West End Girls by Barbara Tate

Barbara Tate’s memoir West End Girls is a totally absorbing and revelatory memoir about the author’s two-year stint working as a maid for the Queen of Soho – aka 1940s prostitute Mae.

It’s a remarkable glimpse at a lost Soho – grubby, still a residential neighbourhood with small businesses, seedy and with an air of criminality.

Barbara is a wide-eyed 21-year-old who has escaped a miserable childhood and has ambitions to be an artist, when she is invited by Mae to earn a lot of money as her companion, security guard and tea-maker.

I read this book as research about Soho in the 1940s, the background for a series of shocking murders that may become a book and/or TV documentary. It is informative, revelatory and hugely enjoyable.

Bondage, cross-dressers and ponces

Mae is a charismatic force of nature and introduces young Babs to her twilight world of bondage devotees, cross-dressers, punters, Maltese ponces and sister prostitutes. Barbara would eventually become a successful artist but reveals herself here to be a fantastic, empathetic writer.

She is never seduced into joining the sisterhood, but is a witty, non-judgmental and loyal observer throughout. Her recollections of Mae’s world are not for the faint-hearted, but, my goodness, it is hilarious, while ending on a tragic note. A brilliant and unforgettable read.

A Beatle at The Bush

Little while ago @FlipLondonTours tweeted a pic of Paul McCartney filming a scene for A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. He’s seen going into The Bush on Goldhawk Road, London.

The scene was never used in the final film, but the picture gave me a jolt because I wrote about this pub in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper without knowing of this Beatles connection. It was the boozer in which the serial killer’s final victim, Bridie O’Hara, was last seen at closing time on 11 January 1965.

I commented in the book on the juxtaposition of so much Swinging Sixties culture being made in Shepherd’s Bush – Doctor Who at the Beeb round the corner, the Beatles themselves at the Hammersmith Odeon etc – while the area was also the stomping ground for a devious killer.

It’s bizarre to think this photo puts one of most famous 1960s movies on the same premises probably frequented by the killer.

The BBC4 documentary Dark Son even suggested that the man who is a strong suspect as the perpetrator of the crimes, Harold Jones, lived nearby in Aldensley Road.

Shepherd’s Bush was literally a crossroads between the explosion of popular postwar culture and the city’s dark side.

Many thanks to Aidan McManus of @FlipLondonTours for posting the pic.

Crime, manhunts and classic pop on Portobello Radio

It was fascinating to chat with Portobello Radio host Aidan McManus last night. He’s a walking encyclopaedia of rock music, local history and unsolved crimes.

He is also a guide for the highly rated FlipsideLondon Tours, which explore London as home to David Bowie, Joe Strummer and the Clash, the punk scene and gangsters. His enthusiasm for music and local history is absolutely infectious.

The 1960s Nude Murders case, which occurred on his Notting Hill manor, is one of his interests. Which was why he got me on his show to talk about the case and how London has changed – check out the broadcast here.

I popped into the Castle on Portobello Road before heading over to meet Aidan. This was formerly the Warwick Castle, which was used a lot by a couple of the killer’s victims at the time, Mary Fleming and Frances Brown.

Prince Buster and The Beatles

In a grim show of gallows humour, no doubt fuelled by a few drinks, several women involved in the sex trade even had a sweepstake in the pub one night on who would be the killer’s next victim.

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The Ripper’s London and how it’s changed

Crime scene: view across the Thames from Dukes Meadows, where Elizabeth Figg was found in 1959

Originally posted on robinjarossi.com on 11 7 17

London is special. Beautiful, ugly, intimate, sprawling.

The capital fed my interest in writing about the 60s’ Nude Murders, to explore how the place has evolved. I was a child at the time and my memories are vivid of a Highbury still shattered by the war, paraffin heaters and markets thronging with shoppers.

To say nothing of the pop songs on transistors all around, the TV – Corrie hairnets in black and white – even the way old relatives used to talk. Oh, do give over!

From squalor to £4m houses

The contrast between then and now is jarring. Living conditions, for example. One of the victims of the Nude Killer, Helene Barthelemy, lived in a bedsit in Willesden.

The house was crammed. Helene was in one room on the ground floor. A Jamaican nurse, who became her friend, lived in the back room. On the first floor were two young couples with a single child each, both families living in one room. One room! Toilet and kitchen facilities were shared.

Mary Fleming, another victim, lived in similar conditions in Lancaster Road, Notting Hill. What was once a squalid, overcrowded house in a slum area is today worth £4 million.

London crime scenes

Researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper led me to visit all the crime sites in the company of two recently retired detectives, Brian Hook and Andy Rose. They were generous in their efforts to explain to me the contrast in policing methods from the Sixties with those of today.

Swyncombe Avenue then and now: police inspect where Helen Barthelemy has been found in 1964, left ©Mirrorpix

One of the areas we toured was Chiswick, by the Thames. It was on the foreshore that two victims were found in 1964, Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood.

At the time the area was a bustling commercial neighbourhood of factories and warehouses, dealing with goods coming up the river and transported through wharves. Today it is a collection of dull private flats and gated estates. No doubt expensive, but gentrified and ‘improved’ to within an inch of its life.

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Voice of a Killer Special

David Wilson presents Voice of a Killer Special

Welcome to the new home of this blog, covering true-crime writing, books and other subjects.

I moved it on Guy Fawkes day in the hope that it would arrive with a small bang at least – which is this trailer. It highlights a new series I took part in call Voice of a Killer Special on CBSReality.

It is a fascinating look at killers under the pressure of police interrogation. I have a cameo at the end of the trailer, and did a little filming with the production team in Wales during the summer.

The first killer covered, on Tuesday November 27 at 10pm, is Colonel William Russell of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The series is presented by Britain’s leading criminologist Professor David Wilson, looking pretty stern here but he’s friendly and approachable in real life.

More to come on this series soon…