chapter  1
20 Pages

Concerning the author – reflections and recollections

One phenomenon stood out very clearly. This was the small-scale nature of probation work and its organisation. For example, by today’s standards, the service was a comparatively small enterprise. It was not particularly hierarchical, neither was its organisation complex, as is the case today. Some areas did not even have a principal probation officer (as they were then called) in charge. Bedfordshire was one such area. It was headed by a senior probation officer with a comparatively small number of main-grade staff. Contact with ‘clients’ in what was a predominantly rural area (apart from the boroughs of Bedford, Luton and Dunstable) was facilitated by ‘reporting centres’. These were situated in a variety of locations, for example church halls or local authority offices such as health centres. These were often in quite isolated locations. Today, I have little doubt that these would be regarded as quite inappropriate (pace Dr Reid – ‘not fit for purpose’). This would be largely on the grounds of breaching health and safety regulations. I think few of us considered the possible hazards to which we were exposing ourselves. Whether this blithe indifference was a good or a bad thing is no doubt open to debate. In five years’ service in the county I recall being physically intimidated by a client on only one occasion (I found the chairman of our quarter sessions far more intimidating – see later!). Another more general aspect of the service in those early days was its country-wide small-scale membership. One could attend an annual general meeting of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) and know personally more than a handful of those attending. Another notable feature was the almost total absence of women principal officers in the service. I recall an exception being the redoubtable Kate Fowler, principal officer in Sheffield. As I shall demonstrate later, in more recent times some things have changed significantly for the better.