In and out of uniform

Location : Norfolk, UK

I was born in 1945 at a little village called Colton in Norfolk near Dereham as Roger Clive Dunnell. I had two twin brothers older than me and one younger brother, and my father was Jack, mother Irene Dunnell. Jack was a Norfolk policeman in Wymondham and Reepham. Unfortunately mother died in 1948 when I was two and a half; I went to a foster home in Walcott and I was eventually adopted by Henry and Doris Bean. He was a farm worker who worked with William Love of The Chimneys, Walcott. Well, I always knew I was adopted and as a result I was a bit of a tearaway; nothing serious.

I went to Bacton Primary School from 1950 to 1956; I walked there and back, which was no problem in those days, two and a half miles. Made friends with the local boys in Bacton and Witton. I failed my Eleven Plus, and I went to North Walsham Secondary Modern School from 1956 to 1960. I was in the B stream of three streams; and the final year I was in the A stream. I was not very academic, although I was always average; it was a class of 40, I was around about 20th. The only thing I excelled in was PE when I was always first every year, but unfortunately PE doesn’t give you a job. Maths was my worst subject. I used to play for and captain the North Walsham Junior and Senior Football Eleven. In fact, on a Saturday I would think nothing about playing for North Walsham School in the morning at 15 – biking there 12 mile round trip, coming back and then playing for the men’s team in the Bacton League in the afternoon. Anyway, I left school in 1960.

My first job – I had no inclination to do anything really. My father wanted me to have a trade, woodwork, anything like that but I was just hopeless at it. I went to Tooley and Young’s who was a builders in Stalham as a teaboy. And I remember vividly biking to Stalham, which was a round trip of about 12 miles; during the winter, making tea and doing little odd jobs, and seeing the men making coffins. But I didn’t last very long and then worked as a builder’s labourer with another Stalham firm called Banister’s. Money was very low. I was just labouring and that didn’t last very long either.

I had dreams, as we all did in those days, of being a rock star or a sportsman. But I did try. In fact I went to London to the Burman School of Music in about 1961; for a fee of £3 I sat by a pianist and sang a song, and I remember a song to this day which was ‘Sealed with a kiss’ by Brian Hyland. But of course, £3 in 1960 was a quarter of what my father worked for a whole week; ‘cause I can remember his pay packet; it was about eleven or twelve pound in 1960. But all things relative, of course, because you could do a Sunday roast for about £1, I think if I can remember rightly – it used to last about three days!

So, I also was in the first Bacton pop group or beat group as we called it in those days; I was the drummer. And we played at youth clubs, etcetera, etcetera. A travelling circus then came to Cromer and I thought ‘this is excitement; real excitement’. So I went there and they gave me a job of— just doing anything really. I was a stooge when it came to some of the scenes. It was a Wild West circus. I used to dress up as such-and-such, finish that then see the people to their seats or something. Anyway, we travelled around, went up north, to various towns. I lived in a kind of a caravan in which I and one other slept in one half and the horse was in the other! [I also worked on Gray’s fair for a summer.]

Anyway,  I couldn’t settle down at all and obviously my father was a policeman, so I had inclinations to go to something in uniform. So I decided to join the army when I was seventeen and a half. And I went to the Norwich recruiting station or whatever it is, I forget the road but it’s still there in fact in Norwich, and signed on for six years in the Royal Artillery. And done my training. I think if I remember rightly, the pay was quite good. I just cannot remember how much; it was quite good. And I was stationed in Germany and went to Libya, and places like that; but never saw active service in a sense. And because I was very good at running, I had a choice either to keep with the regiment I was in or go to Borneo where there was trouble; because I was so good at running they wanted me to stay with running and join the ski team

The 1968 British Olympic Biathlon Team. RB nearest camera. [Copyright George Konig]

The 1968 British Olympic Biathlon Team. RB nearest camera. [Copyright George Konig]

So there was no choice at all. I went to another regiment which was in Cella and didn’t go to Borneo. And I was so good at skiing, which was the biathalon event, which was cross country, then skiing and shooting then; and I made the British B-team. And 1968 culminated in the Olympic Games on which I represented Great Britain and came 16th out of 60, and there was a lot of publicity; I was in the papers. So I decided not to carry on skiing although it could be because I was only 23, and could have gone to the Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, but I decided no. I’d recently got married to a London girl who I met in Bacton; and I decided to come home and I bought myself out of the army, which was £200 in mid ’68.So what was I going to do again? I was out on a limb, I got a labouring job at Bacton gas site. I worked there in summer. I had to be doing something stable, so I decided to join the RAF. So I joined the RAF, and done the training at Swinderby. Unfortunately while I was training, I caught chicken pox. And I just couldn’t settle down; and once again I bought myself out. So I came home again with my wife and we was living with her parents in Chingford in London. And what was I going to do again? I couldn’t find a real job, I had a job at Leytonstone and Whipps Cross swimming pool which was the summer of ’68 as a lifeguard. But it was nothing permanent and I was decided I would go where my father went and that was the police.

