Audio's at the bottom of this page, so if you want to cut to the chase just scroll down. On the other hand, if you're in a lean and slippered pantaloon mood, well, why not read your way down there. In short, I've "led up to" the audio links with a bit of a State of the Ripper Walk address (well, Don's Ripper Walk).
Okay, went with Don on Sunday night (June 1st). It was the fourth time I've gone on his Ripper walk. Every time I go on it I enjoy it immensely. Each time more than the last. You can make of that what you will. My "read" is that Don's understanding of what happened in that "very small area" - as he describes it - in 1888 has just got richer and more profound over the many years that he's researched, thought about, written about, and talked the thing through with fellow criminologists, historians, and law enforcement professionals*.
Anyway, reviewing the audio was revelatory. I'm thinking, for example, of the first piece. The burst of laughter from the crowd. If you listen, you'll understand immediately. That surge of laughter was a release of tension. Of fairly high tension. And when you hear what Don has said just before...well, you'll understand why that crowd seized that chance to let off what must have been very considerable tension.
The other point to be made in relation to that is: Don's timing. Listen for yourself, you'll see what I mean. It's perfect. In a word, masterful.
"The other point" is misleading. It's not the only "other point". There's one that's more searching, more profound than the question of timing - as iimportant as timing is. It's this: pitch. I think the way he does it - his "register", if you will - is as good as it gets. Again, if you listen, you'll see what I mean. He's absolutely dispassionate, clinical, professional - understated even - about what was done to Polly Nichols. That's the way that material needs to be covered. For every reason. A third rate guide will pour it on there - ham it up. No need to do that. What that does is to get a ham acting job between us, the audience, and what happened there in Bucks Row in the small hours of of August 31, 1888. With that dispassionate, clinical, utterly professional approach of his Don's like a perfectly clear window through which we're looking at Buck's Row, wee hours of August 31, 1888. And maybe window's not quite the right word either. Lens might be a better word. Because his selection and ordering of facts - combined with that delivery of his - focuses the thing for us. Perfectly. Frighteningly. Ergo the high level of tension in that group that needed the laughter-release that was obviously very welcome indeed.
What else? Well, the command of the material of course springs to mind. He's just so assured. You listen to him and you know - this is da man! The telling details and the way they're marshaled. The first fingerprint conviction being 17 years in the future. The enormous forensic and technical handicaps the London police were labouring under in 1888. If you know a little bit about Don you of course know where that stuff's coming from - this is a law enforcement professional as well as this country's foremost crime historian.
It's a complicated story, difficult material. And he makes it seem - well, not easy but supremely assured. Guides you through it, unerringly, intelligently, masterfully. Right from the first. That opening, for example. There he is, setting the scene. The backdrop? The Tower of London and a section of the London Wall.
- of the London variety, of the stones-that-speak-variety - doesn't come any more evocative
. And of course what he says about the Tower and what happened there - the identity parade - is absolutely germane to the story. To the start of the story!
As is his discussion of the two London police forces and the jurisdictional problems that posed. In short, that's where the story begins. That's how you have to begin it if you're going to do it properly. There are knock-offs who will try to tell you that the world's leading expert on Jack the Ripper isn't starting the walk at the right station or that the sequence in which they do the walk is the right one, the best one. Oh really? Hmmm. That must involve some fancy footwork - or fancy verbals - starting your walk half a mile away from where the curtain was raised on the Autumn of Terror, I mean.
The other thing that struck me forcibly this time round with Don was his interaction with the audience. Taking questions. Asking for questions. Two points need to be made here. There's no other Jack the Ripper guide who would risk that. Because it lays you open. As I said, it's a very complicated story and you have to have complete mastery of every inch of the story if you're going to do that. Nobody else has that kind of mastery. Nobody else can. I suspect that comes from years of experience of Q & A sessions at Ripper conferences and the like. But wherever it's come from, it's an agreeeable element. He really "engages" his group, takes them with him. It also, incidentally, completely gives the lie to the lie about his "big, impersonal groups".
And finally, what I also want to mention here is the thoughtfulness and care that is part and parcel of a Donald Rumbelow walk, from first to last. He's surely the most safety conscious Blue Badge Guide in the world! Always looking out for people. Warning them about crossing streets, etc. etc. Again, that's another mark of the supreme professional.
Okay, here's the audio. This piece from fairly early on in Don's walk. And this one from about half way through it.
Together they'll give you a pretty good idea of what he's like, what his walk is like and indeed his "range". Enjoy.
Update: a third one has just gone up over at www.jacktheripperwalk.com
- but, be warned, if you're squeamish you should give it a miss
And in the pipeline - a couple of Don "reads". From his books: The Complete Jack the Ripper
and Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates
. And from his chapter on the Ripper in the forthcoming London Walks book: London Walks London Stories
. You'll be able to hear those over at www.jacktheripperwalk.com
- so stop by there when you get a chance.
*Let alone the "fraternity" he heads up - that small, select group of leading Ripperologists. The people, like Don, who have done the real sifting and winnowing - the heavy lifting. As opposed to the smellfeasts.