Jan 2 1981: the Yorkshire Ripper is caught

It was pure luck. He was sitting in his car on an empty laneway on a quiet Friday night after new year’s. Beside him in the passenger seat was a woman who, by the end of the weekend, would be grateful to be alive. Two local police officers on the night shift chanced upon the couple parked in this dark corner of Sheffield’s red light district, and decided to run a routine plate check. 

The plates were from a stolen car. And the woman with him was not his girlfriend, as he initially claimed, but a sex worker. By now, with 13 women dead at the hands of the Yorkshire Ripper and several survivors left with debilitating physical injuries and mental trauma, the two officers, Sergeant Robert Ring and PC Robert Hydes, decided this man was worth investigating. So they took the couple into the local Hammerton Road station. Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Reivers would be released relatively soon after. Peter William Sutcliffe, on the other hand, would stay awhile. 

As the weekend wore on and the inquiries progressed, police slowly but surely became more convinced that this swarthy, almost eerily calm man who had turned down the offer of a lawyer might be the suspect they’d been looking for since the first Ripper victim, Wilma McCann, had been found dead on a sports field behind her house in October 1975. 

By Saturday evening, January 3rd, Sergeant Ring was back on a new night shift. Discovering that the man he’d brought in Friday night was still being questioned, he made a life-changing decision: He decided to go back to Light Trades House where the couple had been found and do a quick search. He recalled how, the night before, Sutcliffe had ducked behind an oil tank to relieve himself. At the time, Ring wondered whether he’d heard a metallic clink. Upon returning Saturday night, he headed over to the oil tank to have a look. There on the ground his flashlight revealed a hammer and a knife.

If you’ve been watching The Ripper on Netflix, or are familiar at all with this massive manhunt that consumed northern England in the late 70s, you know what a lucky break Ring’s find was for the police. Because this was a hunt that seemed to hit one dead end after another.

It was also a hunt mired in paper. So much paper, in fact, that the Ripper Room at Millgarth Police Station in Leeds had to be structurally reinforced because of concerns that the great weight of its paper might cause its floor to collapse. Watching the old news footage of stoic, resolute officers poring over files, flipping through index cards, and scribbling on notepads, phone receivers cradled on their shoulders, you can’t help but wonder how much sooner Sutcliffe might have been caught had the police had the benefit of the information technology we use today. 

A few quick reminders of the state of policing in the 1970s:

  • DNA testing would not come into use until 1986.
  • Fingerprints were still compared using the naked eye.
  • CCTV existed but was not widely used. 
  • Computerized record-keeping was limited; the UK did not have a single, integrated national police database until 2006.

Another huge hindrance for Ripper investigators — and one that, to this day, they appear to regret deeply — were the letters and, in particular, the tape from a man claiming to be the Ripper. While the letters and tape were later discovered to be a hoax, and the sender, John Samuel Humble, was charged with perverting the course of justice, they sent police on a wild goose chase for a man with a Geordie accent, prompting them to discount critical leads, such as the fact that at least one surviving victim was certain her attacker had spoken with a Yorkshire accent.

Police actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during their six-year investigation. But it was only through sheer coincidence that they eventually nailed him. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he spent most of his incarcerated life at the Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital west of London. He died November 13, 2020 of COVID-19.

Manhunt: The Search for the Yorkshire Ripper (1 hr, 39 min)

Released in 1999, this superbly produced and narrated documentary is easily as good as the recent Netflix series, and is definitely worth a watch if you’re so inclined. It contains many good interview clips, including one with Ripper survivor Maureen Long, who has since passed away. 

Peter Sutcliffe arrives at court (40 sec)

Sutcliffe was taken into custody on Friday January 2nd and by Monday January 5th had confessed and was making his first court appearance. Unfortunately there’s no audio on this video, though you’ll recognize it if you’ve watched the Netflix series. If so, you might remember the one journalist who recalled that everyone already seated in the courtroom knew when Sutcliffe’s police van had arrived because of the angry roar that erupted in the crowd outside.

Relatives of Ripper victims speak out (8 min, 22 sec)

This BBC Newsnight report aired on November 27, 1980, mere weeks before Sutcliffe’s arrest. In it, the victims’ relatives speak directly to the camera, addressing their remarks to the Ripper himself.

Relevant Yorkshire Ripper sites today (3 min, 13 sec)

This brief video touches on a few of the sites relevant to the Ripper investigation.

