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 1907.

The captain of the ship noticed 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 editors/printers.

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 over to the 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 war.

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
Wikipedia 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

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