I had to swot up on my maths, things like percentages, you know, I never dealt with even at school. Anyway, I did pass my police exam and I joined Surrey Police in 1969; joined Surrey Police and done the training, and of course you had a house. We had our first house in Surrey at Caterham, and we went to two or three houses, and ended up in Reigate.

Police training School, Sandgate, Kent. PC 424 Roger Bean, 3rd left, front row

Police training School, Sandgate, Kent. PC 424 Roger Bean, 3rd left, front row

And I had itchy feet again, because I was very good at running and I was in the national police team at running; and the Met police said ‘why don’t you come to the Met police?’ And had a couple of days off a week if you’re good at sport. So I tried the Met police, but unfortunately for some reason or other I didn’t get a transfer. The next object was to be near my adopted mother, so I thought I’ll try to transfer to Norfolk police where my father was. I tried, and dad who had retired then in ’66 put a word in for me, but unfortunately they had government restrictions at the time which means that they had enough policemen for Norfolk, so they said apply again. So I kept applying and it didn’t come, so I thought a force nearer and ended up in Cambridgeshire; and that’s where I went in 1973, to Cambridgeshire.

And I got into Cambridgeshire police and went to Papworth where the heart hospital is, and I worked there a couple of years. And through my savings and also police pay, I was able to buy my first house in a little village called Swavesey in Cambridgeshire. Sorry, before that I was a Swavesey policeman, and in Swavesey there was a proper police house where people come and see me. And I think my pay was about £700 a month, if I remember rightly. And I managed to save enough for a deposit for a house in Swavesey, a semi-detached, and—which I got. And I thought it was great in those days ‘cause when I first joined the police in 1969 the only policemen who had houses was inspector and above.

I was just an ordinary policeman on the beat. Shift duties, nights, earlies, late, six to two early, two to ten, eleven. Then I passed my driving licence. Panda cars they used to call them in those days, it was a little Ford Escort or a Mini. And got in scrapes, fights, you name it, murder scenes. I can remember now the first car accident I went to; I was shaken and the senior policeman said ‘Put this notebook in your hand with a pencil and just wander around as if you’re pretending you’re doing something.’ Which I did. While he dealt with the accident. And then my first sudden death a man who collapsed on the stairs I went to that and dealt with that on my own. From then after, death was nothing to me at all; I’ve seen so many scenes of death and murder, terrible accidents and it was nothing.

I was also a snow hero in those days, because there was a terrible snow of ’82 when the village got cut off. Cars coming in covered in snow and I trekked out on two or three occasions getting people in. And fortunately, or unfortunately, I lost my hat! It was eventually retrieved by a horse lady in a field. Well I got a mention in the Cambridge Evening News and was put down as a snow hero of 1982 and got a mention in the local papers. So that was nice. And I also got commendations for arrests and was terribly beaten up by—when I was tracking a burglar and ended up in hospital.

And so I got a couple of commendations, but that was when I was in Cambridgeshire – but that’s all to do with the police. After 28 years. I had to come out when I was badly assaulted in 1994; badly assaulted in St. Ives and I just could not—I was 49, and I said, I just can’t go out operational. I was 49 at the time, nearing 50, and I was hoping they would give me an inside job but they didn’t. So I left the police with sick pay, and my next step after the police was I went to Girton College – because Swavesey where I lived was only 10 miles from Cambridge, so Cambridge was our main city. I was a porter, on shifts.

I didn’t pass my sergeant’s exam. All my life and there’s no good regretting it because you can’t look back, but it was dominated by sport, and I was a very good runner and I went all over Europe with the national police team. I also nearly made the Olympic team in ’76 in the steeplechase for the civilian team. But I used to run twice a day even when I was in the police; I used to come home for my refreshment break and go out for a run. I was clocking a hundred miles of marathon running. I loved sport to the detriment of progressing. But I loved it as a policeman though, I loved it as just a PC dealing with people and I loved everything about it, the involvement in the cases which I had, court appearances, no problem for me at all. I just regret really what happened, I just couldn’t go out operationally again. I said give me some time indoors, but they couldn’t; and they gave me a pay off. I lost a bit of my pension, but I still had a good pension. So I decided to retire.

