AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP HUTCHINSON
Jack the Ripper Author and Tour Guide
When it comes to the history of the Jack the Ripper crimes, the name Philip Hutchinson is almost as well known as that of Jack the Ripper himself!
Philip has been acclaimed as the best Jack the Ripper tour guide and his contributions to the field of ripper studies are legendary.
He is also one of only three guides to be singled out for special mention in what has been described as "the Bible of ripper studies" The Jack the Ripper A-Z.
Here he talks about his considerable achievements and tells us about his interests outside of ripperology.
WOULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
I come from a small place called Church Crookham in Hampshire, but I've lived in Guildford, Surrey since 2001.
I've been a professional actor for most of my adult life, having spent three years at one of the major London drama schools, followed by an almost non-stop 12 year stint in touring shows, largely to schools and clubs.
I felt that I was getting too old to be living at home and had had enough of sharing hotel rooms with snoring colleagues, so I decided to take a break from it and become a tour guide.
Straight away, I was picked up by a company to become their main Jack the Ripper guide. I stayed with them for three years.
Near the end of my tenure with them, I was approached by Richard Jones, who I knew from having shared airtime on a TV discussion about ghosts and through my position as a Council Member of The Ghost Club (the oldest paranormal organisation in the world - a post I've held for 13 years).
With a far more attractive offer of being able to conduct a serious tour of the subject (mainly no longer having to wear a costume, pick people up on a coach and take them for a meal afterwards ), I jumped ship and have been guiding for Discovery Tours since 2005
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN JACK THE RIPPER?
I'm constantly asked by customers on tours what got me interested in this kind of subject matter.
The truth is I can't put it down to one event.
Philip Outside Helmsley Castle in Yorkshire
I know I loved ghost stories and Scooby Doo from my earliest years.
The Gothic of Dracula and Frankenstein and the white-sheeted spectre drifting through ruins always appealed - probably because it scared me.
I do recall my first visit to The Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds when I was six (this was before all the theme park glitz took over).
Along one stone wall was a row of famous Victorian murderers in a tight line, all staring out with their dead eyes standing in coffin shells behind bars and wearing funereal garb.
It was terrifying - and it was fascinating. And it freaked out my mum.
Something clicked that day and it wasn't long before I was back at infant school now writing short stories about people getting killed in nasty ways, and unsettling the teachers. I think I even illustrated some of them.
Then, in 1988, came the Ripper Centenary.
It would have passed me by had it not been for the ITV one-off special "The Black Museum."
To this day, it remains a fascinating 50 minutes of social history and, as a result of that programme, true crime became a simmering potential interest at the back of my mind.
AND SO YOUR INTEREST WAS SPARKED?
Early in 1990, the magazine Murder Casebook came out. I bought and read every single one of the 250 issues avidly.
By now I was completely hooked.
Brian Lane's Murder Guide To London was my book of choice that year.
I spent the end of my teens taking day trips to London in glorious sunshine and simply visiting site after site of archaic nefarious deed like a train spotter.
Philip At Work
If only I'd thought to take photographs - so many of those sites have changed now.
I know I visited the Ripper site of Durward Street before it was redeveloped, but I have no memory of it.
Years later, I was watching the old Victorian houses in Old Montague Street being demolished and I even had my camcorder with me, and still I didn't record it.
Now, I let nothing go. If a site we pass on the Ripper tours is about to come down, I document it meticulously with film and photograph before it's too late.
SPEAKING OF PHOTOGRAPHS
YOU'VE MADE SOME MAJOR FINDS HAVE YOU NOT?
I've been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and to have thus acquired historically important photographs with a Ripper connection.
In early 2007 my friend, Margaret Whitby-Green, informed me she had some photographs her uncle had taken of the Ripper sites in the 1960s. I ended up buying the collection from her.
They contained some historically important images for several reasons.
Together with Ripper historian Rob Clack, I penned the well-respected book The London of Jack the Ripper Then & Now, which is now in its fourth edition, was the best-selling Ripper book on Amazon UK for half a year when it first came out, is used as a GCSE textbook in some parts of England and was even used on-screen in the ITV drama Whitechapel!
At the end of that year, I managed to find another extremely important and unique image, which turned out to be the only known photograph of the murder spot of Elizabeth Stride.
A year of research followed which ultimately found not only where this had come from but, from the briefest of handwritten notes, eventually uncovered the time and year of the image but even possibly the identity of the photographer herself.
These findings, and the full Whitby Collection, were discussed in detail in my second book on the case The Jack the Ripper Photographs: Dutfield's Yard and The Whitby Collection.
YOU'RE IN DEMAND AS A LECTURER
AND ALSO RUN YOUR OWN THEATRE COMPANY?
Over the years I had been a major contributor to the Ripper websites Casebook and JTR Forums and, as a result, I was invited to give a lecture at the Ripper Conference held in Brighton in 2005 (the same talk I had given at a Ghost Club Conference I had organised in 2004).
It went down well and I have since given presentations at several of the Conferences. My lectures have included:-
- The Whitby Collection and The Dutfield's Yard Photograph (Tennessee, USA, 2008).
- The Dutfield's Yard Photograph (London, 2009).
- From The Grave To The Groove [the history of Victorian sound recording and early recordings referring to true crime] (London, 2012).
- The History of St Leonard's Church (London, 2013).
I've also given various talks about Jack the Ripper to organisations all over England (including a lecture at the City of London Police Museum).
