Andrew O'Neill: Winston Churchill Was Jack The Ripper

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Some things are beyond parody. Andrew O'Neill clearly thought that for his ironic title he had devised the most preposterous but technically feasible idea he could in order to mock the insatiable demand for Jack The Ripper conspiracy theories.

So it came as something of a surprise that in the course of his research, he found that Winnie's dad, Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, has previously been in the frame for the brutal murder and disembowelling of the Whitechapel prostitutes.

Yes, research. This is not some jokey marketing-led title trying to cash in on that lucrative Ripper dollar yet bearing little relation to the show's actual content. O'Neill really does spend the hour talking about the slayings, and theorising outrageously that Britain's great wartime leader was behind them.

The late-night timeslot and the atmospheric but dingy Underbelly venue are ideal for this dark tale. Metalhead anarchist O'Neill has something of the night about him, too and so makes the perfect host. He looks as if he's spent too much time in an underground lair; and indeed he has, as he used to work in the Cabinet War Rooms. Hence the Churchill fixation.

After a brief, surreal set-up, the show settles into a pattern. First, O'Neill recounts some morbidly fascinating aspects of the Ripper case, then some ridiculous supposition about how the future PM could have been implicated in it, and finally a silly-voiced character gives evidence to an imagined coroner's inquest in support of the theory.

The joke at the core of the show does wear thin after a while, but there's still plenty to recommend O'Neill. He has got an ear for a nonsensical but authoritative turn of phrase, which suits both the seriousness of the subject matter and its trivialisation by the industry that's sprung up around it. He can also spin a good anecdote and he's got the intelligence, opinions and knowledge to give weight to them. Added to the fact that the macabre Ripper story is still gruesomely absorbing, and the elements are in place for some interesting material, which O'Neill does deliver.

You need to be of strong constitution for some of this, and not just the obvious. Jokes about Ian Huntley's alibi or housing made from the corpses of children aren't going to appeal to everyone. But it's not all bleak, as O'Neill also provides some Vic-and-Bob-style nonsense and a few personal stand-up routines to give a varied texture to an hour that can honestly claim to be bloody entertaining.

Steve Bennett

 

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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