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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

FOURTEEN – THE NEW JOURNALISM

 

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In 1887 Matthew Arnold described the ‘New Journalism’ of Victorian newspapers as something ‘which a clever and energetic man has invented’. Arnold felt that the ‘New Journalism’ had generous instincts but was marred through being ‘featherbrained’. Frank Harris edited The Evening News from 1883 to 1887 and increased its circulation from 7,000 to 70,000. He said something similar to Arnold. ‘Kissing and fighting were the only things I cared for at thirteen or fourteen and these are the things the British public desires.’ Over a hundred years later the phrase ‘New Journalism’ was borrowed to describe the American journalism of Tom Wolfe and others.

Not every editor was as cynical as Frank Harris.  Commercial considerations prevailed for all the newspapers but at the Pall Mall Gazette the editor W T Stead was committed to social reform and was famous for his campaign against child prostitution. His campaign had a positive impact. Because of legislation that was nicknamed the ‘Stead Act’, the age of sexual consent was raised from 12 years of age to 16. ‘New Journalism’ had a different style to the dry reports of Parliamentary debates that dominated the pages of The Times and The Telegraph.   The prose was defined by shorter sentences and paragraphs, and the radical newspapers focussed on human-interest stories.  Drawings taken from wood engravings were utilised, and headlines became bigger. The poet Algernon Swinburne was offended by the new and sensational prose. Neither did he care for stories about ordinary people. Swinburne dismissed the Pall Mall Gazette as the Dunghill Gazette.

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Not all the newspapers had the same priorities but campaigning editors realised that they could make news and advance political activity and reform by identifying establishment skulduggery.   The periodical Truth was founded by Liberal politician Henry Labouchére.   Truth had one objective, to report financial and political scandals.  In 1887, T P O’Connor established the radical newspaper The Star.  He appointed the talented and principled editor Ernest Parke.  Radical editors, investigative journalists and the fashion for ‘New Journalism’ all combined to hold a neglectful establishment to account. These journalists and their editors felt justified in sensationalising the crimes of Jack the Ripper. They believed that the crimes of the Ripper and the failure of the police reflected an unacceptably unequal society.  As the murders of Jack the Ripper increased, so did the activity of the newspapers.  Extra editions appeared, and the Evening News, The Star and The Echo had to keep their presses operating twenty-four hours a day.

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In the years between 1801 and 1821 the annual production of newspapers in Britain had more than doubled from 7 million copies to 16.3 million copies.  In the 35 years before the murders of Jack the Ripper in 1888 the number of newspapers in Britain increased from fourteen to 168.   This happened because more people wanted to read about the latest news and because newspapers became cheaper to produce and distribute. Education was valued by the Government because it was believed that it helped ordinary people to understand their place in society and the merits of their superiors. The education offered was basic and sparse but popular religious Sunday Schools made a significant contribution to the spread of basic literacy.

Before 1695 the content of newspapers had needed Government approval. This meant that there were none.  The first British newspaper, the Norwich Post appeared in 1701.  In the first half of the eighteenth century newspapers were expensive, as much as seven pence but despite the price the number of readers increased.  Newspapers and magazines could be rented from reading societies, and coffee shops and bars also lent newspapers to their customers for a penny.   In 1833 The Exchange Coffee House in Manchester took 130 newspapers a week.  In Liverpool its first newspaper appeared in 1855.

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By the time The Star arrived in 1887 to launch its radical political campaigns it could limit its price to a halfpenny.  The daily and Liberal newspaper Morning Leader also cost a halfpenny.  By 1888 The Times was able to reduce its price to three pence and The Telegraph was on sale for a penny.  Not only were more mills producing paper, they were more mechanised and had lower unit costs.  On the railways the trains could distribute papers at speed and at less expense. There were also more outlets. Newsagents led by the growth of W H Smith doubled in number.  Insulated cable wire was laid under the Channel and the Atlantic, which meant that telegrams could bring news quickly to newspaper offices. The telephone was patented in 1876 and used by journalists from 1879. Most important of all the stamp duty on newspapers disappeared.  In 1800 the stamp duty had been 4 pence per newspaper. Some proprietors published their newspapers without paying the tax. The Government offered a reward to those who reported proprietors that broke the law. The duty was reduced to a penny in 1836 and abolished in 1855.

