TV & Films

Jack-the-Ripper-Mini-Series-1988-Header
One of the problems facing anyone wishing to make a film about the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, is that we already know history has yet to deliver up a perpetrator. Many suspects have been put forward over the years, but none have proved conclusive. So when filmmakers set about documenting the life of the East End’s most notorious son, they often let their imagination get the better of them, and we invariably end up with a fantasy film with little grasp or adherence to the known facts.

Jack The Ripper Mini-Series

Michael Caine and Jane Seymour in ‘Jack the Ripper’ Mini-series

Happily, this was not the case in the Jack the Ripper mini-series produced in 1988 by director and producer David Wickes. Although the series itself still had a number of historical flaws (just see the busy London street scene complete with horse drawn omnibus which gives an extremely sanitised view of a street of the time – they were normally ankle deep in horse droppings!) Wickes tried to stick to the case facts and reproduce the murder scenes as accurately as possible.

The film stars Michael Caine in the role of Inspector Frederick Abberline (a cockney in the starring role – albeit from the wrong side of the river!) who is assigned the unfolding series of Whitechapel Murders in 1888. His co-worker and co-star in the film is Sergeant George Godley played by the late Lewis Collins, and the cast are ably assisted by Susan George and Lysette Anthony who play the doomed prostitutes Katherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. Jane Seymour plays a talented artist, Emma Prentiss and the actor Armand Assante plays the famous American actor Richard Mansfield (and who excels himself in his nightly portrayal of the eponymous Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde on stage, transforming himself in front of a terrified audience).

Before the film was broadcast, David Wickes claimed that he had been given exclusive access to the files and documentation of the Jack the Ripper case from Scotland Yard, and that his film would reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper for the first time. Wickes was challenged over the claim and had to withdraw his statement, but has gone a long way to present a convincing case. A number of red herrings are thrown into the plot with suspects ranging from Richard Mansfield himself to Prince Albert Victor, the Grandson of Queen Victoria.

jack-the-ripper-1988--Michael-Caine-and-Lewis-Collins

Michael Caine and Lewis Collins in ‘Jack the Ripper’ mini-series

Unlike many films today, the Jack the Ripper mini-series does not descend into a gory bloodbath and uses more subtle ways of conveying the terrifying attacks on the prostitutes. Despite this, the viewer is still treated to some fairly harrowing verbal descriptions of the injuries.

So – is it a good film? That will depend on the viewer’s own tastes and preconceptions. Michael Caine does a fine job and the subject matter, although well-known is delivered in a fairly intelligent and non-sensationalistic way.

The film ends with the disclaimer that –

‘In the strange case of Jack the Ripper; there was no trial and no signed confession. In 1888, neither fingerprinting nor blood typing was in use and no conclusive forensic, documentary or eye-witness testimony was available. Thus, positive proof of The Ripper’s identity is not available.

We have come to our conclusions after careful study and painstaking deduction. Other researchers, criminologists and writers may take a different view. We believe our conclusions to be true.’

Krays-Film-Header
“The Krays”, was a 1990 film based around the lives of two of the East End’s most infamous sons, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Written by Philip Ridley and produced by Hungarian born filmmaker Peter Medak, the film starred real life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet fame, together with the actress Billie Whitelaw who played their doting mother Violet. Whitelaw’s performance is central to the whole film as, in real life, Violet was the centre of the Kray Twins world. Indeed, throughout her life, Violet Kray could see no evil in her two sons, referring to them as ‘her beautiful boys’. The twins returned that adoration.

The cast is ably supported by such fine actors as Tom Bell who played their ill-fated accomplice Jack “The Hat” McVitie, and Jimmy Jewel who gives an excellent performance as the twins boxing fixated grandfather, “Cannonball” Lee.
Kray-Film-Group

The early part of the film concentrates on the twins’ upbringing, and upon the influences various members of their family had upon their development. At all times throughout the film, the importance of the women who helped to shape their young lives is evident, whether though the performance of Billie Whitelaw, or Susan Fleetwood who plays their formidable Aunt Rose.

As a result, the Kemp Brothers enter the film fairly late on. Whilst they make a fairly good job of acting in general, what is often missing is a sense of real menace. In case you should forget, both Kray Twins were imprisoned in 1969 after being found guilty of committing a murder each. They were just 34 years old, and it is this that is so difficult to convey in any biopic – the fact that these two relatively young men had much of East London crime in their control and ran a criminal empire by the simple means of using violence and terror against their enemies and victims.
Krays-Film-Kemp-Brothers

The film attempts to remain true to events as they happened, so scenes such as Ronnie using a cutlass to slice a rival’s mouth open from ear to ear, and Reggie attacking two lads and beating them senseless for the ‘crime’ of talking to his wife are retained. The film is also reasonably well researched so that when we are watching the scene where Reggie has to stab Jack “The Hat” McVitie to death, it is because his gun jammed – which is exactly what happened in ‘real life’.

