LIVE TILL THE END OF LOVE
by KEITH TOWNSON (60-64)
(BookPrinting UK 2022; £14.99; available from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Old Pangbournians have had some unusual careers after leaving the College, from Cornish hedger to Australian gold prospector. Keith Townson (60-64), who in retirement has written a 386-page memoir, has added another unique occupation to that list – police finger print expert.
Born and brought up in East Africa the son of a colonial officer employed at the end of empire, Keith arrived at the NCP thinking about a career in the Royal Navy. Fairly soon he realised he would not get into Dartmouth. Nor did he wish to enter a rapidly collapsing UK merchant marine. Yet he enjoyed a disciplined environment and, from an early age, seems to have been a team player.
On leaving the College with no idea what he wished to do with his life, he spent five years as a clerk in the HR section of the National Coal Board before spotting an advertisement to join the finger print department at New Scotland Yard. Joining the Metropolitan Police in 1969, he progressed upward for 13 years before leaving London and moving to the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary in 1982. He was to remain with this force until he retired in 2009, becoming head of its 24-person Fingerprint Bureau which over time became one of the top five such units in the U.K. “I can look back with immense pride on (my) career” he writes at one point.
This is not, however, a self-congratulatory book about the author or the police although Keith does devote several chapters to his work and the key role of finger printing in crime-solving. He also describes in some detail his central involvement with a number of high-profile terror investigations including an attempt by the IRA to murder the senior British Army officer in Northern Ireland. Rather, it is a life review – an attempt to make some sense of his existence for the benefit of his family and those to come.
At the NCP, which gets a forensic 46 pages, Keith was hardly a star – a Cadet Leader in Hesperus Division, four ‘O’ levels, 2nd X1 hockey, 3rd X1 cricket. Yet, on the whole, he enjoyed the experience which, he feels now, “equipped me well” for later life. Various personalities of the time – ‘Tiger’ Knights, Mike Atkins, Commander John Mornement – are mentioned as, by his own account, he “meandered” his way through four years.
Much of the book, though, is devoted to more personal matters. Here the outsider may become confused. Keith has been married twice and has an extended and far-flung family which makes intermittent entrances. Now living in Wiltshire, he and his wife Eve have had a number of ups and downs in recent years. Writing this memoir has been an achievement in itself. “It is an attempt to convey the spirit rather than the anatomy of my life” he claims.
In this, Keith has succeeded. Anyone who knows him, and some who do not, will enjoy the meticulous way he has charted his unlikely course through the past 75 years. An index, better quality images, fewer diversions and more tightly-written explanatory context might have improved the reader experience, but these are quibbles. Try to obtain a copy!
by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)