WPC 56: Women in policing in the 1950s

Tuesday 19 March 2013, 13:32

Dominique Moloney Dominique Moloney Writer

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When I was first asked to pitch an idea for an original police series, which became WPC 56, I immediately knew I wanted to write about the 1950s.

The music and fashions of that decade were marvellously distinctive and it was a time of massive social change.

Britain was just getting back on its feet after the ravages of World War II, it was the beginnings of mass immigration, the birth of youth culture, the Cold War, and the feminism of the 60s was still a long way off. 

The idea of a young woman wishing to buck the trend and join the police force, a traditionally male profession at that time, seemed to me to be rich in story potential.

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'Never forget that your sole responsibility is to support the men'

Once I'd fallen in love with my subject matter, I knew I had to do it justice by doing as much research as I could. 

I began with visiting the Metropolitan Police Museum which opened to the public in 2009 and is located at the Met's recruitment centre near Earls Court in London.

It is a small but fascinating collection of artefacts taken from a vast array of such treasures collected by Scotland Yard over at least a 100 years of policing – uniforms, weapons, photographs and archive footage.

I was even allowed to try on a genuine WPC's uniform jacket from the 1950s. While I was there I chatted to a couple of lovely retired policemen who were only too happy to tell me stories of the WPCs they worked alongside, mostly in the 60s and 70s. 

One anecdote that stuck with me ended up in episode one, where the male officers give Gina Dawson a 'Brinford Branding'.

This was apparently a real tradition in some police stations, where new recruits were rubber stamped on the backside by their new colleagues, and the women had to endure the initiation too (although they proffered their thighs as a compromise).

The retired officer described the women as being "game" for it, but I wondered if it was really good fun to them, or if they were merely anxious to fit in.

PC Eddie Coulson (CHRIS OVERTON), WPC Gina Dawson (JENNIE JACQUES) PC Eddie Coulson (Chris Overton) stamps WPC Gina Dawson (Jennie Jacques)

Also I was told some female officers volunteered to work undercover as decoys, and occasionally were attacked before the male officers could intervene.

This was echoed in a book I read called The Gentle Arm Of The Law by Jennifer Hilton, a WPC in the 1950s.

She gives a vivid, firsthand account of walking along a canal at night in the hope of drawing out a reported rapist. She escaped unscathed but found the experience understandably frightening.

I was struck by the irony of the so-called "fairer sex" electing to take such risks, and yet they were generally considered less brave or capable than the men.

I interviewed Sioban Clark, Chairman of the Metropolitan Women Police Association and she told me about the impossible choice women had to make between love and career – if a female officer chose to marry or have children she would automatically lose her job.

These were some of the realities I wanted to reflect in the BBC One series.

WPC Gina Dawson (JENNIE JACQUES) WPC Gina Dawson in her office, the broom cupboard

The fact that women police were treated as an isolated section of the police force meant that even when they worked alongside the men, their ranks and responsibilities were considered separate.

They weren't fully integrated into the main force until the early 70s, and they didn't drop the prefix for Woman Police Constables until 1999.

No matter what her rank, a female officer in Gina's time was expected to do the typing for even the lowliest male colleague.

Reading firsthand accounts and listening to hours and hours of transcripts of police women and men, there were of course many differing experiences, and certainly not all of them were bad. 

However, most would agree that making tea for the men was simply part of the job!

Dominique Moloney is the creator of WPC 56, and wrote episodes one, three and five.

WPC 56 continues daily until Friday, 22 March at 2.15pm on BBC One. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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Comments

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  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1.

    After two episodes I am absolutely loving this show. Proof positive that some of the best TV drama is being made for daytime. Complex, rich, subtle characters and storylines and a brilliant use of period. Very much hope a second series is in the offing as this is quality stuff. Nice one, Dominique!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 2.

    What a great series, up there with Call the Midwife and Father Brown. I wish I didn't have to work during the day as I hate to miss an episode.
    I watch on my lap top BBC IPlayer.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 3.

    A great new period drama. Looking forward to the rest of this series and hope there will be another. I agree with 'Seabed', Father Brown and WPC56 surely belong on an early Sunday evening slot?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 4.

