From Dublin to the tough streets of 1980s Brixton: how I managed
FOR those tempted to reflect on the title of Charles Mcilwrick’s book, Not All Coppers Are Bastards, and expect it to simply be a blow-by-blow account of the good, the bad, and the ugly side of our boys in blue - consider yourselves wrong on all counts and guilty as charged.
Whilst there are indeed tales of good and bad experiences with colleagues peppered throughout, this autobiographical account reflects both on Charles’ fascinating personal and working life, simply telling it how it was in a clear, straightforward, oft times humorous manner, with a few shocks here and there, that will arrest the readers attention from the first page to the last.
From his humble beginnings in County Down, Northern Ireland, through a childhood where, following the death of his father he became, aged seven, the young ‘man of the house’, Charles captures the imagination, vividly bringing his story to life as he relives incredible memories at the turn of every page.
Describing how, at such a tender age, he painted the outside of the family bungalow, he says: “I had to do it! I had to grow up really quickly. My mum couldn’t afford to pay anyone.”
Lack of cash for the finer things in life and looking out for his mum and sisters did not stop Charles making the most of his childhood; fishing, climbing mountains and swimming in the river. And family mysteries, like the disappearance of his grandfather, make for a riveting read.
Charles said: “He disappeared off the face of the earth. He went to work in the mountains one day and was never seen again.”
Not such an idyllic time was to be had at a Dublin boarding school (an opportunity offered from his father’s Masonic career) and a subsequent move to England ultimately led to Charles following in his father’s footsteps when, aged 18, he joined the Metropolitan Police.
His father, Charles Thomas, had been in the Met for 30 years from October 30, 1890. (Charles and his sisters were born when his father was in his early 70s).
Also aged 17, Charles met his first wife Maureen and he had little doubt about what she meant to him: “We just hit it off. I had a pretty good idea she was ‘the One’.”
From police cadet and constable, based in Chelsea, the foundation for Charles’ lifelong career, in which he was to rise up through the ranks to inspector, was set.
He describes jaw-dropping experiences along the way; life and death incidents, meeting royalty, covering big league football games, and dealing with hardened criminals. Charles says things were very different back then. “I think there was more respect for the police in those days.
“It wasn’t fear, it was total respect.”
Charles also reflects on his ability to cope with the many tragic events he witnessed first hand. “It did affect me having to deal with deaths and suicides, but it made me strong and I knew that I could cope with things. Part of that came from becoming the man of the house when I was a very young boy and having to deal with life.
“I didn’t dwell on the very serious incidents - if I thought too hard about things it was unbearable.”
Charles says taking to the streets of Brixton during the riots of 1981 and 1985 were the biggest thing he had to deal with during his time at the Met, and included terrifying experiences in which he stood face to face with the angry mob. “I won’t say I wasn’t frightened; I’d be a liar. But I’d learned to deal with them. I’d learned to talk to them.” His tenacity, skill, and ability to deal with the Brixton riots led to Charles being awarded the MBE.
Since retiring to Bexhill, Charles has become a familiar face in the town and continues his fight against criminals in his role as chairman of Rother Neighbourhood Watch.
With regards to the title of his memoirs Charles said: “I can distinctly remember throughout my 36-year police career, being at football matches, going on demonstrations when you were walking beside thousands of people and the expression that always seemed to come out was, ‘All coppers are bastards’, and while reading the first draft of my book I thought, hang on, NOT all coppers are bastards!
“Police are human and this book proves that they are human; we have got a soul and a heart.”
Having lost both his wives, to cancer, Charles decided to donate all profits from the book to charity, and said: “I’ve had some wonderful experiences; I’ve had some tragic experiences and if I can relate those and some people gain something, some knowledge from it on how to cope with life, then it would be a worthwhile experience.”
• Not All Coppers Are Bastards is published by Red Letter Books. Signed copies cost £12 (including P&P) – for more details call Charles on 01424 846733 or email: email@example.com
Proceeds from the book will be divided between Macmillan Cancer Support, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, and St Michael’s Hospice.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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