Thursday, December 20, 2007

me and mrs marconi

I'll tell you the story of
Marconi, and Crippen...and me

Prepare to be amazed

I helped a recently completed
PhD student, Rex Hughes, in Cambridge,
who comes from Seattle,
with his research and after his graduation
ceremony, he gave me (along with some very
good champagne) a signed copy of a book
entitled Thunderstruck, by an American author
who lives in Seattle called Erik Larson who
was a friend of my student's mother.

Thunderstruck is essentially a history book
about two true stories that strangely
intertwined, and, rather oddly (ah, the
interconnectedness of all things), both link
co-incidentally with me.

Dr Crippen was a famous turn-of-the century
murderer who had come to live in England with
his wannabe Music Hall actress/singer of a> wife.
He fell in love with a north London
working girl, and decided that his (apparently
rather awful) spouse had to go.

Guglielmo Marconi was a half Italian, half
Irish inventor who created the idea of using
radios for communication, and demonstrated
their use at around the turn of the century,
to successfully send messages across the
Atlantic (between Cornwall and Newfoundland,
initially). Marconi's success was instantly
turned into a thriving business, particularly
for ship-to-shore, and was immediately seized
on almost like the early Internet, by the
public who created news papers especially for
ships (the various shipping lines had their
own reporters and editors). Marconi is a
role model for the entrepreneur.

Crippen did away with his wife, and eloped
with his girlfriend first to Belgium, and then
took a ship to the US to try to vanish in the
vast reaches beyond the long arm of the law
that was Scotland Yard.

Unluckily for him, a rather fine detective
(called Dew) realised what had happened and
"put out an APB" - this had never been done
before, as the idea of radios had simply not
impinged on anyone's consciousness back in

The captain of the ship that Crippen and his
girlfriend were on (his girlfriend was
disguised as a young boy - almost
Shakespearean in its weirdness- oh, and she
was completely innocent about the wife's
dreadful fate), received a notice, and
realised that this man and his "son" seemed a
bit oddly intimate. He tipped of Dew of
the Yard (again by radio) and Dew caught a
faster boat across the Atlantic. Of course in
those days, boats took 5-10 days to get from
Europe to North America, and every day, the
reporters on ships and on all the countries i
the world wired progress reports. The only
people who did not know (ah, the delicious
irony of it all) were the people on board the
boat that Crippen and his girlfriend were on,
because the radio or "Marconi set") operator
was told by the captain not to pass on those
parts of the news to the ships

On arrival in the US, Crippen was met by Dew
and (apparently) Dew said "I would like you to
accompany me to answer some questions" and
Crippen actually said something like "I will
come quietly"!!!

Why should this have any connection with me?
Well, my Chair in Cambridge was endowed by
Marconi's company exactly 100 years after this
all happened, when they donated (with Marconi's
daughter's approval) 3M pounds to the
University of Cambridge. So my job title is
"Marconi Professor". But that's not all.
Crippen lived with, and killed his wife in 32
Hilldrop Crescent in Kentish Town, about 100
yards from where I was born and now live. And
that's not all. Marconi was not only
half-Irish, he also married an Irish woman.
so am I married to an Irish woman.

The Marconi company, sadly, went broke buying
another company in the height of the Internet
dot com madness, called Fore Systems, founded
by two people I know. Marconi was then bought
by a Swedish Company, Ericsson, after I
advised them of future directions. Marconi's
daughter, Degna, sadly passed away in 1998,
and the Marconi Villas in Bologna and Rome
have been turned into Italian National
Museums. There is a Marconi room at UCL (where
I used to work) and it has several instruments
that were used in radios in 1907. My
grandfather (father's father) used some in his
work in building radar kit in the 2nd world

Crippen, a homoeopathic doctor, was found
guilty of murdering his wife who went by the
stage name of Belle Elmore,
and hanged in 1910 - his girlfriend
was found completely innocent and emigrated,
changed her name (sadly, as her name was the
rather amazing Ethel Le Neve), and lived
for a long time and had a fairly normal life.

And another thing. And this really takes the
biscuit for bizarre coincidences. My great
great aunt on my mother's side was one
Marie Tempest Etherington (actually made a
Dame!), and was a light opera singer and
comedy actress, who my mother remembers. Well,
Dame Marie was a close friend of Belle Elmore,
and was one of 3 people who tipped off the
police, by talking to inspector Dew about her
suspicions of Dr Crippen.

For a lovely picture of Marie, see
wili entry on Marie

Now how about that as a story? you wouldn't
believe it if it was in the newspapers:)

late breaking news - apparently, DNA testing reveals that
the body wasn't that of Mrs Crippen after all!

The plot thickens

1 comment:

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