Ripper Street: Policing the meanest streets imaginable

Friday 4 January 2013, 10:31

Richard Warlow Richard Warlow Writer

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The journey to Ripper Street started out with a simple statement of intent – let’s make a crime show set in east London at the time of Jack the Ripper.

The dramatic potential of the idea was clear from the start – but as the show’s creator, the key moment that showed the way through those laneways and rookeries was the discovery of H Division.

It was the real life police station from which the hunt for the killer was coordinated, but it was also the headquarters for policemen who had to control the meanest streets imaginable.

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Whitechapel vigilantes confront the police outside H Division
That was what the show had to be – a precinct thriller. Committed lawmen doing the best they can in the most impossible circumstances.

And so our show features not just murderers but – amongst many others - pornographers, child gangs, slum landlords, vigilantes and anarchists.

But how to factor in the man himself?

The Whitechapel Killer, the forever anonymous maniac who informs that area of London to this day: witness the thrice daily ‘Ripper Tours’ strolling from Tower Hill underground station to Christ Church Spitalfields.

Strangely, the whole series was unlocked by almost throwing him away.

We wanted to create a TV series that might run and run, a grimy, period version of Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue.

But in November 1888 – once poor Mary Jane Kelly's remains had been defiled in a Dorset Street doss house – the lunatic killer disappears and all else is conjecture.

Constructing our stories to run alongside the Ripper investigation was a terrible constriction, so we dug him up, threw him out, and decided to start our stories once he’d gone.

Pretty much everything flowed out of that moment.

In truth, I’ve never been much of a Ripperologist.

What he did disgusts me and the sense you get as you read into the theories and wonderings and suspects is of an endless vortex of grim fascination. Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Edmund Reid Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Edmund Reid

The decision to discard any direct element of the manhunt in our series allowed me to pursue what I was really interested in: how did the men who were responsible for keeping the people of Whitechapel safe cope knowing that they’d failed so spectacularly?

How do you then go about bringing all the other murderers, thieves, rapists and poisoners to justice?

Would you be broken or galvanized?

The answer – in terms of our imagined drama – is both.

As soon as Matthew Macfadyen told us he was interested in taking on the part of Inspector Reid, I knew that this duality would be perfectly served.

As an actor, he has such an astonishing ability to describe both toughness and vulnerability, to entirely inhabit the role of a man who is haunted by terrible ghosts but who is still intent, every new day, on bringing the fight to the evil and corrupt.

There’s a particular moment toward the close of episode one when, the case solved, he tells his one-time boss and superior officer, (the more fictionally celebrated) Fred Abberline that no longer is he going to let Jack The Ripper dominate his every day and that from now on he’s going to look on and forward.

Reid comes out of the pub, puts on his bowler and – a private moment for the camera – he smiles.

It’s a smile of conviction and intent and, whilst it wasn’t scripted, it makes the whole character come alive.

It’s a purely instinctive moment from Matthew and one that went on to entirely inform the further development of the character.

The cast of Ripper Street The cast: MyAnna Buring, Adam Rothenberg, Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Charlene McKenna

Of course, it’s not just Matthew. Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg brought, respectively, an intensity and a playfulness that then cut through every word I wrote for them.

Elsewhere MyAnna Buring, Charlene McKenna, Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu brought such a defined sense of four very different women’s reactions to the time and its dangers that their performances through the beginning of the series actively defined how their stories were then scripted and played out through to the end.

As a writer, you have to imagine a mood – a feel and smell that you want the whole piece to take on – but it’s rare that the finished product marries so exactly with that imagined mood.

I’m so grateful to our magnificent cast and endlessly committed technical crew for that fact.

At the beginning of this new stage for Ripper Street (the one where the world at large starts to interact with our stories and characters), I hope everyone is as excited with this world, its people and their further stories as I am.

Richard Warlow is the creator and lead writer of Ripper Street.

Ripper Street continues on Sunday, 6 January at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Ripper Street
Den of Geek: Ripper Street episode 1 review: I Need Light 
The Guardian: TV review: Ripper Street 
The Scotsman: Interview with Matthew Macfadyen: Watching the detective
The Telegraph: Ripper Street review

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Really liked the first episode. Way more than Copper except for the kid charcater. The cast is top notch, the filming is great.

