Line Of Duty's Steve Arnott inspired by Commander who loathed bent coppers — and loved a three-piece suit
WHEN Line Of Duty’s creators needed inspiration for a central hero they had the perfect role model in Commander Bert Wickstead.
Like the hit BBC1 drama’s DI Steve Arnott, he was an incorruptible officer who loathed bent coppers — and loved a three-piece suit.
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When he became boss of the newly-formed A10 squad in 1972, he made it his mission to root out the growing army of London’s Metropolitan Police who were in cahoots with criminals.
His son Andrew, 53, who also went on to join the force, said: “He joined the police to combat criminals.
“But he had a real hatred for bent coppers. To him they were even worse than criminals.
“His attitude was, ‘You’ve sworn to serve Queen and country, and that’s what you should do’.”
Bert already had an unrivalled reputation by the time he was appointed boss of the new unit.
He had earned the nickname “Gangbuster Wickstead” for his record in jailing mob bosses and their crew during the Sixties.
He was hired to head A10 by new Met commissioner Sir Robert Mark.
Like DI Arnott, played by Martin Compston, Bert became Sir Robert’s trusted right-hand man.
Together they saw two commanders and 50 officers prosecuted, while nearly 500 were dismissed or forced to resign.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
From the Fifties into the Sixties vast swathes of the Met were in the pay of gangsters, who were bribing them with money, gems, slap-up dinners and foreign trips.
Sir Robert’s crackdown came after two exposés, in 1969 and 1972, involving elite squads who had brought the force into disrepute and saw him brand the Met as “the most routinely corrupt organisation in London”.
The incredible story of A10’s clean-up is revisited in three-part BBC2 show Bent Coppers: Crossing The Line Of Duty.
Bert’s team were always hand-picked by him, and they became known as The Incorruptibles.
Andrew added: “He wouldn’t have anyone forced on him he didn’t want.
"And anyone who even remotely deviated from what they were supposed to do, even if it was a rumour, he’d get rid of them.
“Towards the end he even moved the squad out of London because he didn’t want them being approached.
“If he was doing a raid he would lock the officers away for three days, keep them fed and watered, then let them go because he knew there would then be no leaks.”
Like DS Arnott, a three-piece suit was the trademark outfit for Bert, who was the son of a railway foreman and raised in London’s East End.
Andrew said: “Although he came from very humble beginnings he loved his suits and looking dapper.”
Also like DI Arnott, who in the current series is seen single and struggling with addiction, Bert’s home life was impacted by his work.
Andrew can recall the unique childhood he experienced because his dad was hated by gangsters, bent coppers and their cohorts.
He said: “Me and my brother were taken to school by policemen, bodyguards, not going home the same way.
“We even had to be accompanied when we went shopping and shots were fired through our window. Then we had to move house.
“Sometimes he would go to work and we’d not see him for three days. Even when we were on holiday he’d just say, ‘Bye, I’ll be back at some point’.
“My mum, Jean, was such a strong woman so his own home life wasn’t wrecked.
“They went through some tough times together. She was made Freeman of the City of London for her support. They both were.”
Andrew doesn’t think Line Of Duty can truly reflect his father’s work — because viewers would think it was too far-fetched.
He said: “If he saw Line Of Duty he would probably say, ‘They don’t know the half of it!’”
Andrew also went into working in the field of gang crime and rose to become a sergeant before he retired three years ago. He now lives in Essex with his wife, Lisa, 54, also a retired police officer.
At the moment none of their three children — one son and two daughters aged 13 to 27 — have any ambitions to follow in their footsteps.
Sir Robert stepped down in 1977, and Bert decided it would also be a good time for him to retire.
With him no longer in charge, the unit was described as “a fiasco” and eventually broken up into new departments.
Bert went on to become The Sun’s Head of Security after becoming friends with its owner, Rupert Murdoch. He only fully retired in 1986, and died 15 years later, aged 77.
And the dapper ex-cop got his wish of being buried in a three-piece suit.
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