Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bruce Robinson's Jack the Ripper Suspect Revealed!

Last week there was a flurry of excitement round these parts with the news that Withnail and I creator Bruce Robinson's long-awaited non-fiction magnum opus about Jack the Ripper was finally scheduled for release.

In this interview with the Independent about the forthcoming They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (pre-order it here folks!) Bruce was understandably not about to reveal the identity of his suspect. As the interviewer Richard Jinman points out, "his publisher wouldn't thank him if he did."

Well, sorry HarperCollins, but I can confirm who it is. (Look away now if you don't want to be spoiled). 

First off though, let's see what Bruce did say in the interview. He's pretty damn sure he's got his man:

“I say in the introduction to the book that this isn’t a theory, it’s an explanation – and I sincerely believe it is. I’m not a man given to kidding himself – I wouldn’t have spent this long working on it unless I was pretty damn sure of it.”

“It’s much more complicated than some weird freak living in a lair and coming out [to kill] for no apparent reason. It ain’t like that at all.”

“He was a prick – a psychopathic prick. Somehow he’s managed to accrue this almost heroic aura, but I have no time for that. I go after the bastard.”

And if Ripperologists tell him he's wrong? “It would only be right and expected. But the book is extremely well sourced. If they want to say that’s bollocks they’ll have to say your source is bollocks.”

So who is it?

It's actually not a secret. Robinson himself revealed the identity of his Ripper suspect in an interview with the Telegraph in 1998. I've only just become aware of it, but it's still quietly sitting on the web for all to read here. It's just a snippet, in a literary diary/gossip column by 'Noggs':


NOGGS tags along as a somewhat hungover Bruce Robinson - the mercurial creator of the film "Withnail & I" and, more recently, the novel The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman - goes on a spending spree for antiquarian books. "I'm in a mood for book-buying, Noggs," snarls Robinson, his handsome nostrils flaring as he picks up the scent of worn calf and vellum. Booksellers stand as still as spiders as they watch him fly about their shop, none wanting to say a word that might break the buying spell.

Later, when we repair to a pub to recuperate, Robinson explains why he has been specifically hunting for Victorian true-crime books. "I am the only person on earth who knows the true identity of Jack the Ripper," he whispers. Noggs politely observes that he himself has a foolproof technique for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, but Robinson is adamant. "His name is Stephen Adams - real name Michael Maybrick - who was quite a famous musician of the 1880s," he tells me. "He died in 1913, the Mayor of Rill [sic, should be Ryde] on the Isle of Wight." And won't Noggs be spoiling Robinson's secret if he spills the blood-soaked beans in his humble column? "Not at all," cries my companion magnanimously. "I shall be glad to establish the provenance."


So who is Michael Maybrick, what's his connection with a previously fancied Ripper suspect, and how did Bruce Robinson get mixed up in Ripperology in the first place? You can read the story so far in this post.  

One further nugget of proof if proof be need be (as they used to say in The Day Today) is that, as Mark Ramsden points out in this excellent blog post, Robinson's book is named after one of Stephen Adams/James Maybrick's songs! Here's an old sheet music cover he found to prove it...

It's about how girls love a sailor (Jack Tar), and it came out before the Ripper murders in 1888, but still, you can see why Robinson couldn't resist it for a title.

All will become clear when the book is finally published this autumn (unless the publication date slips again, as it has many times before...). There is at least now a blurb for the book online, which describes it as:

"A literary high-wire act reminiscent of Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson, it is an expressionistic journey through the cesspools of late-Victorian society, a phantasmagoria of highly placed villains, hypocrites and institutionalised corruption."

Well I don't know about you, but I'm sold!


  1. This book sounds fascinating. So this guy Stephen Adams/Michael Maybrick was the brother of James Maybrick - the guy the Jack the Ripper Diaries suggested was the murderer?

    1. Yup, indeed he is. My previous blog post which I link to has all the details... I wrote it about two years ago, but the final confirmation that Michael Maybrick is indeed Robinson's suspect only fell into my lap today (even though it's been online since 1998!).

  2. Wait - I've just seen the link to you other post about this. Amazing!