Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Janice Longbright

Bryant and May


Janice Longbright is an amalgamation of all the tough women I had ever encountered working in London’s Soho. I spent over a quarter of a century negotiating the madness of this tiny square of land, working and socialising there, but not being much of a late night person I was never one to drag a party on into the small hours. Neither was Soho for most of its life, really – only a very few venues remained open after midnight. But the Soho afternoon was long and the partying was hard.

You’d see the Soho regulars throughout the day; the old Italian ladies cleaning their steps (now gone), the punters queuing to get into the sex cinemas (also gone) and lunchtime strip joints (mostly gone). The strippers would dart across Soho Square heading from one venue to another without bothering to change, and the club hostesses stood in doorways keeping a gimlet eye out for punters.

The alleyways, pubs and neon-lit cafés are all still there, but the sense of risk that filled the Soho night has dissipated, replaced by the more polite hospitality of SE Asian dining bars. There used to be a lot of residents in Soho, living alongside the tailors and butchers, strippers and waiters. Janice is born of this milieu. It’s why, like your gentle author, she feels out of sorts plonked in the countryside and can’t wait to get home.

This feeling was instilled in me by my father, whose sole trips out of London took place on family jaunts that lasted from 11:00am to 7:00pm (he didn’t like night driving) so by the age of 18 I had only been as far as Kent or Sussex, and then briefly. When left to my own devices I went further intro the centre of London.

I suspect that this limited capacity for movement is common among hardcore city dwellers. I have a friend who thinks that the countryside starts at Hampstead, and even for me now, going as far as Wimbledon is an adventure. I’m reminded of JG Ballard, who rarely left Shepperton to come into London, and about whom it was said; ‘He doesn’t mind where he is, because he lives inside his head.’

Janice comes from a long line of townies, all blue uniforms, her mother Gladys having featured in earlier books. The love of Janice’s life was Ian Hargreaves, with whom she had a daughter, but Ian proved less of a workaholic and got out while Janice chose to stay on at the unit. She has regrets, but being able to train Sidney at the unit is a great compensation.

15 comments on “Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Janice Longbright”

  1. John Williams says:

    One must not forget Ronnie Scotts jazz club and Maison Bertaux’s wonderful pastries. Still going strong. I will never forget my visits to the strip clubs there when I was much younger.

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi Chris, Janice is my favorite of all female characters.

  3. Liz Thompson says:

    Brought up in a small village, I transferred to the city (Leeds) easily. I like the shops, the theatres (4 when I first came here), the bookshops (now sadly reduced in number. Thanks Amazon), the (reasonably) regular buses, the restaurants and cafes, the pubs. And the people, every colour, religion, politics, language, orientation, lifestyle. I certainly don’t miss village life, and I don’t suppose I ever will. Occasional trips into the countryside are sufficient to entertain me, and make me recall the disadvantages of living there!

  4. Brooke says:

    If Janice had not joined the police force, she would be an NHS nurse overseeing 2 or 3 units.
    At end of TLH I had high hopes that Janice would be in charge, as May would be no more.

  5. John Griffin says:

    It’s not just city dwellers who don’t travel. My wife is very travel-phobic (hodophobia?) and makes all sorts of excuses even to avoid the train ride into Birmingham (14 miles). During the pseudo-lockdown period the furthest she travelled was 4 miles, and that only a couple of times, and generally did no other than walking the dogs. For a happy traveller like me, can be a bit wearing!
    Janice reminds me a lot in toughness of one of my sisters – also a police sergeant until retirement this year.

  6. Brian Evans says:

    I always see Janice as Eleanor Summerfield, with a touch of Diana Dors but I think older readers like me have been pointed in that direction.

  7. Peter T says:

    Brian, no, no. Don’t see either of those with a house brick in their handbag. Much more Gina Lollobrigida meets Honor Blackman meets Billie Whitelaw. How can anyone not like (or fall in love with) Janice?

    There was a traditional ironmonger (hardware store) in Houston, when I worked there 25 years ago. The propietor was in his eighties. His ancestors had arrived from far away by wagon train a century or more ealier. He himself had never ventured further than the edge of the city, not even down the road to Galveston. He said his wife had travelled: she’d been to Beaumont, almost 100miles away!

  8. Susanna Carroll says:

    You said, that after your 20th PCU book you were going reshuffle the cards a bit. Could were have some more Janice Longbright led cases?

  9. Susanna Carroll says:

    In “Plastic” there’s a cameo appearance by the PCU, so apparently they exist in the same universe, how about a case that throws Janice Longbright and June Cryer together?

  10. Ian Luck says:

    I went through Soho a few years back, and was disappointed with how less ‘dodgy’ it felt. I loved the down at heel vibe of it – my mum knew it like the back of her hand, and would no doubt share my disappointment.
    Several years back, a group called ‘The Correspondents’ put out a track called ‘What’s Happened To Soho?’ It’s actually rather good, (any song that can use the word ‘reprobates’ is fine in my book) and worth a listen. It is pretty accurate, too, sadly.

  11. Dawn Andrews says:

    There’s a scene in one of the books where Janice attempts to talk to John May about how she feels about her life and he goes into the ‘we haven’t got time for this now Janice’ and I wanted to give him such a slap! She is so three dimensional you can practically smell the nail varnish.

  12. David says:

    In my youth St Anne’s Court was the Devil’s alleyway, end to end sleeze and excitement , now it’s home to The Good Housekeeping Institute.

  13. Penelope says:

    Dawn, I agree – I was hoping Janice would get some support in that scene. She asks for so little and she’s so strong. I love her, I enjoy her sartorial style, but NO one would carry a brick in her purse. Too heavy and it would crush her makeup cases. Sorry! It’s always bugged me !

  14. snowy says:

    The brick has always been rather improbable, it would ruin the lining in a flash.

    Janice would have been taught Self-defense’ as part of her initial training as a cadet, [probably a form of Akido, but fashions change over time]. She would have then spent several years in uniform, rolling around with drunken idiots, honing her skills.

    [She might have even enjoyed it, and carried it on as a hobby, may even be a Black Belt, but we have never been told].

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Mum’s truncheon was lignum vitae wood with a steel core. It would have done some serious damage if used. Non lethal? Yeah, right.
    Janice’s brick could be one of those rubber coated ones that are used to teach life-saving skills in swimming pools. It’d still hurt. It could be one of those small bricks used for architectural detailing. She might have customised her handbag, adding a pocket to put the brick in. I knew a girl who kept a spanner in her bag for exactly the same reason as Janice’s brick. I have an image of Janice looking somewhat like the 1960’s model and actor, Margaret Nolan. (Fully dressed, of course.)

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