This is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper (3 hrs, 16 min)

This is a dramatization of the Ripper investigation from the perspective of the police officer who led it, Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield. Probably more than any other officer, Oldfield visibly suffered the effects of years of tremendous scrutiny and strain. He died four years after the Ripper was caught. 

Dec 13 2000: Al Gore concedes defeat to George W. Bush

“I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people, and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

Those gracious words, spoken by Al Gore just after 9pm ET on Thursday, December 13, 2000, hold special significance at a time when the current U.S. president refuses to stand down — in particular, the day before Electoral College electors meet in their home states and cast their votes. The voting takes place throughout the day tomorrow, December 14th. The results will be announced January 6. 

With yesterday’s Proud Boys march in Washington disintegrating into violence, and Trump continuing to spew his vitriol on Twitter, it might be just the time to reflect on how Vice President Al Gore handled himself when he was up against Texas governor George W. Bush in the election of 2000. All eyes were on Florida, where the media first called Gore the winner, then retracted it, then called Bush the winner, and later retracted that too. Eventually a vote recount was initiated, but then stopped when the Florida Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Bush was declared the winner with 271 Electoral College votes — Gore had 266 — while Gore won the popular vote by about half a million votes. 

Despite the painful closeness of the race, it was a calm, dignified Gore who took the podium at the Ceremonial Office the evening of December 13th.  

Gore’s words were firm — “While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it” — but always respectful: “I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honour the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together, in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines, and that our constitution affirms and defends.”

I know what you’re thinking. No comment.

Gore’s concession speech (7 min, 18 sec):

The trailer for Gore’s Oscar-winning movie on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth (3 min, 8 sec):

Highlights from the Bush-Gore presidential debate:

Lisa Simpson buys Al Gore’s book on The Simpsons (56 sec)

Mar 29 1978: The last Carol Burnett show

Carol Burnett animation

Mrs. Wiggins. Eunice. Starlet. Marion of Canoga Falls. If you grew up in the 70s, you probably recognize at least one of these characters (the first is my personal fave). On March 29, 1978, they all bid goodbye in a final two-hour special on CBS. 

In case you wondered, Carol Creighton Burnett, born in San Antonio Texas in 1933, is still alive. She has won too many TV and stage awards to name (Emmys, Tonys) and she’s written several memoirs. In 2005, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for (according to Wikipedia) “enhancing the lives of millions of Americans and for her extraordinary contributions to American entertainment”. And in 2018, the Carol Burnett Award was established to honour “outstanding contributions to television”. The current holder is Ellen DeGeneres.

Carol was certainly a staple in our house growing up, and I have especially fond memories of her Mrs. Wiggins (“Uh…Mrs. Huh-wiggins?” “Yes, Mr. Tudball.”) and Eunice characters (“Oh SHUT UP.”). I remember my mom killing herself laughing when Starlet (O’Hara) came sauntering down the staircase with her dress made of curtains — curtain rod intact. I also remember many, many times when co-stars Tim Conway and Harvey Korman lost it on camera. How that cast must have laughed. 

As we all look forward to better days ahead, here’s to a few laughs courtest of some memorable Carol clips below. 

Mrs. Wiggins sharpens pencils  This is classic Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball — with a special guest appearance by Rock Hudson. Takes me back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne7FkS523VA (7 min, 14 sec)

Carol introduces special guest Betty White  O… m… g. Vintage. If nothing else, watch the first 2 min, 45 sec. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v47gfM7NTGw (50 min, 15 sec)

The r&b version of Cinderella featuring the Pointer Sisters  This is just so 70s, right down to Carol’s dress when she introduces the sketch. (What happened to all that peach?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYFprizVGh0&list=PLyuch75NpO9Fp9FFoLFZ6oDHJLIEuac-b&index=3 (21 min, 53 sec)

Carol’s own favourite sketches  Carol shares some of her personal favourites in this clip that aired in June 2016 on PBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCnW25Vu3RQ (5 min, 59 sec)

Tim surprises Carol with a special guest on her final show  Hint: It’s a Wonderful Life.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJgmk2F3WeQ (1 min, 37 sec)

Jan 1 1962: The Beatles are turned down by Decca

Photo: Skeeze on Pixabay

I remember reading a few years ago about some of the publishers that (**bang head on wall**) rejected J. K. Rowling. This is one of those stories. On New Year’s Day, 1962, a practically unknown band from Liverpool trekked more than 200 miles down to London to give it their best for Decca Records. According to an article by retired UK journalist Ray Setterfield, the Beatles — who then, pre-Ringo, included Pete Best on drums — recorded 15 songs. 

