THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER. (2000) STARRING ALUN ARMSTRONG, JAMES LAURENSON, RICHARD RIDINGS, SUE CLEAVER AND CRAIG CHEETHAM.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
The Yorkshire Ripper: ‘I’ve been killing all these women.’
The Ripper’s wife: ‘What have you done that for?’
This gripping and absorbing piece of work was originally a two-part crime drama mini-series made for television in 1999. It’s based on the murderous career of the man who became known as ‘the Yorkshire Ripper,’ after Jack the Ripper, the killer who’d snuffed out the lives of five prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London nearly a century before in 1888.
The Yorkshire Ripper operated from the mid-‘Seventies (some say even earlier than this, as far back as 1969, maybe) till 1981 in the north-east area of England. He eventually turned out to be a transport worker from Bradford called Peter William Sutcliffe, an ordinary, rather weedy-looking fellow whom you wouldn’t look twice at if you passed him in the street, that’s how unremarkable he looked.
He’s still alive now at the age of seventy-two or three, doing a number of life sentences for the brutal murder of thirteen women, some prostitutes but not all. One woman worked for a building society and another was just a sixteen-year-old student when she was struck down by this petty little beast of a man. Calling him a monster might just imbue him with a tad too much importance for my liking.
The fact remains, however, that he held the whole of that part of England in the grip of a terrible fear for several years and I bet he loved the power it gave him, the little weasel. Sorry, I’m not being very impartial here, am I, but some of the stories told in the film are just so unbelievably heart-rending.
The small children of one of the victims, one Wilma McCann, were found wandering the streets of their neighbourhood, freezing in their pyjamas, the morning after Wilma was murdered, searching for their Mum who hadn’t come home the night before. It hardly bears thinking about, does it?
Peter Sutcliffe came up on the women from behind, like the cowardly creep he was, in lonely or deserted areas like parks or wasteground, and then he bludgeoned them on the head with a ballpeen hammer.
Then, once they were down on the ground and probably dying, he eviscerated them with a knife to the abdominal and even vaginal areas. That last bit is very similar to what Jack the Ripper did.
Peter Sutcliffe would tear off or pull up/down/off their underwear, but he never usually interfered with the women sexually. This implies something derogatory about him that I’d love to say but I’m going to exercise some restraint here. You know what I mean though, right? The prick.
After the Ripper had been killing for a while, George Oldfield of the West Yorkshire Police, masterfully played by Alun Armstrong, was brought in to spearhead the campaign against the killer by Chief Constable Ronald Gregory (James Laurenson). It was a campaign that cost Oldfield his health, as he ran himself ragged trying to find the man responsible for the brutal deaths of so many women.
He also kind of lost his job in a way because, once a long time had elapsed and the killer still hadn’t been found, Oldfield was moved ‘sideways’ by Gregory into something called ‘Support Services.’ This basically meant, as Oldfield said himself, that he’d be responsible for dogs and horses, while going back ‘into uniform’ to do it.
Oldfield’s colleague and friend, Dick Holland, however, kept looking for the man who’d come to dominate both their lives and, when the killer was eventually caught, there was one of those heartening scenes you get in crime dramas where someone comes rushing into the Incident Room shouting: ‘We’ve got him, we’ve got the bastard!’ and everyone cheers like crazy. Here they toned the expletive down to ‘bugger,’ but the effect was the same.
The Ripper was eventually caught almost by accident. The cops were constantly trawling the red- light areas in Leeds and Bradford because that’s where the Ripper picked up his victims. One night, they picked up this guy with a prostitute. They discovered that he had false number-plates on his car and so, thinking that this was a bit suspicious, they ran him down the station for a spot of questioning.
When they discovered that he’d twice used the excuse of having to go for a pee to ditch a ballpeen hammer and a knife from his wife’s kitchen block, they knew they had someone in their custody who was just a little bit more significant than your average john…
This all sounds similar to the way that American serial killer Ted Bundy was caught. Stopping Bundy for a motoring offence, the arresting officers wondered why he’d need what looked like a set of burglary-cum-rape tools, including a pantyhose ski-mask and a crowbar, if he was just the ordinary everyday citizen he was claiming to be.
The Ripper case was the case, I think, that really caused computers to start being used in England for the widespread solving of crime. Hundreds of policemen and women spent hundreds of hours inputting probably thousands of pieces of information into dozens of computers.
The Ripper used a car to pick up his victims, so the police were taking the registration numbers of all the cars they spotted in the red-light districts and putting them into their brand-new computers, then cross-referencing them against other names and numbers that kept coming up time and again.
Peter Sutcliffe’s name came up several times during the course of the investigation. He was even interviewed up to about nine times by the police and then written off as being not a likely suspect.
According to this film, though, there were men who were interviewed or picked up many more times than this and considered likelier suspects than Peter Sutcliffe. Every time Peter Sutcliffe’s name comes up on the computer screens in the film, I wanted to yell, that’s him, you’ve got him! But of course no-one ever listens in TV land…
Remember how, in the case of Jack the Ripper, both the police and the leader of a group of vigilantes formed to catch the killer were sent letters or grisly ‘souvenirs’ by someone purporting to be the killer? Same with the Yorkshire Ripper.
Letters were sent with a Sunderland postmark from someone claiming to be the killer and, most astonishingly of all, a tape was sent to George Oldfield by someone who spoke with a ‘Geordie accent.’ He told George, amongst other things, that: ‘I have the greatest of respect for you, George, but you’re no nearer catching me now than you were four years ago.’
Serial killers often become obsessed with the detective assigned to catch them and, in some cases, they even try to make contact with them. This is why this film is called THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER: THIS IS PERSONAL, because to George Oldfield, it was personal.
He’d been personally name-checked by a man he thought was the killer. He was determined to redouble his efforts to find the man, even if it killed him, and some would say that it probably very nearly did. Certainly he had a heart attack during the investigation.
I listened to this extraordinary tape myself and I was convinced that only the real Yorkshire Ripper could have recorded something so low-key and calmly authentic-sounding as this tape. The tape was later found to be a hoax, but it sent chills down my spine when I heard it and I reckon it would again, if I were to listen to it in the future.
Sue Cleaver (Eileen Grimshaw from CORONATION STREET; you know, Todd and Jason’s Mum) plays Dick Holland’s second Missus, Sylvia. Also, I could nearly swear to it that the beautiful Kimberley Walsh (GIRLS ALOUD, STRICTLY COME DANCING) plays George’s school-age daughter Gillian, who’s studying for exams in the film. (Just checked; it’s Kimbers all right!)
What really comes home to you in this excellent drama series, and others of the same calibre, is that the men and women who catch serial killers and try their best to keep the streets safe for everyone usually have families of their own, which they put on the back burner while the killers are still at large.
George and his wife had a daughter who died very young of leukaemia and they never got over the pain of that, but George had to put that aside to do his job, a very hard job where the Press and the public will castigate you and even tear you to shreds if you get it wrong, as sometimes happens, and the killer goes free to kill again.
One thing I didn’t like about the drama is the way that the victims of the Ripper’s who weren’t prostitutes were referred to as ‘innocent girls.’ They were all innocent, weren’t they? Prostitutes have such a dangerous job, and I doubt if any one of them do it for the excitement or to meet men.
They’re natural victims because of the danger and the illegality of what they do. When you operate illegally, you don’t have the protection of the police and that’s scary. The prostitutes who were killed had every much a right to life as the other women who were killed by this little runt of a man. I’d apply the word ‘innocent’ to all his victims myself.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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