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How city police force fought crime on Cardiff's streets in the 60s.

Byline: Abbie Wightwick Reporter

THEY had no radios, no cars and no computers to help in the fight against crime.

Officers from the old Cardiff City Police force patrolled with nothing but whistles and truncheons.

If they were needed in an emergency, pillars on the streets lit up to warn them.

Now the forgotten world of the force, which disbanded in 1969 to join other forces as South Wales Police, has been remembered in a new book by former officer John Wake.

The retired policeman, who rose from constable on the beat to detective in his 28-year career from 1966 to 1994, remembers the 1960s as a tough time when officers had to rely on the community to help.

"When you left the station, you were on your own. All you had was a whistle. No handcuffs," he said. "It was a tough job. A good officer was part of the community, part of the street furniture. If they were in trouble, the only communication was to blow a whistle, which 99% of the time was pointless."

John's book And Tiger Bay Died Too tells anecdotes and stories of police life in Cardiff and the street life of the city in the 1950s and 60s.

He interviewed former police, some in their nineties, to record stories that would otherwise be forgotten.

Illuminating what life was like for a "copper" half a century ago, the book tells tales from the beat trodden when Cardiff rocked to the sounds of The Beatles, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and Westgate Street was the haunt of prostitutes.

"Police today go out with stab vests and tasers. When we got the first police radios in 1967, we had to drop the aerials down our trouser legs and into our socks," John recalled.

"I remember a big fight on Great Western Lane when police were jumping up and down trying to point their signal aerials to the police station. It was chalk and cheese to policing today."

Cardiff was different too.

John, who covered central Cardiff and Butetown, recalls a bustling community in the old Tiger Bay, a multicultural area crammed with pubs visited by docking sailors and locals alike.

"There were fights but they tended to be started by visitors, not locals. At night, Cardiff could be pretty aggressive then.

"In those days, the biggest centres of prostitution were Westgate Street, where the NCP car park is now, and outside the Custom House pub in Butetown. It was an accepted part of life.

"The prostitutes were good as gold and helped out sometimes. You could be in trouble with a couple of sailors fighting and they would jump in or get assistance."

There was also glamour in the city.

When The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came to play at the Capitol in Queen Street, security was so tight they couldn't drive into town for the gig.

|Instead the band members went to the central police station to be driven in a secure Black Maria so as not to be hurt by the thousands of screaming fans.

John, who doesn't name retired officers he spoke to for security reasons, said one told him that when The Beatles came, John Lennon was so tired he didn't know where he was.

"It was December 1965 and John Lennon got in the back of the Black Maria and said 'where are the kilts?'. The police had to tell him 'you're in Wales not Scotland now'.

"Another officer got into the vehicle with all The Beatles and their crew who asked him for cigarettes. He handed them out until there wasn't one for him."

It was time of change with the old docks and police walking the beat with whistles while rock bands and revolution stirred.

"It was a hedonistic era," said John.

"There were drugs and racial problems and some people called the police pigs.

"There were no breathalysers so if you thought someone was drunk driving you made them try to walk straight along a white line you marked on the ground."

But he remembers it as a good time, when officers knew their communities well.

"You could be apprehensive if you came across pub fights and had to go in on your own. There was no radio to get assistance. But in Butetown where I worked people knew you and you knew them.

"Cardiff City police was a family. You policed your city and you were proud of it."

Cancer survivor John, who now lives in Carmarthenshire, wrote his book, which has sold PS1,500 worth of copies, to raise funds for cancer charities and local causes.

And Tiger Bay Died Too can only be purchased from Cancer Research Wales Shops in Cardiff and the Butetown Historic and Arts Centre for PS10, or via Amazon Kindle download.

All profits go to Cancer Research and Butetown Historic and Arts Centre.


| Docks workers at Tiger Bay

Former Detective Inspector John Wake

The Cardiff Police Black Maria that was used to tranport rock stars such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones safely to gigs in the city in the 1960s. Right, fans wait for the Beatles outside the Capitol Theatre in 1964 | The Cardiff Police Black Maria that was used to tranport rock stars such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones safely to gigs in the city in the 1960s. Right, fans wait for the Beatles outside the Capitol Theatre in 1964

A policeman on his way to work in Canton in the 1960s | A policeman on his way to work in Canton in the 1960s

Former policeman John Wake outside Bute Town Police station inspecting a flat tyre on the beat in the 1960s
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 9, 2016
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