It is 1960 and the Control Room is known as the Information Room and located on the top floor at the rear of Police Headquarters which is in Hardman Street, in the 1930s building built for the School for the Blind.
On our local procedure course we are taken around the building and visit the Information Room and for raw recruits seeing this hive of activity is rather daunting. The staff looks very experienced and senior to us. Never mind, I thought, we won’t be doing this duty for years yet.
How wrong you can be. I have completed three of the most boring years out at Speke, where the WPs patrol one of two exciting beats, either Western Avenue from Clough Road to the shops at Western Avenue and Hale Road, or Eastern Avenue from one end to the other with no deviation up side roads permitted. We work ‘as laid down’ making a point on the half hour. In spite of unsuccessfully applying for every course that comes up, I begin to think that I will be left out at Speke for ever.
Then, one day in Chief Constables Orders comes the amazing news, Con 38WP Millett from Speke to the Information Room. Halleluiah!
I arrive for duty at 6.30am and park my Vespa Scooter in the rear yard and make my way upstairs to the Information Room. I am familiar with the location of the Information Room due to the Women Police Office being located on the same floor.
Still dark outside, quiet and with little traffic, it does not feel like a morning shift, as the night section prepare to go of duty and the morning section take up their positions to relieve them at their desks.
Down the centre of this huge room are continuous desks with officers facing each other. Each has his or her own position at a telephone console on which the 999 and other calls are received. On the console is a handset, and a row of lights which flash indicating an incoming call. Down the centre of these facing positions is a conveyor belt. The officer takes the call and enters details on an incident sheet giving it the next free number, and retains the sheet. Depending upon the nature of the call they will either deal with the incident themselves by passing the enquiry to the division concerned, or to a specific service. If the enquiry can be completed the action taken will be recorded on the sheet and the Sergeant will later sign the sheet.
Certain incidents will require immediate action; these will be placed into the conveyor and conveyed directly to the Wireless Operator to be given out over the air to a police mobile. At the end of the day the incident sheets are filed in numerical order.
At one end of the Information Room is an enormous map of the city and at the opposite end close to where the Inspector and Sergeant are seated is the wireless cabin, a structure, the upper part of which is completely surrounded by glass.
No one has noticed me arriving but the Sergeant has taken his seat at the helm so I go to him. “Good morning Sergeant, 38WP reporting for duty, I am joining you this morning.” He turns smiles and replies “Oh you are, are you.” At this point, the Inspector arrives with a mug of tea in his hand. The Inspector is a tall, immaculate, white haired man with a scrubbed pink complexion. He smiles, “Are you our new addition?” he asks. “Yes Sir”. He continues “And how do you think you will cope when it comes to night duty?” This is not a problem to me so I answer “I have done night duty before Sir, so it won’t bother me.” He now looks curious “Where did you do your night duty then?” “At Sefton General Hospital.” “So you were a nurse then?” he asks. “Yes”. The Sergeant is listening to all that is being said and adds “So you are not new to dealing with people and emergencies then?” “No Sarge.”
My first impression of the Sergeant is that he is a bit of an old woman, and I am rarely wrong, however we shall see.
The Sergeant says “I’ll show you round while it’s quiet.” He begins with a room just beyond the Wireless Cabin. “This is the Telex Room."
It contains a Telex Machine and three Teleprinters, and there is a tall cabinet style switchboard. The large window which looks down onto the rear yard, is closed and condensation runs down the glass.
A frustrated, tired looking policewoman is tearing off yards of perforated tapes which are discharging from the side of the machiness; she marks them with a name or a number and adds them to bundles hanging up at the side of the room.
Meanwhile, the machines are hot and humming. A teleprinter is making a dreadful chattering noise, and all by itself is churning out yards of printed messages on a continuous roll from the top of the printer, and endless perforated tape from the side.
These monsters look totally self- contained and almost resent the interference by human beings.
The room is hot and noisy and the exasperated, red haired policewoman hardly lifts her head as she snatches paper, makes speedy entries into a ledger and switches things on and off. It is quite alarming to see her impale a handful of messages onto a large vicious looking spike on the desk as she dashes past without even at glance at the spike.
Above all the noise the Sergeant calls “This is 38WP who is joining us.” Still without looking at either the Sergeant or myself, she mutters “She’s welcome to it, I’m going home.” With that she opens a cupboard grabs a small holdall and a jacket and rushes out.
“Is that what the Telex Room does to you Sarge?” I ask. He laughs “Don’t take any notice of her, she’s as good as gold really.”
