Ripper Street: Horror, Hybridity, and a Most Peculiar Period Drama

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The aim of this paper is to investigate the generic hybridity of Ripper Street (2012-2016), a BBC period-piece television series which had far more in common with the contemporary trend towards US televisual horror, in particular the neo-Victorian gothic horror of Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), than it did with the often twee niceties of more standard BBC period drama fare.

The BBC has previously been the home to Pride and Prejudice (1995), Jane Eyre (2006) and Cranford (2007), and as Georgina Born has noted, the corporation stands as a world famous cultural institution, known for ‘period drama, world class actors and production values’ (2011:11). This paper will examine Ripper Street, with its ‘slow-motion firework sprays of blood striping the screen’ (Watson, 2013), and a season premiere that featured snuff movies, self-immolation and auto-erotic asphyxiation, as a significant outlier in the BBC’s long and vaunted tradition of Sunday night period drama programming.

Reviews of Ripper Street, a joint BBC and BBC America production, focused on the show’s horror genre aesthetics. The Daily Mail’s Jan Moir (2013) for example, lamented her original intention to replace her weekly Downton Abbey (2010-) viewing with Ripper Street, only to find it an ‘orgy of gore,’ which left her wondering ‘how such a godforsaken, blood-splattered, flamboyantly violent, women-hating television series’ was ever allowed to be shown, especially on that bastion of good taste, the BBC. As Ripper Street was the first television series in UK history to be cancelled by a major broadcasting house and then revived by an internet based streaming service, in this case Amazon Prime, it is an ideal case study with which to examine the issues of censorship and televisual horror, as flagged by Waller (1987). This paper therefore, will track the aesthetic and thematic changes occurring in the series after its move online.

Additionally, in respect to both generic hybridity, and the constraints of censorship on televisual horror, this paper will explore Ripper Street’s connection to the horror-influenced forensic aesthetic made famous by CSI (2000-2015) and how the series utilised this aesthetic within the comparatively restrictive framework of BBC primetime broadcasting.

This paper will therefore demonstrate how Ripper Street’s hybridity allowed it to both trade on connections to “quality” programming, while enjoying the cultural cache of gothic horror aesthetics that its connection to the notorious Jack the Ripper case afforded it, demarcating the show as a slice of particularly British televisual horror.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
EventAt Home With Horror: Terror on the Small Screen - University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Oct 201728 Oct 2017


ConferenceAt Home With Horror: Terror on the Small Screen
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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