period was spoken of as past. The formula is usually the same, ‘In those days the bobby gave you a clip on the ear with his gloves, and you heard no more about it. Nowadays you’d have to go before a juvenile court, hang about for months waiting for the result, remand home, probation officer’s report, women police, children’s officer, attendance centre, perhaps an approved school – the lot.’ In the version I heard as a child, the policeman always put wooden blocks in the tops of the glove fingers to make them hurt more. I had an Edwardian childhood, its leisure hours being partially spent in pursuits that, from a police point of view, were outstandingly gloveworthy. But no police glove ever clipped my ear, though once or twice I was caught (this was rare because the police were fatter in those days).

Nowadays, by comparison, ‘if a policeman strikes a boy there’s a Parliamentary debate and a Committee of Inquiry’; and this, according to the glove advocates, is the cause of the ‘juvenile crime wave’. (187-188)

The more things change, eh?

I also like this quip about the public image of the police:

Apart from the armed forces, the police service is in fact the only public serve whose ultimate sanction is physical force: inside every gentler policeman there lurks a hired strong-arm man, a licensed tough. This is the policeman perceived most readily by some people; others see always the uniformed constable with the lost child in his arms. Both are middle-class conventions, if not smoke-screens: the children of the poor find their own way home and the children of the rich are not allowed to get lost. (188-89)

8 comments:

The Wife said...

"Parliamentary Debate? Yoo were lukky! All we ever got was the Spanish Inquisition branding us with hot poakers."

mikeovswinton said...

I had a clip round the ear from a dibble when I was a wee baby little 'un and it did me no harm.

John Carter Wood said...

TW: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

MoS: I wouldn't be so sure about that lack of harm....

mikeovswinton said...

Did I ever mention that I had a clip around the ear from a rosser when I was a kid? nNver did me any harm.

mikeovswinton said...

Yeah, I caught that clip when I was very young. back in the days when there was this interesting blog called Obscene Desserts..... Mind you if you guys have had a term like I've had, then I must tip my hat to the amount you have posted.

The Wife said...

Are you being sarcastic, Mike? Posts at this blog have gone down steadily and our rating has plummeted. The decline of this blog in part has to do with the amount of work we've been doing lately and a certain blog fatigue. A blog shouldn't be a longer version of facebook, but if egotistic status updates are all I can muster it's better to keep mum for a while.

So there's nought to applaud us for, which makes me think you must be joking.

Mind you, I've been thinking about a post about my frustration with historical fiction, in which I will fuse Sebastian Faulks' Charlotte Grey and Werewolf Women of the SS to a bizarre but plausible effect.

Stay tuned - we will be back!

mikeovswinton said...

I started with sarcasm and then thought about how few projects I've taken through to complettion in the last couple of months because of the way things have fallen. And wondered if everyone in the educashun bizness has a similar pattern of work.

You're German! You shouldn't be reading historical fiction. Most of the Germans I kick around with read Krimis. Often in English. Before I've read them. One of my friends has the most extensive knowledge of British crime fiction she should be on Mastermind over here. She even knows why you should call Resnick a Pie.

The Wife said...

I'm not especially keen on crime fiction. Though historical fiction (or historiographic metafiction, for that matter) is similarly generic. If you've read one of them novels, you've read them all. Plus, they tend to paint a rather reductive image of merry old England that the old dump in the North Sea that Britain really is simply gives the lie to.