New book by Woodthorpe historian covers life of pioneering police chief who made Nottinghamshire force the envy of Britain

 New book by Woodthorpe historian covers life of pioneering police chief who made Nottinghamshire force the envy of Britain

PICTURED: Historian Tom Andrews with his new book “The Greatest Policeman?’

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The colourful life of a Notts police chief who made the force the envy of Britain is the subject of a new book by a historian from Woodthorpe.

Captain Athelstan Popkess ran Notts City Police for 29 years between 1930 and 1959 and in that time ensured his force was one of the most innovative in the country.

During his tenure police officers in Notts were the first in the country to get walkie-talkies, use police dogs and have access to a forensic science laboratory.

And now his life is now being celebrated in ‘The Greatest Policeman’, a new book by Tom Andrews.

But as well as his successes, the book also covers a darker period in the police chief’s life.

At the end of his career, Popkess called in another police force to investigate suspected corruption in the Nottingham City Council, which resulted in his suspension by the very people he was investigating.

He was ultimately exonerated in his actions by the Home Secretary, but the ‘Popkess Affair’ –as it became known – broke the Chief Constable and he made the decision to retire a few weeks later and never returned to Nottingham.

Tom Andrews explains what drove him to write the book.

“I’ve had an interest in local history for several years and the name Athelstan Popkess kept cropping up,” he said.

“Apart from having a particularly excellent name, it made me interested to find out why this man left such a mark on the City.

“It transpired there was comparatively little written about him, but that actually there was a massive amount that he had contributed to both the City of Nottingham and police work on a national level.

PICTURED: Captain Athelstan Popkess

“Capt Popkess almost single-handedly invented police radios in the early 1930’s, working with a local ham radio operator to develop them, rather than big national or international companies.

He then combined the radios with the increasingly accessible motor cars, to form mobile and responsive police patrols, able to respond to police-linked burglar alarms instantly – something else he invented.

“Those were just a couple of his inventions during his near 30-year leadership of the Nottingham City Police Force. As I conducted my research it also appears he also invented sirens on police vehicles, traffic wardens, a police driving standard, driver theory and hazard perception tests and speed cameras. He also pioneered and improved drink drive legislation, police use of forensic science and Air Raid Precautions in the lead up to and during the Second World War.

It was incredible that one man had done so much for the police, only then at the end of his career to be treated with contempt by his employers – the City Council.

“Following his suspension, an estimated 7000 people protested for his re-instatement in Nottingham’s Market Square – that’s quite inconceivable in today’s day and age that so many would come out to support a police officer – and a real testament to his popularity in the city he had put on the proverbial map.

“These examples just scratch the surface of a man who had a very colourful childhood (like something out of a Rudyard Kipling novel) and an interesting army career, having cheated death on several occasions, before even joining the police.”

The book is published by Blue Lamp Books, and is available to order on Amazon or from the publisher directly here:



  • Slight mistake in the heading Gedling Eye. It wasn’t the Nottinghamshire Force he made the envy of Britain it was the Nottingham City Police.

    Bob Rosamond
    Ex Pc 267 Nottingham City Police

    • Thanks Bob. We’ll correct. Appreciate you contacting us

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