Then they went home again — and waited. 

Several weeks went by, and finally, their frustrated manager Brian Epstein called Decca.  

“Groups with guitars are on the way out,” they were allegedly told by a Decca representative. The man added that he believed “the Beatles have no future in show business”. 

A good lesson in perseverance — and a reminder that even people who are supposed to know in fact often don’t.

Happy new year and new decade, and here are a few YouTube clips for your listening pleasure, because any day is a good day to listen to the Beatles. 

Hey Jude This 1968 performance on Frost on Sunday (hosted by English TV presenter David Frost) starts out a bit oddly, but hang on through the first minute — you won’t be disappointed. (Also, note the number of views the video has received.)    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_MjCqQoLLA (8:09)

Something  This is an interesting and somewhat quirky montage of old video (film?) of Beatles and their significant others (love seeing Linda McCartney, God bless her) — and the song itself always reminds me that George (The Quiet Beatle) was perhaps always under-rated and a bit over-looked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UelDrZ1aFeY (3:07)

How the Beatles Changed the World  Full disclosure: I have not seen this whole documentary, but what I have seen is very well done. If you’re a Beatles fan — and even if you’re just interested in the 60s culture and social scene —  it’s well worth a look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo1XboQXOAE (1 hr, 48 min)

Paul McCartney on Carpool Karaoke  Paul McCartney not only joins host and driver James Corden but takes him back to McCartney’s childhood home and then performs in a pub. Lots of fun — and McCartney shows he’s still such a class act. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjvzCTqkBDQ (23:42)

Dec 16 1897: London’s Adelphi Theatre gets a Christmas ghost

A drawing of the Adelphi by English architect and novelist Samuel Beazley in 1840. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
A drawing of the Adelphi by English architect and novelist Samuel Beazley in 1840. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A Victorian Christmas season was in high gear when William Terriss approached the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre for another performance of Secret Service. Good-looking, talented, and a regular on the West End circuit, Terriss was the toast of London. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to him, he had one bitter enemy: fellow actor Richard Prince, a washed-up alcoholic with unstable mental health who was out of work, and blamed Terriss for his woes. 

On the night of December 16th, Prince had been hiding across the street, waiting for Terriss to arrive. When he did, Prince raced across the road, wielding a deadly knife. 

“My God, I am stabbed!” Terriss cried out, collapsing at the stage entrance. “Arrest him!” Prince was indeed arrested and convicted and sent to Broadmoor, but he had achieved his wicked goal: As Terriss lay dying in an alley beside the theatre, with staff surrounding him and his love, actress Jessie Millward, by his side, he reportedly whispered into her ear: “I will come back.”

The first apparent sighting was in 1928: a young actress in her dressing room felt her couch begin to shake, then had her arms pinned down by an unseen force. She then heard two knocks. It turns out the room had previously belonged to Terriss, who would always knock twice before entering. That same evening, theatre-goers reported seeing a green mist on-stage.

Almost 30 years later, in 1955, a ticket collector at nearby Covent Garden tube station claims to have seen Terriss walking the train platform.  

His last reported sighting was in 1972. 

Maybe it’s the inherent spiritualism of Christmas, or maybe it’s the fact that the dark, cold midwinter is a perfect time to curl up by a toasty fire and tell tall tales; either way, there is no shortage of Christmas ghosts and deliciously creepy stories surrounding them. 

Here are few little gems on YouTube — in the spirit of the season.

The Dead Room – A Christmas Ghost Story   At just under 30 minutes, this is a bite-sized, wonderfully atmospheric little drama about an old voice actor for a radio horror series — it aired December 24, 2018 on the BBC. As one commenter aptly put it: “Brilliant; dark chocolate with a tip of poison and a hint of nostalgia that stirs the imagination…” (Quick trivia note: The Dead Room’s creator is Mark Gatiss, who not only stars as Mycroft Holmes on Sherlock, but is one of the show’s writers.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsWVadnUEyI&t=195s  (28 min)

A Ghost Story for Christmas   I somehow lucked out and found this awesome little playlist of a series, A Ghost Story for Christmas, that once again comes to us courtesy of the BBC’s Christmas programming. It aired from 1971 to 1978, and was later resurrected from 2005 to 2013. All episodes are under an hour, and they’re generally well-acted with lots of atmosphere — perfect for tucking into with a hot drink and the lights down low. (Note: You can probably find others in the series outside this playlist.) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJkeRL_mOtyJoHDRIzMNI-95Pb2gVf-I_

