THE words ‘Special Branch’ conjure an image of tough action and secret goings-on.
The truth, as Huddersfield-born Joe Dyson can attest, is more prosaic.
Joe, now 79, has lived in Bromley, London, since 1963. He did most types of Special Branch work, including protection duties and security enquiries concerning so-called political subversives of the extreme left and right, as well as Irish and Middle Eastern militants.
He said: “In addition I interviewed applicants for naturalisation and served at the ports of Folkestone, London and Southampton and in the Caribbean from November 1970 to March 1971.
“During the Cold War it sometimes seemed as though we were countering the Soviet threat with shorthand, pins and paper-clips. “That did not stop some of my colleagues talking and acting as though they had seen too many 007 films.”
The core of Joe’s work was personal protection duties – otherwise known as bodyguarding or babysitting – with British ministers, presidents, queens and emperors in a celebrity roll-call that would be the envy of many a film star.
Joe recollects that Imelda Marcos, wife of Ferdinand, president of the Philippines, didn’t buy a single shoe while he was her bodyguard and that evangelist Billy Graham covered him in spittle while preaching to thousands at Earls Court in the 1960s.
He had a particular affection for former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, also a Huddersfield lad.
“Huddersfielders should not let Harold Wilson’s failure to solve our economic problems stop them from feeling proud of him,” said Joe.
“He was a kindly Yorkshire man who clung to his roots, even if it meant disappointing constituents in Huyton when he took the life peerage, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx and Kirklees.
“He often reminisced about his cycling and other antics in and around his childhood home in Milnsbridge. His amazing memory enabled him to remember street names and he had fond recollections of the Third Colne Valley Milnsbridge Baptist Scouts.
“He talked about his father working as a chemist at L B Hollidays. He kept abreast of Huddersfield Town. His taste for fish and chips never left him and he told me he’d have preferred that dish after delivering the main address at the Lord Mayor of London’s annual banquet.
“It was not unknown for him to unwittingly dent egos, including mine, by talking the hind legs off a donkey on subjects on which his listeners hitherto considered themselves expert.
“Tragically, his final years were plagued by Alzheimer’s disease. He sometimes gave his carers the slip and talked to vagrants outside the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, adjacent to his home in Ashley Gardens. They gave short shrift to his claim of having been Prime Minster.
“He got some solace from Harold Ainley, his old playmate from Milnsbridge, who occasionally stayed with him in Westminster, round the corner from my own first London address.”
Joe left the police in 1980 but was still in demand at Number 10 as an investigating officer with the Ministry of Defence.
This entailed enquiries into the reliability of people engaged on classified work at Government establishments throughout the UK, including Number 10 and other ministries.
He said: “Since leaving the MoD I have occupied myself with amateur dramatics, walking with local ramblers, activities with U3A, daydreaming and being shocked at how quickly time passes on my Examiner calendar.”
Here’s what Joe has to say about some of the many high-profile people he met during his career.
“Her Imperial Highness Princess Chichibu was not a character in the Mikado. She was the real-life sister-in-law of Emperor Hirohito of Japan, traditionally regarded as divine. Moreover, she was a refined lady with diplomatic skills. Sleeping through a good part of Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon didn’t stop her complimenting the cast on their performances.”
“The fact that HM Queen Frederika of Greece reminded me of my National Service drill instructor didn’t stop me admiring her. She didn’t tell me to call her corporal instead of corp, but she did sometimes remind me to call her Ma’am or Your Majesty instead of Madam.
“She couldn’t have been over the moon therefore when, after a late night’s celebration at Buckingham Palace in June 1971, our dog-tired driver dropped her off at Claridges with a farewell ‘Goodnight, sir.’”
Security was more informal in the 1970s than now. Joe let three of his charges – Foreign Secretary Baron Rab Butler of Saffron Walden; Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone (Quintin Hogg) and King Hussein of Jordan – drive themselves.
“King Hussein was a different kettle of fish from Rab and Quintin,” said Joe.
“He didn’t judder around in clapped-out jalopies but, traffic permitting, zoomed around Mayfair and Belgravia in expensive custom-built cars in a manner that would have done justice to a joyrider.
“As a respite from the high life he would put his driving skills to the test in dodgem cars at the now defunct Battersea Funfair where he’d give his taste buds a respite from caviar, going instead for hamburgers and candy floss.”
“I can vouch for the fact that there is a King of Malaysia and that in 1979 he emulated Yul Brynner. On route to HM’s address hotfoot from the King and I at the London Palladium, he declared that Yul was “every inch what a king should be.’’ He started suffixing sentences with ‘etcetera, etcetera, etcetera’.
“For reasons I prefer not to think about, HM tried unsuccessfully to give me the slip, though he was kind enough to take me to Annabelle’s nightclub as a farewell thank you.
“Senator Edward Kennedy was so successful at giving me the slip that I never so much as clapped eyes on him, despite making several visits to his suite at the Dorchester Hotel.”
“Sheikh Yemani, who at the time was oil minister of Saudi Arabia, got me to buy the ice creams during intervals at West End theatres. In common with some other world’s richest men, he didn’t carry money.”
“I never heard Sir Winston Churchill hold forth in the flesh but I did once hear the revered war leader try to sing inside Number 10.
“He was unsteady on his feet and sung, or should I say slurred: “You’d be far better off in a home.’’ In the briefest of chats, I told him I was from Huddersfield and he remembered addressing a crowd outside the railway station after World War Two.
“When the Queen unveiled the statue of Sir Winston in Parliament Square she mistook me for a member of the public watching the event. To save embarrassment I didn’t admit to being a plain clothes copper but told her I was an electrician from Huddersfield.
“For quite another reason I repeated that porky to Harry Pollitt, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, over tea and biscuits at a communist meeting in a North London school room.”