At the time of writing, a new film based on the life of the Kray Twins is under production and is set to star actor Tom Hardy who has confirmed he has the challenging task of playing both brothers…

Ratcliffe-Highway Murder
Ratcliffe Highway no longer exists as it did in the early part of the 19th Century East End. It derived its name from the red sandstone cliffs which descended from the high ground, where the road was situated, down to the marshes at Wapping in the south.  Nowadays it is simply called ‘The Highway’ but then it was one of the main routes leaving London and was the site of two horrendous murder scenes that claimed a total of seven victims.

A little before midnight on the 7 December 1811, Timothy Marr, a Drapers shop owner, sent his maid Margaret Jewell out for some oysters (regarded as a much more modest meal than by today’s standards) and to run a small errand to pay a bakers bill.

He remained in the shop with his wife Celia, their 3 month old son and his young apprentice called James Gowan.

Margaret returned empty handed having failed in both her errands and found the front door locked and the house in semi-darkness. Hearing footsteps on the pavement behind her, she hammered the door knocker violently and in doing so, gained the attention of a George Olney, a local night watchman, who came out to find the source of the commotion.

Olney too, tried the door, but to no avail. His knocking roused the neighbour, a Pawnbroker called John Murray, who climbed over the adjoining wall at the rear of the building. The back door lay ajar and a weak light shone from inside the premises. Murray tentatively let himself in and entered the shop. The sight that met his eyes would stay with him forever…

He later recounted that “the carnage of the night was stretched out on the floor and the narrow premises so floated with gore that it was hardly possible to escape the pollution of blood in picking out a path to the front door”.

Ratcliffe_Murder_map

The Ratcliffe Highway Murder Location

He first discovered James Gowan, the young apprentice, who was lying on the floor about five or six feet from the stairs, just inside the shop door. The young boy’s skull was completely smashed, his blood was dripping through the floorboards, and his brains had appeared to have been pulverised and thrown about the walls and across the counters of the shop.

Appalled, Murray rushed to the front door to let the night watchman in, but in doing so he came across another dead body, that of Celia Marr. She was lying face down on the floor, and she too, had suffered massive head trauma, and was still bleeding profusely. Murray quickly let in Olney and the pair began searching for Marr. They found the shop owner behind the counter, battered to death. Murray and Olney then rushed to the bedroom of the infant Timothy. Both men recoiled in horror as they found the baby dead in his cot. The entire side of his face had been crushed and his throat had been slit so severely that his head was nearly severed from his body.

The first Police Officer on the scene was from the Marine Police Force (the Metropolitan Police had yet to be created) and he was baffled by what he saw as a lack of motive. Nothing in the shop appeared to have been stolen, there was still a quantity of money in the till and a large amount of cash stored in a bedroom chest of drawers was untouched.

Looking for a murder weapon, Horton found a chisel and a long handled shipwright’s hammer, commonly called a maul, covered in blood, and with human hair sticking to it…

Twelve days later on the 19th December at a Tavern called the King’s Arms in New Gravel Lane, a short distance from the original murder site, a crowd of people were startled by the cries of ‘Murder – they are murdering the people in the house’ and the sight of a near naked man climbing down from the first floor windows using knotted bedsheets. The man, John Turner, was a lodger and as he reached the ground he was shaking and crying uncontrollably.
John Turners Escape

The crowd soon forced open the doors to the tavern to find the owner and publican, John Williamson, his wife Elizabeth and their maid Bridget Harrington. All three had been murdered violently. As before all showed evidence of massive blows to the head, fracturing their skulls and once again all three had had their throats cut, with Elizabeth Williamson’s neck being severed down to the bone.

A ramshackle force of constables from various parishes and a group of Bow Street Runners was quickly convened, and it soon began a series of arrests. In fact, following rewards being offered both by government and various public bodies, over 40 false arrests were made before a leading suspect came to the attention of the officials. A seaman called John Williams who had lodged at a public house called the Pear Tree, just off The Highway in Wapping, was noted by his roommate to have returned after midnight on the nights of both sets of murders. The roommate claimed Williams had a long standing grievance against the first victim Mr Marr from when they were both shipmates.

Post Mortem sketch of John Williams

Despite the scarcity of anything but purely circumstantial evidence against Williams, he was duly arrested and held to appear in front of Shadwell Magistrates. He never came to trial. On the 28th December, John Williams used his own scarf to hang himself from a bar in his cell. However, this was not about to stop the judicial process in its tracks, and the hearing continued, with the court finally deciding that Williams had indeed been guilty of the horrendous crimes. His suicide merely served to convince the court of his guilt, and he was duly convicted as the sole perpetrator of the murder of the seven victims.

