As a showman, George Bryant could not resist the role of a police officer but his performance was not played out in the circus or theatre.

It was in real life the fraudster tried to hoodwink passers by on the Common in Southampton but in Sidney Pollentine he certainly targeted the wrong person.

It was midday on November 30, 1903, when strolling with a woman friend they were suddenly accosted by Bryant on the lane that threads its way past the Cemetery Lake.

"I am on duty," Bryant declared.

The puzzled Pollentine was taken aback.

"What do you mean? We have not done anything wrong, we are law abiding citizens and taking advantage of the good weather."

Bryant ignored the protest and tried to impose his deceitful authority.

"Attention, I am a borough police constable."

Pollentine smartly asked for his warrant card but the unfazed Bryant told his companion: "You may walk on."

Once she had walked a few paces ahead, he demanded of Pollentine: "I want your money."

His response was a punch that landed squarely on his jaw.

Bryant got up and snatching his friend's umbrella, attempted to beat him with it but only succeeded in snapping it in two. He then grabbed hold of the bottom half and used it as a bayonet to jab.

Once again he was floored.

This time he ran off but Pollentine was too quick and with the aid of the park keeper whose office stood about 100 yards away, he was detained until the real police arrived.

After two days in custody, Bryant was brought before the town magistrates, charged with blackmail and causing damage. There was no option to pleading guilty.

"What has been said is three parts correct," Bryant claimed in mitigation.

"Then what about the quarter that is not true?" countered the court clerk.

"He broke the umbrella, not me."

The Bench expressed their concern about the prevalence of similar fraudsters operating on the Common and the town's chief constable William Berry put forward a solution.

"I hope you make an example of him. I would call him a beast, not a man. He is one of a number who frequent the Common solely for the purpose of blackmailing."

Heaping praise on Pollentine, he added: "May I compliment you on your actions."

Bryant was jailed for four months with hard labour.