|A Ripperologist Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 54, July 2004. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
Paul Begg is Executive Editor of Ripperologist, author of Jack the Ripper - the Definitive History, and co-author of The Jack the Ripper A-Z and The Scotland Yard Files; his newly-revised and retitled Jack the Ripper - the Facts is out now.
On the evening of Saturday, 12 December 1896, a brougham drawn by a single horse conveyed two men through the gas-lit, rain-glistening streets of the East End. One of the passengers was a bearded man in his sixties, the other, who was clutching two black boxes, was in his early twenties. The cab passed along Aldgate and turned onto Commercial Street, coming to a stop outside the elegant façade of Toynbee Hall, where that evening the elder of the two men would give an epoch-making lecture. His name was William Preece, he was Chief Engineer of the General Post Office and he also enjoyed a secondary career as a popular and often amusing speaker on scientific matters. That evening his lecture was called ‘Telegraphy without Wires’. He had conducted wireless experiments for the Post Office, but had achieved little success until in April of that year he had met the young man who was now his travelling companion and whose invention would that night receive its first public demonstration. The young man was Guglielmo Marconi.
Radio waves had been detected by Heinrich Hertz in 1887, who published his findings in 1888, the year of the murders committed by Jack the Ripper, but it was not until the spring of 1895 that 21-year-old Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first signal using a free propagating electromagnetic wave as a carrier at Villa Griffone in Pontecchio (Bologna), thus being credited with having discovered radio. Marconi didn’t win any support for his invention in Italy and came to Britain, where he met Preece, who gave him space in his laboratory and hired assistants to help Marconi develop the system which the two men would soon demonstrate in the heart of the Ripper’s East End.
Toynbee Hall was packed. Preece talked, then introduced Marconi. The Daily Chronicle reported that ‘What appeared to be just two ordinary boxes were stationed at each end of the room, the current was set in motion at one end and a bell was immediately rung in the other. To show there was no deception Mr Marconi held the receiver and carried it about, the bell ringing whenever the vibrations at the other box were set up.’ This may not sound much today but it was sensational back then, so much so that it might have been dismissed as a trick had it not been for the presence and support of Preece, who told the audience that it was hoped that in a short time the transmitter would be able to send messages, possibly over a distance of several miles.
As sensational as it was, it’s probable that few people in the audience in rainy Whitechapel that evening probably realised that they had witnessed one of the most epoch-making discoveries of all time – and it seems to be yet another historical event unremembered and unremarked in the East End. In fact, Preece didn’t make a huge impact until Friday, 4 June 1897, when he repeated his Toynbee Hall lecture at the Royal Institute, which resulted in a clamouring from the press, especially for interviews with Marconi and which also caused Sir Oliver Lodge to write to The Times to point out that he had done what Marconi had done, but had done it in 1894. One of the first – if not the first – journalist to succeed in gaining an interview with Marconi was HJW Dam, whose article ‘The New Telegraphy’ appeared in the Strand Magazine in March 1897 and was republished in other magazines around the world, including McClure’s in the United States.
Dam visited Marconi at his home in Westbourne Park and the very self-effacing young man explained how he had copied and adapted Hertz’s laboratory equipment to send Morse messages. He modestly admitted his own ignorance about much of the then little understood science behind his invention. Dam, perceptively if rather melodramatically realised that the ability to ring a bell was nothing in comparison to the possibility of setting off an explosive device. ‘Could you not from this room explode a box of gunpowder placed across the street in that house yonder?’ Dam asked. Marconi repied, ‘Yes. If I could put two wires or two plates in the powder, I could set up an induced current which would cause a spark and explode it.’
Henry Jackson Wells Dam had an eye for the melodramatic, as apparently he showed in 1888 when working for The Star. Born in San Francisco, he came to London (after a bit of bother involving the sale of pardons to convicted criminals), where he settled and married an actress named Dorothy Dorr, by whom he had two children, Colby and Loring. In 1894 he wrote the libretto for an enormously popular musical farce called The Shop Girl. Dam died in Cuba in 1906. According to the journalist Lincoln Springfield, it was Dam – who he called Harry Dam – who invented the Leather Apron scare for The Star, not knowing that John Pizer was known by that nickname, and Springfield said that The Star was lucky to have gotten away with paying Pizer a paltry financial settlement. It was also claimed (see the Daily Democrat of Woodland, California, 5 December 1890) that Harry Dam ‘concocted the “Jack the Ripper” letters which created such a sensation in London in connection with the Whitechapel murders.’ If true, Dam may therefore have been the journalist referred to by senior policemen like Sir Robert Anderson and Sir Melville Macnaghten, and his fame and notoriety may well explain Anderson’s fears about being sued for libel if he named him.
