Fond memories of a Forest Gate ‘Busy Bobby’
PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 April 2017
The last public information films might have aired years ago, but the short broadcasts reveal fascinating insights into days gone by.
For Davina Dupey one film brings back fond recollections of a multi-talented, public spirited man well used to going on the beat.
“Busy Bobby” released in 1968 tells the story of Pc Slight an accident enquiries officer who wields “nothing more dangerous than a ball point pen in his day job”, but whose Forest Gate home was filled with antique firearms.
Painter, model-maker and bobby on the beat, Bert Slight was born in Plaistow in 1925 to parents Albert, a boiler maintenance manager at the London Scaling Company and tailoress Grace.
During the war Bert worked at Siley Wier in the Royal Victoria Docks repairing ships whilst also forming part of the Home Guard, but when hostilities ended he knew it wouldn’t be long before he would be made redundant so joined the police service just after marrying Edna - whose wedding dress was made out of a parachute - in Barking Abbey.
“He went from £15 a week to five guineas a week so we weren’t very well off as children,” his daughter Davina said. “He just decided to go into a more secure job.”
After training in Hendon, Bert started work at Plaistow police station where he soon got to know traders while walking part of his beat at Queen’s Road market.
“In those days when you were on your beat you walked everywhere,” Davina said.
But in 1968 Bert became the first policeman to be issued with the first Velocette motorcycle, known as the “Noddy Bike” because riders were required to nod when passing senior officers.
Bert’s new means of transport led to the Pathe film, but the modest father-of-five kept his star appearance quiet.
“He wasn’t one to say anything,” Davina said. “Though we did see the film at the cinema in Leicester Square.
“It was quite strange to see our dad on a big screen. My younger sisters and brother were very excited. My brother was only two.”
But Bert had a number of talents - making model soldiers - which were once featured in a Tower of London exhibition - painting reproductions of old masters and building model boats the family sailed during visits to Wanstead Flats boating lake.
“Anything he turned his hand to he could do,” his daughter added. “He just did them because he enjoyed doing things.”
This included dressing as a clown and playing the accordion at the annual police children’s party.
And on the beat, Pc Slight went out of his way to help people, even a classmate who was made homeless, finding him lodgings and a job as a pot-man at The Priness Alice pub in Forest Gate.
Known to police colleagues as “Gunpowder Joe” because of his antique arms collection, Bert retired from the police in 1974 after 25 years of service, later taking up carpentry, working for an insurance broker and runnning the Boys Brigade at Forest Gate Baptist Church.
The borough’s “Busy Bobby” died in 1985 at the age of 59.
“It was a real shock,” Davina said. “But it’s been so nice seeing the film. You just wish they were still there. I would like to find out more about what he did in his day job.”
“I really wish that I could speak to him and ask him about the things he dealt with.”