    This is an incredble new series. It vividly brings to life a world that we think we know but shows a whole other angle. The writing is excellent. Letting the watcher do some work. There's no spoonfeeding. It's totally believable and engaging. It is also realy gripping because it is so affecting - you really care about the characters and want to know more. Really brave of the writer to tackle racism and sexism in such a compelling dramatic way It must get an evening slot. It must.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 5.

    First rate new series, enjoyed both episodes - looking forward to the next three. Why are the episodes not appearing on the iPlayer / Sky box, most of the other BBC 1 shows are there but no WPC56. Excellent period drama.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 6.

    Wonderful new series but it begs the question why it's shown at a time when the majority of viewers cannot see it. Come on BBC, if you're going to commission excellent work like this, at least give your audience a fighting chance to view it. Please make another series but maybe think about an evening broadcast time!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    Good series, however, not sure a PC being stabbed is suitable for daytime broadcast, agree with other comments that an evening slot would be more appropriate

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 8.

    this is a really great series and I cannot understand why it has been put onto daytime tv.I started watching it half way through episode 2 and thought wow so true to those days.I had to go straight to catch up tv and watch the first episode.Hope there is another series but put it on at a better time.It should have gone on in Call The midwife spot

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 9.

    An excellent drama with all the essential ingredients for an afternoon relaxing. The 1950's is my era, the music, the fashion, the drama. It's up there with Call the Midwife and Father Brown. The BBC are at the forefront for excellent drama. I am retired and there is nothing I enjoy more is a cup of tea in front of an excellent storyline with characters you start to care about from the word go. Keep up the good work BBC. :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    I was a WPC in the Met in 1956 and we always wore armbands when on duty in uniform. Is this just an oversight or was the wardrobe department fresh out of armbands at the time of filming?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    Having been bought up in The Police family in the 50's my father being an Inspector in the Force, this series has been a little too close for comfort, especially in the way "women" were treated back then.
    I well remember my Father saying in front of others in the station one day when I was there waiting for him to finish,

    "You'll never amount to much so why don't you join the Force, at least you will have a job!"

    I might point out, I was only 9 at the time, the male officers left the room, and the only "lady member of the force at that station approached me saying.

    “Never join unless you are prepared to fight all your life, everyone thinks I'm a tyrant, but in truth, I had no-where else to go, and you learn to bully the bullies harder in order to survive!"

    And yep, I was bullied to join up one might even say "Prepared" from that childhood.
    I saw my Mum lead a trapped life, as a Policeman’s wife, I was threatened with "Being sent away and put away, if I didn't conform"
    Just like the wife in the series.

    The saddest part of all is that as a child we were taught "If you are in trouble, find a Policeman, they will help!"
    That has been revised now, through fear of what they have turned to be.
    Even sadder, is the fact that many cases, my Father bought home, Mum and I knew who did it, and without our input, those miscarriages of justice would have gone ahead, and sadly did.

    RIP those honest cops who tried xxxx

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    i love this program can't wait for more 'it good to see how woman were treated by men and look at them now and see what they have acheivied.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    Congrats BBC 1!! for this wonderful drama. I love the fact that it is set in the Midlands and not London which is the favorite location for a lot of dramas and also how it depicts life at that time. There have been quite a few dramas on BBC 1 in the afternoon slot. Please put some on at prime time, these dramas deserve it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    Thoroughly enjoyed every episode ( three to date) Fortunately we can watch tv during the day,but we are hoping that this is a pilot for an evening slot of this excellent series to enhance the quality
    of the existing BBC broadcasts. Andrew713 we have found episodes on iPlayer.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 15.

    Really loving the new WPC56 afternoon series!! I hope that the BBC will give us a follow-up series... We ladies have really come along way from those days!!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 16.

    I came across this by accident and found that the 45 minutes seemed more like 5 . The plots and sub plots were really strong and the acting of a very high standard. Dare I say that this has got the makings of another" The Bill" or better Dixon of Dock Green. Please give the next series greater prominence in your scheduling.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    Please make this a prime time show - Jennie Jacques is a real talent.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 18.

    Thank you for such an excellent set of plays, hopefully there will be more of this high quality drama.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 19.

    Found this on BBC iPlayer by chance. What a great drama but why is it on in the afternoon, when it is worthy of a prime time slot? More please.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 20.

    Fantastic new series.Sorry that it seems it will end on Friday. More episodes soon please.

 

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