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  • A Jack the Ripper Urban Legend September 22, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    4 Aug 1941 (barely a month into Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union) this ‘funny story’ appeared in a London newspaper. Perhaps we should think of it as a bit of nostalgia from the times when knives not Nazi bombs were the most dangerous thing in the East End.

    During the scare caused by Jack the Ripper, a gentleman was accosted in Berkeley Square by a lady who threatened to inform the police that he was ‘Jack the Ripper’ if he did not furnish cash. ‘But I am ‘Jack the Ripper,’’ he answered in flash, and she fled squealing for her life.’

    This apparently originated in Shane Leslie’s pre-war autobiography, The Film of Memory (1938), which Beach has neither read or seen. He honestly probably never will.

    This sounds like a tale with precedents and sure enough 1907, not twenty years after the ‘double event’, it had appeared in another British newspaper.

    It is not every man who is as ready as a nimble-witted Englishman whom a woman of forbidding appearance held up in the streets of New York one dark night. She pleaded for assistance. He was not prepared to at a moment’s notice in a case of which he knew nothing. Still she pleaded, and still he tried gently to put her off. At last she threatened. ‘You must give me money,’ she said, ‘you shall —or I’ll declare that you’re Jack the Ripper.’ He advanced a step towards her. ‘Madam, I am Jack the Ripper!’ he said in a thrilling whisper. She cast her shawl about her face and fled in horror.

    So we have gone from Berkeley Square to New York in just thirty years. There will certainly be earlier versions. Beach’s guess is that the UR version will be something like this. A prostitute accosts a man who refuses her offers of physical conversation. But sensing a certain weakness she decided to bilk him and says: ‘Give me a shilling or I’ll call the bobbies and say that you are Jack the Ripper.’ The man at this point smiles, his canines become visible and he slips a long butcher’s knife from out of his cloak: ‘But, my dear, I am Jack the Ripper’. She runs for her life.

    If this surmise is correct the tale would be (i) an occupational story (i.e. a tale told by prostitute to prostitute in the same way that there are tales told by midwives to midwives and priests to priests); (ii) will, as such, never have appeared in print. However, Beach would love to see other versions of this long-travelled story from before or after 1907.

    29 Sep 2017: Ultweets on Twitter found these two examples. The first is a slightly extended version of the 1907 above. The second dates, FOAF, to 1909. thanks to Ultweets, an account well worth following.