I Am Norwell Roberts

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
I am Norwell Roberts - The Story of the Met's first Black police officer



This is a very interesting and well written book detailing the life and career of Norwell Roberts, who joined the Metropolitan Police as their first Black police officer in 1967. The early chapters of the book relate to his early childhood through to joining the police, and contain some good anecdotes – he has an excellent memory and is generous in his praise of the friends he made and those who took care of him as he grew up.

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Born in Anguilla in the West Indies, his early life was shaped by his mother and his disciplinarian grandparents, who, being of the opinion that discipline had to hurt to be effective, administered solid beatings at frequent intervals. He appears to be of the opinion that this helped give him a strong sense of right and wrong, although I do have my doubts about this as my father received the same and almost ended up in Borstal, so there were probably other factors in play. Leaving the island at the age of ten (and not looking back), he sailed to England to live with his mother, who had travelled before him. To say that the racism he was met with was intense would be something of an understatement and it's clear that it permeated his early life in the UK. This is not, however, a lengthy list of grievances, and he spends a substantial amount of time writing glowingly of those who helped him and his mother, whether it be the elderly lady who employed his mother or the girl next door who played and danced with him when her openly racist parents weren't watching – all this despite the social ostracism and pettiness with which they were also treated for befriending him. Those who should have been the good people, but weren't, also get a mention, and although they aren't named there are a few tart comments attached to their immortalised-in-print memory. He does a good job of balancing the bad with the good throughout the book and it works well.

The way in which he was treated during his school years seems to have varied with the institution, with some being apparently devoid of racism and others stuffed with it. Nevertheless, he made some good mates and enjoyed some good times while he was growing up despite the background drumbeat of hostility, and became, in time, a very resilient young man. This would stand him in good stead.

His treatment when he entered the police was a shock, even for him. To be honest, although I wasn't so much as a twinkle in my father's eye at the time, I do recognise the type of situation in which he found himself from my engineering apprenticeship in the early 90's – vastly different circumstances, of course, and very watered down, but all the same, it did seem familiar. You get a hard core of low achieving, time serving bullies who think they run the joint, a circle of willing accomplices, a wider circle of weak characters who keep their heads down and play along with it to avoid drawing fire upon themselves, all overseen by mediocre managers who are either complicit in it, afraid of challenging the leaders, or ignore the problem and hope it goes away whilst muttering vague promises to resolve the issues. Yeah, I recognise it. Norwell Roberts was at ground zero at the height of this type of rubbish and suffered for it. Some of it was extremely malicious, other parts just plain idiotic. “Accidentally” spilling tea over someone, what is this, kindergarten? From grown adults? Come on now. Anyway, suffice it to say that much of the behaviour does not look good in retrospect and his resilience was tested to almost breaking point. But not past it. It is very notable that the author does not name names throughout this book – although he'd have been well within his rights to – merely referring to people by their rank or job title. This was obviously a conscious decision as it's unlikely that someone who recalls their earlier years with such detail will have forgotten them, but perhaps knowing that the perpetrators will recognise themselves and, perhaps, be shamed by it, is enough for him. I have no doubt, however, that the sphincters of some people with carefully nurtured reputations will have tightened somewhat when they heard that this book was being written. But, their secrets are safe.

This book is not all racism and bullying. As with his schooling, the way in which he was treated varied from place to place, and he settled into a good spot with decent colleagues. A copper to the bone, the author has (as would anyone with thirty years in the police) some excellent anecdotes and shares a lot of them as he goes. He obviously loved his job and the community work that came with it, and if that community work happened to be lifting criminals who weren't nearly as clever as they thought they were, well all the better. These stories fill a good portion of the book and he's a very good salesman for a career in the police. I read this book, looked at my mundane life, and wished I could turn the clock back 25 years and make a few different choices.

Following his retirement the author seems to have busied himself with doing good works and harrumphing about young police officers these days, they aren't what they were when I was in the force you know – both traditional and honourable British pastimes. Thirty years serving the public does entitle one to membership of the Disgusted From Tunbridge Wells local newspaper letter writing club more than most, and it is quite fitting that his sustained efforts should have taken him from poor immigrant boy to respected pillar of the community whose views make the front page when he deigns to offer them. Good man, well earned, and all the more power to him.

A very good book, written by a man who forgives but does not forget - not my usual fare, but an enjoyable read despite the sometimes difficult subject matter. I'm happy to recommend it, top marks.


 
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Grownup_Rafbrat

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Thanks for doing that, @Whining Civvy . Sounds like a book I should like to read!
 

Whining Civvy

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Thanks for doing that, @Whining Civvy . Sounds like a book I should like to read!
You're welcome, and thanks for sending it to me. I had to read it twice as the first time I didn't want to stop and take notes - it's definitely worth your time.
 
I concur, I know Norwell (and the guy that pestered him to tell his story) through Freemasonary. It is an easy book to read, whilst being a difficult read, you really feel for him.
If anyone wants a copy of the book dedicated by Norwell, I'm sure I can twist his arm, though he will probably insist on a donation to charity.
 
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Grownup_Rafbrat

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I concur, I know Norwell (and the guy that pestered him to tell his story) through Freemasonary. It is an easy book to read, whilst being a difficult read , you really feel for him.
If anyone wants a copy of the book dedicated by Norwell, I'm sure I can twist his arm, though he will probably insist on a donation to charity.
Can he sign the version I put onto Mr. GRB's Kindle? :) :)

Seriously, I paid for it on the strength of the review. The power of the Arrse Book Club!
 
I concur, I know Norwell (and the guy that pestered him to tell his story) through Freemasonary. It is an easy book to read, whilst being a difficult read, you really feel for him.
If anyone wants a copy of the book dedicated by Norwell, I'm sure I can twist his arm, though he will probably insist on a donation to charity.

I would absolutely be delighted if you were able make that happen. I envy y0ou that you are lucky enough to know him.
 

Legs

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It sounds like a great book. So it's now in my Audible playlist for when I'm in the car or the workshop.
 
I remember when PC Roberts worked in Central London as a probationer and I saw him on his beat when I was working there so I believe he was working out of the old Charing Cross Police station.
And of course I knew of him from the publicity (he had a different surname then but that's of no consequence)
My heart went out to him when I heard the vile name calling from one of the many aggressive down and out drunkards in the area, No individual should ever be on the receiving end of that treatment but he was handling it with aplomb
He looked every inch the copper, unlike many you see in London these days.
I'd often wonder how he fared once out of the glare of publicity and I guess this book answers the questions.
 
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Grownup_Rafbrat

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I concur, I know Norwell (and the guy that pestered him to tell his story) through Freemasonary. It is an easy book to read, whilst being a difficult read, you really feel for him.
If anyone wants a copy of the book dedicated by Norwell, I'm sure I can twist his arm, though he will probably insist on a donation to charity.
Would he consider donating a signed copy that I could auction here, for Combat Stress, do you think?
 
Would he consider donating a signed copy that I could auction here, for Combat Stress, do you think?
Norwell, is a very charitable man, I have no doubt he would oblige.
I'll get him to sign my copy and I will post that to you.
I'll ping you for your address once I have a signed copy for you.
 

Grownup_Rafbrat

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Norwell, is a very charitable man, I have no doubt he would oblige.
I'll get him to sign my copy and I will post that to you.
I'll ping you for your address once I have a signed copy for you.
You sir, are an angel. Thank you.
 
I will be getting this on the basis of this review, thanks
 

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