A favourite sub-genre of Christmas stories for children is the festive crime caper. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Home Alone and that episode of the Simpsons where Bart burns down the tree and blames it on burglars. Perhaps it plays into a sense of unease about a festival that allows a an old bearded man to creep into your children’s bedrooms in the dead of winter.
The outstanding British contribution to this warped tradition is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Cops and Robbers. The great couple of children’s literature have previous with housebreaking; their Burglar Bill book is a classic romantic comedy. But where Bill and his squeeze Burglar Betty find redemption through love and return their presents, this tale has a cast of unrepentant bad guys in the Ealing comedy mould. They come with classic Ahlberg names like Grabber Dan, Billy-the-Bag and best of all crime Queenpin, Grandma Swagg.
But they meet their match in Officer Pugh, London town’s most revered copper, ‘He can run like a hare, and fight like a bear; And he’s good at crosswords too.’
Pugh single handedly rounds up the gang (in his underwear) and locks them up beneath the station, as a joyous Christmas party takes place overhead – in one of the book’s wonderful cross-sections. The details here are fantastic, including a bizarre map of the UK, the spare helmet shelf and someone nipping off to the gents.
The following night Officer Pugh dons the white beard and climbs down some snow covered chimneys. Christmas is back on, but hide your pressies, Grandma Swag is still on the loose!Cops and Robbers is published by Puffin Books