Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #3: Ripper Street series three, episodes 6 – 8

The last three episodes of Ripper Street were pretty ludicrous, but in a Ripper Street way of ludicrous that has me pleased I kept faith with the series while the BBC lost theirs.

Episode 6 had a rare glimpse into the life of the toffs, slumming it down Whitechapel. The make-up plastered on Lady Vera, to say nothing of her very un-Victorian flirting with nice Constable Grace, struck a bit of a silly-arse note, but all was saved by the use of the new-fangled finger-print device (I knew we’d get a finger-print plot sooner or later – knew it).

Episode 7 was a belter – abortion, illegitimacy and transgender issues, all wrapped up in an intriguing plot that also included the phrase (describing the London poor) ‘rascally multitude’. I expect that will be making its way into some of my own writing before long.

Episode 8 was bloody ridiculous. So Long Susan’s wicked father finally turns up, and she suddenly goes from proto-feminist hard-hitter to weak little simperer? No Long Susan, no! Why didn’t you just shoot him like you do everyone else? Or shove him down a cellar or poison his port? At least we had Captain Jackson and the crafty finger-print trick, which only confirmed what he already knew but couldn’t bear to believe about his estranged wife.
I was devastated to see Fred Best killed, as it means he won’t be sliming his way around series four, but at least he had a brilliant send off. And while Drake and lovely Rose finally do the decent thing, spirited Mimi dumps Jackson because he just can’t cut the ties with Long Susan, despite her being a bit of a cow (and a multiple murderer to boot).
The final scene has back-from-the-dead Inspector Reid and the drippy Mathilda on a chilly-looking beach – finally, he has everything he wanted.

Things I think about as I fold up the ironing board:

  • Just who is going to clear up all the mess in Long Susan’s horrible house?
  • What’s going to happen to that well-meaning but humourless doctor?
  • When is series four on?

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #1: Ripper Street

Housework – it’s come a long way, eh?
We no longer bash filthy old rugs with sticks or wipe windows down with vinegar and scrunched-up paper. Washing clothes doesn’t involve boiling a cauldron of water at four in the morning in the hope of being finished by midnight. With our Dysons and our Electroluxes and our Windolene and our microfibre cloths, housework is a breeze, leaving us with more time to do other stuff, like scoff biscuits and, y’know, write blogs.
Ironing hasn’t evolved at all. Apart from being able to plug the iron in (and get the flex wrapped around your elbow) nothing has changed since Roman times (I am making this up; I have no idea if Roman togas were crease-free or not).
I shove a load of filthy clothes in my washing machine with a mound of New! Improved! Biological powder and press some shiny buttons. An hour later I drag it out and make the onerous trip to the tumble dryer (I live in a dip. The sun doesn’t shine in our back garden and I can’t hang stuff out. DON’T JUDGE ME). Another hour and it is all warm and dry and fluffy. Then we step back in time and I am a hard-pressed laundry maid battling with cuffs and creases for hours and hours and hours.
What makes this bearable? Setting up the ironing board in front of the TV and watching all the programmes my husband can’t stand and are too sweary for my children. If there is nothing to watch, nothing gets ironed.
Thank the gods of 100% cotton that we live in a Golden Age of Television, and we have both Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as the BBC iPlayer (who needs Sky now Game of Thrones is finished until next year anyway?). So this is what I watch, and what I think about it.

Ripper Street Series Three (Episodes 1-5)