The Metropolitan Police did not cooperate with journalists during the Ripper investigations for what they thought were sound operational reasons but neither was there empathy between the two professions.   In 1888 Fleet Street was already established as the centre of the newspaper business in Britain. Printing had begun there in 1500.   The journalists were noted for their consumption of alcohol and irreverence. Fleet Street was surrounded by pubs. The area was referred to as ‘little bohemia’. Policemen did not welcome bohemians.

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At The Star the owner W T Stead and his editor Ernest Parke were unforgiving towards Sir Charles Warren, the head of the Metropolitan Police.  On the 13th of November in 1887 Warren had authorised police to halt a demonstration in Trafalgar Square of 30,000 against unemployment. The numbers of police and the extent of casualties are disputed but there were a lot of policemen, possibly as many as four thousand. The tactics of the police were provocative, and their implementation was heavy handed.  People were injured, and the newspapers prepared sensational reports to complement indignant editorials.

In 1883 in London there were fifteen morning newspapers and nine evening papers. By 1888 working class readers could choose between the Weekly Dispatch, Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, The Daily Graphic, Reynolds Weekly Newspaper, The Star and others. The radical newspapers regarded the Home Secretary Henry Matthews as an ineffectual ditherer and Sir Charles Warren as a military martinet. The Times and The Telegraph were conservative and more loyal to the Government.   In The Times letters from readers and the odd article suggested that the victims, because they walked the streets instead of staying indoors, were responsible for the crimes of Jack the Ripper.

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The Times, The Telegraph and Observer relied on a sober style to appeal to their affluent and educated readers. To achieve commercial success in the popular market editors filled half the newspaper with what was regarded as ‘sensational coverage’ and used a lot of what was left to earn revenue through advertisements.   Advertising had been an established method of earning income from 1750, and by 1888 the advertisements were crucial to the financial stability of newspapers and magazines.   The advertising was relentless and fanciful.  Medical quacks advertising their services and dubious products were a reliable source of income for newspaper proprietors. The Victorian middle class was fashion conscious and provided an expanding market for new creations and inventions. A middle class home was packed with gadgets and ornaments.  Little of that consumption filtered down to the working class but this did not preclude an interest from the poor.  Readers liked looking at advertisements.   The Exchange And Mart was first printed in 1868. It had advertisements and also offered readers the opportunity to sell their own items.   Saturday papers that specialised in football were also popular.  Jack the Ripper may have been killing women but people, mainly men, liked to watch football matches. The FA Cup Final of 1888 was held at the Kennington Oval, and 19,000 football fans watched West Bromwich Albion beat Preston 2-1. The match programme sold for a penny. Referee Colonel Marinden had developed a passion for football at his Eton College.

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The political agenda of newspapers in 1888 resurrected the political unrest of the 1840s. That unrest had settled as the economy improved but it returned after the economy faltered in 1876 and the Great Depression arrived.  ‘New Journalism’ was inspired by the need to make money but it would not have happened without social discontent.   More than any other journalist the right wing Tom Wolfe was associated with the American ‘New Journalism’ but its success depended on the radical social and political attitudes of the 1960s.

‘Penny Dreadfuls’ were popular in the 1840s and their success in serialising crime stories would have persuaded newspaper editors of the economic benefits of sensationalism. Pamphlets appeared after dramatic murders and sold as many as half a million copies. Reporting the crimes of Jack the Ripper created business opportunities. The sacrifice of poor, exploited and unfortunate women meant that some households not only had economic security and affluence but their members had a real interest in what was being advertised in the more expensive newspapers and magazines.                          

 Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

THIRTEEN – ‘THEY ALL LOVE JACK, BUSTING THE RIPPER’ – BRUCE ROBINSON

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Most men settle as they age. They become cautious, less ambitious and acquire different habits and opinions. Others take their youth to their grave.  Bruce Robinson is in his seventh decade and wears his hair as if he was still a hippie from the seventies. Like the hippies used to do back then, he swears a lot. Interviewers struggle to keep his expletives at bay.   There is a YouTube clip where the more sober A N Wilson does his best but the effort makes him wilt. Bruce Robinson is the kind of man who will take his youth to his grave. Prior to spending fifteen years researching and writing They All Love Jack he acted, directed films, wrote screenplays and produced novels. He is revered for the film Withnail and I. The film is brilliant but, because of my own misspent youth and some painful memories, I avoid it. The characters in Withnail and I have a withering scorn for a world that is indifferent to their appetites.

They All Love Jack was listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.   Few people associate books about Jack the Ripper with literary merit. They All Love Jack is written in a colloquial and informal style. Not everyone has responded well to the expletives and the free use of uninhibited insults.  The argument is that history should be sober and impartial. Of course, none of it ever is which is why the bias of history is so often disguised with restrained and formal accounts.   The expletives in They All Love Jack exist because that is the nature of Bruce Robinson but they also fit the content.   Robinson uses the language of gangsters to describe the villains of the Victorian establishment.   Swear words and gangsters, whatever their manners, go together.   The British establishment has been a cesspit for a while, and in They All Love Jack its members get what they deserve, contempt, scorn and exposure, which is not bad for a book about a man who killed bargain basement whores.

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Unlike Bruce Robinson I have yet to devote fifteen years and £500,000 to discover the truth about the Whitechapel monster. I have, though, spent 35 years working with those in authority in the public sector. I also have had experience of their private sector counterparts. There were odd occasions when I encountered people who inspired. But most of the time I rubbed shoulders with rogues that were incompetent, self-serving and sometimes corrupt, people who had an exaggerated sense of both their ability and personal entitlement. These flaws enabled them to be indifferent to their responsibilities. The behaviour of powerful officials reflects all kinds of limitations, and any examination of the establishment benefits from knowing what moral and professional failure relates to which consequence. This does not happen in the 800 pages of They All Love Jack.

No book has everything, and if one did, it would be unreadable. They All Love Jack is a fabulous read. The excesses of the powerful should never be mitigated but if we claim corruption and conspiracy for every instance of inexplicable behaviour we misunderstand the casual crimes of those that rule. An individual without power can be abandoned through a bureaucrat doing nothing more than puffing out his chest and taking himself too seriously.  In They All Love Jack there is a good account of how expert opinion was misused and ignored in the inquests held by coroner Wynne Baxter.   Bruce Robinson claims that Baxter introduced the bogus theory of the murderer selling organs to an American to divert attention away from the freemason ritual involved in the murders. Perhaps but Baxter may have been just another official indulging his ego with whimsy and fancy and drooling on about something that would make him sound important.  It happens.

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The rare critics of They All Love Jack dismiss the book as conspiracy theory. If it is then Robinson takes conspiracy theorising to a new and superior level. Its 800 pages provide a lot of detail to back up the arguments. Robinson is good at smelling a rat, and the book is great when it identifies obvious absurdities that have been ignored. The problem with rats is that they run around a lot, and the more you follow their trail the more it makes you sound obsessive and a bit strange. Robinson is right, though, to state that the murders included freemason rituals.   This alone does not prove that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason. Even if he was not, the police and the politicians were worried that he might be and they did take steps to hide the freemason aspect of the crimes.   The British police and politicians were dominated by Freemasons.    The truth about the crimes was spun because there were secrets and because the police needed to keep a distance from an expanding and threatening Press.

