Today’s song is ‘New Kid in Town’. This song was by the ‘Eagles’ from their 1976 studio album ‘Hotel California’. It was written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther. Released as the first single from the album, the song became a Number 1 hit in the US, and Number 20 in the UK.
Whenever I hear this song, I always think about the first few years after my Probation Officer training was completed. I’d started work in post at the Huddersfield Probation Office. I was 31-years-of-age and the newest Probation Officer on a staff of twenty experienced Probation Officers in Huddersfield.
I was an idealist who was determined to change the world and improve the lives of every client I came into professional contact with. At the time, the Probation Service was very much the domain of stuffy starched-shirted middle-class colleagues, most of whom came from privileged family backgrounds and who, with a few exceptions, had obtained university degrees. They were mostly a group of people who spoke in the perfect diction of BBC English and who found in the following of convention and legal protocol, a sense of security. I, on the other hand, was viewed as being a distinctly different catch of fish than they were. They probably saw me as a sardine within a large haul of prized salmon. I have no doubt that I was initially perceived as some new rooky who hailed from a council estate, and who had nothing substantial to offer except a Polytechnical Certificate in ‘Social Work Methods’ and some hairbrained notion of the wrongs of society, and how to best right them.
For the first year, being eager to learn to be the best Probation Officer I could possibly be, I probably came across as being a bit of an odd ball to most of my colleagues. All my life I’d been a rebel, fighting for this cause or that (usually the less glamourous or least popular of causes). Despite being clever enough, a lengthy period in hospital between 12-13 years, followed by a protracted absence of school (unable to walk) left me with obvious educational gaps in certain subjects.
I’d started at the Dewsbury Technical College six months behind the rest of my class and instead of finding myself the star pupil (a position I’d grown accustomed to in my former school) I found myself in 6th or 7th place in class. My ego, along with other personal circumstances, led me to run away from my educational studies and pending examinations. Instead of commencing my ‘O’ Levels during my fifteenth year, I opted to working manually in a mill, the type of work I remained in until I emigrated to Canada in 1964 at the age of 21 years.
I started work in the mill at the age of 15 years and did not return to complete my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels until I was 28 years old. Throughout this period, although I had secured the post of Working Foreman at the age of 23 years, and the position of Mill Manager at the young age of 27 years, I did have an ‘educational hangover’ as I tried to learn and culturally experience all I had educationally missed during years between 12-18.
I left Newcastle Polytechnical College in 1972 proud of my working-class roots which I never sought to disavow, and I commenced my Probation Officer career in Huddersfield. Only once during my first year at Huddersfield did I let myself down.
Within the Huddersfield office were two Probation Officers, each about five years older than I was. One had obtained his degree and PHD from Oxford and his close colleague had obtained a first-class degree and a Masters from Cambridge University. Whenever colleagues congregated in the staff room at break periods or at lunch times, this pair of educated muffins and toffee-nosed snobs would be constantly bragging about some cultural event they’d attended or commenting disparagingly about some person they considered to be beneath them.
On the occasion in question, my ignorance of having no knowledge of the French language and being unfamiliar with all motor car brands led me to mis-pronounce the sounding of the word ‘Peugeot’. Instead of pronouncing it with the soft sounding ‘o’ ending, I phonically expressed the word; much to the hilarity of the highly amused pair of puffed-up jackasses. At that precise moment, all my working-class instincts came rushing to the fore, and, like an erupting volcanic outburst which couldn’t be contained a moment longer, I spat out every ounce of anger at the most sneering of the two prats. Feeling publicly humiliated, I went for my opponent, and for a few minutes, I held him in a throttle hold until his blueness of face led three or four other Probation colleagues to pull me off him. It was obvious by the fear I engendered in the face of my protagonist that physical attack was an experience he had never encountered previously during his privileged upbringing. We never did become friends; and remained evermore wary associates, but he never laughed at me or tried to ridicule me again (at least, not to my face)!
Within one year from starting at Huddersfield Office, whilst covering duties in the Huddersfield Crown Court one afternoon, I was to cross polemic swords with His Honour, Judge James Pickles. Judge Pickles had recently attracted attention in the national press and media, after sending a woman to prison for two weeks. The woman concerned had reported her live-in partner to the police for being physically abusive to her and he was subsequently arrested, remanded in custody and sent to Crown Court for trial. Whilst in custody, the man had obviously threatened the woman with severe violence if she went ahead and testified against him. Fearing for her personal safety after his prison release, like many frightened women in such situations, she withdrew her allegations and refused to testify against the defendant.
Judge James Pickles was so frustrated with the waste of time and court cost this pattern of behaviour (which was becoming more common in the courts with violent offenders he had before him) that he decided to make a public example of the woman. He was so angry that such circumstances were forcing frightened witnesses to withdraw their evidence at the last moment that he discharged the defendant and sent the woman to prison for a few weeks for ‘wasting police time and abusing public funds’.
Previously, I had seen Barristers change court dates just to get another judge to appear before, rather than have Judge Pickles adjudicate and pass sentence on the person they were defending. I have even known both barrister or defendant be suddenly struck down with a highly infectious illness an hour before the case was due to commence in Crown Court before Judge Pickles, because of the severity of his imposed sentences.
The first time Judge Pickles ever spoke to me was when he asked me as the author of a Social Inquiry Report upon a defendant before him, ‘How do you suggest that the court best helps this man, Mr Forde?”