But back to Marconi. In 1920 he invited opera star Dame Nellie Melba to his works in Chelmsford and demonstrated how wireless could provide entertainment. By this time, though, hundreds of radio stations were springing up across the United States. Most failed in the chaos. In Britain the authorities were perhaps over-cautious and some experimental stations were set up in 1922 before tentatively allowing the creation in October 1922 of the BBC, formed by a group of wireless manufacturers, including Marconi from whose London studio the BBC began daily broadcasts on 14 November. The general manager of the BBC was 33-year-old John Reith, who eschewed advertising, envisioning radio as a medium free from political commercial influence, and under whose firm hand the BBC broadcast plays, concerts, talks, and occasional variety programmes that achieved a standard that has remained to this day.
It isn’t certain when the first commercial radio stations began broadcasting in the United States. KQW in San Jose, California began broadcasting in 1912, XWA in Montreal was on the air in late 1919 and in 1920 WWJ Detroit and KDKA Pittsburgh were broadcasting. In 1921 the Happiness Boys began a show (it ran until 1940), but programming didn’t really get underway until 1925 and 1926 when NBC and CBS, respectively, began broadcasting. Radio was advertising-driven round-the-clock variety entertainment, much as television is today, and whilst it achieved a high standard in its time the popularity of radio in America, unlike Britain, for anything more than music and talk shows has declined since the 1950s. It’s generally acknowledged that the Golden Age of American radio was between 1935 and 1950. NBC and CBS began broadcasting regular shows, often using Hollywood stars, and some of the shows still stand up today. Two of my particular favourites are The Six-Shooter starring Jimmy Stewart and Nightbeat with Frank Lovejoy. These were half-hour shows, probably twenty minutes of action once all the intro and advertising is removed, so the stories are fairly simple and straightforward, with very little plot or character development. They are in the mold of typical 40s pulp fiction, a basic story simply told, and in my opinion that’s the absolute joy of these programmes.
Pulp magazines were wonderful. They had a singular look and feel about them. They even smelt different. The covers were often lurid, with bright colours and highly distinctive artwork, and it is far from surprising that people look back on them with great fondness. They provided reading entertainment for the masses during the first half of the 20th Century, delivering action and some of the most creative heroes in literary history. Pulp magazines catered for every taste, including detective stories, westerns, spy stories, science fiction, horror tales, and so on, and their influence on every medium, including comics, movies, and television, has been profound. One of the best-known pulps was a science fiction/horror magazine called Weird Tales. It was in its pages that many of the finest writers in the genre first appeared: Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, August Derleth, Edmund Hamilton, Robert E Howard, Henry Kuttner, Frank Bellknap Long Jr, HP Lovecraft… names that any self-respecting reader of science fiction reveres. It was in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales that Robert Bloch’s short story ‘Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper’ first appeared. As Eduardo Zinna observed in Ripperologist, ‘Bloch took the basic elements of the Whitechapel murders and added some embellishments of his own. The times are contemporary - 1943, the year the story got into print - and the setting, an American city - Chicago. The central characters are Sir Guy Hollis and John Carmody; an Englishman on the trail of the Ripper and the American psychiatrist whose help he is trying to enlist. There is a war going on, but one wouldn’t know it from these two. It is with the Ripper that they concern themselves. Their conversation shows that Bloch had done his homework. The number of murders, their dates and circumstances are set forth with accuracy. The victims are not singers or dancers - as Hammer or Hollywood would have them - but drabs and alley sluts. Martha Tabram is among them, and perhaps she shouldn’t be, but how many people would have thought of this in 1943? There is fog rolling down those mean London streets, and perhaps there shouldn’t, but, then, who could have resisted that particular touch?’
