One of the officers who did join as a recruit in 1983 was co-author Stephen Burrows who, like most West Midlands Police colleagues, attended Ryton On Dunsmore District Police Training Centre in order to complete his initial training course on Intake 9/83.
In those days a lot of emphasis was placed on uniform turn-out and regular parade- ground drill exercises as well as the ability to quote law definitions verbatim!
‘I was twenty-five years-old and had been working at various jobs for several years. In those days, an application was followed by a ‘home visit’ from an Inspector, purportedly to check one came from a ‘good family’ and didn’t live above a brothel, or in a pub. I can remember my Mom, who was pretty ‘straight-laced’, being embarrassed because I was away with my girlfriend, and not married, when the Inspector called. Mom must have made a good impression on my behalf, because I was subsequently asked for interview on the ‘mezzanine’ floor at Lloyd House, Police Headquarters where I was successful. It took nearly twelve months from application to beginning training as a police officer.
Little did I know it, but it was going to be a culture shock.
The first couple of weeks, the ‘Induction Course’, were fine. A gentle introduction to the police, led by Sergeant Mick Ferris, a very experienced and pleasant man that I became good friends with in subsequent years.
We were based at ‘Tally Ho!’ Training Centre, and received inputs from the Police Federation, and on the structure, culture and values of the Police and Force. To this day I recall a Superintendent speaker who gave a talk on integrity and good behaviour saying, ‘don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your Mom to know about or see on the front page of the Daily Mail with your photo’.
We began in ‘civvy’ clothes but were ‘fitted’ with uniform at Bournville Lane during induction. This was hilarious, as a lot of the stuff only roughly matched body size and shape. Too large and you were promised that you’d ‘bulk up to fill it’ due to the meals and physical training, too small and you were told you’d ‘slim down a bit in training’. I still recall being told I needed to ‘get a few curries down my neck’, by the storeman.
We had to take the uniform home in a huge cardboard box and then start wearing it once we had sorted it out. The first time I tried it on it felt like ‘fancy dress’, but you started to get used to it after a few days. I always felt that my helmet was too big and about to fall off, and for a while catching my reflection in a window was a strange experience.
Then we were off for Initial Training. Fourteen weeks at a District Centre with new recruits from other local Forces. I went to Ryton-On-Dunsmore in Warwickshire.
I had no idea what to expect. I was twenty-five, an older recruit in those days, and I met a militaristic regime that treated everybody as teenagers.
I arrived on a Sunday evening, nervous and unsure. There was a queue to register, be allocated a room and class, and to meet the two sergeants who would be the class tutors. I approached the desk, but during the conversation I called one of them ‘Sarge’. ‘I’m not Sarge, I’m Sergeant to you!’, was my introduction to Ryton.
We marched between classes, stood up when we answered a question in class and saluted senior officers. There was a ‘parade’ every morning, when uniform would be scrutinised and punishment details handed out for every blemish, no matter how minor. We all got really good at ‘bulling’ boots, spending hours perfecting a shine like a mirror. Every so often disaster would strike, a deep scratch, peeling of polish or even the whole toecap of polish coming off. I was hopeless at marching, a failing that remained with me during numerous Remembrance Day Parades as a senior officer.
Lessons comprised learning crime definitions off by heart, exploring the legal nuances, and being tested by fiendish multiple-choice questions. Those who regularly failed were given extra tuition and nicknamed ‘The Woodentops’.
Then there were ‘practical’s’. Learning how to direct traffic correctly, stopping and searching vehicles, licensed premises ‘raids’, arresting drunks, (play-acted with vigour by directing staff). We were taught life-saving skills in the pool, and physically tortured in the gym, especially during ‘self-defence’ lessons, if you were the unfortunate one selected by the instructor to demonstrate the amount of pain that could be inflicted with various ‘holds’.
Our fitness levels were improved by the swimming, cross-country runs and gym-work. There were regular fitness tests that had to passed, including push-ups, sit-ups, a timed run and the dreaded ‘pull-ups’ on the bar.
We bonded, helped by evenings in the bar. I’m still in touch with some of my class members at Ryton thirty-five years later, but there was a curfew, policed by staff members, to keep the sexes apart.
It was regimented, strict, militaristic, full of rules and regulations. Some liked it, but I hated it. I still sometimes return to Ryton, but it is very different now – the old ways are gone, the parade ground now a car park.’