The Telex Room duty is now taken over by a calm policeman whose first job is to open the window. He stands in the centre of the room for a moment looks around, scratches his head, and begins to tidy the room.
The Sergeant now leads me toward another important area, the kitchen.
I am now given a lecture about standards in which the Sergeant says that he prides himself on having the most efficient section. “I insist upon punctuality, nothing slapdash, if your action requires logging anywhere then you must log it. Double check everything. Our function here is to collect and store information.” Then he says very dramatically “The men out there rely upon us. The only way of doing anything is properly. If you don’t know the answer, ask, don’t try to flannel your way out.”
The lecture continues and confirms my first impression of the Sergeant. There’s more… “I insist upon smartness, the Chief Constable regularly visits or passes through this room as do other senior officers..” I am now getting a headache, when is he going to stop?
Almost as if coming to the rescue, a Bobby comes up to us, “Shall I show Brenda where she will be sitting and the controls etc.?” Thank heaven for that, I was thinking. “Yes, thank you Ray,” says the Sergeant “I have quite a lot to do.”
I take up my position and Ray explains the console. “The first call is always the worst then you get more confident, if there’s anything you get stuck with then there’s Mavis here, and he quickly introduces me to Mavis who is sitting next to me. “How do I answer, what I mean is what do I say?” Ray explains “Well a 999 call you would answer Police can I help you? If it isn’t a 999 call it will come through on one of these lines”, and points to the row of lights on the console. These will be from a division so you can’t go wrong by answering Information Room, 38WP speaking can I help you?” A lot of the bosses like you to identify yourself with name and number.
OK then there’s one for you, and points to the flashing light, don’t worry it’s not a 999.”
I now launch myself into the world of serious communications and I am amazed at the variety of calls received. Some 999 calls are not emergencies at all, I received one asking ‘which bus do I get to Muirhead Avenue?’ to another informing me that their budgie had just flown out of the window.
The following week I experience my first night duty and I arrive at 10.20pm in order to relieve the afternoon colleague at 10.30pm. As I reach my position, there are several lights flashing and I had not seen my board as busy on mornings. Mavis arrives and takes her seat and reaching for her handset to take her first call comments “I think we are in for a busy night.” I take my first call which is a traffic accident in Smithdown Road, then a call to a disturbance where youths are fighting outside a chip shop in Old Swan, and on it goes.
It is now 2am and things have become quieter as John calls “Shall we have a brew?” There is a resounding “Yes” as John beckons to me “Come with me to the kitchen,” as someone calls “Watch him Brenda!”
There are no canteen facilities on nights and officers make their own drinks, bring sandwiches or prepare their own food in the kitchen. I am now initiated into making twelve mugs of tea and who takes sugar, who likes just a little milk, who likes a lot and so on.
Now with a welcome mug of tea in front of them, the staff catches up on completing incident sheets and other paperwork. The routine on nights is quite different than that of mornings. The building is quiet and mainly in darkness at night, except for the General Enquiry Office at the main entrance which is staffed 24 hours. At night time there are duties undertaken by the night section which during the day are done by civilian staff, for instance, the main switchboard in the Switch Room.
Mavis took me along to the Switch Room to give a break to the officer on duty that night. The switchboard is a huge PBX board which looked most complicated with rows of numbered flaps, endless cables with plugs on the end and rows of sockets into which the appropriate cable would be plugged. “Good grief!” I said “How long does it take to learn all of this?” Mavis explains “Well it’s not so bad at night because there’s no one in the offices. You may get the CID wanting a line or a connection,” and she points to the flaps which belong to the CID Offices. Mavis now points to the top row of flaps and says “If this flap, or this one drops, that’s the Chief Constable’s Office or the Chief Super, you’ll know they are in the building, don’t keep them waiting, but don’t panic either” and she smiles. The officer goes for his refreshments, Mavis takes a seat and I pull up a chair beside her.
There are other duties peculiar to night duty such as the preparation and printing of the Court Sheets for the following morning. All information of arrests are telephoned in to the Information Room from CID or the Divisions and the court lists are compiled showing the details of the person arrested, the offence and arresting officer. Copies of the court sheets are taken by dispatch to all police stations.
I found it amusing when I was asked to phone round to see if there were any dogs. I had to ask what that was all about and was told that a phone call is made to each station asking if they have any stray dogs in their kennels. There is liaison between police and local dogs home who will be informed and the dogs collected.
The following week is afternoon duty from 2.30pm to 10.30pm, this is the busiest shift but interesting and time passes quickly.
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