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  • The Count of Scotland Yard by Stephen Wade

    The Controversial Life and Cases of DCS Herbert Hannam

    Homage to the Count- at last!

    Hannam on the Prowl in Eastbourne. (c. Detective, 3 September 1956, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen Wade explains his long-standing interest in a top detective, Bert Hannam, the subject of his new book The Count of Scotland Yard.

    Around thirty years ago, in Halifax, I became acquainted with the name ‘Emily Pye.’ It was one of those local stories which are founded on something deeply sad and violent. It was a story of murder. Emily, an old lady who kept a corner shop, had been brutally murdered on her premises. The name lodged in my mind, and years later, when I became a true crime writer and a historian of our dark and criminous past, the name was back in my orbit again, and I found out that the case had brought one of the Yard’s top sleuths: the debonair and charismatic, Bert Hannam.

    I discovered that he was known as ‘the Count of Scotland Yard’ – with reference to his looking rather like a toff. But in fact he was more than a stylish, showy character. He did not track down Emily’s killer, but his record does show that he was involved in several remarkable cases, from fraud to murder.

    DCS Hannam started life as a pastry-cook, but soon switched to a career in the police. By the Second World War he was a Detective Sergeant and he showed his flexibility by dealing with investigations into thefts in government locations and then he looked into police corruption. The beginnings of his work in murder investigation were in the immediate post-war years, and he worked with and learned from several established chief inspectors. But Hannam really became something of a celebrity when the sensational case of Dr Bodkin Adams, of Eastbourne, brought him into press reports and into the realm of the paparazzi of his day.

    Adams was charged with two murders, and the case brought to light the legal and ethical issues related to euthanasia. Here was a family doctor who only worked with the super-rich, and he was in the habit of acquiring a high level of wealthy material and pounds sterling in their wills.

    Hannam was the man who led the investigation, which took months, as he gathered evidence from a number of places, domestic and foreign. It was one of the most notorious criminal trials in British history, and he was ably aided by Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. Adams was acquitted, but struck off by the BMA (later to be reinstated).

    The Yard as it looked around 1940. (Author's Collection, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    As for Bert Hannam, he was soon to retire, and worked in security, but for me, he will always be the dapper man who was called in when there was big trouble.  From a writing point of view, it was an unusual biographical project, because he was a very private man, and never wanted to be in the limelight. His grandson and the son of Sergeant Hewett, was very helpful in my process of research, and although I found it hard to uncover much about the detective’s personality, I think that I did succeed in offering the reader more than a simple string of cases and court reports.

    Hannam did have many friends, and was highly respected as a tutor and mentor at the Police College; if I had to sum him up, I would define him as a man with real presence: the sort of copper we would like to have on the scene when something horrendous had happened. Writing the book made me want to uncover other detectives who have perhaps been overlooked by the biographers of crime since the war. In those post-war years, up to the 60s, ‘The Yard’ was a phrase that suggested the aristocracy of the police, and indeed, Bert does deserve to be remembered as ‘The Count’ of Scotland Yard.

    Stephen Wade's new book The Count of Scotland Yard is available for purchase now.

  • How 'No More Soldiering' began by Stephen Wade

    Objector A popular postcard showing the common view of the weak and effeminate CO. (Author’s collection)

    I was researching in the Brynmor Jones Library in Hull, digging into the background for a biography I was writing on George Grossmith, the singer and writer, when there was a large folder of photographs and I could see from the front cover that it was intriguingly entitled: 'Prison Photographs.' As I am primarily a crime historian, how could I resist taking a peek at that?  It's hard to explain the shock. There were images of the frame used for flogging men; solitary cells, and even a monstrosity called an 'insanity box.' What was the context for all this? It was regarding the treatment dished out to some of the so-called 'Absolutists' in the ranks of the conscientious objectors in the Great War. These were the people who not only would not fight, but also refused to do anything in support of the war with the Kaiser and his allies.

    I knew at that moment that I had to tell the story of some of those men, and as with any historical enquiry, like Topsy, it grew and grew. Of course, I still regard this book as an account of something partly criminal, though the government of the day created legislation and acted accordingly. But when it came to reading out death sentences to men standing in line and then cancelling them, then that was surely some kind of cruelty beyond all reason. I brought to mind the story of Fyodor Dostoievski and his friends - a group of young radicals, who were rounded up and blindfolded, ready to face the firing squad, and were then reprieved and sent to Siberia.

    Conscript Cartoon A CO cartoon sympathetic to the cause. (Author’s collection)

    Oh yes, No More Soldiering is the one book among all my books that was written with a sense of indignant rage. Most works of history of course are expected to give a balanced view of past events, and I was always aware of that, but I think that my feelings kept showing through the narrative.

    The other perspective on this subject is the alarming tendency for people today, in some areas and groups at least, to want to erase these men who did not take up arms; their stories are often eclipsed from the family record.

    But I must finish with my own dilemma. Should I have been a young man in 1914, I would have joined up. After all, the Germans were using Zeppelins to bomb my home county of Yorkshire, along with Hartlepool and Cleethorpes. I would have wanted to hit back. But of one thing I am certain: I would have respected the objectors. There would have been no smug smile from me when a white feather was posted.

    In the end, I felt that I had made a small contribution to the persistent debate about pacifism and the forms it tends to take at different points in time, and my respect for the courage of those non-combatants was something I felt I had to explain to myself, as well as to my readers.

    9781445648941

    No More Soldiering: Conscientious Objectors of the First World War by Stephen Wade is available for purchase now.

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