“I will come back”: The murder of William Terriss   This is more audio than video, but oh, what delicious audio it is. It borders on campy, but pulls back just enough to be creepy. Turn down the lights, snuggle up and enjoy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB7PoPpRp_4  (7 min, 12 sec)

A Christmas Carol (with Alastair Sim)   I did a full happy dance when I tripped across this on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. It simply is not Christmas without A Christmas Carol, and it is not A Christmas Carol without Alastair Sim. To this day, the ominous rattling of Jacob Marley’s chains as he lumbers up the stairs to confront Scrooge in his library never ceases to give me chills. A heads-up that the audio is a tad wonky, but I always found the sound in this movie a bit tinny and scratchy, so a little more tinniness and scratchiness simply adds to the atmosphere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HfPF1CskY8&t=115s  (1 hr, 26 min)

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas! 

Mar 21 1788: The Great Fire of New Orleans

fire N O 1788

The massive scale of historic urban fires really makes you appreciate unsung amenities like smoke alarms and fire hydrants. Back in the olden days, when a fire started in one building, the whole block often went up, perfectly fueled by plenty of dry timber.

In the case of New Orleans, the city in fact weathered two great fires, just six years apart. 1788 was the first one. Then, after the city managed to mostly rebuild itself, another huge blaze tore through it in 1794.

The 1788 fire was by far the worse of the two. It started in a private home — that of army paymaster Don Vincente Nunez — on Good Friday around 1:30pm. While there doesn’t seem to be any explanation anywhere of how the fire started (a lit candle probably had something to do with it), historical accounts do note that “A wind from the south, then blowing with fury, thwarted every effort to arrest its progress.”

The flames quickly raced from building to building, and might have been brought under control had the local Catholic priests not decided that, given the day, church bells could not be used as a fire alarm. 

We can take consolation in the fact that, of the 856 buildings that went up in smoke — of 1,100 in total — the Catholic church was one of them.

The Great Fire of London, 1666  “The people of London who had managed to survive the Great Plague in 1665 must have thought that the year 1666 could only be better,” observes the website Historic UK. However, while the 1666 fire was indeed a doozy — leaving only one-fifth of the city standing — in fact, London’s fire of 1212 was far worse in terms of fatalities, killing upwards of 3,000 people. Amazingly, only six people died in 1666. This clever animated mini-documentary tells us how the fire of 1666 happened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er3GKw8Z3R4  (3 min, 42 sec)

Great Fire of Toronto, 1904  As a near-lifelong Torontonian, I had to give my fair city a nod with this actual footage of the blaze that someone managed to capture long before phone cameras. Here’s an interesting tidbit from Wikipedia on where the blaze started: “The flames were rising from the elevator shaft of the E & S Currie Limited’s neck wear factory at 58 Wellington Street West, just west of Bay Street (now the TD Bank Tower). The factory was situated in the centre of a large industrial and commercial area. The exact cause of the fire was never determined, but a faulty heating stove or an electrical problem is suspected.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLA-fNhylIc  (2 min, 30 sec)

Kantō Fire of Tokyo, 1923  In a list of top-10 worst-ever fires, this was number one. Much of Tokyo had been flattened by an extreme (8.2) earthquake, and fires erupted across the city in its wake. Whipped into a frenzy by high winds, the fires became a giant blazing twister that tore through the city and killed tens of thousands of people.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b3cql8QsIY (1 min. 54 sec)

Mar 1 1873: the typewriter goes into production


The good ole typewriter may seem archaic now, but imagine how it felt to write out War and Peace or the King James Bible by hand. While various typing machines had been in the works since the 1700s — and Gutenberg invented the printing press back in the 1400s — it wasn’t until the late 1800s that printing was essentially brought to the masses through the typewriter.

Its invention is attributed to several people — Americans Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule. The company that brought it to market is the Remington Standard Typewriter Company (the same company behind Remington guns).

Early versions of it forced people to type ‘blind’, with the paper tucked into the machine so that you couldn’t read what you’d typed until you were finished.

It eventually was improved, and in the early 1900s, electrified models began to appear.

A century later, we can see countless examples of how the typewriter changed the way we work — and became a fixture in popular culture.

