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Early Career Memories at Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus c1965, London
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I started my career in January 1959 as a young bobby at West End Central Police Station Savile Row.  The trestles positioned to the east of 'Eros' which cordon off the road suggest the photograph was taken when the Piccadilly one-way system was being introduced.  I remember the elegant stonework of the County Fire Office benefited from the recently enacted 'Clean Air Act'.  Much of the grimey architecture in the area was scrubbed by a water process from scaffolding usually by a firm called 'Szezelmy' (or a very similar spelling).  Just right of the 'Skol' advert the low hoarding hides a wartime bomb site.  Just around that corner was the Windmill Theatre in Great Windmill Street where many stars of radio and stage began their careers.  In the early 60's (before the introduction of police pocket radios) there was a 'police post' near the traffic light bottom left of your picture.  A PC was detailed to stand near the post.  He usually stood close to the display window of 'Swann & Edgars' shop which was just to the left of the picture.  The post's light would flash and the PC would be sent to various incidents in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus.  Visitors and tourists would ply him with all kinds of questions upto 250+ per shift in the season and they would often form a queue.  The post surmounted by its light is just visible to the left of the Tube entrance stairs.  The short box beside the traffic light I believe is a traffic light control box.  Each set of lights had a small lockable container strapped to the traffic light post and a PC could use his police postbox key to open the container.  Inside was a special control key which when used on the box enabled a push button manual override for the light's sequence.

Written by Mr WR Payne. To send Mr WR Payne a private message, click here.

A memory of London in Greater London shared on Thursday, 6th April 2006.

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RE: Early Career Memories at Piccadilly Circus.

This policeman's memories are fascinating - it brings back to life the times when my granny Mrs Florence Norfolk took me around London in the late 1940s and early 1950's. I too remember the bombsites and the helpful policemen.
On one such visit granny took me to stand in The Mall as she knew that King George would be passing by in a coach and horses (presumably he was entertaining some visiting royalty). Granny warned me beforehand that I should raise my cap as he passed. All schoolboys wore caps in those days! I was anxious about forgetting to raise my cap so I took it off in advance!

Comment from John Howard Norfolk on Tuesday, 21st November 2006.

RE: Early Career Memories at Piccadilly Circus.

Mr Payne,
I wonder if you were still working as a policeman in the Soho area in 1969, early seventies? And if you remember seeing young homeless people or came into contact with a charity called Centrepoint that was founded then? Just doing a bit of research.

Comment from Anne Layzell on Wednesday, 13th June 2007.

RE: Early Career Memories at Piccadilly Circus.

I too was a bobby at West End Central in the early 60s and Mr Payne's description brought back so many memories.

I would point out that the traffic lights at Piccadilly Circus were not installed until, to the best of my recollection, 1963, which means that this picture could not have been taken before then. Prior to 1963 traffic was controlled at the Circus by 4 officers stationed at the Lower Regent Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue junctions. (This was in addition to the PC stationed at the telephone post, known as 61 post - don't forget that this was before radios, and these phone posts and "tardises" were the main means of communication between the station and the guys on the beat.) Traffic at the Circus was controlled by the 4 PCs from7 am and 11 pm - i.e. 2 shifts. The routine for controlling the traffic was synchronized and the posting was tedious, to say the least!. The introduction of traffic lights was liberating - there were other traffic points throughout the West End which were also "lighted" at the same time. One point of interest: the pillars on which the traffic lights were mounted at Piccadilly Circus were unusual. they were elaborate and bronzed, not the black and white striped jobs to be seen throughout the rest of the UK. I can't remember the precise reason for this, but I seem to recall that it required special legislation to escape the then regulations for traffic lights design. Wonder if they are still non-regulation?

How many hours must I have spent either at 61 post or controlling traffic there between 1961 and 1963? Heigh Ho.

Comment from Richard Pratt on Friday, 21st May 2010.


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