‘Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper’ made it to radio in 1945, two years after it was published, in a radio series called Molle Mystery Theatre and with Marie Belloc Lowndes it would become one of the most frequently dramatised Ripper-based fictions. Although they dominate, radio dramatisations about the Ripper – or Ripper inspired - featured on many radio series, a brief accounting of which follows. If any reader knows of any others, I’d love to know. All these shows are available to collectors for a very modest price, particularly on a compression format called mp3, mp3 CDs being playable on computers and most DVD players.
The Black Museum
The Black Museum was a “Towers of London” production broadcast over Radio Luxembourg in 1951 and syndicated in the United States in 1952. Hosted by Orson Welles, a genius chiefly remembered today for the movie Citizen Kane and by aficionados of Old Time Radio for bringing America to the brink of terror with a production of War of the Worlds, each show opened with an introductory welcome to Scotland Yard’s ‘Museum of Murder’ - ‘The Black Museum. A Repository of Death.’ Here in the grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard is a warehouse of homicide, where every day objects - all are touched by murder.’
There were 51 shows in all. The episode ‘Straight Razor’ is the story of George Chapman, whose real name was Severin Klosowski, executed in 1903 for murder and believed by some, notably for a while by Inspector Abberline, to have been Jack the Ripper. Another episode called ‘Meat Juice’ records the death 1889 in Liverpool of James Maybrick and the trial of his wife Florence, who was sentenced to death, then reprieved to spend the next fifteen years in jail. Released in January 1904, she died in poverty in Connecticut on 23 October 1941. Needless to mention here, a so-called diary that came to light in the early 1990s, supposedly written by James Maybrick, is a confession to the Ripper murders.
A third episode, ‘Post Card’, concerns the murder of Phyllis Dimmock in Camden Town, London, on 12 September 1907, with which artist-engraver Robert Wood was charged but found not guilty at trial. The crime remains unsolved, but the artist Walter Sickert, recently fingered as the Ripper by crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, painted scenes of the crime.
CBS Radio Mystery Theatre
CBS Radio Mystery Theatre was a brave and largely successful attempt to relaunch radio drama in the United States. From 6 January 1974 it ran every night of the week until 31 December 1982. The shows were 60 minutes and the cast consisted of then current television stars and established radio performers. It was hosted and narrated by E G Marshall, perhaps best known as Lawrence Preston in the classic TV series The Defenders and as Dr Arthur Thurmond in the 1990s series Chicago Hope. Later in the series he was replaced by Tammy Grimes.
The schedule didn’t allow for considered creativity and with payment of $350 for a 52-minute script it didn’t attract the best writers in the business, but the series managed to mix re-workings of old tales with some original tales, and over time gathered some awards - such as a Peabody Award in 1975 - and listeners, racking up a total of 1,500 shows.
An episode called ‘The Lodger’ was based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Introduced by E G Marshall, it starred Kim Hunter (1922-2002), who had starred with the recently deceased Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire but is probably better known as Zira in the 1968 Planet of the Apes and several of the sequels. Other cast members included Robert Dryden, Mary Jane Hibgy, and Joe Julian.
In ‘The Strange Case of Lucas Lauder’, broadcast on 26 February 1975 and starring Patricia Pierdon, Ira Lewis, Ralph Bell, Lenka Peterson, Robert Lansing, and George Lowthar, a man about to be executed for murder claims he’s the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper and will possess the prison Warden upon his death.
‘This is the story of a scourge that broke upon the city of London in the year 1888. It is the story of a man who moved in the shadows, beyond the flickering gas lights of that era, and who wrote his name upon the scroll of infamy with a knife. And his name was – murder.’
So begins this adaptation of ‘The Lodger’, broadcast on 19 May 1946 in a short-lived series called Hollywood Startime. A great Sunday afternoon show sponsored by Frigidaire and General Motors that ran from 6 January 1946 until 3 August 1946. It featured Hollywood stars in radio remakes of popular movies and this version of The Lodger was based of the now highly regarded movie with Laird Cregar. Cregar’s role of Mr Slade was taken by Vincent Price, best remembered today for his horror movies but who was an accomplished radio actor who in 1947 took over the role of Simon Templar in the radio series of The Saint. He also made ten appearances in the all-time classic US radio series Suspense. In ‘The Lodger’ Vincent Price was supposed to star with Ida Lupino as Mrs Bunting, but Lupino was unable to appear because of a throat infection.
