Today’s song is ‘Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown’. This song was written by American folk-rock singer, Jim Croce. Released as part of his 1973 album ‘Life and Times’, the song was a Number 1 pop hit for him. ‘Billboard’ ranked it as the Number 2 song for 1973.
Croce was nominated for two 1973 Grammy Awards in the ‘Pop Male Vocalist and Record of the Year’ categories for ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’. It was his last Number-1 single before his death on September 20th of that year.
The song's title character is a tall man from the Southside of Chicago whose size, attitude, and tendency to carry weapons have given him a fearsome reputation. He is said to dress in fancy clothes and wear diamond rings, and to own customised cars; implying he has a lot of money. One day in a bar he makes a pass at an attractive, married woman named Doris, whose jealous husband proceeds to beat Leroy brutally in the ensuing fight, which Leroy loses badly. Croce's inspiration for the song was a friend he met in his brief time in the US Army. The story of a widely feared man being beaten in a fight is similar to that of Croce's earlier song, ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim’.
When I was a probation officer in West Yorkshire, there were many scary situations that I found myself in over the 26 years I was in the job. All new probation officers were told early on in our career, that the only thing the Service couldn’t supply us with, but which we’d constantly need to do the job safely, was a pair of eyes in the back of one’s head. All Probation Officers also needed the seventh sense informing us when to stay alert and on our guard.
Essentially, however large or small a person we were, whether male or female, experienced or a raw recruit, we were subject to the same risks in carrying out our work. I must admit that that given the number of extremely dangerous situations I faced in my 26-year career, I was fortunate to have been assaulted only once, and that was by a woman in her forties who weighed no more than nine stone and stood no taller than 5 feet 6 inches.
She wasn’t aiming to strike me on the shoulder with the poker she wielded in her hand during a house call I’d made; she was really out to clobber her husband whom I foolishly decide to shield with my body during his wife’s sudden attack. She had been telling me during our interview prior to her poker attack that she’d caught him cheating on her the previous week with his sister-in-law when. The fact that she was currently pregnant made the thought of his infidelity (and who with) too much for her to cope with. Each time the thought of his betrayal came to mind, she would launch into an attack on her husband, determined to do him as much physical damage as she could. Had I known the full facts before I decided to stand between him and his wife as she aggressively advanced, there would have been no way I’d have taken a poker to my shoulder on his behalf!
It is part of a Probation Officer’s job to interview all manner of offenders in the police or prison holding cells. Such cell interviews would be carried out between their arrest and being produced before the court prior to sentence, or immediately after their prison sentence and being conveyed to prison. They could be minor offenders being interviewed or rapists, arsonists, wife beaters, armed robbers and even murders. The police officer or prison officer in charge of the defendants would invariably ask if the interviewing Probation Officer wanted them to remain present; depending on the manpower available at the time. Every probation officer knew, however, that they wouldn’t be a cat in hells chance of obtaining the personal information required from the prisoner with a burly policeman or prison officer waving their truncheon in the background. So, often the only way to get the job done and to get back home before supper time was to ‘take the risk’ and interview the prisoner without backup.
Being in the presence of violent offenders who would rip one’s head off without giving it a second thought if they sensed you feared them, essentially made those Probation Officers who did not exude fear, the more effective ones (and incidentally, the ones at less risk of being physically assaulted than more fearful colleagues). A confident Probation Officer had a healthy fear level during the course of their duties but never showed their fear in the presence of dangerous people. These were occasions when, to remain safe, one silently acknowledged one’s fear and managed it, instead of foolishly repressing it. I frequently thanked God for the extent of my relaxation knowledge in being able to defuse tense situations which could easily blow up into something more serious.
I once recall interviewing a very aggressive man in Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court. I was in my first year of training at the time and the Judge had delayed sentencing the man until the court Probation Officer (me) had ascertained several personal facts from the defendant. As the offender was stood down to the cells beneath the court to await sentence while I interviewed him, I was told by a prison guard that we were unable to have the interview take place in the usual cells on the ground floor. I, therefore, had no choice but to interview this highly aggressive man in the landing holding cells. The guard showed me to the holding cell that contained three offenders and locked me inside with them before going back up to the courtroom dock above with the next offender to be sentenced. He said he’d be away for around ten minutes but did not show his face for another hour.
I cannot deny that being in a cell with three violent offenders was one of the most dangerous situations I would find myself in over my lengthy career. I was shit scared but knew that if I showed an ounce of fear, I’d be physically assaulted by one of the three offenders in the cell. I must have been as relieved as I’d ever been when the guard finally returned and made some excuse about the court case above taking longer than anticipated because the defending barrister went on at great length, arguing for his client to receive a few years imprisonment only instead of the five years he eventually got.
I also recall being in a prison in South Yorkshire during the 1980s when a riot broke out. The prison had once been an old army camp before being taken over and used to house young prisoners. The prison had eight wings that contained the prisoners, but unlike a usual prison which housed all the wings within one huge building, each wing was its own contained building and was scattered fifty feet apart. The eight prison wings had been seemingly left as eight separate buildings on the same large site, on the working assumption that if ever inmate unrest or riot broke out, that the trouble could be contained to the wing in question and not spread to the other seven prison wings.
