Detectives finally get the 'Yorkshire Ripper' in The Long Shadow

PS Meg Winterburn (Photo: u)
PS Meg Winterburn (Photo: u)

There will be some people out there saying, “why bother watching a drama when you know how the story pans out?”

But sometimes, it’s the journey not the destination that’s important, and that’s certainly been the case with The Long Shadow, the seven-part series about the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper which took place across the north of England between 1975 and the early days of 1981.

Viewers have been gripped, some of them even shouting at the screen as they witnessed the myriad of mistakes committed by the police, the shameful attitudes of some of those involved in the investigation, and the terrible impact the attacks carried out by killer Peter Sutcliffe had on the loved ones of his victims – not to mention the handful of women who survived.

The story reaches its conclusion this week as detectives finally get their hands on Sutcliffe – although his capture is something of an accident.

During the last few episodes, an almost unrecognisable Jill Halfpenny has appeared as Doreen, mother of his final murder victim, Leeds University student Jacqueline Hill.

“Doreen is a very forward-thinking woman who has ambitions for her children,” says Halfpenny. “When we first meet her, she’s so proud that her daughter is going to university. She’s so proud that her daughter wants to do the things she wants to do.

“Had Doreen been given the chance in her own career, maybe she would have been a bit of a trailblazer. She’s quiet, she’s not loud. She’s not audacious, but she’s quietly steely and confident. She can’t understand why people can’t do whatever they’re capable of doing, no matter where they’re from, or what sex they are.”

The former EastEnders and Coronation Street star admits it’s a big responsibility to play a real-life person: “I remember having a conversation with (writer) George Kay, who said that some of the families were very cautious about how it was going to be handled and how they would be portrayed. I don’t want to put words into their mouths, but possibly they felt like they’d been burned in the past. It’s so difficult. You just felt like you never wanted to give any of them any more pain than they’ve already been given.

“I know that we got a personal email from one member of a family, and it was lovely. It was everything that we hoped they would be thinking. So that was a great relief for us. We just felt like, ‘OK, if we’ve made them happy, then we’ve done our job’.”

Halfpenny adds: “We forget about the ripple effect that these crimes have over the years. This is not just something that happened in the 1970s and that was it. Whole families got pulled apart. I would just like people to watch it and be able to really think and feel for all of those families for whom it’s a living nightmare.”

If the audience’s response so far is anything to go by, the series’ makers have achieved their goal – it’s an upsetting subject, but one delivered in a thought-provoking yet sensitive manner. Expect awards galore for all involved.