We had counselling, but I found counselling was just a complete waste of time, it really was. It just go over what happened and what are your thoughts about it, etcetera. But the incident was I said two druggies, I went there, I responded on my own. They took me apart basically, two druggies, and I decided that I couldn’t go on. My confidence had gone, and I thought, gosh I’m 50, and I felt well although perhaps I wasn’t looking back, but at that time I felt really old. And with all the younger PCs coming in and I said I had enough.

Did you have a good relationship with your colleagues? Do you still keep in touch with any of them?

I’m still with the National Police retired police officers, NARPO, it’s called: National Association of Retired Police Officers. I keep in contact with them and my dad said ‘once a policeman, always a policeman’. And I am. Because if I see anything I think, it’s just not right, I would step in. Sometimes to the detriment but as I’m nigh on 70 now I think I basically turn a blind eye; you’ve got to, it’s not worth the hassle. Especially driving. You know. When I was a young PC in a car, I used to chase people in cars going at various speeds, etcetera, etcetera and people cut me up, if I was a civilian I wouldn’t like it. And I’d tried to get back, but I wouldn’t do it now. It’s just not worth the hassle, ‘cause you could easily see a knife appear.

I was in the Cambridgeshire Police firearm squad for about three years; never had to fire in anger but went to various places where guns were needed, with groups of us, raiding houses, etcetera, etcetera. But the age of 30, 35 you feel you could do anything; you really do. But as you get older you slow up and just realise you can’t. So come out of firearms squad.

Training was intense. I had to be fit; I was fit anyway. And it was one day a month which we went to firing ranges with a pistol, and that was it basically. Then you’d go back to your beat, to our area and if there’s a shout about firearms if you was available they would ring you up and say ‘are you available?’ and I say ‘yes’. ‘Right, meet at Cambridge police station, we’ve got something come up which guns might be involved.’ And that was it. That was an exciting time really. I just loved the police, the ability if anything happen to go there and take charge, which you had to, like accidents and burglaries and domestics. I just loved the excitement of it more than anything.

My first posting was Redhill and Reigate, a town, a big town in Surrey. On a shift about 10 policemen. Because we were near Croydon, the A23, which is a good road for criminals, the A23 from London to Brighton.

Because of the antiques trade. At night time, two or three o’clock in the morning you’d do a road block and seventy percent of the time you always get a collar or arrest for something, because it was a criminals’ run really; the A23. Well, when I come to Cambridgeshire, Papworth was just a country station but it had the hospital which is still going. I dealt with many sudden deaths and attended many autopsies.

I wasn’t assigned to the one village, I used to go in and had a car and used to go round lots of villages. But Papworth was my home village, so I would tend to schools, council meetings.

Police liaison; they’d ask me questions and you’d be in uniform, show the handcuffs and the truncheon and the whistle, which I’ve still got, and talk of life as a policeman.

Pay was very good in the police, although in ’72, ’73 it was really bad. So bad that a lot of policemen came out, but I had thie stability of a job and money so I stayed in and Edmund Davies report, that was his name; as a result of the Edmund Davies report police pay went up. But the other good—well, it’s not good in some respects, political, but of course I was on the miners’ strike. And that earned me a lot of money because we was doing 12 hour shifts and a lot of that money went on the deposit of my house.

I know it’s terrible talking about it now, but the Met police on the picket lines would dangle their pay cheques in front of the miners.

Yeah, they would, ‘cause the Met police were a law onto themselves; and always will be, I think. Now, they always had the better equipment, etcetera, etcetera. But I was on the miners’ strike, and as I said that was quite a few months. It meant getting up early in the morning and going to the coal mines, and we had braziers and fires; it was bitterly cold. And we used to stop the pickets, who were preventing the coal miners who wanted to work; that’s where all the aggravation was then. There was a lot of aggravation, pushing them back and there was a lot of kicking and that going on, but possibly the following day you’ll be playing football with a lot of them. It’s amazing. In the pit villages, I was at Nottingham, also down in Kent.

I had an ill health pension which is not taxed, which I still get. That’s good. Plus my ordinary police pension, which because I didn’t do my full 30, I done 28, so I get that. Plus when I left I had a few little jobs; I worked at a college which was a proper job really as a porter; that was all extra.