However, the case has a more unusual footnote. Although Williams was now dead a group of citizens took the law into their own hands ‘to ensure that his corpse could not rise to repeat his crimes’. As a result, Williams’ body was taken by open cart and paraded past the scenes of the crimes. The group finally halted at the crossroads formed between Cannon Street and St Georges Turnpike, where a small grave had been dug. The body was then bundled into the open grave – and a stake driven through John Williams’ heart. Quicklime was added, the pit was then covered over, and the burial concluded.

NB – The eagle eyed amongst you may recognise this murder as forming the basis of a story in the TV Series – Whitechapel

Matt Munro
It is often said that you don’t miss something until it is gone. Those words apply so much to one of the East End’s greatest vocal performers – Matt Monro.

Born Terry Edward Parsons in Shoreditch on the first of December 1930, Matt was the youngest of five children. Tragedy hit the family in 1931 when Matt’s father, Fred, died from Tuberculosis. The strain of bringing up five children on her own proved too much for his mother Alice, who had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a sanatorium just two years later.

The young Terry was taken into a foster home, but unsurprisingly, behaved badly. His mother eventually returned to care for him herself, but he continued to create problems for her. He moved from school to school and had his childhood further disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, where he became one of millions of children evacuated from the capital.
Matt Monro

Finally, aged 18, he began a term of National Service, serving as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before becoming a tank driving instructor, and was posted overseas, to Hong Kong.

Gifted with a beautiful singing voice, he started to enter a number of talent contests on the radio in Hong Kong, and won several. He eventually became so successful that the talent show organisers banned him from taking part – but as a result, he was given his own radio show ‘Terry Parsons Sings’.

Upon his return to Britain in 1953, the young Terry tried to repeat his success overseas, but fame eluded him. Instead, he married his girlfriend Iris Jordan (who was pregnant with his son Mitchell) and took a series of driving jobs, initially as a lorry driver and then as a bus driver on the No 27 route from Highgate to Teddington.

Matt Munro

Matt Munro with Winifred Atwell and Alma Cogan

Terry eventually got his break in 1956 when he got a position as the featured vocalist with the BBC Show Band. He made a demo record which was heard by the hugely popular pianist Winifred Atwell, who effectively took him under her wing. Persuading her record label, Decca, to give him an audition, they took him on, and Winifred encouraged him to change his name.  Her father was Monro Atwell, and Matt came from a journalist friend of hers.

Matt Monro was born.

Beatles producer, George Martin asked Matt to perform on a Peter Sellers record (under the much less glamorous name of Fred Flange!) in the style of Frank Sinatra, and realised his potential. George Martin knew he was on to a winner and quickly signed him for the Parlaphone Record label.

Hit followed golden hit with favourites such as Portrait of My Love, Softly as I Leave You, and the James Bond Theme, From Russia with Love.

In 1966, Matt switched labels again, this time to Capitol Records, but his singles (with the notable exception of another film theme, Born Free) were not as successful.

He spent some time in the States, touring the cabaret circuit, before returning to Britain and working at the best nightclubs around – clubs like ‘The Talk of the Town’, and he became a regular on TV shows.

Unfortunately, the public were largely unaware of another, darker side to Matt Monro – he was a heavy social drinker and smoker. His GP noticed that his liver had become swollen and wrote in his own notes that at a conservative estimate, Matt Monro was drinking around half a bottle of whisky a day.  Whilst this seemed to have no effect on his public performances, it began to have a detrimental effect on his health and in 1976 he was admitted into the Priory for rehabilitation. This had little success and it wasn’t until another clinic, Galsworthy House, took on the case that they finally got Matt to give up the bottle.

However, by then the damage had been done – and in 1984 he was diagnosed with liver cancer. A transplant was ruled out when it was discovered that the cancer was too widespread, and Matt Monro said goodbye to the world on February 7th 1985 aged just 54.

From Hell
From Hell

There have been numerous films based, albeit loosely, on the ‘career’ of the East End’s most infamous son, Jack the Ripper.  Given the scope for speculation, it is perhaps surprising that there have not been more – but, for dramatic effect, most are inaccurate in their historical portrayal of facts. There is of course nothing wrong with this, as long as the viewer remembers that they are merely dramatic pieces – it’s the difference between reading a novel or an encyclopaedia.

The 2002 film ‘From Hell’ is one such story. Starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, this film has a graphic novel feels to it – unsurprising as that is how the story started out. So firstly, why ‘From Hell’? In one of the letters written by the ‘real’ Jack the Ripper, this was the return address he used on the correspondence.

Set in 1888 in the East End of London, the film starts by highlighting the plight of the unfortunate poor who spend their appalling lives in the city’s deadliest slum, Whitechapel.

Street Gangs force prostitutes to walk the streets for a living, and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her small clutch of companions lives their miserable existence, consoling themselves with the fact that things can’t get any worse. However, when their friend Annie is kidnapped the women are drawn into a conspiracy with connections far higher up the social ladder than any of them could possibly imagine.

