To kick off LGBT history month this year, as part of an appeal for more former officers to share their stories, we are proud to tell the story of Jean Summers:
Jean Summers grew up in Balsall Heath and had initially planned to go to University, but her family were in dire financial straits due to her Dad being long-term sick. She therefore intended to join the British Army but her Dad refused to sign the necessary papers. Then Jean’s Uncle suggested the police as a career, so she walked into Tally Ho! and asked to join the police cadets.
They were interviewing that week and she was one of six selected. Her cadetship commenced January 1967. The subsequent training and police culture came as a huge culture shock and took a bit of getting used to:
“I had led an extremely sheltered and by today’s standards a vastly restricted life up until then, and the action-packed but very enjoyable 18 months was a complete shock to my system. Drill and physical fitness training dominated cadet life… come sun, rain or snow we paraded daily on the drill square. Every day we ran along Pershore Road towards the Nature Centre and through a hole in the fence into Cannon Hill Park where we did circuit training e.g. lots of press-ups and step-ups etc., during the run around the park. At dinnertime we marched as a squad up to Moseley Road swimming baths. Saturday mornings were spent running as a squad to Metchley Lane Playing Fields, play sport and run back to Tally Ho! Our gym instructor was ex-army.”
She threw herself into the life of the police force and took part in many different sports and activities, including hockey and cricket. Jean recalls how after joining the regulars in June 1968, policewomen were still a long way from being on an equal standing with the male officers, and were not allowed to drive the prestigious black area cars. Their duties were restricted and often undertook roles like school crossing patrol and station telephonist. She remembers the first personal issue radios (the Pye Pocketphone Receiver) and whilst travelling on the bus she cringed with embarrassment every time her collar number was announced over the radio – as PW49 she was the subject of much mockery to do with the popular radio series and film charting the exploits of fictional PC 49. Jean also recalls the impractical policewomen’s uniform of the day – skirts never being particularly helpful with physical activities and the handbag and tiny wooden policewomen’s truncheon being a bit of a joke! She also arranged on one occasion whilst policing a match at Edgbaston Cricket Ground to swap duties with a male colleague so she could watch the match. She enjoyed it immensely until she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned round to find Chief Constable Derrick Capper staring at her, indignant that she had entered the all-male preserve! Jean was promptly sent back outside to resume traffic duties.
During her career Jean tried to join the mounted section (told this wasn’t possible as there were no uniforms for women) and dog section (told women could not handle the big powerful animals). Eventually she qualified as a sergeant and was given a set of wire stripes to slip onto her uniform. Unfortunately these were made for the male officers and were too large for her arms so kept slipping down.
From a very early age, Jean intuitively knew she was ‘different’ but had no-one with whom she could confide in about her sexuality: she was gay. Jean was painfully shy and locked within herself. Whilst Jean enjoyed working with her male colleagues, she wasn’t interested in relationships with men. She was absolutely terrified of her fellow officers finding out about it, as being gay in the police service was not spoken about openly at that time.
Following amalgamation into West Midlands Police in 1974, in line with force policy, many serving Birmingham City police officers were moved to work outside the city boundary, and Jean was told she was being moved to Coventry. Jean was still living at home, as her Dad had died, and her Mum was in very poor health, in and out of hospital and needed Jean’s support. In the end it all got too much for her and she handed her notice in:
“I had no-one to talk to about my very real personal problems. Everything suddenly crowded-in on me. I panicked and resigned. At that moment I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to leave. I joined Birmingham City Ambulance Service – at the end of my first shift, I found a note on my clocking-in card… one of the other women ambulance drivers was asking me out on a date. A number of dates later, she took me to a gay club in Wolverhampton where to my absolute amazement, I found several of my former police colleagues. If only someone had talked to me…”
Jean later picked her police career back up, joining Birmingham Parks Police in 1976 until it was disbanded and civilianised in 1983. During her time there she fulfilled her ambition to be a dog handler and was the only female dog handler to ever work in this small, little known force.
March 2006, Jean entered into a Civil Partnership with Sue. Her long-term partner.
Jean, a proud Brummie, stills lives in Birmingham.
We are very grateful to Jean for sharing her story. Very little information is held in the West Midlands Police Museum archives about the personal stories of LGBT officers, largely due to homosexuality still being a crime when the majority of the records were created, but also due to attitudes within society and the police only relatively recently becoming accepting of LGBT people and officers. We would be very interested to hear from any other former officers who would be happy to share their story with us.