Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Dalrymple’s foreword to A Companion to Murder

In a recent article for Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple mentioned that he had tried to do some research on one of his favorite writers but was surprised at the lack of information available online (while there is a seemingly infinite amount of trivial information about people of no discernable accomplishment whatever). The writer is Edward Spencer Shew, and Dalrymple had been researching him in order to write the foreword to a new ebook release of Shew’s work A Companion to Murder. Winner of the 1963 Edgar Special Award, the book is now available from Monday Books, who describe it as “a true crime classic” and “a fascinating A to Z compendium of fifty years of English murder trials, from 1900 on”.

The ebook is available here for the UK and here for the US. Monday Books has posted two long excerpts here.

Publisher Dan Collins was grateful enough to allow us to post Dalrymple’s foreword.

Edward Spencer Shew was born in 1908 and died aged 68 in 1977. For many years he was a parliamentary lobby correspondent. He published a novel, Miss Proutie, in 1952, and in 1971 a pulp novel adaptation of a Hammer horror film, The Hands of the Ripper, itself based on a short story by him. His wife Betty wrote books about royalty and in 1996 letters that the Queen had written to her in 1947 about her future husband, Prince Philip, were sold at auction.

Between his excursions into fiction, Edward Spencer Shew wrote two classic books, A Companion to Murder, published in 1960, and A Second Companion to Murder, published in 1961. The first of these books won an Edgar Award in 1963, one of the prestigious prizes awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America. But I think it fair to say that, brilliant and entertaining as these books are, they are nowadays known only to a small group of aficionados. I have never met anyone, however, who has read them who did not become a devotee and an admirer of their author.

They do not pretend to be encyclopaedias of murders committed in Britain between 1900 and 1950, but rather compendia of the most interesting cases. The period chosen includes the apogee and then decline of what might be called the golden age of British murder, that is to say of murder committed not just in that sordid underworld that has always existed and in which murder is only to be expected, but of murder committed in a respectable and religious middle or lower middle class environment, where murders were not just a matter of ‘two blockheads to kill and be killed,’ as De Quincey put in his essay On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. Spencer Shew wrote at the end of what might be called the cosy era of crime in Britain, during which violence had fallen to the lowest levels in history and therefore might be read about in comfort as something exotic and mildly titillating.

George Orwell, in The Decline of the English Murder, delineated what the criteria for the ‘perfect murder’ of the period:

The murderer should be a little man of the professional class… living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Non-conformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion… In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery.

Such murders can be committed only where respectability retains its hold as a desideratum on the great mass of the population, and Spencer Shew chronicled, through its crime, the end of the era of respectability. His book is therefore valuable as social history; but if he was fortunate in his period, his period was fortunate in him.

His vignettes of the murders, murderers, victims, trials, defence and prosecution barristers, and judges (who were all household names in their day as are stars of television programmes now), are masterpieces of compression, conveying atmosphere, character and event in few but brilliantly chosen words. Here, for example, are the first words of his description of the infamous ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, George Joseph Smith, who pretended to marry three women in succession and then drowned them in the bath a few days afterwards (claiming that they had suffered from epileptic fits) to collect their insurance money:

George Joseph Smith, murderer, bigamist, swindler, performer on the harmonium…

The last characteristic comes to the reader as an electric shock, and also conveys to perfection the Non-conformist petty bourgeois milieu in which Smith operated. The tune he played after drowning his so-called wives, incidentally, was ‘Nearer my God to thee.’

Spencer Shew mastered the art – one of the hardest for a writer to master – of paring everything down to its essentials, not a word too many, not a word out of place. If you want to know about the social history of Britain, if murder interests you as it interests most of mankind, if you want to learn how to write spare, accurate English prose full of humour without flippancy and rawness without vulgarity, read Edward Spencer Shew!


