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5 Questions for Martin Fido

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  • 5 Questions for Martin Fido

    Here we go....

    1. Was your first appearance on television dealing with the Ripper case,the In Search Of.... episode? I saw that one.

    2. Do your students discuss the case with you at school?

    3. What are your opinions of the specialized Ripper books that have appeared over the last two years ( Alan Sharp's...Chris Scott's....Karyo Magellan's...Robert McLaughlin' name a few) ??

    4. Are you still as firm now in your belief about David Cohen as you were when you wrote "The Crimes and Detection and Death of JTR" ???

    5. Are you going to help Paul Begg and Keith Skinner in the update of the A to Z ? This probably means,as last time,you doing the bulk of the work.

    Thanks Mr. Fido....

  • #2
    Answers to Questionsd

    Dear How -

    1. My very first TV appearance mentioning the Ripper was a "milk run" interview puffing my book 'Murder Guide to London'. The camera team - I think it was a BBC magazine program - took me to Durward Stret to film under the shadow of the Board School, and asked me about the locale, and I think I told them of the local oral tradition that one of the nearby alleys going down to Whitechapel Road (Green Dragon Yard, I think) was known as 'Ripper's Alley' because he had been seen there escaping from a crime scene with his little black bag. As you know, there is no written contemporary evidence for this, and I doubt whether it happened. At that interview, while testing equipment with 'dry run' questions, the interviewer said something like, "I understand you have a new theory about Jack the Ripper. Could you tell us about it?" and I reacted with wild surprise, saying something like, "Wow! NO! It's far too early! I haven't done the research!" In fact they were referring to the fact that in preparing the Murder Guide I'd noticed (a) that Robert Anderson's memoirs didn't read like the sort of boastful or self-defensive lying that previous writers (except Richard Whittington-Egan) all claimed, and (b) it was obvious that his Polish Jew must be Macnaghten's Kosminski, and I simply couldn't understand why this had never been noticed before, and why nobody had ever tried to look for this suspect. As I had also discovered that the claims in previous books that the prostitutes who fingered Leather Apron hed refused to identify Pizer were all untrue - they had, extraordinarily, never been asked! - I felt sure this 'Polish Jew called Kosminski' approach was the most promising one possible. But without doing more research I was obviously unwilling to put it before the public at that time. The TV crew was very amused by my response, and asked me to repeat it with film running in the camera so that they could include it in the season's 'funny out-takes' programme. I refused, (though I could have used the publicity), becauase it would have been a staged re-run and not a real out-take. (But I suppose we wouldn't have the great Iwo Jima photo if the Marines had been as scrupulous!)
    My first pure Ripper appearances would have been milk runs for 'the Crimes Detection and Death'. I can't remember for whom and where they were all done, but I do remember very clearly that many of them had interviewers and crews going over ground they'd already covered with Melvin Harris and Howells & Skinner, since the three books had come out very closely together in time. And overwhelmingly they wanted Howells and Skinner to be right, because Martin and Keith are really so much nicer people than Melvin was or I am.

    2. Some students ask for Ripper chat outside class time, or at the ends of term when we're through with the main syllabus work. Some clearly think this is rather a dull waste of time. Some have asked me to do a course on JtR, but I always refuse as (a) I should have to recommend my own writing, and I'm not there to profit off them, and (b) I should have great difficulty in being as fair to opinions that differ from mine and solely judging the quality of the argument, weighting it fairly with the fact that they are young and coming for the first time to material that is familiar to me. I always tell my students that they will never be marked down for disagreeing with me provided they make a good case and don't force or falsify facts , and one who tested this with an extra essay she asked me to mark (without telling me why she wanted it done) found it was quite true: I awarded an A grade to an essay saying something she knew I diametrically disagreed with. I'd find it much harder to do that on the Ripper where we are looking for historical facts and probabilities, not critical evaluation.