Inner Sanctum Mysteries
Inner Sanctum Mysteries was one of the most popular shows in the 1940s and is commonly remembered as the ‘squeaky door’ because the show began with a sound effect of a door eerily squeaking open. This was followed by a chilling introduction mixed with campy humour from the show’s host, Raymond, played by Raymond Edward Johnson until 1945.
The show began on the Blue network – as ABC was originally known – on 7 January 1941, but changed networks to CBS in 1943, where it remained until 1950, the sponsor being Colgate and then, famously, Lipton Tea – famously because Lipton introduced Mary as the ‘pitchman’ to pitch or otherwise advertise the tea and her interaction with Raymond became almost as much fun as the story itself. The show moved to ABC briefly, then to CBS where the final episode was aired on 5 October 1952.
The stories, which mixed horror with humour, were highly improbable whodunnits, the bad guy being revealed at the very end, usually with a twist that in some cases still manages to surprise today’s far more sophisticated listener. The show concluded with some final words from creepy Raymond, who always wished his listeners pleasant dreams, and the creaking door would shut. The series was clever and stylish and like so many radio shows it moved to television where it enjoyed a brief vogue.
‘The Song of the Slasher’ was an original story broadcast on 24 April 1945 and starred Arnold Moss as Detective Dan Miller on the hunt for a knife-wielding woman killer nicknamed the Slasher. An obvious Ripper derivative, the tale is nicely done, is way over the top, and has a twist in the tale – albeit one that isn’t likely to hold too many surprises today!
Molle Mystery Theatre
This series was first heard on NBC on 7 September 1943 and was usually broadcast on Sunday nights at 9.00pm. It took its name from the sponsor, Molle Shaving Cream – Molle was pronounced ‘mo-lay’ and the advertising during the show was as remarkable as it was annoying – the atmosphere of the mystery would be interrupted with a jolly monologue about shaving cream (I never knew there was so much to say about the stuff) and the happy little rhyme: “It’s smooth! (so smooth!), It’s slick (so slick!), It’s a smooth-smooth slick-slick shave you get when you use Molle!”
When Molle stopped sponsoring the show it changed its name to Mystery Theater and took other sponsors, broadcast times changed, it moved from NBS to CBS and eventually in 1951 it moved to ABC and changed its name completely to Mark Sabre.
The best of the Ripper tales was the adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper mentioned earlier, which was broadcast on 27 February 1945 and starred Karl Swenson. Another not-to-be-missed Ripper-derived tale was an adaptation of ‘The Hands of Mr Ottermole’, broadcast on 21 June 1946. Written by Thomas Burke, who based many of his mystery and horror stories in Limehouse, East London's renowned Chinese dockside district that was also sometimes the haunt of Dr Fu Manchu, it is often listed as one of the all-time best detective stories by notable critics of the genre such as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Anthony Boucher and Otto Penzler, some of whom thought it to be the all time perfect mystery story. Adaptations of the story were used in the TV series of Suspense, concluding the first series and broadcast on 28 June 1949, and in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which starred Theodore Bikel, Rhys Williams and Torin Thatcher, broadcast on 5 May 1957.
Mystery In The Air
Mystery in the Air was a short-run series sponsored by Camel Cigarettes that replaced the Abbott & Costello Show during its summer break. Only eight shows were made, all hosted by Hollywood star Peter Lorre. One of the most memorable was yet another adaptation of The Lodger, the second show in the series and broadcast on 14 August 1947. Agnes Moorehead, perhaps better known to modern audiences as Endora in the television series Bewitched, played Mrs Bunting.
