Evening Over Rooftops - Edgar Broughton Band
Before interviews (see two posts ago and previous), the process of recruitment generally begins with advertising. In the light of recent headlines about allegations of racism and misogyny in the police force, it has surprised me that more hasn't been made of the kind of person who would want to be a policeman in the first place. Most, I would say, have a strong desire to serve the community, and to keep law and order. The epitome of this approach was surmised in the lead character of the long running BBC police drama series of the 1960's "Dixon of Dock Green", a local bobby on the beat who started and finished each episode speaking straight to camera, opening with a salute and a cheery "good evening all" and closing with the same relaxed salute and "goodnight all" against a nighttime backdrop. This re-enforced the common public perception of the police, Sergeant George Dixon, friendly and avuncular, tough but fair and above all honest, working hard to keep us safe all through the night. The show was broadcast at the peak viewing period on Saturday evenings and must have been watched by well over half of the tv-owning public, there being only two UK channels at the time, and therefore was massively influential in shaping the general public's view of the police.
I have for over thirty years put on public performances of all kinds, from classical to rock music, from theatre through street theatre to circus, from dance to giant firework displays. I have also managed events in decent sized London venues, and, amongst other necessary details, I have frequently organised stewarding, recruiting and managing them as part of the event.
Over the years I have come to realise that by far and away the best steward material are college students or just young people who work in sports or with community groups, plus also friends of your good stewards. Once, however, it was arranged that I should take on stewards who had been recruited and trained by an arts agency. The idea was to give job opportunities, work experience and training to members of the ordinary public, including the unemployed. Out of over a dozen trained-up individuals that I managed from this source, only one turned out to be someone I was happy to continue to use. The problem lay at the first stage of recruitment whereby an advert had gone out to local press and agencies advertising for stewards to assist in crowd and safety management at events and festivals. I soon found out that the people who responded to this usually had an exaggerated sense of their own importance at any event they were supposed to be stewarding. They were always telling the public what they shouldn't be doing, officiously moving them back behind lines, taking matters into their own hands when they should have been deferring to someone senior and generally showing all-round and consistent lack of judgement. They often provoked confrontation with members of the audience. I found myself worrying about them rather than the event I was supposed to be managing. With up to four thousand members of the public attending, this was not a healthy scenario.
Not infrequently the people who want to be stewards - or policemen - are just the sort of people who you don't want to be stewards or policemen, frustrated individuals who want authority and power, who believe that they are right and misunderstood, sometimes with violent tendencies. As I said, my experience was that students generally made the best stewards, particularly students in the arts. This was because they were young, intelligent, openminded but disinterested, and had no axe to grind. They were good at communicating with the public and had what are known as "transferrable skills". They could be relied upon to act sensibly and responsibly, with compassion, yet have the nous not to act beyond the remit of that responsibility.
My all-time best steward wasn't an arts student, she was (and is) what I would call a community sports and health activist and is one of the nicest and strongest people I have ever met. She was pitch perfect in her ability to assess people and situations, and exuded friendly vibes at the same time as gentle authority. I have seen her pick up twice as much gear in one go as your on-sight circus stevedore, before moving trespassing children off the same installation area, making them laugh along with her as they went.
Close second is the guy - the brother of an arts students steward - who first worked for me checking tickets on the doors of a major London venue and now is the manager of that same venue.
And then there's Aldo, who worked there too - for a while. He hitched across Europe from his home in Turkey at the age of 17 to see Bob Dylan perform at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival and never made it back. It took him ten years to get from Southampton to London. Aldo was a name he adopted while working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Bournemouth in the early seventies. You can see how he developed the skills.
Here's to them, and all the other good stewards I've worked with, and their honest ways.
Like many a steward, Spring has finally turned up, as Edgar Broughton and co present perhaps the greatest spring record of all, reminding us of the season's pagan passion, and the circle of time and nature that has us all in its thrall.
And the great line that turns the song into a masterpiece:
"said a prayer for grandpapa, and maybe many more...."