The defendant in question was an unemployed father of four children who lived on a Bradley council estate. His wife was in her late twenties but was a poorly woman. She’d been worn down by debt, anxiety and giving childbirth to four children in quick succession. Her husband was overall a good man and father to their four young children who had found himself in an impossible situation to legally respond to. The defendant had found himself falling into a quagmire of increasing debt after he’d lost his job, having been made redundant. Despite all genuine efforts to secure another job, he was unable to get work. He did manage to get the offer of a job shortly after, but the sudden illness of one of their children and the child’s admission into hospital meant that he missed his start day with his new employer. Upon learning this, the DHSS considered that he had lost the job in question through his own actions and subsequently stopped his payments; leaving all the family’s debts to mount even higher.
Then, he fell behind in his gas, water and electricity payments and had both energy supplies of gas and electricity to their home disconnected in the cold of winter (this custom is now banned but was common practice in the early 1970s). On the winter’s day in question, he received a letter informing him of rent arrears and possible eviction of the family, his recently born child and wife both became ill. He was naturally distraught with worry and responded in the only way he had at his disposal.
That night was exceptionally cold, and his youngest child was crying nonstop, so he illegally reconnected the electricity/gas supply from his unknowing neighbour’s house to his own. He was later charged with the offence of illegal reconnection and was committed to Crown Court for sentence. You must bear in mind that times and punishments were so different in the 1970s than they are now. The 1970s would see a man sent to prison for this offence, whereas someone can half beat a pensioner to death today and still walk from court with nothing more severe in punishment having been received than a Community Service Order!
I recommended in my report to Crown Court that the defendant not be imprisoned and stated that imprisoning the man would cause severe hardship and distress to his wife and four children. With his wife in ill-health, I indicated that she would have to place their children in the Care of the Local Authorities, without her husband’s support around the home, were he sent to prison. I must point out that during the early 1970s, it was not ‘the done thing’ for a Probation Officer to indicate to a Judge of the land that committal to prison was ‘an inappropriate sentence to be passed’. This was seen then as jumping on judicial toes!
Judge James Pickles read my report and took instant umbrage at it, no doubt feeling that this inexperienced Probation Officer stood before him had dared suggest to him ‘what not to do’. Not being a man to be placed in such a position, he called me to the stand and said, “Tell me, Mr Forde, instead of indicating to me in your report to court ‘what I shouldn’t do’, would you be so kind as to tell me ‘what I should do?’ How can I best help this man?”
My reply was “I’m afraid that there is nothing you can do to help this man, Your Honour, unless you can secure him a job, clear off all his debts, improve his wife and child’s ill-health and legally reconnect his electricity and gas supply!”
While I had no intention to sound flippant in my response to a High Court Judge (especially this Judge), he obviously viewed my remarks as being flippant in the extreme. Without the slightest hesitation, he sentenced me to be held in the police cells under the Crown Court building until the day had transpired. I lie not. I was escorted to the police cells where I remained behind bars for the rest of the day in the Huddersfield police cells. At the end of that Crown Court day, Judge James Pickles asked for me to be brought to his private chambers before he disrobed. He asked if I wanted to say anything else to him. He was presumably expecting an apology from me, but when no apology was forthcoming, he said, ‘I am not accustomed to being spoken to like that in open court, Mr Forde. I strongly advise against you doing so ever again”. He then dismissed me from his presence. I was met outside the court by my Senior Probation Officer, along with reporters from the press whom I refused to speak (upon the advice of my Senior Probation Officer),
Being imprisoned in the police cells for the whole of the afternoon by Judge James Pickles instantly transformed my image in the eyes of my Huddersfield Probation Officer colleagues. The irony of this episode, regarding my Probation career, was that it earned me ‘colleague respect’ for having dared to confront ‘the hanging judge’. It also gave me a kind of street cred with many future Probation clients who heard about it after ‘The Huddersfield Examiner’ and other local newspapers and media covered the incident.
It was only in later years I learned that what probably made me a half-decent Probation Officer was my working-class background. I was, in effect, a poacher turned gamekeeper and I knew that there was little difference between myself and the person sitting at the other side of my desk. These clients were mostly of my background. They were in short, my people.
During the years to come, Judge Pickles (who too had always been a rebel within the establishment) was to give me ‘thirteen’ commendations in my reports I wrote to courts on various offenders. Such commendations from Judges are as rare as hen's teeth, and one is lucky to get one such recommendation in the most distinguished of Probation Officer careers.
By the time Judge James Pickles retired from the bench, I’d also become a well-established author and he publicly read in schools from my books by invitation on half a dozen occasions. We not only became good friends, but I also became good friends with his daughter Carolyn Pickles, the actress who played in the television series, ‘The Bill’. She also played the character Shelley Williams in the ITV series, ‘Emmerdale’. In fact, after receiving my M.B.E. in the New Year’s Honour’s List of 1995, the very first person to contact me and congratulate me was Carolyn Pickles.
I will never forget my first year in the Huddersfield Probation Office when I was regarded as being ‘The New Kid in Town’.
I dedicate today’s song to all ‘new kids’ in whatever move in life they are presently experiencing. Keep true to your own beliefs and remember, in the main, good people do not get imprisoned for speaking the truth as they see the situation to be (not for more than the better part of a working day anyway, and unless Judge James Pickles is around)!
Love and peace Bill xxx