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

yorkshire ripper files.jpg

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.

 

 

Born to Kill, Channel 4.

born to kill.jpg

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/born-to-kill

This is the first episode of a four-part drama. I won’t be watching the other three episodes. I know the formula – a thrill at every advert break. So like Coronation Street or Emmerdale or whatever soap you watch something big is going to leave you wanting more than your cuppa and something small is left hanging during advert breaks to bring you back with a Kit Kat. Labelling theory contends that what people say you are, you end up ingesting that message and  being. If teenager Sam (Jack Rowan), a model school kid who thwarts bullies bullying another kid on the school bus and spends his time in the hospital reading to old codgers in the geriatric wing and telling them jokes, he’s obviously up to no good because he’s born to kill. Nature or nurture? Well, his mum who is also a nurse on a geriatric ward, Jenny, (Romola Garia) thinks he’s a good kid. Most mums do. Some scenes hint at a kind of incestuous relationship, but that may be how Sam is reading it, because he’s a psychopath. He’s born to kill. Empathy is not something psychopaths do, but they can learn to mimic being human, in the same way that the moron’s moron, Donald Trump can mimic being a President by blowing up the world. Born to kill. Jenny has the dim, dark secret beloved of thrillers and it’s not very secret, her ex-partner is also a psychopath, but he’s liable to come calling…advert time. Then there’s Chrissy (Lara Peake), the new girl at the school. She is grungy, not born to kill, but is an arsonist. She sets fire to the science lab, probably because she was bored and making a statement about moving house, going to a new school and teenage angst. . That’s the kind of friends psychopaths hang about with. Like attracts like. Jenny ends up getting detention for trying to burn the school down. As does Sam, who’s mum thinks he’s really a good kid, because he tries to take the rap for Jenny’s misdemeanours. Jenny’s dad, Bill (Daniel Mays) is a cop, a detective sergeant, so he knows if her arson attack had killed a classroom of kids, she was liable to get detention and lines, having to copy on the blackboard a million times ‘I must not kill my classmates or I’m a psychopathic killer like Sam, but it’s not my fault. I’m stroppy and misunderstood. An amateur. He’s the psycho’. Phew. I’m even tired after that. A bit of times tables tells us one psycho multiplied by another psycho, for example, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rosemary West, means a whole lot of trouble and more detention time.

You know how it goes, Born to Kill is a modern psychological drama starred a new and upcoming actor…must see…not for me.