What You Need To Know About The Era Of WPC 56

What does it take to be a female copper in 1950s Britain? WPC Gina Dawson is about to find out.

WPC 56

1. GINA IS A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIME

WPC 56 tells the story of Gina Dawson - bubbly, enthusiastic and, without even really realizing it, a pioneer. That's because she's become the very first female police officer in her home town. Which should be no big deal. She just wants to get on with the job of collaring criminals. This, however, is the year 1956, and enlightened social attitudes are still many years away. Gina has wanted to be a copper since she was a nipper, but she's about to discover first hand what the attitudes of her time mean for an ambitious woman in a police uniform...

2. NOT ALL COPPERS ARE CONSIDERED EQUAL

When Gina turns up for her first day, it doesn't take long before the casual segregation of the workplace is made clear. To put it bluntly, there's such a thing as "proper" police work, which is reserved for "proper" police officers - ie, the men. Because it's 1956, Gina isn't really taken seriously as a copper, and is given the lowly tasks of typing up files, sorting through paperwork, and dealing with any women or children who happen to wander into the police station. Oh, and she also has to make all the tea, naturally. Relegated to a small "office" which is basically a glorified storage closet, she doesn't even have her own telephone. Why? "We'd never get you off it, sweetheart."

3. ANYTHING GOES IN THE WORKPLACE

These days, there are strict rules preventing harassment, bullying and other kinds of wrongness in the workplace. But in Gina's world, anything goes. Uncomfortable banter, practical jokes and snorting bigotry are all just part of everyday life among these very un-PC PCs, and there's no HR department to run to. Gina knows she just has to grit her teeth and deal with it, even when she's subjected to a "Brinford branding" - Brinford being the name of her constabulary, and the "branding" referring to an initiation ritual involving a rubber stamp and her bared thigh. It's all good honest fun, right?

4. THERE ARE SERIOUS DOUBLE STANDARDS

Her colleagues may condescend to Gina Dawson because she's of the "fairer sex", but - lo and behold - she'll suddenly be given hugely dangerous responsibilities when the situation demands it. Like, for example, being expected to go undercover as "bait" to lure out a serial sex attacker. One minute she's not considered a "proper" officer at all, the next she's supposed to go face to face with a violent assailant. It's all part and parcel of life as a female copper in the late 50s. It's a good thing she can take on pretty much anything, then.

5. CASUAL RACISM IS EVERYWHERE

A fear and suspicion of "outsiders" is rife in Gina's world. This, after all, is during the very earliest years of major immigration to Britain, and the concept of "multiculturalism" hasn't become ingrained in the national psyche. What this means is a casual aloofness and, sometimes, outright hostility towards anyone who isn't white. Not good in social situations, and even worse when it comes to police work - especially when Gina's colleagues become convinced that a Jamaican man called Donald Palmer is attacking women at random, and the only person who can exonerate him is silenced by the prevailing racism of the day.

6. SO IS CASUAL MISOGYNY

It's not just Gina who gets stick for daring to be a woman in a cop's uniform. The whole of society seems to regard women as either poor victims (to be coddled like children) or uppity wenches (to be sneered at). Again, this has serious consequences when it comes to police work, when - say - a policeman refuses to believe the testimony of a female crime victim simply because she's a prostitute. It will take an iron will and stubborn determination for any woman to make herself heard and respected in this world... and Gina has both in spades.