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date: 04 October 2023

p. 11 1974locked

p. 11 1974locked

  • Timothy Brain


Sometimes a single picture portrays better than any detailed description or analysis the spirit of the times. The photograph on the front cover of the Police Review for the week ending 4 January 1974 is one. It is in grainy monochrome. It shows a single policeman standing in an urban street while snow is falling. As a ‘constable’ he held an office the origins of which went back to Norman times, and curiously, despite receiving a salary from the relevant police committee, as a Crown office holder he was not legally ‘employed’ by them. In 1974 it would almost inevitably have been a man, as ‘Women Police Constables’, then a specific designation, would rarely have performed such general duties despite possessing full powers as a constable. He is also white, there being then very few serving visible minority ethnic officers. He is on point duty, a task which had been widespread just a few years before but which by 1974 was slowly diminishing with the increased use of traffic lights and other traffic management features. It entailed an officer standing at a fixed point on a road junction for many hours directing traffic using well understood hand signals. He was essentially a human set of traffic lights. By the standards of the day he is well-enough accoutred for the weather, wearing a heavy greatcoat buttoned to the chin, a ridged coxcomb helmet, made of cork, chin strap down, waterproof leggings, and white cuffs and gloves, the latter being a contemporary attempt at enhancing visibility. He carries no obvious protection or armament. He looks resigned and rather uncomfortable as a light dusting of snow, like icing sugar on top of a Christmas pudding, settles on his helmet and shoulders. There are no cars or other vehicles in shot, a consequence possibly of the camera angle or because in January 1974 Britain was not only in the grip of a cold, depressing winter but also of a destabilizing fuel crisis.

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