I was in the process of walking towards one of the wings to visit an inmate when the riot siren went off. Initially, I thought it was a fire as there was smoke in the background coming from a far wing that I later discovered prisoners had set on fire. Then, around thirty men yelling and carrying anything they could grab hold of to use as weapons ran across the open ground towards me with menacing faces as they cursed and issued threats towards a group of six or seven officers nearby. The rioting prisoners had wrecked and set ablaze their wing before running riot. They were determined to do as much damage as they could to prison guards and prison property. I thought my time had come and I could hardly believe my eyes when the screaming mob ran straight past me, ignoring me as if I wasn’t even a pawn on their chessboard.
The most aggressive and violent man I ever knew was ironically also one of the nicest men one could ever meet ‘when he was sober’. He stood around 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed over twenty stone; not an ounce of fat on him. He was an uneducated giant and one of the most aggressive men ever to come out of Ireland. A keen bodybuilder, his neck muscle veins would ripple whenever his anger started to rise, and his shovel-sized fists could bust a man’s jaw with one punch. He was called George, and for over four years, he remained under my supervision.
George came from a large Irish family who’d originally travelled the English countryside in a huge caravan until they eventually settled down in Huddersfield in the area of Almondbury during the 1960s. George had a vicious temper on him that would only reveal itself when he was under the influence of drink. Catch George sober and you’d think you’d caught the gentlest of butterflies, but to be in his presence when he was drunk and angry was to find oneself caught in the eye of a human hurricane.
George was not a hardened criminal in any true sense of the word. As far as I knew, he’d never stolen in his life, and the only offence he’d ever committed, he’d, unfortunately, committed dozens of times over the years. George had a taste for the hard stuff and was an ‘on/off drunk’. He worked at the scrap yard when I knew him and would go without an alcoholic drink for months on end. Then, he suddenly begins drinking and would go on ‘a bender’. The only way George would stop drinking again would be when he was back inside prison, usually serving a sentence for criminal damage and assaulting police officers during the course of his arrest.
During the 1970s, persistent offenders would receive ever-increasing lengths of prison sentences each time they appeared before the court for committing the same offence, and ‘Assaulting a Police Officer in the Execution of his Duty’ carried a minimum prison sentence of six months for a first offence.
We once worked it out that George had served a total of ten years inside different prisons since his first arrest at the age of twenty years. One could, however, have easily held the view that while these ten years of imprisonment had occurred as a result of having been successively convicted of ten separate police officer assaults, each one of these offences of assault on a policeman had been committed on ten separate occasions when George had got drunk. A sympathetic drinking mate of Georges might have concluded that poor George had got imprisoned for ten years for having been drunk ten times!
A common scene would be that George would visit a pub sober and drink until he was as drunk as a skunk. At this stage, all previous agreeableness he displayed to other patrons and bar staff would instantly vanish and his argumentative and aggressive side would emerge. George would finish up verbally offending another drinker and generally making a scene, cursing and issuing threats to any man who dared to intervene. When the bartender refused to serve George with any more alcohol, this would be the spark that lit the dynamite fuse. The gentle giant would become a green-eyed monster and everyone sensible would keep well out of George’s reach. He would demand that he be served more beer and the brave bartender would refuse and threaten to phone the police. The threat of police intervention was like a red rag to a bull, and George would kick off and kick out at anything and anybody who stood in the way of himself and his next pint of beer.
Being aware of George’s violent nature when drunk, the landlord would phone the local police to arrest George for being drunk and for creating a disturbance and minor criminal damage. The police would arrive, George would refuse to be arrested and all hell would break out. The arresting police officer would usually finish up badly hurt, and what started as a verbal dispute would usually finish in total carnage. It was not unheard of to find the pub totally wrecked and patrons or police officers being taken away in an ambulance.
As the years progressed and George’s pattern of violence against the arresting police officers became more common, whenever landlords phoned the police to evict a drunken George from their public house premises, realising what they would most likely face, half a dozen policemen would arrive on the scene to arrest George, waving batons as they brought him to the ground. No longer was the Huddersfield Police prepared to approach a drunken George on a one-on-one basis; it was more than their lives were worth.
Any physical resistance by George to being duly arrested automatically constituted another offence and subsequent conviction of police assault, attracting a six month’s prison sentence. When George was convicted of six separate assaults on six arresting police officers within the same incident, the only mercy from the Judge that George might receive was to have each six-month prison sentence imposed 'concurrently' (meaning he’d serve six month’s imprisonment in total), instead of having the sentences ordered to be served 'consecutively' (meaning he’d serve three years imprisonment in total).
The song ‘Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown’ instantly reminds me of George; the ‘baddest’ man in Huddersfield when he was on the drink.
Love and peace Bill xxx