Arresting sight of showbiz and sports stars at Great Yarmouth police station

Home Secretary Henry Brooke, having formally opened the new Great Yarmouth Police Headquarters in 19

Home Secretary Henry Brooke, having formally opened the new Great Yarmouth Police Headquarters in 1963, sees a CID procedure demonstrated by detective Bert Baker, left. On the right is Chief Constable Charles Jelliff. - Credit: Mercury Library

To state here that I have paid many visits to Great Yarmouth’s police headquarters in Howard Street North is not a belated public confession of “helping them with their inquiries,” as the official line goes. It was part of a newspaper reporter’s regular routine to inquire about incidents and accidents, trivial and grave, that would interest our readers.

On cue: top professional snooker player John Spencer, left, and off-duty Yarmouth Police Sgt Russell

On cue: top professional snooker player John Spencer, left, and off-duty Yarmouth Police Sgt Russell Brinded participate in the presentation of the Central Tyre (Anglia) Award in the 1970s. - Credit: Mercury Library

Morning and late afternoon in person, and by phone before the police shift change-over at 10pm, were necessary, especially for the staff of morning and evening daily newspapers as I was for many years.

There was a great rapport between police of all ranks and the Press, beneficial to both sides. We all knew our place, but we respected a mutual invisible line seldom, if ever, crossed.

The £111,300 HQ building, replacing premises on South Quay, was officially opened in 1963 by the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke. Recently those Howard Street headquarters on the corner with The Conge have been in the news because they have become too big and expensive to run for present-day operations, and there are plans to reduce the size.

During my reporting era, two of the attractions of the impressive building were its social amenities about which probably neither the general public, nor the felons being processed in less relaxing areas, were aware: the convivial Copper Pot licensed bar and the full-size snooker table.

In the intervening decades, both have long-since disappeared.

One of my closest friends was a long-serving constable, and occasionally I enjoyed the hospitality of the upstairs bar in the Howard Street “nick”. Even more appealing was the snooker table which, over the years, had various locations within the building requiring hefty manpower to shift the weighty slate beds, sometimes up or down stairs between basement and first-floor.

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I relished a frame or two on that snooker table, ever mindful of helping police-Press relations by managing to lose graciously without gouging the pristine baize with a wayward cue tip.

In summer, when star entertainers were spending long seasons in our local theatres, it was not uncommon to find one of them at the bar or snooker table - even between houses in twice-nightly productions. Among those welcome guests were Dickie Henderson, Jack Douglas and Harry Secombe, to name but three.

Not only were stars of stage and recording studios informal visitors to the police HQ, but stars of the green baize too. Some of the snooker players who were familiar faces because of national television appearances on the popular Pot Black and in major tournaments gave displays and accepted challenges from their police hosts. Often they fitted in visits to two or three local venues during their brief stay hereabouts.

Certainly the police table was played on by snooker “greats” such as Cliff Thorburn, Jimmy White, Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, Terry Griffiths and Bill Werbeniuk.

Here my memories of decades past become blurred, and it is hard to recall at which of the local venues I had watched some of these cue exponents in action against Yarmouth and Gorleston players.

Possibly on that police table, but perhaps at Gorleston Conservative Club, my old chum, the late PC Ivor Warner, succeeded in beating a former policeman - Ray Reardon, the reigning world champion who held the title a total of six times in the Seventies. Ivor was modestly smug about his success.

But I could be wrong about the location because another strong contender is Gorleston’s long-gone Links Hotel on Marine Parade. It too hosted visits by snooker celebrities, and was certainly the venue of at least one of the Yarmouth Police Social Club’s annual finals nights.

In the Seventies that Links Hotel snooker table featured in newspaper headlines, not because of the professional cue maestros who played on it but due to the licensee banning women from using it, a stance successfully challenged in Yarmouth County Court and backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission; damages were awarded to the woman claimant.

I can still feel that excited expectancy among a capacity audience in Gorleston Conservative Club awaiting the arrival of “Hurricane” Higgins to demonstrate his quick-fire skills against experienced playing members, but the atmosphere became restless as his appointed starting time came and went with no sign of him.

This was long before mobile phones facilitated keeping in touch, and the packed snooker room endured a long wait, watching make-shift games while awaiting his delayed arrival and wondering where he was. When it looked likely that he had confused the dates or the location, in he breezed.

Higgins apologised, explaining that his chauffeur-driven car had either broken down or suffered a puncture (I cannot remember which) on the main A47 road between King’s Lynn and Yarmouth on a dark and wet night.

Then, with scarcely a pause, he removed his coat, replaced the club’s balls with his own set, got out his cue, and without a moment’s practice cleared the table before a stunned but rapturously enthusiastic crowd.