I am the emcee of The Whitechapel Society and have hosted several of their conferences, including during a series of talks at The Museum of Docklands during their Ripper exhibition in 2008.
OUTSIDE OF JACK THE RIPPER YOU'RE ALSO AN ACCOMPLISHED ACTOR?
Maybe not famous, but I have made a living out of it!
I trained at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London and then toured the country giving thousands of performances.
Philip as Oliver Hardy
I played Howard in Thrown, which won a Best Drama award from the Royal Television Society in 1998, and was also in the BAFTA-winning BBC series The Canterbury Tales (getting thrown out of a pub by Dennis Waterman!).
I'm also a member of the video sketch troupe Cats At A Funeral.
My theatre credits were numerous in the first part of my career, usually playing the comic in touring pantomime or various unusual roles in Theatre in Education pieces. I took a break from acting when I began tour guiding but I missed it so much I was tempted back into it a few years later.
I also run a theatre company called Lucky Dog Theatre Productions, and my self-penned play Hats Off To Laurel & Hardy has been touring the UK to standing ovations since 2013 and has even played in Hollywood.
My one-man show, Jack the Ripper: Facts, No Fiction, has played at various Fringe Festivals to sell-out crowds and has garnered five-star industry reviews.
YOU'VE ALSO BEEN KNOWN TO
DRESS AS A WHITE RABBIT ON OCCASION?
I am an avid music fan and I collect and sell 78RPM records. I DJ with them at major festivals with The Shellac Collective - whilst dressed as a white rabbit.
YOU ALSO RUN THE GUILDFORD GHOST WALK?
I have been doing a Friday night (April to October) ghost walk in Guildford since 2001 and it's become something of a fixture as a local event.
Over the years I've done a lot of research into the haunted places of Guildford and the tour itself is an amalgam of all the ghost stories I've collected.
I do like the contrast between doing Jack the Ripper tours and Ghost walks; with the latter you get to be a little more theatrical, whereas with a Jack the Ripper tour, you can be dramatic but I feel some of the subject needs to be treated with respect. After all, we're talking about real events here.
The mood of both tours is similar, however. Anyone who has walked with me around London will probably enjoy the ghost tour in Guildford too, and they'd be most welcome to join me.
Likewise, people who have taken The Ghost Tour of Guildford might find themselves "enjoying" an evening of evisceration on my ripper tour.
I have also written the book Haunted Guildford (as well as Images Of England: Guildford and Guildford Past & Present) which goes into a great deal of detail about the varied hauntings of this wonderful town.
WHICH OF THE VICTIMS
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE MET?
All the victims of Jack the Ripper deserve respect, however and - whilst attempting to remove the darkness from the situation - I am always fully aware we are talking about real people who were murdered and led tragic lives with a tragic end.
Of the television documentaries I've taken part in, I'm most proud to have been associated with The Real Jack The Ripper (History Channel 2009), for which I escorted a member of Ripper victim Polly Nichols family around the sites and it remains just about the best documentary made on the case.
But, in all honesty, I do not have a favourite victim and, unless there is some true reason for a connection, I don't find it appropriate.
However, there's certainly - from accounts - some I would be more interested to meet than others, but I'd find it a bit churlish to comment on the supposed good character (or not) of these women.
WHAT MAKES YOUR TOURS DIFFERENT?
After 11 years of guiding at the time of writing, I still love giving Jack the Ripper tours.
No matter how much I hate the commute into London from Guildford, and no matter how sluggish I feel, as soon as a tour starts something switches on and I spring to life.
I'd like to think that my tours are crammed full of historical detail and information.
I'm very exact on my facts and locations (the topography of the Ripper's London is a passion of mine), I have a loud, clear voice (the most people I've ever taken on a tour - albeit not on a Jack the Ripper walk - was 254).
I am also friendly and open to questions (which I can almost always answer).
But - most of all - I am known for a wicked sense of sardonic dark humour.
I personally feel that if you come on a Ripper tour, you would be deeply depressed by the end of it if everything was presented with the gravitas and clinical analysis that serious study of the case demands.
You'll still hear all the facts and the minutiae, but I temper it with a lot of light relief, which has been honed over more than a decade (and I flatter myself most of the jokes are my own).
Humour and serial killing may sound like unlikely bedfellows but, believe me, you will welcome the addition.
WHAT IS THE SILLIEST
QUESTION YOU HAVE BEEN ASKED?
I have some marvelously silly questions I've been asked over the years - but if you ask me "Are you Jack?", I'm afraid you'll get a withering look.
Philip Giving His Tour
I've been asked - during the tour - if Sherlock Holmes was real and Jack the Ripper was fictional, if there are "still dummies of the victims on the murder sites", and even if a demon or an alien had done the murders.
But my favourite, by a long way, was the man who asked me if people were annoyed that the social reformer Charles Booth was personally painting every single house front in London in different colours to indicate the wealth of the inhabitants (he actually partly undertook colouring in a map to show this).
WHAT IS THE MOST EMBARRASSING
THING THAT HAS HAPPENED ON A TOUR?
I've rarely been embarrassed on the tour.
I've had people pass out (curiously, over two adjacent nights, two people passed out standing on exactly the same spot, and at the exact same point of my delivery) and there have been some pretty unimaginative heckles over the years (to this day, the most bizarre remains the City Boy outside the bar near the end of the tour who frequently shouts out "Jack the Ripper is Welsh!").
But, ultimately, the crown of interruptions of all time must go to the man who, about ten years ago, cycled through the group smiling and waving and ringing his bell... whilst completely naked.