Broadcast on NBC, Nightbeat ran from 1949 to 1952 and starred Frank Lovejoy as Randy Stone, a tough and streetwise reporter who worked the nightbeat for the Chicago Star looking for human interest stories. He met an assortment of people, most of them with a problem, many of them scared, and sometimes he was able to help them, sometimes he wasn’t. It is generally regarded as a ‘quality’ show and it stands up extremely well. Frank Lovejoy (1914-1962) isn’t remembered today, but he was a powerful and believable actor with a strong delivery, and his portrayal of Randy Stone as tough guy with humanity was perfect. The scripts were excellent, given that they had to pack in a lot in a short time, and there was a good supporting cast, orchestra, and sound effects. ‘The Slasher’, broadcast on 10 November 1950, the last show of season one has a very loosely Ripper-derived plot in which Stone searches for an artist.
Radio City Playhouse
Radio was - and is - frequently called ‘theatre of the mind’ and few shows from the Golden Age reflect this more clearly that Radio City Playhouse. It was a half hour series that began on 25 September 1948 as a showcase by NBC for quality drama and was distinguished by being one of a few shows whose production costs were not met by a sponsor but by the network itself. This gave the producer and director the opportunity to get away from the sort of formula drama that dominated popular radio and raise literary standards. Writers included Cornell Woolrich and Ray Bradbury and the cast included mainy New York-based actors. The last broadcast was on New Year’s Day, 1950. On 2 May 1949 it broadcast an adaptation by George Lefferts of ‘The Hands of Mr Ottermole’ starring as Richard Charles the actor John Larkin who starred in several movies in the 50s and 60s and guested on several TV shows of the period including The Fugitive, Perry Mason, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Detectives. It’s a sterling production, exceptionally well done, with a still-chilling narration – just put the lights out and close your eyes…
Suspense is one of the most famous Old Time Radio series. It began on CBS in 1942 and ran until 30 Sept-ember 1962, transferr-ing to television once and even revived in the 1970s. The series benefited from a high budget which enabled it to attract scripts based on the writings of well-known mystery writers of the period, including Cornell Wool-rich, John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie, and to attract famous film and stage actors in starring roles, among them Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre, Cary Grant, and Agnes Moorhead. It also gave a number of comedians the opportunity to play dramatic roles, among them Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, and Jack Benny. Probably the most famous script was Lucille Fletcher's ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ which provided Agnes Moorehead with the definitive role as the soon-to-be-murdered lady. The script was so popular it was repeated or re-done eight times and later became a major motion picture starring Barbara Stanwyck!
The series began with an audition program on a CBS preview show called ‘Forecast’ and that show was a lulu – the script was based on The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes and the show was directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. Broadcast on 22 July 1940 it starred Herbert Marshall, Alfred Hitchcock and Edmund Gwenn. It was remade and broadcast on 14 December 1944 with Robert Montgomery in the title role.
The series also included ‘The Hands of Mr Ottermole’, broadcast on 2 December 1948, a loose Ripper derivative because it concerned a series of murders committed in a London fog.
The TV show began seven years after the radio series and was cancelled eight years before the radio show finished. Both were broadcast live. Suspense had a short revival in 1964 with a series hosted by Sebastian Cabot.
Whitehall 1212 took its name from the old telephone number of Scotland Yard and was a series of 44 dramas that ran from 18 November 1951 until 28 September 1952 and was broadcast on NBC. The series is often confused with The Black Museum because the scripts of both series were based on real crimes - only the names being changed – and supposedly drawn from the files of Scotland Yard. The research for Whitehall 1212 was done by Percy Hoskins, chief crime reporter for the Daily Express. None of the programmes were given titles, so the titles they have today have been bestowed in the main by collectors. An episode broadcast on March 1952 is sometimes called ‘The Murder of Margaret Ashley’, but is also known as ‘The Return of Jack the Ripper’. It actually has nothing to do with the Jack the Ripper but is based on the murders committed by Gordon Frederick Cummins, whose wartime murders were likened to the Ripper’s. Cummins was a 28-year-old RAF Leading Aircraftman who murdered and inflicted post-mortem mutilations on four women in the course of six days in February 1942, his crimes coming to an end on Friday, 14 February 1942, when Mrs Greta Hayward escaped an attacker who left his service gas mask at the scene with number 525987 marked on the side. This was traced to Cummins, who was arrested on 16 February 1942 and tried, the jury needing only 35 minutes for deliberation before declaring Cummins guilty. He was executed on 25 June 1942 at Wandsworth Prison during an air raid.