Reality Show “Benefits Street” Features Neighborhood Dalrymple Depicted

A popular, just-concluded reality show on England’s Channel 4 featured the Winson Green neighborhood of Birmingham, England that Dalrymple came to prominence depicting. The program followed the lives of the residents of James Turner Street, 95% of whom are unemployed and many of whom have never held a job in their lives, and even showed the prison where Dalrymple was a staff member.

Dalrymple worked for 12 years as both a psychiatrist and general practitioner in HM Prison Birmingham and in the nearby City Hospital. His writings in his “Second Opinion” column in the Spectator, as well as in City Journal, depicting the indolent and violence-ridden lives of his Winson Green patients brought him to a greater level of public awareness. His City Journal columns on the area were later collected in Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, for which he is mostly known in the US.

The program, “Benefits Street”, was the most watched on Channel 4 in 2 years and has generated controversy and widespread discussion on England’s system of public benefits. The program is freely available on YouTube. Channel 4 will televise a live debate on the show and the welfare system on this upcoming Monday, February 17th.

Dalrymple has said that he has been asked by other journalists whether he actually invented the things he documents his patients as saying and doing. “Benefits Street” should quell this skepticism. When one of the show’s subjects, “Fungi”, is sent a letter from the council confirming his appointment “to discuss the benefits available to you through the work program”, he seems offended by the mere suggestion, replying “I’ve never worked a day in me life” as though he had been accused of assaulting a child. One is reminded of Dalrymple’s patient whose mother was caught receiving benefits while working and explained, “She had to quit working.”

Have you seen the program? Have any thoughts on its depiction of the residents of James Turner Street? Discuss it here in the forum.

NOTE: We originally identified the program as being on BBC4. In fact, it is on Channel 4.

NOTE2: The original link to the forum has been corrected.

Our apologies

We appreciate our readers’ responses (here) to our request for questions to ask Dr. Dalrymple. The questions were uniformly excellent and covered a wide range of subject matter, reinforcing what Clint and I have always known to be the obvious intelligence and good sense of this blog’s readership, which is purely a reflection on Dalrymple himself.

We collected and condensed all of these questions and were excited about the opportunity to address them to Dalrymple, but unfortunately it did not work out as we planned. We set aside some time to interview him during our last few hours with him, but something else came up and we were not able to complete it. We did touch on many of these issues in the rambling discussions we had with him over the course of two days, and our Plan B was to document his statements from memory and report them here, but then we remembered that his comments were made in private and not as part of an acknowledged interview, and he had not consented to our publicizing them.

Given what he has said in writing, his answers to many of the questions we asked could probably be predicted, but our approach toward his life and views has always been to avoid publicizing any information that he has not chosen to publicize himself. We get a definite sense that he wants to express himself through his writing and otherwise maintain his privacy, hardly an unreasonable expectation.

If we are able to re-schedule the interview, or if he ever addresses any of your questions in his future pieces, we will let you know. We are sorry if we raised your expectations unnecessarily, and thanks for reading the blog.

Dalrymple testifies in Coventry murder trial

The Coventry Telegraph quoted Dalrymple’s testimony as an expert witness in this article in yesterday’s edition:

“He was a jealous man, who had shown anti-social behaviour and domestic violence in the past. On this night he had seen Miss O’Connor socialising with other people, which provoked jealousy.

“My conclusion is that he was not suffering from depression or schizophrenia at the time of the killing.”

Today’s paper reports here on the testimony of the accused:

“We had a little argument outside and it continued when we got back to Claire’s house. She went straight to her bedroom, undressed and got into bed. I did the same. We carried on arguing and then I heard voices in my head telling me to shut her up.

“They were shouting at me and telling me to strangle her. I did it. I put my hands around her neck.”

Mann then demonstrated to the jury how he used his hands to grip Miss O’Connor’s neck and said that the voices told him to put a pillow over her face.

“I struck her twice to the neck with my fist. The voices told me to finish her off. I knew she had died. The voices were laughing at me and told me to get rid of her body.”

