They donÂ´t make em like this anymore - from the rich pickings of the Daily Telegraph Obit page, I give you "Tanky" Challenor: Harold 'Tanky' Challenor won a Military Medal for his part in an SAS operation to disrupt rail movements behind German lines in northern Italy during the Second World War; afterwards he joined the Metropolitan Police and became a legendary scourge of Soho gangsters Â until his career came to grief over accusations of fabricating evidence, and he was found to be insane. On September 7 1943, as part of Operation Speedwell, Challenor and five other SAS soldiers were dropped by parachute several hundred miles behind German lines in the Appenines, north of La Spezia; after their landing rendezvous, the group split to attack separate targets Âand four of the six were never seen alive again. With Lieutenant Thomas Wedderburn, who was nicknamed "Tojo" for his short stature and thick glasses, Challenor moved across mountainous terrain by night until they found their objective, a tunnel on the La Spezia-Bologna line. As they finished placing their charges, they heard a train approaching on the "down" line and had to sprint for their lives out of the tunnel. Moments after the first explosion, a second train rattled into the tunnel on the "up" line. Both trains were derailed and destroyed amid an almighty cacophony of torn metal and splintered wood, and the line was completely blocked. A few days later, Tanky and Tojo blew up another train on the Pontremoli-La Spezia line for good measure, then set off southwards in the hope of finding the Allied lines. They walked for 300 miles until they reached L'Alquila, some 80 miles north of Cassino, where the Allied advance had stalled. Here a peasant matriarch, Mama Eliseio, took them in Âuntil they were finally captured, just after Christmas. Wedderburn was to spend the rest of the war in captivity but Challenor, having been told he was about to be executed, did not linger: he simply walked out of Alquila PoW camp disguised as a washerwoman, and returned to the Eliseio family farm, where he stayed, severely weakened by malaria and pneumonia, until April. Then he ventured southwards again, only to be recaptured just short of the front line. This time he made a run for it in bare feet, and got through.Given a cigarette and a mug of tea, he sat on an ammo box and said repeatedly: "I've done it, you bastards." The citation for his Military Medal said: "Throughout the seven months spent behind enemy lines this NCO displayed the highest courage and determination." Challenor's reputation as a fighting soldier, and his physical toughness, carried him forward in his post-war police career. Having made his name in Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, he was promoted in 1962 to detective sergeant at West End Central, where he pursued a high-profile crusade against racketeers, drug dealers and pimps. In his regular appearances in the witness box at the Old Bailey, he made his beat sound like 1920s Chicago. "Fighting crime in Soho was like trying to swim against a tide of sewage," he wrote later. "For every villain put behind bars there were always two more to take their place." In response, Challenor's modus operandi became increasingly violent and unorthodox: in the case of a Barbadian called Padmore, brought in on suspicion of living off immoral earnings, it involved singing "Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo", while repeatedly punching the suspect. Challenor was hated and feared by the criminal fraternity, and began to develop a reputation for planting evidence when necessary to take those he regarded as undoubted villains off the streets. Some of his most celebrated convictions were later to be reversed on appeal. But the case which brought his downfall concerned a demonstration against a state visit by Queen Frederika of Greece, whose wartime Nazi associations had provoked some public hostility, outside Claridge's in July 1963. One of those arrested was Donald Rooum, a member of the National Council of Civil Liberties, who had been doing nothing more threatening than carrying a banner. But according to Challenor â who greeted him with "You're f***ing nicked, my beauty. Boo the Queen, would you?" and a series of slaps round the head âÂ he had also been carrying a half-brick, which if deemed to be an offensive weapon could have earned him a two-year sentence.Forensics, however, found no brickdust or appropriate wear and tear in Rooum's pockets, and the upshot was that Challenor was himself brought to trial at the Old Bailey in June 1964 on a charge of corruption. Such was his behaviour by then that he was found unfit to plead, and was in due course committed to Netherne mental hospital; a subsequent enquiry found that he had probably been suffering from the onset of paranoid schizophrenia for some months before the Rooum incident. Certainly he had become very erratic, but his reputation as a crimefighter led senior officers to turn a blind eye, and even encourage his excesses. Harold Gordon Challenor was born on March 16 1922 near Bilston in Staffordshire, the son of a brutal, hard-drinking and often out-of-work father, Tom. Eventually the family settled in Watford, where Tom became a nurse in a mental hospital and scotched the idea that young Harry might either take up a grammar school scholarship or play league football. Instead, at 14, Harry was sent to work in the local barber's shop. As a teenager he went on to pursue a variety of lines of work, including nursing in the same asylum as his father Ââ not to be close to him, Harry said, but to keep away from him out of hours, since single men were allowed to live in. Fond of a drink and with an eye for the girls, he had a sense that his life was drifting to the bad,Â but that he had finally found the right path in 1941 when, having been turned down by the Navy and the RAF, he was called up for the Army. Assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps on the strength of his nursing experience, he was posted to Algiers. There two officers â one of them Randolph Churchill Ââ arrived in his camp looking for recruits for 62 Commando, which in due course became part of 2nd SAS Regiment. Challenor volunteered, but having lost his first Commando beret he had to make do with a Tank Corps one: hence the nickname "Tanky", which stuck with him for the rest of his life. Toughened by his upbringing and as fit as any man in the Army, "I was the most aggressive medical orderly the Commandos ever had," Challenor recalled. His officers took note, and he was soon transferred to a fighting unit, but saw frustratingly little action until his Italian escapade. Having recovered from it, he went on to participate in the autumn of 1944 in Operation Wallace in northern France, in which SAS units in armoured Jeeps carried out guerrilla warfare to disrupt German transport and troop movements. Numerous close-combat episodes were to follow in which Challenor gave expression to what had become a visceral hatred of Germans, Âand his unit was in the vanguard when the Rhine was crossed in March 1945. Promoted to sergeant, he went on to serve in Norway and Palestine; typical of his demeanour was his own account of how he fulfilled an order to exercise a group of Gestapo prisoners in Stavanger: "One of them made the mistake of smiling at me. The gaze I returned had him backing away. Then I took them out one by one and exercised them with some stiff fisticuffs." More worryingly, he had begun to experience moments of violent delusion which prefigured his later troubles. After demobilisation, Challenor worked in a foundry, but in 1951 he answered an advertisement to join the Met, and began his new career as a constable on the beat in Mitcham. He transferred to CID and established himself as a tough, hard-working detective; a series of glowing annual reports were rewarded in 1958 with a transfer to the Flying Squad at Scotland Yard. The 1964 trial was a bizarre end to his colourful police career. After a very extended stay in Netherne mental hospital, Âwhich he came to refer to jokingly as "my country home"Â, Challenor returned to a quiet home life and eventually found work as a solicitor's clerk in Norbury. On one occasion, dispatched to Brixton to obtain a statement from a remand prisoner, he remarked to a prison officer: "I used to come here as CID, then I came as a prisoner myself, and now I'm here for the defence. That's what you call bloody good all-round experience." The remand prisoner took a different view, and asked for a new solicitor. Challenor published a memoir, SAS and the Met, co-written with Alfred Draper, in 1990: its cover displayed, in counterpoint, his wartime medals and a half-brick. To his SAS generation, Tanky remained a revered comrade-in-arms. He married, in 1944, Doris Broome, and they adopted a son. Doris, who stood by him throughout his bouts of mental illness, predeceased him.