Robert Mark

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Sir Robert Mark

Sir Robert Mark, March 1977.jpg
Mark in March 1977
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
In office
17 April 1972 13 March 1977
Preceded by Sir John Waldron
Succeeded by Sir David McNee
Personal details
Born(1917-03-13)13 March 1917
Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester
Died30 September 2010(2010-09-30) (aged 93)
Profession Police officer

Sir Robert Mark GBE QPM (13 March 1917 30 September 2010) was an English police officer who served as Chief Constable of Leicester City Police, and later as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1972 to 1977.


Mark was the first Metropolitan Commissioner to have risen through all the ranks from the lowest to the highest (a route followed by all subsequent Commissioners), although a few predecessors had served as Constables prior to fast-track promotion.

Early life

Mark was born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb of Manchester, the youngest of five children of a prosperous mantle manufacturer originally from Yorkshire. He was educated at William Hulme's Grammar School, where he was undistinguished academically, but became captain of rugby and head prefect.

Police career begins

When he left school in 1935 [1] he got a job as a carpet salesman, but finding this boring, [2] in 1937 he joined Manchester City Police as a constable, much to the dismay of his father, who considered it beneath him and said becoming a policeman was only one step above going to prison. [2] [3] While still a probationer he joined the plain clothes branch, mainly dealing with vice, [1] and in 1938 [1] he joined Special Branch.

Army service

In 1942 he joined the British Army, trained at Sandhurst. Mark recalled a test for claustrophobia which involved being tipped down a 45 degree drainpipe into a pitch black chamber with two false and one actual exit. [4] He was commissioned into the Royal Armoured Corps in October 1943. [5] He initially served with the 108th Regiment (Lancashire Fusiliers), but through the influence of his elder brother James, who worked at the War Office, [2] he then transferred to the Manchester Regiment in December 1943, [6] attached to the GHQ Liaison Regiment, known as Phantom, which provided liaison with special forces units. With them, he took part in the Normandy Landings. In 1945 he was promoted captain and posted to the military government at Bad Oeynhausen in Germany, where he remained until his demobilisation as a major in 1947.

Return to Manchester

Returning to Manchester and Special Branch, he was soon promoted Detective Sergeant, [1] but considered leaving the police [2] until he received a series of rapid promotions, to Detective Inspector in 1950, [1] uniformed Chief Inspector in 1952, [1] Superintendent, and finally Chief Superintendent in charge of the force's administration, still younger than any inspector in the force. [2] He applied for the post of Assistant Chief Constable of Newcastle upon Tyne, but was unsuccessful and instead enrolled on the senior command course at the National Police College.

Appointed Chief Constable

On 1 January 1957 he was appointed Chief Constable of Leicester. There he instituted many reforms, especially regarding Leicester's traffic problems, including appointing the city's first traffic wardens. He acquired the nickname "Lone Ranger of Leicester". [3] Following the 1966 escape of the spy George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs, Mark was appointed to the Mountbatten inquiry into prison security. Here he attracted the attention of Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins, [2] and in February 1967 was appointed Assistant Commissioner "D" (Personnel and Training) of the Metropolitan Police, [7] where his welcome was less than ecstatic from a force that did not like outsiders; [3] at the end of his first week, he was encouraged by Commissioner Sir Joseph Simpson to apply for the post of Chief Constable of Lancashire. [1] The following year he was briefly appointed Assistant Commissioner "B" (Traffic). [1] However, in March 1968, Simpson died in office. Peter Brodie, Assistant Commissioner "C" (Crime), was widely tipped to succeed him, but Home Secretary James Callaghan saw the opportunity to impose government will on the force and offered the job to Mark. [1] Mark, realising that an outsider would not be accepted at this time, suggested the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Sir John Waldron, with himself succeeding Waldron as Deputy Commissioner. [1]

CID reform

The Metropolitan Police had recently been rocked by exposure of massive corruption in the Criminal Investigation Department, and Mark, with the famous pronouncement that "a good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs", [2] set about attempting to reform it. He changed disciplinary procedures, returned many detectives to uniform, made a number of television appearances praising the uniformed branch following student unrest and protests against the Vietnam War, and began to gather around him a group of loyal, ambitious uniformed officers who had not graduated from the old Hendon Police College. [1] The uniformed branch began to gain precedence and CID was increasingly put under uniformed command. In 1971, with Brodie, an old-school officer who commanded CID, out of the country, Mark formed A10, a special unit established to investigate corruption. Among those rooted out were Commander Kenneth Drury, head of the Flying Squad, and Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody, head of the Obscene Publications Squad and ironically also of the Anti-Corruption Squad. Both were jailed, along with several other officers, and nearly 500 more were dismissed or forced to resign. [1] [3] In general, he was supported by the uniformed branch, who were themselves exasperated with CID corruption. [3]