    I hope series 2 is announced soon !

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Oh dear god this programme is painful, I gave up after a 1/4 of an hour, BBC please don't make any more, in fact don't bother showing the ret of the series. Poor acting, poor storyline poor poor poor

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Great start - spotted a couple of bloopers. A beer bottle had a lip for a crown cap which was only invented in 1892 in America and near the end a gravity defying stunt with a basket of eggs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Enjoyed episode two despite its very convoluted storyline. I did find annoying that the sound level changed over such a range that after a riot I had to crank up the sound to hear the dialogue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Enjoyed Episode 2 immensely. So what if there were a few "bloopers" - not the end of the world. BBC always do a "period piece" well, just make sure that the research is up to scratch. Lots of very informed viewers out here.

    On a Sunday night we want to watch a well crafted piece of acting, with a good story and a feeling that we have seen professionals at work. Hard subject to portray, but that was the real world in 19th Century London - we must not lose sight of that fact with our 21st Century eyes.

    Well done and look forward to part 3

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Excellent series BUT first the helmet plates on the police helmet bear the Royal Cypher VR. However the Metropolitan Police did not use the Royal Cypher till after Queen Victorias death in 1901. What should have been the Officer Divisional Letter and Collar number.
    In the second series we hear the term Scouser for a person from Liverpool but this term did not see the light of day till WW2 and BBC Radio programme ITMA. It was this show that first coined the term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This is a seriously dreadful load of old rubbish.

    If you want to dramatise a good Victorian police yarn, then why not adapt McLevy for the television screen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Ripper Street is frankly fantastic television. Great storylines, well acted, love the oddly 'colourised' tint of the filming. Just what's needed, a grown up adventure serial. Enjoying the three protagonists' back stories emerging. I won't be looking out to see whether or not they're using the correct bootlaces either... Smashing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Marie-Ann,couldn't agree more. I think Auntie is misssing something fantastic ! And not just radio into tv, but tv adapted to radio. There has never been a problem with this idea with regards to radio 4 comedy, e-x-p-a-n-d-e the concept!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Finally we have a show that rivals the best of American series in terms of quality. Ripper Street is a vividly realised world, stuffed full of details. It doesn't spoon-feed the audience at all. The writing is stand out, the acting brilliant and the look of the piece could recommend the show alone. When the BBC make period drama like this and Crimson Petal and the White, all seems right with the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is great it make a change from Dancing,X factor, Big brother ect ect

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Brilliant programme ! BBC at it's best

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    What a great series - shame about the sound quality - I thought it maybe my TV but it is only a few weeks old - so I thought watch Episode 2 - sadly quality of sound is v.poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Blooper 3 the ingenious use of copper piping for the handle of the early film camera, apparently "Copper became a popular choice for water distribution plumbing in the U.S. following World War II, but had been available since the 1920's with the advent of solder fittings for joining pipes [2]." Sad git that I am!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    diseqc switch
    This is nice Entertainment blog. New story feeling discussed that we have seen profionals at work blogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The language used appears to be from a parallel Steampunk planet. Compare the heavy sententious sentences with those used in, say, Dickens and Conan Doyle, to bracket the period. Larkrise to Candleford had the characters speaking oddly but this has them speaking boring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Another great episode....great start to the week watching this series. Well done

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I cannot praise this series enough, it's one if the few programmes that my wife and I stop to make time to watch. The writing, acting and production values are superb and the story lines are so refreshingly different and involving.

    I sincerely hope that this series will be available to purchase, and that there will be a series two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Have been watching programme with interest as my great great grandfather was a policeman in London at the time of Jack the Ripper. Had a bit of a shock because one of the policeman in the programme has been made up to look exactly like him, red beard and all. Was just wondering where the writer got his inspiration from???

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Enjoying Ripper Street. A little perturbed however that I have ceased to exist! My great-grandmother was Edmund Reid's daughter, Elizabeth, who in the series has died several years before her marriage to a young constable, Thomas Smith, in April 1895. Glad that my great-great-grandma survived Episode 3, however!


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