TV Series

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The 43 year old singer walked on to rapturous applause, apparently unseen by the two comedians at the front of the stage. ‘That’ said Ernie Wise to his taller, bespectacled companion ‘is the best record Des has ever made’. ‘Why?’ Eric Morecambe said in reply, ‘Is there nothing on it?

Des O’Connor walked to between the comics with a smile on his face – and little wonder. He had been the butt of Eric and Ernie’s jokes for years, and it had helped to cement his position in British light entertainment. Often referred to as ‘Des – short for desperate’, or ‘Death O’Connor’ by these two stalwarts of British comedy, it kept this East End singer’s name in front of millions of TV viewers.

Des (his full name is Desmond Bernard O’Connor) was born on the 12th January 1932 in Stepney in the East End of London to father Harry O’Connor and mother Maude. During WW2 he was evacuated to Northampton (he even went on to play, briefly, as a professional footballer for Northampton Town) and worked for Church’s, the famous Northampton Shoe Makers before entering the Royal Air Force for a stint in National Service.

It was during his time in the RAF that Des was asked to take part in a talent contest, which he subsequently won. It was the start of a career in show business that continues to this day.


Des O’Connor

For an eight year period, from 1963 to 1971, he hosted his own variety show on ITV which was closely followed by ‘Des O’Connor Entertains’ – a show that featured a wide variety of singing, dancing and comedy sketches.

His singing career has seen him record 36 albums, and he has had four singles that entered the top ten, including ‘I Pretend’ which reached number one with world-wide sales that exceeded 10 million records.

Ever popular on the stage as well as TV, Des has appeared over 1280 times at the London Palladium, (a British record) and recalls “They gave me a plaque to commemorate my first 1,000 solo performances there in 1972”

In addition to his performing career, Des has hosted a number of game shows and chat shows of his own. He presented a revival of ‘Take Your Pick’ from 1992 to 1998, and took over from Des Lynam as co-presenter (with Carol Vorderman) of the popular Channel 4 game show ‘Countdown’. He also co-hosted the light entertainment programme ‘Today with Des and Mel’ opposite Melanie Sykes, the pair famously ‘corpsing’ on stage when risqué double-entendres crept into the script.

Des has been married four times; the first in 1953 to Phyllis Gill, then Gillian Vaughan in 1960, Jay Rufer in 1985 and finally to Jodie Brooke Wilson who he married in September 2011. He has a total of five children between the four women, the last being a son Adam who was born in September 2004.

He was somewhat criticised in the press as being selfish for fathering his last child when he himself was 80 years old, but hit back, stating ‘I’ve had people saying I was selfish. But what’s selfish about that? How can you say to a woman you’ve been with for 15-odd years, ‘No, I’ve got four and we’re not having any more? That would be selfish’…

Des O'Conner with Eric Morecambe

Des O’Conner with Eric Morecambe

Des O’Connor has gone on to win a number of awards – in 2001 he was presented with a Special Recognition Award at the National TV Awards for his contribution to television and was appointed a CBE – Commander of the British Empire – in the Queen’s 2008 Birthday Honours List.

But, ironically, it is probably his work as a willing stooge working with Morecambe and Wise that Des is most fondly remembered. He has joked that it has got him cabs (‘provided I didn’t sing’) and he even had an opportunity to get his own back on the two comedians in the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special of 1975 – when he was revealed as a member of the Firing Squad at the end of the main sketch…

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.


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.’

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”.


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

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 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.