From Lynda La Plante, the creator of the award-winning ITV series Prime Suspect, comes the fascinating story of the iconic DCI Jane Tennison in her early years. Read chapter one here!
It was Monday afternoon and Jane was sitting in her usual seat at the rear of the top deck of the 253 bus, as it travelled up Mare Street in Hackney. Popping the single plastic earphone into her ear, she turned on her prized Zephyr pocket radio, which she had treated herself to after her first month’s wages in the training college. She tuned into Radio Caroline on Medium Wave, and although she knew it was a pirate radio station, it didn’t bother her as she was a huge fan of the rock music they played. The DJ, Spangles Muldoon, announced that the next song was the Janis Joplin hit ‘Piece Of My Heart’. Jane was a big Joplin fan, and often reminisced about how lucky she had been to see her in concert at the Royal Albert Hall for her eighteenth birthday. Although she had been sitting in the gods it had been an electrifying and unforgettable experience, watching Joplin strutting and dancing, all the time holding the audience spellbound through the power and emotion of her amazingly soulful voice. As the song began Jane turned up the volume.
And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I’ve
But I’m gonna, gonna show you, baby, that a
woman can be tough.
I want you to come on, come on, come on,
come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling,
yeah, yeah, yeah yeah.
Oh, oh, have a
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby . . .
You know you got it, if it makes you feel good . . .
Jane was singing along to herself when the bus suddenly jerked to a halt, causing her to lurch forward and nearly drop her radio. She peered from the window and sighed – it was still raining. The light drizzle when she got on the bus had now turned to a dark-skied downpour. She wished she’d worn her uniform cape, but she always kept it at the station in her locker. When Jane had first arrived at Hackney Police Station as a probationer her reporting sergeant had advised her not to stand out on public transport wearing ‘half-blues’. You didn’t want to be recognized as a copper, he’d said, and have an egg chucked at you, or be forced by a bus conductor to step into a trivial situation that might escalate because you were ‘Old Bill’. Instead she wore a buttoned-up black trench coat to hide her police uniform, and was carrying her police hat in a plastic carrier bag. Jane looked at her watch and saw that it was twenty to two. She was due on parade at two o’clock for a late shift until 10 p.m. She glanced at the mirror by the stairs and saw an elderly man being helped on board by the conductor. She had three more stops before she had to get off at the station in Lower Clapton Road.
It often amused her to think of the time years ago when she had been driven to Hackney by her father, who had some business to attend to. He had gestured to the rundown housing estates and shaken his head in disgust, saying it was a part of London he detested. Jane, aged fourteen, couldn’t help but agree with him. Compared to Maida Vale, where they lived, it looked like a dump and seemed a very grey and unfriendly part of London. She recalled being horrified reading newspaper articles about the trial of the notorious East End brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, and how they had lured Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie to a party in Hackney where Reggie stabbed him repeatedly in the neck and body with a carving knife.
Jane smiled to herself at the irony. Little could she have imagined back then that her first posting as a probationary WPC, aged twenty-two, after sixteen weeks at the Metropolitan Police Force’s training college in Hendon, would be in the very area she considered a dump!
She suddenly sprang up, realizing that in her daydreaming she had missed her stop. Clattering down the stairs, she shouted to the conductor.
‘I’ve gone too far – I need to get off.’
‘Not a lot I can do about it, love – you should pay more attention. I’m not allowed to ring the bell in between stops, so you’ll have to— ’
Jane couldn’t wait and as soon as the bus slowed down at the traffic lights she swung her job-issue black-leather handbag over her shoulder and jumped off. The grinning conductor wagged his finger disapprovingly. Jane had no option but to run the quarter of a mile back down the road to the station; she knew she would be drenched by the time she got there. Pulling up the collar of her trench coat she put her head down and set off. Seconds later, she bumped straight into a woman, which sent her reeling backwards and knocking the woman’s umbrella into the road. Her brown paper carrier bag of groceries split open, spilling tins of soup, apples, bananas, potatoes and a loaf of bread onto the wet pavement.
‘Oh no! I am so sorry,’ Jane said.
The woman shook her head as she looked down at her groceries and the ruined carrier bag.
‘Oh my God, you bleedin’ well ran into me – now what am I gonna do?’ she exclaimed in a strong Cockney accent.
Apologizing profusely, and feeling somewhat embarrassed, Jane surreptitiously took her police hat out of the plastic bag and stuffed it in her handbag. She bent down and started picking up the groceries, placing them inside the empty bag.
‘I’ll get me brolly.’ The woman stepped off the pavement without looking.
‘Mind the traffic!’ Jane called out anxiously and stood up.
She gently grabbed the woman by the arm before instinctively holding her hand up to stop the traffic and retrieving the umbrella herself.
‘Is it still working?’ the woman demanded.
‘There’s no damage,’ Jane said, opening and closing the umbrella to check the spokes.
‘Here, you use it so you don’t get soaked.’
It took a while for Jane to pick up the potatoes as they, along with the now bruised apples, had rolled into the gutter. Her hands were soon cold and muddy, and she had to wipe her face which was wet from the torrential rain.
Holding up her umbrella the woman gestured impatiently.
‘Just put the cans of soup in, never mind the vegetables . . . Oh, don’t tell me, the bread’s split open as well.’
‘I’m really very sorry. I’ll pay for everything that’s damaged.’
Far from being disgruntled, the woman gave a wan smile. ‘No need. Besides, all this new decimal stuff confuses me. It was much easier when everything was in shillin’s.’
‘Are you sure? I don’t want to see you go short.’
‘Don’t look so worried, luv. I do office cleaning and the bread was only to make a sandwich for work.’
Eager to be on her way, Jane stepped a few paces back and, clutching her now wet and bulging handbag, wondered what state her police hat would be in.
‘I have to go – I am so sorry.’
The woman suddenly started gasping and heaving for breath.
‘Are you all right?’ Jane asked with concern.
‘No, gimme a minute . . . it’s . . . me asthma.’
‘Do you live nearby?’
‘That’s off Homerton Road on the Pembridge Estate, isn’t it?’
The woman nodded and took more deep breaths. ‘It’s the shock . . . you runnin’ into me.’
‘Long way to walk, you sure you’ll be all right?’
‘Let me . . . get me . . . breath back first.’
‘I’ll help you home.’
The Pembridge was a notorious council estate built in the 1930s. Jane had been to it a few times on incident calls. It consisted of eight five-storey blocks of grimy brick and contained a thousand flats. The residents were of different ethnic backgrounds, but predominantly white. Families of six lived in two-bedroom flats. Drug dealing, fights, vandalism and graffiti were part of daily life, and the stairwells served as urinals for drunks.
Read chapter two next week: Friday