2 January 2004 | Ruthven
Not such a "nasty little series"...
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre's assessment of this series is a little incorrect. It is a low-budget anthology series, but, rather than showing a re-enactment of the crime, each programme instead concentrates solely on the court case, presumably dramatized using the court records. MacIntyre also points out that the 'gimmick' of the show is that "all the murderers are men and all their victims are women". In fact the first series (entitled "Lady Killers") is all about women who killed. MacIntyre suggests that "it would have been interesting to see a few famous murderesses getting a look-in, such as Madeleine Smith or Mrs Maybrick or even Myra Hindley". Presumably it would have been seen as tasteless to dramatize the Hindley case at the time, but the producers did indeed think that Madeleine Smith was a good subject as the episode "Miss Madeleine Smith" was broadcast on the 24th August 1980. Other subjects included child murderer Amelia Dyer (played by the brilliant Joan Sims), Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain (played by Georgina Hale), French woman Marie Fahmy (played by Barbara Kellerman) who murdered her husband at the Savoy Hotel, plus Kate Webster, Mary Pearcey, and Charlotte Bryant.
The second 1981 series was slightly renamed as "Ladykillers", allowing the producers to extend the original remit of the series and to look at people who murdered women, although the killers were still not exclusively male. Subjects covered in this series were Dr Crippen and his mistress (played by John Fraser and Hannah Gordon), Frederick and Margaret Seddon (Michael Jayston and Carol Drinkwater), Edith Thompson (Gayle Hunnicutt), who with her much younger boyfriend (Christopher Villiers), possibly murdered her husband, and Neville Heath (played by Ian Charleson). I would hesitate to call any of the performers I have named as "downmarket actors".
Both series re-enact the less lurid type of murders (poisoning instead of stabbing, etc.), although this decision, as with the decision that purely sexual or (more horrifically) motiveless murders were not to be dramatized, was not, I should think, anything to do with the producers' being "embarrassed by the sexism and prurience of their own gimmick", but simply a case of what was permissible in a prime-time ITV time-slot.
Morley is a poor choice to host the series, and he has a little bit too much glee in his eyes as he gives the viewer the more salacious details of the crimes. However, to say that this presenting style "plays up to the unfortunate tendency of male audiences to view violence against women purely for its entertainment value, without making any attempt to empathise with the (real or fictional) victims" is incorrect as, as already observed, the entire first series is dedicated to female killers. As the stories are also all set after the crime has been committed and are entirely Court Room-bound, is would be difficult for the writers to ignore showing empathy for the victims, as the testimonies of their friends and family are, at times, the hardest things to watch in the programmes.