The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written and directed by Liza Williams.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003m0l/the-yorkshire-ripper-files-a-very-british-crime-story-series-1-episode-3

Episode 1, Chapeltown.

We all know what happened to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed in the late seventies the Yorkshire Ripper, he was arrested in January 1981 and sent to Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, for thirteen murders and eight other attacks on women. Although we sometimes hear in the press of him getting fat or going blind with diabetes or being attacked by other inmates – I can’t remember, whether he’s alive or dead, and I guess like many others, I don’t really care – case closed.

Liza Williams re-opens the case and looks at it through a lens in which journalist Joan Smith sum it up as ‘a conversation among men about dead women’.

Listen, to example, this conversation between Michael Greene, a senior officer in the investigation of the murders and a prostitute in Moss Side in October 1977, when at least nine victims have been linked with the Ripper. A police operation costing an extra two million has been given to the police and 150 000 car number plates logged, 4000 cars a night on Moss Side alone.

Greene with a film crew approaches a prostitute on a street corner and asks,

‘Are you on the game?’

The prostitute replies, ‘Yes, I am.’

Greene replies, ‘Don’t you know that’s silly!’

This sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but nobody was laughing. You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts, is one response to today’s political shenanigans. There was no amnesty for prostitutes. Arrests of prostitutes increased even as the murders continued. The idea of arresting kerb-crawlers was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

The murder of sixteen-year-old Jane McDonald in Chapeltown on 26th June 1977, we were told changed the mood of the nation. Here was an ‘innocent victim’. There was an open letter from Jane McDonald’s mother printed in the mass media asking Sutcliffe to hand himself in. It followed his usual pattern, hitting the victim with a ball-peen hammer to render them unconscious or incapable or both and stabbing them with a screwdriver and molesting them. This was regarded as an honest mistake.

Prostitutes weren’t regarded as innocent. A fat women from Chapeltown summed it up for viewers, there were bad men she said, but bad women…were a different breed. Them and Us. Jane McDonald was one of us. Everyone else killed was a prostitute and one of them.

Ironically, it was women jurors in the 1950s and 1960s that were far more likely to acquit another serial killer, Peter Tobin, for crimes of molestation, assault and rape, because he was clean cut and the woman brought it on themselves.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Browne was attacked by Sutcliffe at Silsden farm before he began his serial-killing spree. He hit her over the head with a hammer, but a car came over a hill, which disturbed him and her flung her over a wall. She gave a description of him as a dark-haired, with a beard and dark, dark eyes. Later she went to the police, again, after another victim had an identikit sketch of the Ripper and told the officer it was the same guy that attacked her. She was told it couldn’t have been. He only attacked prostitutes was the narrative and the police were sticking to it, regardless of the evidence. Another survivor, a black woman with learning disabilities lost her child after the attack, her description of the attacker was a white man with curly hair and a beard, but she was told she was attacked by an unknown black man.

Joan Smith managed to get a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued to other police forces out with Moss Side and Leeds by the police forces dealing with the killer. It was a fishing operation, to find out if other police forces had anyone they might know that committed similar crimes on their patch. Smith noticed a term that kept cropping up in the ‘Special Notice’ was ‘loose morals’. Olive Smelt, for example, a mother that went out to drink in a local boozer, could not be classified as a prostitute, but she had ‘loose morals’ because she was not at home.

One of the first victims Wilma McCann’s son, Richard, who in 1975 was just a kid of five, appears in the programme. One of the things he noticed was the black-and-white photograph the mass media used of his mother, Wilma, made her look like Myra Hindley.  For me that had resonance because in my unpublished novel (The Cruelty Man) one of the ways the press mocked the accused and inferred she was guilty was to make her look like Myra Hindley. Misogyny was meat and drink of the seventies cops and red-top newspapers. Innocent until you got your tits out for the boys. At least when we used to watch The Sweeney they got their man. Yet we know Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by the police. Sutcliffe didn’t have to be very smart. The police just had to be incredibly dim.

The story Liza Williams tells isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a reconstruction of a different kind of misogynist crime, against women in general, in which women also play aid and abet the culprits. It’s a fair cop guv.

 

 

The Vietnam War BBC 4, iPlayer, Directors Ken Burns and Kym Novik, Writer Geoffrey C Ward

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b096k8wz/the-vietnam-war-series-1-1-deja-vu-18581961

Déjà vu 1858-1961

The Vietnam War, in ten parts, is the best thing on television. Déjà vu seems quite apt, with the United States divided in a way not seen since those for and against the War and those that voted for the moron’s moron as President and those that hate everything he stands for. I’m not a citizen of the United States, but I’m in the latter camp. President Trump, like so many others, was a draft dodger. The metric used to measure military success against the North Vietnamese was body count. Poor and black Americans had the highest conscription and causality rate in Vietnam, but poor and white was next in line. Military hawks argued what was needed was more men and more resources and more firepower. Napalm, Agent Orange, and blowing everything up didn’t work because the American soldier was 8000 miles from home. Here the North Korean soldiers talk about their experiences and how the Ho Chin Min trail was repaired no matter how many times it was bombed, no matter how many lives were lost. It was their county. For all the talk of democracy South Korean was governed by one dictator after another and neither John F Kennedy nor successive Presidents believed in this war. Nor did they believe in the Cold War rhetoric of not allowing another country to fall into Communist hands, but to say so would make them unelectable. America paid the bills for De Gaulle’s French colonialists to take over their former colony after the second world war. Then they paid for a South Korean dictatorship that spiralled into internecine civil war between factions of Buddhists and the Catholic leadership.  Let’s just say we know how this ends – badly.

It’s perhaps also worth looking at Michael Herr’s Dispatches, described by John Le Carre as ‘The Best Book I Have Read on Men and War in our Time’.  This is how it is for the grunts. ‘Breathing In’:

Going out at night the medics gave you pills. Dexedrine breath the dead snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. When-ever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I’d practically flip, hoping to God I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed it.

Here we’ve got it first-hand interviews with who are drafted, press men, Pentagon staff, anti-war protesters and soldiers from the victorious North Korean army. Deakon W Crocker (Jnr) enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. His family remember him as being idealistic. Kennedy’s siren call ‘do not think what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ had him believing in a better world. One which he was prepared to die for. Only he wasn’t. He wanted to live. He was scared of dying. Wanted to go on leave. Wanted out of it. Wisdom came too late. Paul Hardcastle’s British pop number 1 hit, 19, showed the average age of those that died in Vietnam. Crocker was nineteen when he died in a pointless war. Spare a thought for the estimated one- million plus Vietnamese killed.

The draft-dodger President has the world gearing up for another war. One the hawks thing we can win. The North parallel in Korea has around 20 million people in it. All the commander in chief has to do is press a button. Problem solved. All the combined firepower of the second world war in one splinter of a warhead. He’s already boasted about using the biggest bunker-busting bomb. The moron moron’s President’s marshmallow problem.  There’ll be no return home. Only grunts.