A fog had settled over London on July 28, 1948. All was quiet and seemingly normal. But of course it wasn’t. Visualize if you will a large shipment of gold bullion awaiting transport at London Airport. A gang of evildoers determined to make off with it. And an elite throng of intrepid crimestoppers known as the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad. You have all the ingredients in place for the adventure known as the “Battle of London Airport.” Talk about fodder for a summer blockbuster action-adventure movie or at least a page turner to take to the beach.
You’d certainly be forgiven for picturing a major confrontation with flying aces swooping in for a pitched battle with the bad guys. But this is England. 1948. More likely a bevy of bobbies pedaling in on their bicycles or on foot, with nightsticks drawn, like so many Keystone Cops.
In fact, The Metropolitan Police Flying Squad didn’t have a flying machine to its name. Formed back at a time when the Wright Brothers and other dreamers were still tinkering with air travel, the Squad — known at the time the Mobile Patrol Experiment consisted of a dozen members of Scotland Yard. Their original mission was to chase down pickpockets by hiding in a horse-drawn carriage with peep holes cut in the canvas top.
During the 1920s, the squad expanded to forty officers, under the command of a Detective Superintendent and was authorized to carry out duties anywhere in London without observing the normal policing divisions, thus earning the name “Flying Squad.” It was also given the nickname “the Sweeney” (as in Sweeney Todd) for reasons that remain obscure.
The 1948 Battle of London Airport was the Squad’s crowning achievement, thwarting the attempted theft of £15 million in gold and jewelry.
During the 70s and 80s, however, the Squad came under fire for its close ties with the criminal world (always part of its operating strategy). Bribery and corruption scandals surfaced, and the squad’s commander was jailed for eight years. Twelve other officers were also convicted and many more resigned.
The Flying Squad had lost its wings.
A flying squad without wings is as lost as pirates without a ship. Speaking of pirates, Terry and the Pirate is available all over the place in both paperback and electronic versions. Check it out at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple.