Are the Jack the Ripper murders a fitting subject for dramatization?
This was a subject that occupied the minds of more than a few people in August 1945, when the BBC decided to broadcast a programme in its “Crime Corner” series on the infamous Whitechapel murders.
IS JACK THE RIPPER ENTERTAINMENT?
Of course, this is an argument that is still raging, with people protesting, justifiably, that murder is not entertainment and should not be treated as such.
Others argue that from an historical perspective, murder and the study of it is not in bad taste.
WAS THE BROADCAST JUSTIFIABLE?
So, the question that occupied people in August, 1945, was simply, was there any justification for the B.B.C’s dramatization of the Whitechapel atrocities?
On Wednesday, 22nd August, 1945, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer published the following letter from a reader who was not in the least bit impressed by the Beebs decision:-
JACK THE RIPPER AT THE BBC
Probably I am not alone in hoping that the B.B.C. will reconsider their decision to make a broadcast, in the Crime Corner next week, of the Jack the Ripper murders.
Of those who remember the murders, there will be few who can regard the choice of the subject as a happy one.
Everything connected with those murders was loathsome.
The criminal was probably a lunatic: his victims were unfortunate prostitutes of the lowest class, whilst the details of the methods adopted by the Ripper are unfit for publication, except in the scientific press.
CHARLES D. LAW.
Leeds, August 17th.”
THE POST RESPONDS
Mr. Law’s letter led other readers to register their protests at the broadcast, and, following the actual airing of the programme the following week, the newspaper published an argument as to why the subject of the Jack the Ripper murders was not in bad taste:-
“Since the publication, in Wednesday’s “Yorkshire Post,” of the letter from Mr. C. D. Law protesting against the B.B.C.’s broadcast, in “Crime Corner,” of the Jack the Ripper murders, I have received more than one similar protest from other readers.
One correspondent, who lived in Whitechapel at the time, and close to the scene of these revolting crimes, tells me that what he saw and heard one ghastly evening shocked him so terribly that when he got back to his room he fainted.
CHANGE THE CHANNEL!
I think it will be found that, the majority of those who object to the broadcast belong to a generation whose intimate knowledge of the hideous facts induced a natural and instinctive horror of the whole sordid business.
For these the obvious remedy is to switch off their sets or tune to another station.
To the younger generation of listeners the story of the Jack the Ripper is ancient history, rendered very largely unreal by the passage of time.
A LEGITIMATE FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT
Murder stories have always been a legitimate vehicle for entertainment – if this were not so we should have to ban “Macbeth” – and, so long as there is no obvious violation of the canons of good taste, I cannot see that broadcasts of this nature can do any harm.
Perhaps some my readers who listened to the broadcast last night would tell me what they thought of it.”
IT WAS A MISTAKE
The article prompted responses from several readers as to why the subject matter of the broadcast was in bad taste.
The newspaper published two of these responses i its edition of Tuesday, 28th of August, 1945:-
“To judge from the letters I have received in response to my appeal for comments on last Friday’s “Jack the Ripper” broadcast in the B.B.C.’s “Crime Corner” series, there is a strong feeling among listeners that the item was a mistake.
Since, however, the majority of correspondents offered no criticism of the actual production, but simply condemned it out of hand on principle, I am bound to discount many of the comments put forward.
In cases such as this, so much depends on the treatment of the subject, and I cannot recall any severe criticism of Mrs. Belloc Lowndes’s successful novel, “The Lodger,” in which the author handled this very theme with consummate skill and artistry.
THERE WAS NO AMUSEMENT
Two of my correspondents had something to say to the B.B. C.
Mr. E. Haworth Earle, of 168, Victoria Avenue, Hull, wrote as follows:-
My age at the time of the “Jack the Ripper” murders was 25.
I do not remember that any amusement was aroused by them, but those who were represented in discussing them in the B.B.C. play laughed as they talked. From their voices they not imitating brutal people, and their laughter was puzzling.
To some minds, anything indecent has its ludicrous aspect and causes laughter.
The horrible indecency of the mutilation of the victims may have caused their emotions to respond this way.”
NEITHER CLEVER NOR ENTERTAINING
Mr. A. T. Archdale, 7, St. Mary’s Road. Leeds, expressed the view that the broadcast was “neither clever nor entertaining.”
“It was,” he said. “just sheer sordidness, and should never have been broadcast. It has no ending, no culprit brought to justice, no lesson.”
Nobody, so far. has come forward to defend the B.B.C.”