    3. I haven't read all the new studies yet. The sad truth is I grew rather bored with Ripper studies especially as new books have to go over a blow-by-blow account of the murders, and I know most of this stuff backwards and am no longer interested in counting the errors repeated or introduced. JtR isn't like 'King Lear' or 'Twelfth Night' or Keats' Odes, or Pope's Epistles- something that is an increasing pleasure to read and re-read and re-read. In fact, as long ago as Phil Sugden's book,I was disappointed that his comprehensive trawl only produced two facts that were unknown to me. That's why I was so surprised to read Paul Begg's 'The Facts' with real interest and absorption. I'm only now reading through the other new books for the A-Z revise and rewrite.

    4. Do I stand by my Cohen theory as orioginally proposed? Well, yes and no. None of the attempts to undercut the theory (usually by selective citation of the political attacks made on Anderson) have had real historical validity, nor has anybody else seriously addressed the problem of the errors and improbabilities in the Swanson marginalia. 'He must have forgotten' is cimpletely inadequate. While we know and must always bear in mind that Littlechild and Swanson were at the very least less convinced than Anderson that his belief was valid, we don't know enough about Littlechild's personality and degree of inforomation on the case to assess his opinion. And as for Swanson, Phil Sugden's 'two old men turned wishful thinking into false memory' is hopelessly implausible. Paul Begg's 'actually Swanson fits Kosminski perfectly with one exception' begs two questions: it silently hypothesizes that Kosminski must have been put under physical restraint at his committal, although this was not recorded in any way, and it assumes that Anderson and Swanson were so naive that they accepted an ID two years after the event and so incompetent that they accepted a false report that their suspect was dead, (in which case they would be not worth trusting at all and the Polish Jew theory would go out of the window with Prince Albert Victor and Walter Sickert - which is not something Paul proposes).
    But I would not wish to stand by the ringing final sentence "Jack the Ripper has been found". I think this is probably true, but only probably. The conclusion I should wish to stand would be the one I proposed in the draft specimen final chapter I sent Weidenfeld's before I had done the major research: I wanted merely to direct attention to the Anderson/Macnaghten parallel, and then conclude, "So a search of asylum records should produce someone called Kosminski who will be a more plausible suspect for Jack the Ripper than any yet proposed." Weidenfeld's told me I was obviously right, and gave me a year to find him, which, with many setbacks, I ultimately did. What I should now wish to say about Cohen would be that he is the most plausible suspect who has ever been proposed. you will notice that Stewart Evans' Ripper work shows a very similar quiet retreat form the Tumbletonian certainties proposed in 'The Lodger'. (I don't know where Paul Gainey stands on that). I have every sympathy for writers who have been encouraged by publishers to sound a little more certain than they reasonably should be: I honour Shirley Harrison for having refused, so that Robert Smith had to add a more resounding introduction to her book. I have contempt for people like Patricia Cornwell who continue to insist on the unproven and skip deftly away from well-informed challenges.

    5. Yes,indeed I am working with Paul and Keith on a new A-Z. But, whoa! Where did this idea that I do most of the work come from? I do most of the actual final writing. In the past this was because I was more experienced and fluent than Paul. Now he writes quite as well as I do, if not better, but he is desperately busy setting himself up as the licensee of The Old Plantation Inn at Bearsted. But he has done an enormous amount of work on it already, drafting a lot of new entries, finding a lot of new photographs and scanning them into position inserted in the articles which they illustrate. He has annotated the entirety of the old book showing where new discoveries or opinions need to be included - I couldn't possible have dione this. And as for Keith,the fact that he doesn't draft actual words doesn't mean that he does any less work than Paul and I. He tracks down material everywhere; he reads everything as it is written and either goes out and finds confirmation or disproof of things, or from his amazing files and access to other major authorities or informants, gives us vital factual endorsement or correction.

    I hope this answers your question,

    All the best,

    Martin F


    • #3
      Thanks on behalf of all of us,Mr.Fido....

      The questions have been answered and then some...