The Civilianisation of Chrissie Dunn

At Birmingham New Street in 1990, Chris Dunn was one of a small group of civilian control room operators brought in to take over from older officers who had traditionally performed the role since control rooms had been invented. After initial training, Chris wrote this thoughtful account of her transition into becoming a ‘civvy’.

The process began in late July of 1990. I was not aware at the time that within six months I would be wearing a new badge, a new handle. I was to become a civvy.

The beginning was a very intensive two weeks at the Force Training School, Tadworth. As I child I had been an avid reader of the “Mallory Towers” books and had always harboured a secret desire to go to boarding school. Tadworth was a dream come true.

Our days were spent attending intense practical periods in the Studio Control Room, a stomach churning experience. Abject fear is an extremely powerful alternative to laxatives. The civilianisation had begun. Everyone around us was wearing uniforms, mostly blue. We were instructed to wear smart clothes and to conduct ourselves in a smart and business like manner; prompted, cajoled and bullied into thinking BTP.

This is civilianisation?” I thought. BRAVO TANGO PAPA became the Catchword.  Forget your previous life. Take an entirely new set of responsibilities and values.

“So what were the nights like at your new boarding school?” I hear you cry. They were fine. We slept well.

After two weeks we returned terrified, to Division, armed with procedures, thoughts, ideals. It really had begun.

What were the fears of those around us? How could you teach, in a couple of weeks, things that had taken experienced Police Officers years to accumulate? Acceptance was the first hurdle to be overcome and this had to be earned. The first few weeks were taken up with learning an entirely new language. PAPA, SIERRA and BRAVO became regular substitutes for PETER, SUGAR and BALL.  Radio calls from Station level often called for an element of bluff, particularly when fielding questions such as- “Wear can a pack of cards be bought on a Sunday?” Did someone really ask me that question?

As we began to settle in, the familiarities that you would expect in any family group started to emerge, with the usual litany of leg-pulls and practical jokes. We began to feel more involved. We found ourselves being asked to complete the odd-job, being trusted with a PNC check, a voter check.  The jig-saw was coming together.

Then came the bombshell. Early in October the umbilical cord was cut. We were being cast to the four winds. The officers were all given new assignments and we were to go it alone.  This was the time when acceptance became a reality and the caring began. Thanks to our surrogate mothers, to Sarge, to everyone who showed such patience.

Terrified of making a wrong decision, we would refer many calls to Sarge with a what, when, where and how. Needless to say when the right qualities were required to build our confidence, they were doled out in heaps.

Well, the six months is almost up now and we Civvies are soon to discover if we are to remain. We all hope that we have passed the test and we all wait with baited breath to see whether or not we will become full-time members of the BRAVO, TANGO, PAPA family.

This article by the late Chris Dunn appeared in the very first edition of the BTP Federation newsletter Express Lines, published in March 1991.