Lawdy, but I love Ripper Street. I love the language (“You and I be going a’coppering, my lad!” and – my personal favourite – “This lady has been recently and most energetically squired.”). I love the chipped paint on the doorframes, I love the food (chop ‘n’ chips, anyone?), I love the whiskers and I love the bloody ludicrous storylines.
It’s like a gothic Coronation Street gone back in time but with different accents and longer skirts. The very first episode of series three had a cataclysmic train crash – right at the door of stern-but-tortured Detective Inspector Edmund Reid’s beloved Leman Street Station. And who should be on that train, being all heroic, but his old sidekick Bennet Drake. And who was energetically squiring a young lady somewhere just around the corner? Only Captain Jackson! On top of this, sweet-but-ambitious Rose, one time lady-love of Drakes, happened to be a-wandering past just after it happened, as did Long Susan (although no-one calls her that anymore, unfortunately) so they can all stare at each other and look heartfelt and shocked and terse and stuff.
Soap-style storylines aside (we also have Reid’s missing daughter reappearing after five years – though we always suspected she would wash up somewhere, that was too good a storyline to abandon), now Amazon have taken up where the BBC left off and commissioned Ripper Street for another three more series (I hope I read that right) it seems we are in for a regular dose of fast-paced Victorian melodrama.
It is the dialogue and the acting that sets Ripper Street apart, and I would rather see our three waistcoat-clad heroes dashing down a gas-lit ally solving ‘orrible murders than delve too deeply into their personal lives. That’s when all semblance of authenticity starts to dissolve and we get mired down in dull old 21st century pyschobabble.
Mind you, as a journalist, I always had a soft spot for slimy reporter Fred Best, fake ear and all. In this series we see a chink in his armour, and he is starting to turn up with vital pieces of information for the coppers – none of whom can ever bring themselves to so much as give him a curt nod, let alone say thank-you.

Fred Best (played by David Dawson) keeping an ear open (BBC)

Fred Best (played by David Dawson) keeping an ear open (BBC)

During the first three episodes I was worried the whole series was going to be centred around the train crash, the missing daughter and purse-lipped Long Susan (with her very un-Victorian bright blonde pincurls), but the murder of a fake clairvoyant set everything ridiculously back on its feet again.
This is what Ripper Street does so well – present us with clever crimes, not repackaged CSI stuff with a couple of corsets and blood on the cobbles thrown in in the name of authenticity. In series two we had telegraph boys moonlighting as prostitutes, freak shows and opium dens. So far in series three there have been mudlarks scavenging for treasure on the Thames banks, pub landlords drowned in Burton ale and fake psychics being poisoned by unfaithful taxidermists. You don’t get that on Silent Witness.
It was also good to have an episode without Inspector Reid, so Drake and Jackson’s coppering skills come to the fore and young Constable Grace makes good use of Reid’s meticulous archiving. I really hope Grace doesn’t become one of those expendable guys with the phasers set to stun on Star Trek and end up dead in some cellar somewhere.

Stuff to think about while I descale the iron:

Long Susan (Caitlin Swift) and her hair - how is this possible in the says before Babyliss and Elnett hairspray? (BBC)

Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) and her hair – how is this possible in the days before Babyliss and Elnett hairspray? (BBC)

  • Who does the women’s hair? All those tiny pintucks and not a Babyliss curling wand in sight.
  • And, while we’re on the subject, in the first episode, Captain Jackson wakes up next to an artfully tousled and naked Mimi when the train crashes, and five minutes later they are both out on the streets looking horrified but fully suited and booted. Who levered her into her corset and skirts, pinned up her hair and stuck that nice little hat on top? Captain Jackson? I don’t think so…
  • Who is doing Edmund Reid’s housekeeping? Cos after that miserable meal of a boiled potato and some pappy red cabbage they want speaking to quite sternly.
  • And for a top copper, no doubt with many enemies who would love to do his gaff over, he doesn’t lock up after himself. Inspector Reid’s moon-faced daughter managed to break in, wearing some sort of nylon nightie thing, without any sign of broken glass or picked locks.
  • Don’t you have to pay to go in Blewitt’s and watch saucy ballet dancers and lovely Rose? Drake and Jackson just wander in and out without so much as a shilling on the door, and they never stay to see a whole show.
  • And finally… what the blazes is going on with Long Susan? Covering up mass murders, raising poor folks’ rents, shooting Reid, abducting his daughter just so she can comb her frizzy hair and all for what? So half a dozen people can groan in her front-parlour hospital? It’s a scandal and no mistake.