Friday, 12 June 2015

A Changing World in 1969

Join the police for a world of glamour! Wear this fabulous new uniform designed by the Queen’s own designer, Normal Hartnell.
In 1969 the world was changing. The previous year, feisty sewing machinists and Dagenham’s Ford Factory had gone on strike to demand equal pay - as portrayed in Made in Dagenham, and the Labour Party would soon be introducing the Equal Pay act. But though women had dreamed of being part of the police force since a militant young suffragette called Margaret Damer Dawson had set up the Women’s Police Volunteers in 1914, their role had had remained strictly limited, and equal ops was still a long way away. Effectively after World War I women had edged into the role of being uniformed social workers dealing with all the bits of police work the men didn’t want to touch - families and children. And some of the bits that men couldn’t be trusted with, like prostitution. 

It’s a shock now to realise how limited women’s roles were in the police, even in the late 60s. When I wrote the first draft of the book A Song From Dead Lips, I optimistically relegated my police constable, Helen Tozer to the role of driver for my detective Sergeant Breen.  Only after completing the draft did I speak to women who had been in the same Division as Tozer would have been in.

Drive a car?” they said, eyebrows raised. “No, we wouldn’t have been doing that in
1968.” Even in swinging 1968, cars were men’s work.

But by 1969, when the final book in the trilogy, A Book of Scars is set, the first whiffs of change were finally arriving. That was the year the separate Women’s Branch was finally dissolved.

That year, deciding that women police needed a new image - but terrified of them losing their femininity - the Met commissioned Royal dress designer Norman Hartnell to create this shapely new uniform (with convenient pocket in the A-line skirt to conceal truncheons!). The one for the City of London Police came with added polka dots and matching cravats that made the poor officers look like flight attendants.

In A Song From Dead Lips, Helen Tozer dreams of becoming a Detective Constable. The first woman wouldn’t achieve that rule until five years later in 1973.

Five years ago, teenager Alexandra Tozer was murdered on her family farm. Her sister Helen Tozer will never forget. Returning home after quitting the Met Police, she brings with her the recovering Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen, who slowly becomes possessed by the unsolved case.

He discovers the Tozers were never told the whole truth. Alexandra was tortured for twenty-four hours before she died. But when he tracks down the original investigating sergeant, the man goes missing. And so does Helen.

Suspicion falls on her. But Breen is on a trail that goes far beyond the death of a schoolgirl. For the two men connected to this case met in Kenya, during the Mau Mau uprising; and the history that Britain has turned its face from is now returning to haunt it.

So when another innocent woman is abducted, Breen knows he has just twenty-four hours to save her.

The third book in a powerful deconstruction of the sixties, A Book of Scars tears strips off the Drug Squad, the Kenya Emergency and the upheaval of society as we knew it - to lay bare forgotten crimes, and tell the history of the losers.

A Book of Scars by William Shaw is published 4th June by Quercus, price £19.99 in Hardback

More information about William Shaw and his work can be found on his website.

You can follow William Shaw on Twitter - @william1shaw and you can also find him on Facebook

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