A British Icon will be lost forever in Police Revamp

It took some persevering in April this year in York for me to snap the above shot of an English policeman in summer dress with his traditional helmet.

Like the British "bobby" of bygone days he kept on stopping in the street to help tourists or have a friendly chat with one of the locals - and I didn't want to catch either his or their attention. Anyway, I managed in the end - but I had to follow him halfway through the city centre to do it, trying my best not to look too conspicuous !

It's the traditional image of the policeman we won't be seeing for much longer on British streets. This is because the traditional policeman's helmet is to be cut down in size after more than a century of making Britain's police instantly recognisable around the world. It was originally designed to resemble those worn by the Prussian Army in the 19th century and has been in use since 1863.

Three designs are to be piloted later this year because the existing helmet is totally impractical for modern policing, according to a working party on uniform and equipment.

One potential new version will be a "squashed" unisex model of the existing helmet. The other two models are a reinforced baseball cap and a stronger version of the traditional bowler hat worn by women officers.

The designs are part of an updating of police uniforms. The helmet however remains the outstanding issue to be settled. It is controversial as the helmet is a British icon, a distinctive item of uniform which makes officers distinctive. Many officers would not want to lose this, but it is totally impractical. It is all right if you are walking in a straight line along a street, but move quickly and it falls off.

Even if scrapped, the traditional helmet would be retained for officers on ceremonial duties, state occasions and for those on duty at 10 Downing Street.

Bruce Wenham,
May 2002

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