I was checking students in and out in porter’s lodge. I found that very good. A lot of ex-policemen do that work, you know; you’ve got a good background and I got the job immediately. In respect to that I left the police because of sickness, but that was neither here nor there regarding to them. I was able to do the job physically, and that was shift work again. But that came to an end, and I then got a job in a sports shop in Cambridge, but that lasted one day. And then I decided to go on my own. So I done some nice cards, put them all around various villages saying I’m a handyman, although basically I’m not, but I can do the basic things. And I ended up, I went to Grantchester rectory; put it through the door and got a call and had an interview with Lady Archer, and she was looking for someone to do odd jobs. Seven pound fifty an hour. That’s the only thing I could remember pay wise. That would have been about 1997, 98, 99, 2000.

Seven pound fifty an hour. So I worked for her for about three years, and doing other odd jobs. This weren’t a full time job with her, it was only, say, three hours, I think, once a week. Well, I done other odd jobs like painting, decorating, a bit of gardening, chauffeuring kids to school, I had a job doing that. And taking dogs for a walk. I was free, you see, I could take anything I like. I would charge £7 per hour.

I worked for Lord and Lady Archer for about three years. I used to do odd jobs around the house, helping the gardener and met all the family. Lord Archer was living in London and I think his sons were in London, they used to come up. Had the keys to the house on various occasions when they were out. And I used to help in the garden and my main job was looking after the fish, mainly carp, and looking after the underground tanks for filtering units, clean them up. But in the end I decided I had enough of that, and kept odd jobs in my own time. Own pay, doing various jobs painting, decorating and taking kids to school, dog walking – you name it I would do it if it was legal!

I then started to take up keyboard playing; I was a drummer—forgot to say this, but when I was Germany in the army, I was with a German group in 1964, 65 called the Gentlemen, a great name (laughs), and we used to go to Hamburg every other weekend. There were two soldiers, I was the drummer and another guitarist and two German lads, and we used to play the clubs of Hamburg. And my only claim to fame for rock and roll in those days—it was on the same bill as Screaming Lord Sutch.

It was a great time that was, ‘cause beat groups and the Beatles—we’re talking about ’64, ’65 because they were in Hamburg in the early ‘60s. I decided to take up keyboard playing although I can’t read music at all, but I’ve got a natural sense of rhythm regarding music; and the keyboard I played—one finger chords with my left hand, and I can sing ‘cause I was in the choir when I was young. And it was pocket money, but some good gigs all over the place just with me and my keyboard used to play ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ballroom dancing which I still do to this day.

I do ballroom dancing. I mainly do 70th birthdays for people my age, who like the ‘60s music, but I really like ‘40s music—the swinging era—even ‘30s. And I hope to cut my first CD really soon, which is mainly for the family. But you can do these now-a-days, you can do anything now-a-days, I shall cut a CD with six of my favourite numbers which I’ll put on. I do Christmas dos as well. But I don’t want many because as you’re getting older you slow up, and pushing all the mics and speakers and keyboard around—they’re quite heavy. I generally do it local and charge £20 – 60 an hour.

In 1995 I came back to Norfolk, to Sheringham. I still did a lot of sport, I’ve done a lot of bowling: indoors and outdoors bowls. And eventually we came to my home village of Walcott when my wife saw a house—she always wanted a house with French windows that looked out into a garden.

Unfortunately we were flooded in 2013; up to there, three foot. Lost everything on the ground floor, but we managed to live in the house and it’s all back ship shape now. And the other interest I took when I moved to Walcott in 2010, I joined the Bacton History Group and I offered a lot to them, obviously around here in the early days in the ‘60s and ‘50s. I was able to do a lot of photographs, sports teams, etcetera. And then I decided to do Walcott history as no-one else is inclined to help, so I done it myself and I’ve got three albums of Walcott history. As you know history’s ongoing, and we’re always looking for old pictures and I’ve had exhibitions of Walcott history at various village halls and clubs.. I find it very, very interesting.

To sum up my life, I realise now that I should’ve taken more steps to improve my education. i.e. the eleven plus. And also the police exam; sergeant, which I failed. You cannot go back I’ve had highlights of my life, and they have been the Olympic games representing Great Britain at other sports including road running, and the other one—as well as the Olympics, is actually getting into the police, which I thought I would never be able to do because I didn’t think I was educated enough, but I did manage to pass the exam. So all I say regarding myself is if an opportunity came up with something I wanted to do I would do it. I can’t look back; I look forward all the time and if there’s anything to be done I’d like to do it there and now. But everyone’s different and I can understand that. So regarding life, I’m now three score and ten, it’s very near; I’m hoping to go on for another ten at least.

Roger Bean (b. 1945) interviewed for WISEArchive in Walcott Norfolk on 27th October 2015.

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