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Old-Fashioned Copper

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"Smooths the bumps from Justice's path with 'is truncheon, does 'e?"
Inspector Abberline on Sgt. William Thick, From Hell.

The PC who's not so PC.

A British police officer who entered the force before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There is something of a spectrum within this trope, with the unifying theme being a hankering for direct policing methods unhampered by such niceties as paperwork and the rights of suspects. Or, come to that, the feelings of victims.

At the one extreme are those with a tendency to favour "old fashioned" methods of policing, which usually involve beating up suspects, fabricating confessions (a process known as "verballing") and planting evidence. Being corrupt, misogynist, racist etc. is optional. Basically, the British version of the Cowboy Cop.

At the other end is the Dixon of Dock Green trope, an even more old-fashioned police officer from the days when (at least on television) policemen wouldn't even think about doing the illegal or corrupt, but were permitted to use much more force (both physical and psychological) than is perceived to be acceptable today. Such an Old-Fashioned Copper will likely be The Cape (or one of them) of the franchise — with such a deeply-ingrained sense of fair play, there are few other possibilities for such a person. But he may also take thinly disguised glee in the bad guys getting their comeuppance. Nor would he be above giving (say) a ten-year-old a "clip round the ear", sure in the knowledge that if the child's parents found out they would face much worse.

British cop shows found many intermediates between these extremes and often had characters representing different versions within the same show.

May make use of Torture for Fun and Information. See also Lawman Baton which is something these characters will almost always be armed with.


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    Film — Animated 
  • At the end of Cars 2, several British police cars wearing bobby helmets are actually summoned by the Queen to arrest Miles Axlerod after Mater tells her about his treason against her and that he is the leader of the Lemons.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Inspector Cleaver in I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle is a bullying, world-weary, middle-aged cop, who has a Cockney accent despite working in Birmingham.
  • In Mystery Road, Sarge just wants a peaceful life in his bailiwick, and is willing to sweep things under the rug if it will prevent a race war breaking out in his town.
  • Although not a British film, Jimmy Malone fills this role in The Untouchables (1987). Malone is introduced by being such a hardass that he tells Elliot Ness to straighten up. His idea of recruiting a new cop? Go directly to the Police Academy and find the guy who shoots straightest. Gets downplayed in the end, seeing that Jimmy ultimately picks the second-best shooter, as the best shooter could barely put together an intelligible sentence:
    Jimmy Malone: I give you the next chief of police!

