Interview: Bill Rice

It was October 1962, the fair was in town and new police constable William Albert Rice had embarked on his first night of duty.

Within in a matter of hours, the legend of the most popular policeman in Beverley’s history was born and a great man had made the first of many indelible marks on his adopted town.

He tells the story: “The first night I was on duty in Beverley the fair was on – it used to be where Tesco is now.

“I went with the sergeant and there was some trouble on the waltzer so I grabbed one of these kids off the waltzer and I threw him straight down the steps to the ground below.

“He sat on the ground and looked over at me and said: ‘I won’t forget you’. It was one of the hard men of Beverley so of course it got round that I’d arrived.”

, 79 years old, erstwhile town bobby, long-serving town crier, Beverley Lions fundraiser extraordinaire, giant of a man and owner of the most famous moustache in the area, is a popular fellow.

He can’t walk through the town without being stopped for a kiss or a chat. Some people flinch as they remember an old-fashioned clip round the ear. But all look at him with a mixture of awe, fondness and respect that has been thoroughly deserved for years of sefless service to his adopted town.

.net visited him at his immaculate town centre house. His wife of 55 years Joy is busy with her housework, belying her 77 years. We sit and chat with Bill in his conservatory overlooking a beautiful garden which is a testament to him and his wife and which looks like a display out of the Chelsea Flower Show.

Born in Ferriby in 1931, Bill, son of the village postman, left school at 14 and was all set for a career as a butcher before National Service came knocking on his door and he served two years in the Marines.

It was during his service he decided to join the police force and in 1951 enrolled in the then East Riding Constabulary. Training followed in County Durham – where he met and wooed Joy – before being stationed in Hessle. From there he moved to Howden, where the couple’s children Gillian and Nigel were born, before being based in Beeford.

Bill takes up the story.

“I was bobby at Beeford for a  number of villages, such as Frodingham, Skipsea, Foston, Ulrome and Lissett. I had some happy times there.

“In those days we used to do duty at Beverley Racecourse, they used to bring policemen in from all over and there were a lot of police at the races in those days, but there was a lot less trouble than there is now.

“Ted Mather was the local police superintendent here and whilst I was at the races he had a look at me and he said to me: ‘I could just do with you, Rice’. A month later I was on the move and I was stationed in Beverley.”

Bill and his family moved to police accommodation in Cherry Garth in 1962, a community he served with such distinction for so long.

And community is the apt word for Bill. Right from day one he involved himself in local life, visiting schools and, through a ‘softly, softly’ approach – unless the situation dictated otherwise – making sure local people knew who he was, what he did and how he expected them to behave. Old-fashioned, high-profile, no-nonsense-but-fair community policing before the term was officially coined.

“If you are reasonable with people, they will be reasonable with you. I have always been a great believer in being polite to people, no matter what they were doing.

“There’s a way of asking people, there’s a right and a wrong way of doing everything, the softly approach was my approach.

“I’ve always been involved with the community from day one. That was my particular approach.

“I’m a people person and I used to go to schools regularly. I got to know all the school teachers personally and a lot of the children got to know me as well.”

Life was very different for a PC in Beverley in the 1960s. Just one was stationed in at closing time so, as Bill says, “you had to be able to handle yourself”, especially as there were no radios in the early days.

“There were a few rum lads when I first came here, well-known families. There was fighting and all that, but there were no stabbings or kickings, it was genuine fighting in those days.

“I was assaulted only once. We’d had trouble with one lad and we heard he was causing havoc at the youth club. I arrived there with a young PC called Ken Brook and we asked where he was and was told he was in the toilet.

“Ken went over the top and flushed him out. I grabbed him and he put his boot right down my shin, so we locked him up for assault.

“When it got to court the magistrate started laughing – he thought it was a joke that I had been assaulted.

“I remember a policeman at training school, a big fellow, and he said: ‘You may be as soft as **** Rice, but no one will assault you.’ And that was the only time I was ever assaulted.

“Also because of my approach, most people would be intimidated by my size and think this bloke can handle himself. And when they knew I had come out of the Marines, that added to it.

“I enjoyed being a community policeman. I used to look after the other side of the railway line.

“I enjoyed it, they were the salt of the earth people who lived there, workers. There’s a lot of nice folks there who I am still very friendly with.

“I used to go to the Grovehill Centre (now Millers) and I became the chairman of the friends and still am. I have been involved with that for more than 40 years.”

Bill retired in the late 1970s to help his son Nigel with his burgeoning transport business. He was the unofficial town crier from 1972 to 1997 – one school, Walkergate, even made a town crier’s uniform for him – and is now in coming up to his 40th year as one of the leading lights of the Beverley Lions.

He’s rightly proud of the work he has done for Lions over the years – “the main thing is you are helping the under-priviliged” – and last year was given the Chairman’s Award from for his services to the community.

Although admitting to feeling “a bit fragile” following an operation to fit a pacemaker, Bill has no intention of stopping his charity work for the Beverley Lions and continuing to work for his adopted home town.

“We have had a super time in Beverley – I don’t regard myself as a Beverleyonian but a lot of people do.”

Will the modern generation throw up a new Bill Rice? It’s extremely doubtful. The man is a wonderful one-off and long may he continue to stride around town and receive the respect he so rightly deserves.

Joy Rice

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. How Beverley could do with officers of that calibre now! But, I suppose, under the present day PC rules, if such a man did emerge he would not be allowed to do the job.

  2. I liked Bill as a tenager growing up in Beverley and he was a great man then and still is, I returned to Beverley for a holiday in 2002 and with my Dad Shep (ex fireman) met Bill in Saturday Market and had a great chat about old times, I remember him having a very large dog.

  3. A true Gentleman, he has been involved with many things in Beverley over the years. Still walks around with a smile and a hello 😀

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