Bobby’s career is brought to book

Former policeman: Martyn Johnson.
Former policeman: Martyn Johnson.

ThE memoirs of an Attercliffe beat policeman in the Sixties and Seventies which proved a local bestseller were picked up by a national publisher and made the Sunday Times top ten list last year.

After the success of What’s Tha Up To? by Martyn Johnson Sphere is bringing out its sequel, What’s Tha Up To Nah?, today.

Martyn Johnson: What's Tha Up To Nah?

Martyn Johnson: What's Tha Up To Nah?

“I was absolutely stunned by the response not just from around here but all over the world,” says the retired bobby sipping a mug of tea in the kitchen of his home in Wentworth village.

A taste for tea has evidently stayed with him and points up one of the ways that the book describes a different world of policing. In the Sixties a copper had the time to walk around his patch and get to know the community with a familiar face and the offer of a cuppa on every corner, even to the extent that old ladies knew not to serve it in fancy bone-china mugs.

Those more innocent days are a big part of the book’s appeal, of course. “People seem to like it for its nostalgia, humour and also sadness,” he says. “I’m not afraid to admit to crying at one point.”

The origins of the book go back five years when Martyn was seriously ill. “My son said you should write up all your police stories for your grandchildren before you snuff it.”

So he did. “One night I was thinking about what our lad had said and about my own dad. So I sat down and wrote a few headings down of stories I thought of but often when I started off one thing it would lead to something else and that would end up being the story.

“I wrote in block capitals because that’s how you fill in police reports. My wife, Christine, typed it all up. It was nothing grand, nothing special. I wasn’t thinking of a book. Everyone aims to get a book published, apparently. I didn’t.

“Clever people write books, I thought, and I’m not clever” But publishers Pen and Sword thought otherwise and with the help of Brian Elliott’s editing, What’s Tha Up To? came out.

In re-issuing both books in their inprint Sphere have changed the subtitle from memoirs of a Sheffield bobby to a Yorkshire bobby and they are keen for more. “They have asked for another two books – I’ve probably got enough material for 22,” says Martyn.

The stories are mostly light-hearted — drunken dogs, runaway horses, incompetent crooks and practical jokes (“I have always been a barmpot, I like a bit of mischief”) — but there are also serious incidents such as a man’s nose being bitten off, a train crash, a suicide attempt.

Growing up in Darfield he was briefly a blacksmith before joining what was then the Sheffield City Police in 1962 when he was 19 at the urging of the local vicar who ran the youth club.

“I agreed because there was no work around and me dad wouldn’t let me go down the pit like him,” he explains..

“When they were presenting the new recruits the sergeant asked me, ‘Can you fight?’ which is a daft question to someone from Barnsley. When I said yes, he said to his colleagues, ‘I thing we have got someone for Attercliffe’.”

And clearly he could take care of himself, though often that was due to using his brain rather than brawn.

What comes across from the books is that the public had a very different view of police in those days.

“I feel sorry for the police today because they have been let down by successive governments and the judiciary. In my day they were respected, but not nowadays,” says the man happy to be a constable all his career which ended in 1978.

Martyn left at the age of 35 after 16 years feeling the job was beginning to change in ways he didn’t like.

Before his own books he had been involved in helping two other authors, Michael Bond and Catherine Bailey, because of his connections with “the big house” at Wentworth. Bailey’s book Black Diamonds, has proved highly successful and he has accompanied her to many public events “because she is very shy and I am gob on a stick”.

He subsequently helped her research her next book, Secret Rooms, about Belvoir Castle in Rutland and has already been signed up to do a joint event at Off the Shelf in October.

He enjoys that side of his new profession, although he wouldn’t call it that. ”I feel a bit of a fraud,” he says, “I can’t accept I’m a writer but it’s gone so far that I have had to get a literary agent.”

l What’s That Up To Nah? Is published by Sphere as a paperback original and an eBook £7.99. The audiobook, read by the author (“I’m only doing it because I was asked by the blind society”), will be available as a digital download at £16.99 from July 26.