Ode to the Typewriter  This fun little montage zips through some great movie (and cartoon) clips showing typewriters in action.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG-6GOalIfY  (3 min, 15 sec)

California Typewriter   Did you know Tom Hanks loves typewriters? He actually wrote a book about them — called Uncommon Type — and he’s one of the celebrities featured in this documentary about a business called California Typewriter that fixes typewriters (Serving California since 1949). This is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l53MPBjCDpY   (1 min, 27 sec)

The Typewriter concerto  Yes, an actual concerto with a full symphony — and a typewriter.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jinGW7ZDGPM  (4 min, 23 sec)

Jagged Edge: the typewriter scene   If you’ve seen Jagged Edge, you know this scene. Consider yourself spoiler-alerted if you haven’t seen it. I apologize in advance for this version of the movie — dubbed in (rather squeaky) Italian. Luckily, the scene in question has no dialogue. A quick set-up: Glenn Close is an ambitious attorney in San Francisco defending newspaper tycoon Jeff Bridges in the brutal murder of his wife. Over the course of the trial, Close falls in love with Bridges, and eventually gets him acquitted. It’s now the morning after the verdict, and while an elated Bridges is at home outside tending to his horses, Close is inside tending to last night’s bed sheets. She ventures into the linen closet looking for fresh ones, when she finds, tucked at the back of a shelf, a vintage Smith Corona. Which is interesting, because during the trial, she received typed notes from the killer — notes in which every ‘t’ was slightly raised.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JumTiVsy_ao   (Fast-forward to 1:18:50)

Feb 21 1964: 24,000 rolls of Beatles wallpaper shipped to the U.S.

Beatles wallpaper

Did you even know they even made Beatles wallpaper? Yes, they did — and there were people who wanted to buy it.

It was early 1964 and Beatlemania had made its way across the pond. I Want To Hold Your Hand hit the top of the U.S. Billboard chart February 1st, and on February 7th, the boys started their North America tour. Two days later, they played for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show.

That February 9th appearance brought the Beatles to the masses, and kicked the Fab Four frenzy into high gear. It’s estimated 73 million people watched that show — about 38 percent of the U.S. population at the time. It even had been suggested that crime levels dropped dramatically during the broadcast, but that was later disproved.

A second Ed Sullivan performance, pre-taped, was slated to air February 23rd. Two days before that show — when millions of crying, screaming, fainting teen-aged girls just couldn’t get enough of the lads from Liverpool — 24,000 rolls of Beatles wallpaper landed in the U.S. Wallpaper was just one of a near-endless variety of Beatles-branded items you could buy if you were so inclined — from wigs and lunchboxes to boots and oil paintings. According to News of the Odd, “By 1966, Northern Music, in the UK, was exporting $1 million worth of “Beatleware” to the US annually.” (FYI: I managed to find a link on eBay for ‘Rare Beatles Wallpaper’: it was sold out.)

The first appearance on Ed Sullivan  One YouTube commenter summed up this performance nicely: “Everything changed for the boys after this night and there could be no looking back.The ESS was the launching pad for it all. There was The Beatles before The Ed Sullivan Show and The Beatles after The Ed Sullivan Show.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qXyw1JiW7I  (2 min, 50 min)

The opening of A Hard Day’s Night  While I’ve never seen this entire movie, I had to include it here, because when my husband and I took a Beatles walk during our last U.K. visit in September 2018, the guide took us through London’s Marylebone Station — the location for the opening of the film.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QZa5pzihqE  (Watch the opening credits.)

The Beatles break up  The news stunned and saddened people around the world, and to this day, no band has quite captured the trippy, melodic vibe of the Beatles. This montage of news clips includes interviews with their publicist on the break-up, and reaction from their fans.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4zS2biDur8  (22 min, 6 sec)

Free as a Bird  This song was released in 1995 as part of the Beatles Anthology, and accompanying it is what must be one of the most magical, bittersweet music videos ever. Its dreamlike quality and nod to a bygone era — all beautifully interspersed with cameos of John, Paul, George and Ringo — have me riveted every time I watch it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODIvONHPqpk  (4 min, 58 sec)


Feb 13 1942: Germany cancels the invasion of Britain

Operation Sea Lion

It was called Operation Sea Lion by the Nazis (Unternehmen Seelöwe), and it was Hitler’s plan to invade Britain in the early days of World War II. Launched in 1940, it marked the height of Hitler’s ruthless rampage across Europe. Country after country had fallen to the Germans. By May, France was being crushed, and the English troops were taking a beating at Dunkirk.

