‘MICHAEL’ WILCOX is not well-known but he had a very distinguished career in the police service, starting as a constable in the City of Bristol Police and ending as the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire. The death of his father meant that he left school early, but his shortened education did not stop him applying to Lord Trenchard’s new Police College established in Hendon in 1934. His success in the entrance exam required him to transfer to the Metropolitan Police.
In 1943, by then an Inspector, he volunteered for the Civil Affairs unit of the Allied Armies. He landed at Salerno and set about ‘liberating’ towns in southern Italy. He was rapidly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and found himself doing the lion’s share of the work in attempting to reorganise the Italian Police. In the immediate aftermath of the war, he played a key role in the policing of occupied Vienna.
On demobilisation he became the deputy Chief Constable of Buckinghamshire and then, after six months, the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire. He served in Herts for the next 22 years. Several of his friends and fellow graduates from Hendon moved on to senior posts in the Metropolitan Police and the Inspectorate of Constabulary. Wilcox had written to his wife during his Army service saying that being a Chief Constable was his ambition as it would allow him to look after her and their children.
On retirement he enjoyed a link with the new Criminology Institute at Cambridge publishing a small book on prosecution which is still well regarded. He also took on a variety of temporary posts for the Home Office.
This is the story of a man who never pushed himself forward; family was as important to him as the job. Nevertheless, he rose through the ranks by demonstrating his ability and a strong commitment to his role. As Chief Constable he appears to have been popular and respected by those who served under him; while he, in turn, made their welfare a key consideration.
CLIVE EMSLEY is Emeritus Professor of History at the Open University. He was educated at the University of York and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was one of the first appointments made at the Open University in 1970. He has also taught and held research fellowships at universities in Australia, Canada, France and New Zealand.
For ten years he was President of the International Association for the History of Crime and Criminal Justice hosted by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, and he was a research associate of the Australian Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security. He has published and broadcast widely on the history of crime and policing.
His Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900 was first published in 1987 and has recently appeared in its fifth edition. His most recent research has focussed on crime and policing in wartime, notably Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914 and Exporting British Policing During the Second World War.
Published under our policing history imprint, Blue Lamp Books