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They All Love Jack is far from precise on what is being spun or hid. If an axis exists from incompetence to corruption then one also travels from defensiveness to conspiracy. In the interview that is on YouTube, writer A N Wilson asks Robinson when did the police discover the identity of Jack the Ripper.   In the interview Robinson states 1892 but this is not evident from the book. In 1892 the alleged Ripper abandoned London for the Isle of Wight. He moved almost four years after the death of Mary Jane Kelly the last of the victims in the ‘canonical five’. The move does not establish that the police knew the identity of the Ripper. There are different options. The alleged Ripper may himself have decided he wanted to move to the Isle of Wight, or the police had realised this famous and rich man was the Ripper and applied pressure, or something else which was more complicated and that here needs to be explained.

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They All Love Jack links two conspiracies to the Ripper. Robinson not only identifies Jack the Ripper he claims that his Ripper also framed Florence Maybrick for killing her husband James. Her criminal conviction in 1890 created a scandal.   Over a 100 pages of They All Loved Jack is devoted to this miscarriage of justice. The police may have put pressure on the man they thought killed James to exit London but we do not know if they thought he was responsible for the Whitechapel murders.   There may have been two separate cover-ups by the police. In 1888 the police hid freemason details and in 1889 they protected an establishment figure from being discovered of a murder in Liverpool. Thanks to his detective work Robinson connects the two conspiracies through the man he identifies as Jack the Ripper but the police may have let the alleged Ripper go to the Isle of Wight thinking that his only crime was a murder in South Liverpool.   The Star newspaper in 1888 said that the ‘London Police were rotten to the core.’   Robinson describes the Police as ‘the thug end of the law’. Few would dispute either claim but conspiracies can consist of stumbles and lurches rather than grand plans.

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For many these qualifications will be nit picking.   They All Love Jack is a marvellous book full of barnstorming ambition and daring. There are at least two brilliant ideas that make the book essential. In most Ripper books it is the dosshouse that is imagined as the retreat for the Ripper after his crimes. In They All Love Jack Toynbee Hall is identified as the base for the Ripper, and the notion makes much possible and strengthens the case against the man suspected by Robinson. They All Loved Jack also examines the evidence of witness Packer, the man who remembered selling grapes to the man he thought was the Ripper.   Robinson transforms the statements of Packer into something credible and wipes clean so much rubbish that has muddied previous thinking.

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Not everyone is content to merely enjoy a good read especially when Jack the Ripper is involved. They want what Robinson promises at the beginning of the book. They want the monster to be nailed. A N Wilson is convinced by They All Loved Jack. The case against the Robinson suspect rests on letters that the Metropolitan Police had assumed were a hoax. Robinson thinks the opposite. He went through the letters and discovered that the itinerary and threats mapped the murders.   In his interview with A N Wilson we hear Robinson claim that the match between the letters and the crimes is ‘extraordinary’.   For Robinson reading the letters will have had an impact denied to us that only read an account of the investigation. Credit has to be given for what has been accumulated by Robinson.   No one has built a better case against a Jack the Ripper suspect than the one that exists in this book. But, as impressive as the evidence is, it would not convict anyone. The handwriting on the letters varies, and while handwriting experts mix overcooked intuition and basic mechanics we have to wonder why one person would feel obliged to alter his handwriting as often as happens in these letters. This does not mean that the arguments of Robinson should be dismissed. The explanation would, though, have benefitted from mathematical analysis and formula. The connections are not demonstrated graphically and they should have been.   But there is enough in the analysis of the letters to make readers want to read the book a second time, which is what I will be doing soon.   My need for a mathematical summary to support evidence may have something to do with my age.   It is a dry ambition, and They All Love Jack is a confident flourish of intelligence and style. Its 800 pages are packed with insight, discoveries, scorn for dopes, funny quips and smart comparisons. Only the young have such daring to attack a mystery and history in this way, the young or those men who will take youth to their graves.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.