  • On the ''Discworld':
    • "Mayonnaise" Quirke of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch - "rich, thick, oily, and smelt faintly of eggs."
    • Vimes and most definitely Carrot as the Dixon of Dock Green-types. Vimes started when this behaviour (and worse) was acceptable, but had a good mentor and who better than himself to steer him straight. Carrot is a shining beacon of justice and pure-heartedness, enough to give even Vimes headaches.
    • Fred and Nobby skirt the edge; in Night Watch they were definitely headed that way, but in the later novels seem to realize that sort of thing just isn't done anymore, though they do seem a bit vague on exactly why (other than that if they do it and Vimes finds out... and Vimes will find out... he'll go spare - or librarian poo in the vernacular).
  • The gnomes in the Forest of Boland Light Railway have a Dixon-like policeman who runs the town jail.
  • Hamish Macbeth (books and TV series) gently spoofs the Old-Fashioned Copper.
  • These stereotypes appear in China Miéville's Kraken. They are dimly remembered manifestations of this archetype, wholly created by a police witch. This is definitely a novel in which all myths are (or at least, can be) true.
  • DCI Alexander Seawoll in Rivers of London, big, brawny, likes to swear a lot, hates paperwork and coppers who do magic. Also a policeman to his bones and knows exactly what to say and what not to say in a cover-up or witch-hunt.
    • Thomas Nightingale of the same series seems to be of the second, more genteel type, but the nature of magical crime and criminals means there's no real way to bring them in "by the book," and he is likely to suggest justice of a more permanent nature. Over the course of the series his apprentice Peter Grant has attempted to steer him away from this mindset, at least as a first option.
  • Robert Westall often had policemen at either end of the scale appear in his work. Futuretrack Five had more corrupt British Police; a scruffier, less-disciplined and easier to con or bribe force than the unswerving Paramils. Break of Dark had Sergeant Nice; a copper who volunteered to do school talks, cycling proficiency tests and saves worms from being trampled on the station doormat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 1983 sketch series Alfresco had a sketch in which a policeman in Victorian uniform walked into a modern police station, prompting another bobby to remark, "That's what I like to see - a good old fashioned copper."
  • Several appeared over the course of The Bill. DI Frank Burnside was one of the most noticeable and even got his own spin-off.
  • Australian rather than British, but close enough: Blue Heelers subverts this with Tom, Mark and Ted, who are old enough but don't go for the Police Brutality...that is until the station bombing sends Tom off the edge. Superintendent Adamson and Homicide detective Paul Donald straddle the line, with Maggie's father Pat being homophobic and needing little reason to bust heads plays this straight.
  • Copper has the American Civil War era NYPD, which is pretty much indistinguishable from the street gangs it's supposed to be cracking down on.
  • George Dixon, of Dixon of Dock Green, is generally taken as the canonical example of the 'old fashioned bobby', firm but scrupulously fair, and the source of the catchphrase "Evening, all".
  • Another Australian example is Sergeant Bill Hobart from The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Set in the early 60s when such things were not uncommon, Hobart is a racist thug who is not above beating a confession out of a suspect with a phone book (although he does possess an innate streak of decency). He is contrasted by the younger Sergeant Charlie Davis who represents the new breed of law enforcement that is gradually emerging.
  • Fred Thursday in Endeavour is more of a Dixon of Dock Green type, although he does go in for some Police Brutality every now and again.
  • Hamish Macbeth (books and TV series) gently spoofs the Old-Fashioned Copper.
  • The Last Detective has its hero, Dangerous Davies, as the "Dixon of Dock Green" type, but his DCI as one of these. The two were originally partners.
  • This kind of officer plays a role in the backstory and opinions of DS Ronnie Brooks of Law & Order: UK. He was a young officer during the heyday of this type and disapproves of it. In one episode, he's shown as being more willing than his young partner to believe that police left an unliked colleague to die, since unlike his partner, he has a lot of experience with bent coppers. In a later episode, he is clearly reluctant to believe that a former partner of his is corrupt, though this sentiment could be due more to his friendship with the man rather than being willing to turn a blind eye. Indeed, when confronted strong evidence of the man's guilt, he is forced to admit it.
  • DCI Gene Hunt from Life On Mars. In some respects, he underplays reality - there were quite a few coppers like him.
  • Several police officers appearing in Monty Python's Flying Circus, all of them played equally for satire and laughs. Graham Chapman was infamous for playing these.
  • While set in Canada, not Britain, Murdoch Mysteries does portray many Toronto cops of the late 19th century as more or less like this. In one episode, Murdoch notes that his old inspector urged him to fabricate evidence against a suspected rapist, which he was incapable of doing. The rapist was indeed guilty, and this "failure," as it were, comes back to haunt Murdoch years later. Inspector Brackenreid shows some tendencies of this early - and remains willing to get his hands dirty as needs must - but generally gives Murdoch the benefit of the doubt.
  • Jack Halford, Gerry Standing and Brian Lane in New Tricks, although they cheerfully excuse their flagrant bending of the rules with the (reasonable) justification that technically they aren't actually police officers any more.
  • The "Constable Savage" sketch of Not the Nine O'Clock News.
  • The protagonists of The Professionals, although in their case, they were officially given a "license to bend/break the law" for cases too dangerous for regular police to handle.
  • Inspector Edmund Reid and Sergeant Bennett Drake of Ripper Street are of the "Dixon of Dock Green" type - they're heroic overall and definitely not corrupt, but this being the Victorian era they see absolutely nothing wrong with resorting to brutal tactics and beating confessions out of suspects. At the other end of the spectrum there are also corrupt villainous Dirty Cops such as Inspector Jedediah Shine, one of season two's Big Bads.
  • Several appear over the course of Rumpole of the Bailey. Rumpole disapproves, and not just because it's his job to defend the suspects they've stitched up. Special mention goes to Detective Inspector Brush, a recurring antagonist over the years.
  • The cops on The Sweeney are pretty much the archetypal characters who represent this trope, although they aren't old-fashioned themselves since the values represented were alive and well in the '70s when the show was made.
    Regan: Get your trousers on. You're nicked.
    Carter (to the perp's girlfriend): Have a lie in, luv.
  • The Thin Blue Line:
    • Derek Grim acts the part with his loathing of modern "fannying about", but is mostly a wannabe, not to mention a buffoon.
    • Fowler's an even more old-fashioned cop; he, however, is old-fashioned in the "Dixon of Dock Green" fashion.
  • Jack in A Touch of Frost, but not too badly and he only does it to get the right people convicted. He does have standards though, in one of the books he says that whilst he has planted evidence at crimes to point to the killer, he has never "lost" unfortunate evidence. He's also a step down from the obnoxious Frost of R D Wingfield's books.

    Video Games 
  • The Weary Detective from Cultist Simulator. He's just an ordinary cop who, through some grave misfortune, got stuck on the Suppression Bureau and now finds himself chasing down the Eldritch Abomination conjuring Villain Protagonist.
    This gentleman would much rather be left alone with his pipe and his Illustrated London News, but no, apparently some conjuror of abominations has to be hunted down like a mad dog, and apparently no-one else can find the time.
  • The Bobbies of We Happy Few are meant to invoke this trope, but function more as the armed goons of Wellington Wells. Their main purpose is to beat down (or kill) any Downers they find.