Annie’s kidnapping is rapidly followed by the gruesome murder of another of their group, Polly, and it becomes apparent that the women are being hunted down, one at a time. Even by the standards in Whitechapel at the time, this murder attracts the attention of Inspector Fred Abberline (played by Johnny Depp with a half decent cockney accent), a talented yet troubled man whose police work is often aided by his ‘psychic’ abilities, an ability he attempts to enhance by frequent visit to the numerous Opium Dens prevalent in the area at the time. Abberline is portrayed as an opium addict and when “chasing the dragon” he is able to have visions of the future, a certain psychic ability that allows him to solve cases.
From-Hell-Cover

Being Hollywood, Abberline becomes deeply involved with the case, which becomes personal when he and the attractive Mary begin to fall in love. However, as Abberline gets closer to the truth, the Whitechapel area is becoming more and more dangerous for his love interest, Mary, and the other girls. Whichever individual is responsible for the gruesome acts of murder and evisceration is not going to give up his secret without a fight….

The film is entertaining enough, but sharped eyed members of the audience will spot a number of errors that seem to have been overlooked for ‘poetic license’ purposes.

We are shown a shot of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. However, it only gained its “Royal” status in 1990 – for the rest of its previous 250 years history, from when it was constructed on its present site in 1757, it was simply called ‘The London Hospital’.

A short while after the second murder, Inspector Abberline refers to “Jack the Ripper”. However, the murderer was not to become known by that name until the double event murder and receipt of the “Dear Boss” letter, which took place 4 weeks later.

Like most film and Television versions of the Ripper murders, From Hell shows the Ripper’s victims as being considerably younger and more attractive than in real life. Sadly, the vast majority of the prostitutes in the East End were gin soaked and riddled with disease, which quickly robbed them of their looks. Hollywood lets us down again….

Whitechapel- The TV Series
Whitechapel, the TV series (a Carnival Films production) was set in 2008 and is based around a group of detectives in London’s Whitechapel district who find themselves dealing with murders which tend to replicate historical crimes.

The initial series was originally broadcast in the UK on 2 February 2009 and depicted the search for a modern copycat killer who appears to have started to replicate the activities of Jack the Ripper. The ensuing series of bloody and seemingly impossible murders are investigated by the shows three main characters: DI Joseph Chandler, a fast-tracked, but flawed OCD Detective Inspector who has been assigned this as his first big murder case; Detective Sergeant Ray Miles, a hard bitten professional copper nearing his retirement, and Edward Buchan, an eccentric and brilliant Jack the Ripper tour guide, author and self styled Ripperologist.

By series two, the action had switched to some other well-known East End villains, The Kray Twins. A series of crimes mirroring those committed by the Krays, leads the Whitechapel team to believe that Ronnie and Reggie Kray have somehow been resurrected and are once again wreaking havoc in the Whitechapel area. This second series was first broadcast on 11 October 2010.
Whitechapel TV Series Characters

A third series was commissioned by ITV in March 2011, which was extended to six episodes as three two-part stories, and dealt with murders in present day Whitechapel that seemed to be paralleling those of Victorian and Edwardian London.

The fourth and ultimately final series was commissioned by the ITV on 24 September 2012. Once again, Whitechapel ran for six episodes, with the first episode being broadcast on 4 September 2013. This time, the team are met with a number of supernatural occurrences that seem to centre round the Whitechapel CID.

On 16 November 2013, Rupert Penry-Jones who played DI Chandler in the series confirmed that ITV had decided not to re-commission the show and had cancelled it.

Ripper-Street-Header
Ripper Street was a BBC Television series set in Leman Street Police Station, Whitechapel in London’s East End in 1889. The initial story takes place just six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders.

The principal characters in the series are played by Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, and Adam Rothenberg. The very first episode was broadcast on 30 December 2012 and it began a run in the United States on BBC America a couple of weeks later. A second series of Ripper Street returned for an eight-episode run which started on 28 October 2013
Ripper Street

The first series began in April 1889, a few months after the last Jack the Ripper killing in October 1888, and the newly formed H Division of the Metropolitan Police is operating out of Leman Street. Tasked with policing over a mile and a quarter of East London, it has to cope in a district with a population of 68,000 destitute and homeless individuals. The policemen of H Division had already spent much time hunting Jack the Ripper, but had failed to find him. When more women begin to turn up on the streets around Whitechapel, in a manner reminiscent of the Ripper killings, the police start to wonder if the killer of the previous autumn has returned.

The Leman Street police station and “The Brown Bear” public house that are featured in the series are still there in Leman Street, and the Jews Orphan Asylum which forms much of the backdrop to series one still exists. The Asylum was renamed and relocated first to Norwood in South London, and then to Stanmore in North London.