Police Driving Course
Soon after the various Police Forces in Sussex amalgamated a drivingschool was set up. It was apparent that the new Sussex Police Constabulary wanted more vehicles on the road and so therefore more drivers too.
The driving courses were discussed by senior officers as how the best way that they should be run. They were under the auspicious of the Traffic Division and from that department were picked the instructors and the officers who would test the students driving ability and if possible to pass them as police drivers.
It was also agreed that the course would also run ‘learner-driver’ courses and I became quite excited at this, hoping that I would be one of those selected to make the course.
I submitted my application and was very excited when I learnt that I had been selected to be one of the students.
At this time, early in 1968 the school consisted of one examiner, Sergeant Dave Jennings and three instructors, all traffic trained and very good drivers. The instructor everyone wanted to be with was Constable Lionel Robb, a very experienced policeman and an excellent driver.
I was lucky as on the very first morning I was put with him and also two other students, one lad was from Eastbourne and the other from Brighton, Constable Eric Bedwell.
We spent a few days in the classroom but eventually we went to our car which was to be our ‘home’ for the next 5 weeks. The course was worked out that you spent 4 weeks under tuition and then on the Friday of the 4th week you took your driving test, just as in Civvy Street. Dave Jennings would take you on the test drive and you had to be first rate before he would pass you. He was pretty strict but also very fair.
The 5th week was spent getting you up to police driving standard whereby you had to pass at a high standard. Some passed it and went on to become GP drivers. Those that failed would then apply for a further driving course, which would last a further 4 weeks.
Ford Cortina MK1,
The car we were going to drive was an unmarked Ford Cortina MK1, a nice car and had a nice turn of speed. The vehicle was in the back yard of John Street Police Station and we went from the classroom down to the car and took our places, Lionel, taking the driver’s seat. He drove us down to Madera Drive, just past the Colonnade. He got out and invited me to take the drivers seat, while he sat in the front passenger seat. He reminded me of the ‘cockpit’ drill and once I was happy with that he told me to drive away. I drove away at a very modest speed and after a minute, Lionel reminded me that I could drive a little faster should I wish – I was then travelling at close on 20mph. and driving a police car, albeit an unmarked one. The other two pupils sitting in the rear of the car was equally thrilled at being in a police car.
We spent quite a while on Madeira Drive while we all had a short drive; Lionel later drove us back to John Street.
As each day elapsed we drove further and further away from John Street and started going to places in Kent and various places in Sussex.
Just Leave, it they said. PATROL
After about three weeks which included some class room tuition; things were going quite well. Lionel was a wonderful tutor and we felt very much at ease with him. However, we were told that we would get some sort of ‘mental block’ during the course and after the end of the third week I got mine. Nothing made sense and I kept forgetting things I had been taught. I was all for packing it up but Lionel assured me that it would very soon all make sense. He was right and once again I enjoyed the course. Almost 4 weeks had elapsed and at the end of the fourth week we were to take our tests with the examiner.
My turn came at the end of the morning session, the last one before lunch. I got into the unmarked police car and the examiner, Sergeant Dave Jennings got into the passenger seat. He said, ‘when you are ready.’ I took a deep breath and commenced my ‘cockpit’ checks. I looked behind me and signalled that I was moving off. We left the rear of John Street and drove up Carlton Hill to the top and into Queens Park Road. There was no traffic as I emerged into this road. I drove along Queens Park Road strictly adhering to the speed limit of 30 mph. I stopped at the end but made a smooth right turn into Elm Grove and up to the Race Hill. I was told to follow this road to Woodingdean. It was a very pleasant day and the traffic was light. We soon reached Woodingdean and I turned right into Falmer Road and drove down to Rottingdean, one eye on my speed at all times. Sergeant Jennings didn’t say a word apart from giving me directions. We stopped at the traffic lights in Rottingdean and I was told to turn right and make my way towards Brighton. ‘Parking two pandas together in a unit garage was asking for trouble.’ PATROL
I drove at the correct speed along the seafront and I had been warned that I should make good speed and keep to the speed limits along the seafront. I increased my speed gently until I was travelling at 50 mph. I felt very relaxed and this speed was comfortable to me. We neared Marine Gate and I dropped my speed back to 30 mph and carried on along the seafront.
I was given plenty of notice as I was told to turn right into Lower Rock Gardens. I knew what was coming, the steep hill by the traffic lights in Upper Rock Gardens. The traffic lights invariable showed red and of course then it was a standing start on a steep hill, just what the examiner wanted.
The lights were red as I approached and green as I reached them and so I drove straight through, without having to stop. I breathed a sigh of relief as I drove down Edward Street towards the police station. I was expecting the sergeant to say, turn right into John Street but he didn’t. He said straight on to the bottom and turn left towards the seafront. He then told me to turn into St. James Street, which I did. Straight up St James Street and into Upper Rock Gardens. I see now what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to get stopped at the traffic lights. I drove up the hill towards the traffic lights and again they showed green as I reached them, turn left he ordered. Down Edward Street we went and I thought I was going to take another shot at it but no, he said, ok turn into John Street and park in the rear car park.
We stopped in the car park; my back was dripping with sweat, lock it up and go for your lunch he said.
During the afternoon the final few drivers took their tests and we were then gathered into the classroom for the results. Sergeant Jennings came in and read out the results, he called my name and looked at me, ‘passed’ he said. I was overjoyed; I had taken three civilian driving tests and failed them all, at last I was a driver. Well, not really, I had only passed a test; my driving skills would come later.
I had missed being a police car driver by a mere three marks and was a little disappointed but it was to my advantage as I managed to get another driving course a few months later, which helped me very much with my driving skills.
The fifth week was spent on improving your driving skills and we went quit long distances including up to London and onto the M1, the only motorway in the south at that time. We went to Goodwood and using their motor track and skid-pan as well as driving down to Hampshire and to Maidstone in Kent.
At the end of that week the course came to an end, I enjoyed it immensely.
I must have learned something on these two course as later on as G.P. driver I spent close on 90,000 miles either driving or as a passenger in my G.P. car and had no accidents, although at times it meant driving at speed on an emergency. Most of my driving time was spent in company with Bob Kennard, in fact we spent about 7 years together and both got on very well. You had to work as a team to be effective and I like to think we were a pretty good team, often turning up first at a number of serious incidents. More about that later.