Hitler assumed Britain would now surrender. He was wrong. His proposal of peace negotiations (which included absolute air and naval rule of the English Channel) were met with one of Winston Churchill’s many famous quotes: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

What followed was a summer of bombings and blackouts — the Battle of Britain, one of the most iconic eras of the war, when the German Luftwaffe would execute its nightly raids across the Channel, blowing the hell out of England’s military and manufacturing hubs.

While it would be two years before Hitler would officially call the invasion quits, in fact, by September 1940, the writing was on the wall. Wikipedia notes that “with air losses increasing, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely on 17 September 1940 and it was never put into action.”  

“We shall never surrender”  In 2017’s Darkest Hour, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (an Oscar-winning performance by Gary Oldman) rallies Parliament — and the British people — with what would become the most famous war speech of all time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skrdyoabmgA (4 min, 55 sec)

“You prisoner of war”  If you watch only one war movie in your life, make it Hope and Glory. This brilliant, funny, very touching film follows an average London family trying to survive “the battle at home” during the Blitz. This particular scene catches the family mid-air raid, during which a lone German pilot lands in the middle of the street. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLJKIsCtkic (3 min, 17 sec)

What’s happened to William?  William Beech is a main character in the movie Goodnight Mr. Tom. This wonderful film tells the story of a young evacuee from the east end of London who lands on the doorstep of a crusty curmudgeon in a country village. When the young lad is called back to the city by his mother, and then isn’t heard from, ‘Mr. Tom’ (played by the wonderful late John Thaw) goes looking for him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyI_7mqe9fk (2 min, 14 sec)

May 27 1679: Habeas Corpus enacted

The Verdict.JPG

At first glance, the term Habeas Corpus might seem a bit Latin and dull, but in fact, the Habeas Corpus Act, which became law in Britain this day in 1679, was a revolutionary piece of legislation that prevented people from being thrown in prison without just cause. At its core, the Act “demands that a prisoner be taken before the court, and that the custodian present proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether the custodian has lawful authority to detain the prisoner.” (Thank you Wikipedia.) In other words, everyone has the right to a fair trial.

I think that deserves a blog post — and a nod to some classic courtroom dramas. (I will say up front that there are lots more good ones that aren’t here — from A Few Good Men to Witness for the Prosecution; there are too many to include in one post.) 

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)  Where to begin with To Kill a Mockingbird? This was one of the very few books I read in high-school English that I enjoyed, and then later when I saw the film, I was blown away. This is a pivotal scene in the movie, where we see alleged rape victim Mayella Ewing on the stand being questioned by Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44TG_H_oY2E (3 min, 29 sec)

Twelve Angry Men (1957)  This is the granddaddy of courtroom movies. It stars Henry Fonda as the one doubting juror who’s just not sure a young Puerto Rican man accused of murder is guilty. The whole cast is a 1950s Hollywood who’s who, and this scene is especially telling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUzp2XUhskY (2 min, 32 sec)

The Verdict (1982)  The Verdict is one of my favourite movies of any kind, which makes it my number-one courtroom drama. Paul Newman is SO DAMNED GOOD as a washed up, ambulance-chasing, alcoholic lawyer who gets a chance to turn his career around when he’s handed a case of medical negligence — in Boston, where the alleged negligence involves the city’s preeminent Catholic hospital. (Okay, now I’ve gotta go watch it.)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Asm-9UXAOog (2 min, 40 sec)

Silk (BBC series)  If you’re a fan of any kind of British drama, chances are you’ve watched Silk. It  aired from 2011 to 2014, and was on Netflix for awhile — you can now buy it on YouTube. The term ‘silk’ refers to the gowns worn by Queen’s Counsel lawyers in the U.K. — Queen’s Counsel is a merit-based designation awarded to lawyers by their peers. This excellent TV series follows the lives of the lawyers in a busy London practice vying to ‘take silk’. Along the way, there’s lots of politics, intrigue, love, sex — and that’s outside the courtroom. Here’s a clip released before it aired on PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbxna_YAR_I (1 min, 20 sec)

Law & Order  I think I spent the 1990s either watching Law & Order, getting ready to watch it, or just having finished watching it. And in fact, I went into labour with my daughter while watching it.  (Sitting in bed… a warm July night… trying to get comfortable… watching Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach do their thing… and suddenly I’m wondering if I have a bladder issue. Turns out it wasn’t my bladder….) Here, I’ve posted just the theme song, because it’s such a cool, memory-inducing tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbEgjPS73fE (1 min, 16 sec)