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Paul Begg is a noted British researcher, writer and author. His major credits include Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts and co-authorship of The Jack the Ripper A to Z, now in its third edition. Paul has spent numerous hours aiding andcorresponding with fellow reseachers and enthusiasts, alike on various forums and in many capacities. His greatest appeal would be his common sense approach to the case, his knowledgeful insight, and his "down to earth" demeanor.
A Talk with Paul Begg
by Chris George
The following interview with Ripper author Paul Begg was carried out by e-mail under difficult circumstances. As some of you may know, Paul was rushed into the hospital in late March. The interview was literally completed by Paul from his hospital bed. - CG
CG: Paul, when did you first get interested in Jack?
PB: I dont really know when I first became interested in Jack the Ripper. I recall seeing Francis Camps being interviewed on a TV program called 24-Hours back in 1966 and I was already sufficiently aware of the mystery to buy Donald McCormicks book from Lears bookshop in my home town of Cardiff in 1970 and for the still to be surpassed six-part BBC Television series Jack the Ripper in 1973 to be essential viewing. By that time, I was buying Ripper books as soon as they appeared on the shelves of the local bookshops, and, as Ive said elsewhere, I began to notice minor discrepancies in the various accounts. I went to the local library and began reading newspaper accounts of the crimes, noticing the wealth of information which had been omitted from the books. Nothing major, just small details or variant accounts.
CG: What prompted you to write your 1988 book, Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts?
PB: I was particularly interested in Mary Jane Kelly [the fifth canonical victim]. As I said earlier, I am Welsh, from Cardiff. Kelly had Welsh connections and had been introduced to prostitution while living with her cousin in Cardiff (or so she claimed). So she interested me. I did odd bits or research here and there, compiling a fairly detailed chronology for her, and entertained the idea of doing something of the same for the whole case. The eventual result was Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts. I had been nurturing a book about the Ripper for years and saw the Centenary as a way of getting the book published. My purpose in writing The Uncensored Facts was twofold. The books were increasingly concerned with the theories. I wanted to do a book which concentrated on the crimes themselves, in particular on the police investigation because I thought it would be a good idea to see what the police themselves thought. I also wanted to do a book which established the facts and corrected the multitude of small errors which had crept into the narratives, such as the correct name of the discoverer of Nichols body, Charles Cross, which had been erroneously given as George Cross (a mistake made in The Times) and William Cross.
CG: How do you feel today about The Uncensored Facts? Will it be published in a revised edition?
PB: The Uncensored Facts is now over a decade old. It is still a good source for who saw and said what, where, and when, but it needs updating. As of this moment, I am waiting to hear whether the publishers are prepared to do publish an updated edition of the book.
CG: How did you meet your co-authors on The Jack the Ripper A to Z, Keith Skinner and Martin Fido?
PB: My research for The Uncensored Facts introduced me to Keith and Martin, both of whom were very helpful, making all their research material available to me. The desire to use the information we had researched but had not been able to use led Keith and I to collaborate on a book called The Scotland Yard Files and it was while I was having lunch with the editor at Headline that I half jokingly mentioned the idea Id had for A to Z. By the time we had finished lunch, the book was sold pending signatures on a contract. I walked away from that meeting on a cloud, but with each step my heart became more leaden as the enormity of the task struck me. Id not given a thought to whether Martin or Keith might not want to collaborate. Fortunately they did. In fact, Martin was on the phone to me before Id even had chance to ask him! A to Z came about because we had realized the need for a ready reference book to give quick and easy access to basic information such as names, dates, and places. In our own research, we had acquired a lot of information which we hadnt been able to use in our books. We wanted to use it and the A to Z seemed a good place to publish this material.
CG: Paul, you recently stated on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper message boards, "The more you look into this subject, the more complicated it becomes. And the more you think you know, the less you really understand. I suppose that is its perennial fascination." [Reply to David M. Radka, February 17, 1999]. Based on this statement, do you find that the "World of Jack," so to speak, to be much more complicated than you had earlier thought? Has compilation of A to Z proved to be a more daunting task than you anticipated when you and your co-authors conceived of such a volume?
PB: I dont think we were under any illusions when we undertook the compilation of The Jack the Ripper A to Z, so it wasnt more daunting than wed imagined. In fact, it was probably easier than we had expected. Updating the book is far more difficult. It is tough keeping up with the new information and fresh interpretations emerging these days. When we began the A to Z there was no Ripperana, no Ripperologist, no Whitechapel Journal, no Cloak and Dagger Club, no Ripper Notes, no Casebook: Jack the Ripper web site. Each of these provides an outlet for new information, speculation, thoughts, and ideas which impact on the multiple entries in the A to Z. And then there are all the new books on the Ripper. Ten years ago, a new book on the Ripper was an occasion and we really thought there would be a few lean years after the eight new books which appeared at the time of the Centenary. Amazingly, since 1988, there have been thirty new books. At this present time, I know of three or four new books to add to the two or three weve already seen in 1999. They all contain new information. The fresh information all has to be collated, which makes updating A to Z all the more difficult.
CG: I was surprised to read in Martin Fido's "The Cases of Montague John Druitt" (Ripperologist no. 8), that your publisher, Headline, has put space constraints on A to Z. Specifically, Martin wrote: "One constant regret felt by the authors of the A to Z is the space limitation imposed by our publishers' commercial judgement. We want to include more and more results of ongoing research--our own and other people's. Headline has a book they feel has reached its optimum viable length. For everything new we put in, something old has to come out. And new information has to be presented as concisely as possible." Paul, while we should not be surprised at the publishers' pragmatism, it comes as somewhat of a shock that for a reference work that we might assume becomes more inclusive over time, and better, you might have to leave out some good material in favor of new material. Your comment on this situation?
PB: Headline has indeed stated that the book has reached its optimum viable length [at around 530 pp all told]. Although we have been allowed a few extra pages for each revision, new information can only go in if we take information out. So far, we have been able to do this by tightening up the writing, trying to eliminating repetitive information, jettisoning personal comment, and so on. Theres still the opportunity to tighten up further. For example, we can remove some entries about Ripper movies and ephemera--which I would personally be sad to lose.
I wish to acknowledge the help of Andy Aliffe and Adam Wood of the Cloak and Dagger Club for transmitting the text of Pauls interview to us, and to Dave Yost for helping to formulate the list of questions to ask. Last, all of us at Ripper Notes express our gratitude to Paul Begg for answering our questions in spite of his travails. - CG