Jack the Ripper-1973 BBC docudrama

The first memory I have of knowing who or what Jack the Ripper was in history and why it was important was the 1973 BBC docudrama, Jack the Ripper.  This was in terms of television in 1973 way ahead of it’s time as rather than having a straightforward documentary series, the BBC decided to have framed as a crime investigation using two popular fictional characters from Z-Cars, Softly, Softly and Barlow at Large. Barlow (Stratford Johns) and Watt (Frank Windsor) were the leads in this series where the pair discussed the Ripper case over six parts in extraordinary detail while theorising who may have been the killer and the various conspiracies surrounding the case.

At the time I was stupidly young, so I’m thinking I saw this on a repeat, not on its first broadcast in 1973 but it massively impacted upon me, a kid weaned on horror comics and films, as this real life crime which was more horrendous than anything I’d read in Creepy or Eerie. What I didn’t know at the time was it was based upon theories which saw the light of day for the first time here, which themselves led to the publication of Steven Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, which itself helped influence Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell. Even the BBC series Ripper Street doffs its deerstalker cap to it.In terms of influence the 1973 Jack the Ripper is huge for the Ripper genre (oh yes, it’s a definite genre now) but television in the UK.

The blurring of fact and fiction was not something the Reithian BBC would have normally done in 1973 but this clever series manages to make the subject accessible to a mainstream audience of the time. Today it looks clunky, feels slow and is often a tad dull, but this was groundbreaking stuff as it pushes the Fourth Wall in terms of what we the viewer see as real. For the series to work we have to accept Barlow and Watt as real people living in the same reality as Jack the Ripper. Pacing problems aside, the series is a fantastic primer if you do decide to dive into From Hell, the comic of course, not the dreadful film. In terms of pure research hitting the screen this series can’t be beaten, even if some of the conspiracy theories have been roundly trashed in the decades since. One of the things that is superb from an historical point of view is that much of the East End of London still looked similar to what it did in the Victorian Era in 1973, which gives the series an authentically grimy feel.

It isn’t available on DVD, it probably never will be released commercially. There’s simply not enough interest, but it does live (for the moment) on YouTube in what looks like copies from a master tape. I’ve no idea how long these might last there but if you’ve got six hours free and are a bit of a Ripper enthusiast give it a go.

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Shadow of the Ripper-1988 Jack the Ripper documentary

Back in 1988, there was a lot of fuss over the centenary of the Jack the Ripper murders with books, films, documentaries, comics, anything you can imagine basically being created to cash in on this gruesome anniversary.

Not everything was horribly exploitative of what still is the horribly brutal murders of five women.  Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell made its appearance in 1989 in Steve Bissette’s horror anthology Taboo, even the ITV Michael Caine drama has its moments as a good piece of schlock but this for me is the Holy Grail.

Shadow of the Ripper is a superb documentary presented by Christopher Frayling, an academic who takes an academic, but easily accessible journey through the Ripper story which involves a lengthy discussion of the social and economic issues of late 19th century London and of an Empire who at one point was the wealthiest the world had ever seen, but had the most astonishing poverty in it’s biggest city. In many ways there’s parallels with our position today, even down to the callous disregard for women.

The documentary is up on iPlayer, but it was it’s appearance on my YouTube recommendations that caught my attention, so here’s that version which everyone around the world can appreciate. It really is a superb bit of archive television.

My Top Ten Hammer Films

So I’ve done my top 20 horror films, and the horror films I hate, and as promised, here’s why I didn’t include any Hammer Films in my top 20. I wanted to do something separately as really, I could fill a top 20 up just with Hammer Films, so let’s crack on….

Number Ten: Hands of the Ripper.

A female Jack the Ripper? What’s not to like about this!

Number nine: Frankenstein Created Woman.

Ever since I saw this on the old BBC horror double bill I’ve adored it for the bizarre bit of Gothic it is, and Peter Cushing is brilliant in it.

Number Eight: Dracula A.D. 1972.

It’s the 1970’s. It’s Hammer. It’s groovy.

Number Seven:The Plague of the Zombies.

It’s the best Zombie film not made by George Romero.

Number Six: The Mummy.

Christopher Lee in bandages!

Number Five: Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.

Why this was never the huge hit Hammer wanted and needed is a bloody mystery. It’s brilliant.

 

Number Four:The Curse of the Werewolf. 

Oliver Reed. Werewolves. Heaving bosoms! It has it all!

Number Three: Dracula.

This is simply my favourite version of the Bram Stoker story. It’s got Christopher Lee being all mean and hunky, while Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing like an action hero. It’s fantastic stuff.

Number Two: Quatermass & the Pit.

There’s something coming up in regards Quatermass as a whole that I’m planning, but I couldn’t leave this film out. It take a brilliant bit of television and makes a brilliant bit of cinema that still thrills, scares and excites me as an adult as it did when I was a kid.

Number One: The Curse of Frankenstein

This is the film that gave us Hammer Horror. It recreated the classic monsters from an Americanised setting as the Universal monsters left them in. It gave us Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as fully formed stars. It gave us Kensington Gore by the bucketload. It upped the ante for screen violence. It created modern Gothic Horror. It’s also a bloody great film.

 

So there you go, there’s the countdown of my top ten Hammer Films. but as an extra bonus here’s the trailer for Carry on Screaming!

Frying tonight!

 

Next time I wrap up my cliche ridden October/Halloween celebration with one last special blog about a house on Foxhill Drive…