From CID to PhD - former Essex detective is now an expert in the history of art (From Maldon and Burnham Standard)
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From CID to PhD - former Essex detective is now an expert in the history of art
8:50am Wednesday 28th August 2013 in Local News
From gutsy frontline detective to real-life Renaissance man. DC Bill Teatheredge went from “rufty-tufty” policeman to studious academic, after a chance visit to a London museum ignited his passion for art. EMMA PALMER charts his incredible journey from CID to PhD...
FOR two decades Detective Constable Bill Teatheredge served Essex Police, solving crimes, banging down doors and even taking on a knife-wielding attacker in a secluded car park.
For this act – single-handedly detaining a robber who had just stabbed a woman through the hand – Bill, now 52, was commended by a judge for his outstanding bravery.
But when a progressive hearing problem meant Bill had to be medically retired from the force in 2002, it gave him the chance to do what he really longed for – but it was going to need a different type of courage, that of self-belief.
A few years earlier, Bill had wandered into the National Gallery during a visit to London.
He expected it to be a boring way to kill a couple of hours, but instead it was to be the most fateful day of Bill’s life.
Bill, who lives in north Essex, with wife Sally, explained: “I walked into one room and saw this painting on the wall – it was Gainsborough’s Morning Walk.
“I remember being so drawn in by it, so amazed somebody could capture such a serene scene like that. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I immediately went to the gift shop and bought as many books as I could about art and started reading.”
Bill then started visiting the gallery whenever he had a day off and even attended a major exhibition in New York, as his interest in art exploded.
His medical discharge from the police after 20 years’ service, meant Bill could finally enrol as a full-time student at the University of Essex.
Sitting in tutorials and lecture halls with students mostly half his age would have daunted most people. But Bill soon found he became something of a “go-to father figure”.
He said: “I was the oldest person there most of the time, but after a while I realised how a lot of the skills I had learnt in the force could help me, especially when it came to time management. I ended up helping a lot of the younger students with this.”
Bill spent three years studying for his BA in art history, for which he achieved a first. This was then followed by a Masters in art history, for which he got a distinction.
Not content with these impressive qualifications, Bill then went on to study for three years for a PhD in art history.
Poignantly, Bill’s recent ceremony, to receive his doctorate, took place just two days after his daughter, Samantha, 21, graduated from Warwick University with her degree – also in art history!
He said: “We went up for her graduation ceremony, then rushed back for mine, both in the same subject. I was very proud.”
Bill’s PhD thesis focused on 15th century art master Sandro Botticelli and his famous painting “the Primavera”.
Writing 80,000 words on just one 600-year-old painting, about which hardly anything is known, must have been tough going.
Bill said: “Well, it was a hell of a journey, you could say. This painting is fascinating to me, but I set out to investigate it in a different way and to look into areas nobody had studied too much before.
“For example, my research found the painting may well have originally been a tapestry cartoon.”
Bill then travelled to the home of the Primavera – the world famous Uffizi gallery in Florence, where some of the most famous works ever created, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Carravagio are also kept.
Bill said: “I just stayed there in the Uffizi for two days, staring at the painting, all day from when the museum opened to when it shut. I’d switch on my MP3 player, listen to music and just stare and make notes.”
Bill’s persistence paid off.
“There were so many elements to the painting. Every time I’d go for a quick break in the museum coffee shop, I’d come back and see something I hadn’t noticed before.
“I know some people study a painting, but never actually look at it with their own eyes. I can’t get my head around that. I still remember the first time I saw it. I was quite emotional.”
Bill’s art travels have since taken him to places such as Florence, Rome, Venice and Padua.
The father-of-four admits his former police life is a far cry from his bookish one now.
His career once saw him work on many investigations across the county, particularly in Harwich and Clacton, and even resulted in him appearing on Crimewatch when Jill Dando was still a presenter.
He says: “I did enjoy my time in the force, but I saw some terrible things. I think that’s why I get so much out of studying art. It’s probably the oppposite of my past career.”
Bill, who loves sailing in his spare time and is also vice chairman of Harwich and Dovercurt Rugby Club, said some of his former colleagues were bemused at first by his career swap, making comments like “art’s a posh person’s thing!”
Bill said: “I remember one time, after I had left the force, I was doing some painting and listening to Baroque chanting music at home and some of my police buddies turned up to see me.
“I can’t even describe their faces as they came into the room and heard the music and saw me sitting at my easel! They looked at me and said ‘Bill, we came round to have a cup of tea with you, but by the looks of it we’d better take you for a pint!’ “You’ve got to remember, I’d gone from rufty-tufty cop, known for getting stuck in on the rugby pitch, to reading works by Plato, so it was a shock for some.”
Suffice to say, there can’t be many former detectives with Essex accents who have a PhD in art history – especially ones who left school without a qualification to their name.
“I think my tutors are as fascinated by my life as I am by theirs,” said Bill, who now hopes to secure a job in a museum or heritage setting.
“Art history at Essex is a very knowledgeable, friendly environment. I was supervised by a world-leading professor, Professor Jules Lubbock, and had huge support from the rest of the lecturers.
“Since my 180-degree career turn, I have also met people from all over the world. I feel absolutely privileged.”
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