Images from Monrovia, Mon Amour

We recently forwarded the New Criterion piece in which Dalrymple describes his rediscovery of the power of photography. After some of our commenters discussed their enjoyment of Dalrymple’s own photos (and just in time for the Spectator piece below), commenter Tuesday Msigwa has created an online album of the 16 photos in Monrovia, Mon Amour.

Is Breivik insane? Dalrymple comments

After we commented to Dr. Dalrymple on the number of people describing the Norwegian mass murderer with phrases like “obviously insane”, we asked the doctor whether this was necessarily so, and received the following reply from him:
It is always hazardous to pronounce on the mental state of someone one had not met, and about whom one knows only a little and third-hand. But all the same, one is tempted… 
The first trap to avoid is to say person x did act y because [he] is or has z, and we know he is or has z because he did y. This is circular.
But there does seem to be evidence that Breivik was narcissistic, grandiose, paranoid, socially and sexually inept, and deeply resentful. This is a horrible mixture, though any explanation will always be incomplete and not pluck out the heart of his mystery.
I think it unlikely he is legally insane according to the M’Naghten rules that govern legal insanity in a lot of the English-speaking world. He knew the nature…[a]nd quality of his act and that [it] was (legally) wrong, to use the wording of the rules, and therefore would not be entitled to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Again, please note the disclaimer at the beginning of his statement.

Dalrymple Rejects “Eurabia” Thesis

Today it was revealed that the perpetrator of the Norwegian massacre quoted Dalrymple (and many other writers) multiple times in his 1,500-page manifesto. But Dalrymple in fact rejects the idea that Muslim immigration represents a threat to Europe, as he has written on several occassions. (Of course, it shouldn’t need to be said that people who do consider Muslim immigration a threat, such as Mark Steyn, not being psychopaths, in no way support mass murder as a proper response. But unfortunately it does need to be said, as some addle-minded commentators are already attempting to implicate such writers.)
But Dalrymple’s writings make it plain that he does not accept the “Eurabia” thesis:
“The Iranian refugees who have flooded into the West are fleeing Islam, not seeking to extend its dominion, as I know from speaking to many in my city.” (final paragraph, When Islam Breaks Down)
“The wildest fear is as follows: that the Moslem population of Europe is younger and much more fecund than the rest of the population, and that therefore, before very long, Europe will become Islamized or Islamic by sheer weight of numbers.
“…[But] there is reason to believe that the proportion of Moslems in the population will stabilize, at a higher proportion than now no doubt, but still at minority levels. Demographic change is not the threat to the survival of Europe that it is sometimes claimed to be.” [The New Vichy Syndrome, p. 19]
“There is another consideration that should give pause to those who see Islamization…as the fundamental threat to the continuation of Europe as a civilization: the assumption that the experience of migration to, and subsequent life in, Europe does nothing to change the Moslems themselves, and that, in fact, their religious affiliation is of such overwhelming importance to them that nothing else goes into forming and maintaining their identity. This, I think, is far too crude and pessimistic a view…
“[In response to] the question of whether religion is always and everywhere the organizing principle of Moslems’ sense of identity: that is to say, once you are a Moslem, nothing else counts for you, at least not much. The answer to this question is no.” [TNVS, p. 21-22]
“Westernization is in fact far advanced among Moslems in Europe, as elsewhere.” [TNVS, p. 23]
So Dalrymple disagrees with the idea that Muslims will overtake native Europeans in numbers, or that European Muslims as a whole are extremist or violent to any substantial degree.
None of the Dalrymple quotes in the manifesto suggest that Dalrymple does believe these things. In fact, only one of the quotes has anything to do with Islam at all. The others are statements on Western self-destructiveness and cultural decay. It is unclear how these latter thoughts in any way played into the murderer’s view of an Islamic threat to Europe (and I am not going to read the manifesto in an attempt to find out), but these statements are obviously very far afield of any belief in a Muslim threat or a support for violence. Which, again, should be obvious.
UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments to this post, it turns out that the murderer did not directly quote Dalrymple, but rather included entire essays from a blogger who was quoting Dalrymple. (h/t Gavin O.)