Appointed Commissioner

Following Waldron's retirement, he was appointed Commissioner on 17 April 1972. [3] [8] Brodie took early retirement the day before and was replaced by Assistant Commissioner "B" Colin Woods, who had never previously served in CID. Mark continued to root out corruption, ably assisted by his Deputy Commissioner, Sir James Starritt. He also had to deal with the increase in IRA terrorism, including the Balcombe Street Siege, and also the Knightsbridge Spaghetti House Siege, taking personal command of both. Although popular with liberals for his stamping out of police corruption, Mark was himself far from a liberal, had no time for anti-establishment demonstrators and such groups as the National Council for Civil Liberties, [3] and was responsible for the introduction of the Special Patrol Group, [1] whose paramilitary methods provoked considerable criticism. Mark resigned in 1977 following a public disagreement with Jenkins, then Home Secretary, over the Police Act 1976 and the introduction of an independent police complaints body, which Mark considered would undermine police discipline and effective investigation. [1] [2]


He was awarded the Queen's Police Medal in the 1965 Birthday Honours, [9] knighted in the 1973 New Year Honours, [10] and appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in the 1977 New Year Honours. [11] He was appointed Knight of the Order of Saint John in 1978. [12]

Order of the British Empire (Civil) Ribbon.png Knight-Bachelor.ribbon.png Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png
Queens Police Medal for Merit.png Ribbon - 1939-45 Star.png Ribbon - France and Germany Star.png Ribbon - Defence Medal.png
Ribbon - War Medal.png Ribbon - QE II Coronation Medal.png QEII Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Police Long Service and Good Conduct ribbon.png

Order of the British Empire (Civil) Ribbon.png Order of the British Empire (GBE)
  • 1977
  • Knight Grand Cross
  • Civil Division
Knight-Bachelor.ribbon.png Knight Bachelor (Kt)
  • 1973
Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png Order of St John (K.stJ)
  • Knight of Justice
  • 1978
Queens Police Medal for Merit.png Queen's Police Medal (QPM)
  • 1965
Ribbon - 1939-45 Star.png 1939–1945 Star
Ribbon - France and Germany Star.png France and Germany Star
Ribbon - Defence Medal.png Defence Medal
Ribbon - War Medal.png War Medal 1939–1945
Ribbon - QE II Coronation Medal.png Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
  • 1953
QEII Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1977
  • UK Version of this Medal
Police Long Service and Good Conduct ribbon.png Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

Mark received the Freedom of the City of Westminster on 22 June 1977 and the City of London on 23 July 1979, and the Freedom of the City of New York from Mayor John Lindsay. [13] He received the honorary degrees of Doctor of Letters from the Loughborough University of Technology in December 1976 and Doctor of Laws from the University of Liverpool on 6 July 1978.

Post-retirement activities

Following his resignation, he became a director of the private security consultancy Phoenix Assurance and Control Risks. From 1970 to 1978 he was a visiting fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford. In the late 1970s, he appeared in television adverts for Goodyear tyres and his "I'm convinced they're a major contribution to road safety" became a widely used catchphrase. [14] (This advert was parodied by both Dave Allen and Not the Nine O'Clock News .) In 1976, Mark travelled to the United States to chair a conference designed to assist the Washington, DC-based Police Foundation in setting up the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank devoted to training police executives and improving management practices.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

He married Kathleen Mary Leahy in 1941; they had a son and a daughter. She died in 1997. His memoirs, In the Office of Constable, were published in 1978. He also wrote Policing a Perplexed Society, published in 1977.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Obituary, The Independent, 5 October 2010
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Obituary, The Telegraph, 1 October 2010
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Obituary, The Guardian, 1 October 2010
  4. Mark, R. (1978). In The Office of Constable . Collins. ISBN   0-00-216032-3. OCLC   966044995.
  5. "No. 36244". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 November 1943. p. 4964.
  6. "No. 36343". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 January 1944. p. 462.
  7. "No. 44243". The London Gazette . 7 February 1967. p. 1433.
  8. "No. 45656". The London Gazette . 25 April 1972. p. 4912.
  9. "No. 43667". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1965. p. 5503.
  10. "No. 45860". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1972. p. 2.
  11. "No. 47102". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1976. p. 7.
  12. "No. 47705". The London Gazette . 5 December 1978. p. 14602.
  14. "Ex Met Police chief Sir Robert Mark dead at 93". Daily Mirror. 2 October 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2019. In the late 70s, Sir Robert appeared in adverts for Goodyear tyres. His sign-off comment, "I'm convinced they're a major contribution to road safety", became a nationally known catchphrase.
Police appointments
Preceded by
Neil Galbraith
Chief Constable of Leicester
Succeeded by
Last incumbent
Preceded by
Tom Mahir
Assistant Commissioner "D", Metropolitan Police
Succeeded by
John Hill
Preceded by
Andrew Way
Assistant Commissioner "B", Metropolitan Police
Succeeded by
James Starritt
Preceded by
Sir John Waldron
Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
Succeeded by
John Hill
Preceded by
Sir John Waldron
Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
Succeeded by
David McNee