Those of you who live and work in the City of London, or visit for business or pleasure, will I am sure have heard the muted growl of powerful motorcycles being ridden smoothly and with panache.
- Chris Jagger
Soon a white motorcycle comes into view, and the rider stops and blocks the traffic using only a whistle and hand signals, then the outriders follow, and in a blur, a Royal Car if you are lucky, or a visiting dignitary flashes past, a few seconds later the rider flags the traffic on and is gone
It is a scene that I have seen repeated many times over the years, and in my formative years possibly planted a seed that led to me riding motorcycles for pleasure
I am old enough to recall the white Triumph Tigers, riders in black with white open face helmets, then the first of the BMW twins with leg shields and small panniers adorned with the Royal Crest, later the K series were a regular sight, with the clipped down fairings and small panniers, and latterly powerful Honda V4s with their stylish fairings and very discreet markings mark them out as a cut above others.
Escorting the Monarch by Chris Jagger
First of all I must apologise to the the other reviewers for blagging this book, I heard about this book through an old friend who is mentioned in it, and asked Auld Yin if I might get a copy to review. Chris Jagger's father was a member of the Special Escort Group, riding a BMW twin; growing up he was lucky to see his father ride and be a member of an elite and highly regarded unit. Trips to the garage at Barnes (now long gone) left a lasting influence, although he did not follow his father into a motorcycle career, Chris has written this long overdue book about the escort group. Using interviews with former members, archives, and the assistance of the present day SEG , he has produced a fine work that details the birth of the unit, and its growth and influence upon many other Nations police units
After Chris`s preface and acknowledgements there comes an introduction by Chief Superintendent John Baldwin, who has the honour of being the longest serving Chief of the SEG. John relates how upon leaving the Royal Engineers in 1947 he joined the Metropolitan Police, and in January 1960 newly promoted to Sergeant he took over the SEG and for the next 13 years he was an instrumental figure in its growth, and relates with pride his part in the moulding of this unit.
By HRH Prince Michael of Kent
Prince Michael relates his experiences with the group, and some of the lesser experiences with other foreign escort services whose standards fall well below our own.
Chris starts off the book by introducing you to the way in which the SEG operate and the standards required from all of its members. From interviews he relates the work from the riders and drivers points of view, all this without disclosing any secrets that could threaten the safety of the people they escort. Reading it from the point of view of an observer you realise just how much work and training is involved, and also that it is a team effort.
Chapter 1 the 1950s
Here we learn of the birth of the unit in November of 1952, the Yugoslav Prime Minister Marshal Tito was preparing to visit in March the following year, however enhanced security precautions were needed as this was the Cold War Period, and threats had been made against Tito.
Police motorcycles had of course been a common sight from as far back as 1910; in the 30s mobile traffic police units came into being. During war time members of the White Helmets had been used on some ceremonial occasions when it was consider too expensive or hazardous to transport Cavalry horses around the country.
The first real Police motorcycle escorts took place during the festival of Britain in 1951, moving guests and participants between the locations and hotels. Before the SEG was formed Special Branch gave close protection in unmarked armoured cars.
Inspector Arthur Tisdall was involved in the choice of 22 police officer selected for the job and training went on at Hendon in North London.
Part of the training was carried out at an RAF station in order to keep it private from the public and the press.
The motorcycles used, Triumph Speed twins, soon became became an icon of police motorcycling.
Apart from a flare being thrown, Tito's trip was uneventful as the motorcycles formed a tight cordon around his car, many of the groups manoeuvrers they used were gleaned from observing the Household Cavalry!
From this point, Police escorts became part of the background to Ceremonial visits
The Queen's Coronation then became the catalyst for them to be seen the world over, and the sight of a Red Speed twin being ridden with skill escorting dignitaries became part of our British Social history.
Further visits are covered in details such as that of Eisenhower and then the formation of the Motorcycle Precision Team, who gave displays and gave a much better view of motorcycles to the general public at large.
Chapter 2 the 1960s
Mods and rockers, and assassinations. The merging with the Traffic Division, and The Retirement of Arthur Tisdall; his replacement in 1959 was Charles Jean Day who had joined the Met in 1934, he had served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Havelock. This period became so busy that he had to appoint a second in command to manage the displays and escorts; he picked Sergeant John Baldwin a second World war veteran with the RE who joined the Met in 1947. Chris was lucky enough to be able to Interview John, who well into his 90s was lucid and told him much about the unit's work.
Graham hills laps of a racetrack alongside the unit are also mentioned ( I wont spoil it too much here).
