“He’s too kind for a policeman, he’s never known to frown. And everybody says he is the happiest man in town”

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Leicester Borough P.C 83 John William “Tubby” Stephens

P.C. 83 John William Stephens was well known to the people of Edwardian Leicester. Firstly, he was hard to miss. Whilst his height stood at an average 5 feet 8 inches, just above regulation, his massive girth saw him weigh in at 24 stones (336 lbs), making him the heaviest serving policeman in Great Britain at that time. It is unsurprising that he was given the nickname of ‘Tubby’.

Secondly, he was hard to dislike. Described by many as good humoured and jovial, P.C. Stephens would move loiterers on with his classic ‘chess move’. “Do you play chess?” he would ask anyone he deemed was loitering, “Well it’s your move” he continued, as he bumped the said loiterer along with his rather rotund stomach until they got the message.

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Stephens (or Stevens in some records), was born around 1857 in Attleborough, Warwickshire to Joseph and Sarah. In 1877 a 20-year-old Stephens enlisted into the Army, No 10 Battery, 7th Brigade Royal Artillery, and by 1879 he found himself stationed in Zululand in the midst of the Anglo-Zulu wars in South Africa, for which he received a campaign medal. From then, until January 1886, Stephens split his service between Mauritius, Natal and Cape Colony (Cape of Good Hope), and had gotten married to Sarah Cooke in Cape Town for good measure, before returning to England. He briefly remained in the Army, being stationed at Fort Rowan, Gosport but decided to leave in December of 1886 to try a new adventure in the East Midlands, by joining Leicester Borough Police.

Stephens’s police career spanned for 22 years, and he was seen regularly upon point duty near Town’s iconic Clock Tower. Many people would flock to see this larger than life Bobby, and celebrities who were performing in Leicester, or travelling football supporters, would seek him out just to say they had met P.C. Tubby Stephens, the Pride of Leicester. Even postcards were made of him, such was his appeal

In the morning of Saturday 4th April 1908 P.C. Stephens succumbed to heart disease at his home of 84 Cobden Street. His funeral cortege, flanked by an escort of 20 uniformed Leicester Borough police constables led by Stephens Inspector, Richard Smith Cole, left the family home on the 8th April, and made its way through Leicester, past his point duty location of the Clock Tower and the main Police Station in Horsefair Street, to Welford Road cemetery. Amongst the mourners was Leicester Borough’s Chief Superintendent Theodore Geary, who followed Tubby’s widow Sarah, and their children Edith, Joseph and Florence. So popular was Tubby that this route was lined by 20,000 Leicester folk, all wishing to pay their respects.

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Leicester Borough P.C John ‘Tubby’ Stephens funeral cortege, led by Inspector Richard Smith Cole.

Even in death P.C. Stephens was not forgotten. Musical hall entertained Charles Penrose introduced the world to  the song ‘The Laughing Policeman’ in 1922, and although it has never been verified that this popular tune was based on Tubby, the fact than many associated the song with jolly policeman from Leicester is an indication of the deep affection he was held in.

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN
Charles Penrose


I know a fat old policeman
He’s always on our street.
A fat and jolly red-faced man
He really is a treat.


He’s too kind for a policeman
He’s never known to frown.
And everybody says
He is the happiest man in town.


He laughs upon point duty
He laughs upon his beat.
He laughs at everybody
When he’s walking in the street.


He never can stop laughing
He says he’s never tried.
But once he did arrest a man
And laughed until he cried!


Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho.  Ha  ha ha ha ha ha.


His jolly face is wrinkled
And then he shut his eyes.
He opened his great big mouth
It was a wonderous size!


He said “I must arrest you!”
He didn’t know what for.
And then he started laughing
Until he cracked his fat old jaw.


Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.


So if you chance to meet him
While walking ’round the town.
Shake him by his fat old hand
And give him half a crown.


His eyes will beam and sparkle
He’ll gurgle with delight.
And then you’ll start him laughing
With all his blessed might!

Leicester Borough Police Constable 83 John William “Tubby” Stephens was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Welford Road Cemetery.

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I personally feel it is a shame his grave is unmarked. He served his country both as a soldier and a policeman for his entire adult life, and was fondly remembered with great affection by all in his adopted home town of Leicester.

He deserves a memorial at least, and hopefully that shall be rectified one day.

“Poor old Stephens, how we’ll miss him

from his customary beat;

Never more his stalwart figure

or stern, but kindly face we’ll greet!”

2 thoughts on ““He’s too kind for a policeman, he’s never known to frown. And everybody says he is the happiest man in town”

  1. Great Blog, Neil, and very interesting too. I used to listen to Uncle Mac regularly on the BBC as a child and I always looked forward to hearing Charles Penrose’s record played almost every week. I often wondered if it was based on a real person. I have this tune on my hard drive and play it occasionally to my grandchildren. Of course they love it. I will now be able to tell them the story of Tubby Stephens.

    Like

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