Then there are details behind such personalities as Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, who was greatly admired by the unit, the visits of Foreign Royals, American Presidents, and then Operation Hope, the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill; origional maps of the procession route are included, along with a change to a new steed, the Triumph Thunderbird.
Each motorcycle is illustrated at the end of a chapter along with its history and alterations for this type of work
Chapter 3 the 1970s
The cold war, the missile crisis, and M15 are covered. The first wave of anarchists determined to kill to further their cause, also criminal gangs arming themselves and sorting out problems at the point of a gun. The attempted Kidnapping of Princess Anne followed by the attack on El Al aircrew leads to a realisation that the unit needed to be armed. The installation of sirens for the first time and then across the board to other police vehicles, and the introduction of the Range Rover with a sting in its tail is covered.
The Funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten is spoken of with dignity and the unit's task of escorting his Cortège from his home in Romsey to the Chapel at St James, and then his final journey in an open land-rover escorted by a group of tanks with the SEG at the front riding at 5 miles per hour !
The unit's creation and adopting of its own coat of arms and then my favourite motorcycle the Triumph TR6 Saint.
Chapter 4 the 1980s
The unit now has its own Gar age in Barnes (long gone now thanks to police cuts) and a brand new motorcycle, the BMW R80. Now comes the big change, as escorting is combined with anti hijack training more firearms training and the ability to drive unusual vehicles including passenger coaches and 4x4s off road ,and other emergency vehicles.
The Iranian Embassy siege involves the unit, and its meeting with the Hereford Gun Club but no names of course! The Pope's visit and the unit's involvement, including two drunken paddies who get a personal audience with his holiness, and the design and background work behind the popemobile is thoroughly covered.
The rather black year of 1983 is illustrated to show just how much things have changed, the accidental shooting of Stephen Waldorf by Met Police officers, after he was mistaken for the wanted criminal David Martin, and following Martin's eventual and difficult capture, the possibility of the unit being dissolved came into being. They were then given other work to do such as policing the new red routes in the city and then dragged into the miners strike.
By 1985 things got back to normal and they were once again given permission to carry firearms.
Then the terrible murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and the SEG,s involvement, after this the Harrods Bomb, and the Brighton Bomb continued to keep the unit busy and on their toes.
Escorting Margaret Thatcher is mentioned and some of the unusual things that happened on those runs followed by the unit being used to escort Gold bullion across the city. The chapter ends with the BMW R80, a particular favourite of two young men now in the public eye.
Chapter 5 the 1990s
A new dawn. The end of the Precision Riding Team, I must admit that until reading this I had not realised that they travelled overseas, a trip to Germany included a display in the football stadium in Hanover is mentioned.
This era brought in many changes; personal fitness, special branch courses, royalty protection, and the requirement to obtain a PCV licence all this alongside training with the Fire and Ambulance services and the Household Cavalry. New weapons training to cope with the HK MP5, plus a mention of Royal Escorts and exactly what is involved
Included is a copy of a letter From Princess Diana, and how much the boys (William and Harry) enjoyed their day out, being allowed to play on the motorcycles, ( this may have set a Royal Precedent as I know they are both very skilled and competent riders)
VE Day celebrations, the visit of Nelson Mandela, and a few hitherto untold stories of that event, then the unit's rather Black day when they were tasked with Escorting the Princess on her final Journey. I had heard a little bit about this from an old friend who was part of it, but the officers here relate their experiences of that day, and just how much planning and rehearsal was involved to ensure that the day proceeded with dignity and grace.
Their charity work is also mentioned along with the assistance of Princess Diana in raising money for Dreamflight.
Chris then mentions his role when having just turned 19 his father, although retired from the force, was hired by the Met to assist with the Europe Asia Conference ( I think he found his course in life here).
The Chapter ends with an overview of the BMW K100, a cracking motorcycle to ride and its mods to suit the SEG.
Chapter 7 The Future
The skills needed to become a member and the sort of tasks you are expected to cover, and the newest BMW the R1100RS, a letter of Appreciation from Charles.
The newest recruit to the team, the Honda VFR1200F with its top speed of 157MPH 0 to 60 in under 3 seconds and the small details that mark it out as an escort bike.
29 high quality Black and White Photographs are included, images never seen before by the public and copies of letters of appreciation from appreciative users.
This book is easily readable and will interest a wide range of people, from those that ride motorcycles, to members of the Police force and retired members, along with the general public who can for the first time have an insight into the hard work and training that allows VIPs to move swiftly and safety through a busy metropolis such as London, without interrupting its busy schedule