Aired: 7 October 2013 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Repeated: 13 October 2013 at 12 noon, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Humphrey Ker
Steering Committee: Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer, Professor Volker Sommer
Disposing of the deceased was a problem in 19th century London, as graveyard capacity struggled to keep up with high mortality rates (in the 1840s, 15 in every 100 babies died before their first birthday). Various schemes were proposed to address the issue, some more fanciful than others. An architect called Thomas Wilson suggested a pyramid-shaped mausoleum on Primrose Hill. The building would have been higher than St Paul’s and have a volume greater than the Great Pyramid at Giza. It was intended to house 5,167,104 bodies. In the end, an act of parliament in 1832 led to the building of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries around London: Kensal Green, Highgate, West Norwood, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton and Tower Hamlets. Still, though, this was not enough.
Eventually, in 1854, the London Necropolis Company established and opened the 500 acre Brookwood Cemetery (also known as Necropolis or ‘City of the Dead’). It was, and still is, the largest burial site in the UK. The Necropolis Railway was created to take the dead out of the city using the London and South Western Railway. The funeral trains began to operate in November 1854 and ran once a day. The trains had classes; First Class mourners went in the nice carriages and paupers in Third Class. The coffins too had First, Second or Third Class tickets, and their carriages reflected those of the living; the more you’d paid, the nicer they were.
The original London Necropolis station (1854-1902) was located between York Street (now Leake Street) and Westminster Bridge Road. This station was replaced by a more extensive building at 121 Westminster Bridge Road in 1902 and continued to operate until the station was bombed on the night of 16-17th April 1941. It was never rebuilt but the entrance survives to this day.
Comedian and Musician
Andrew O’Neill is, very probably, the only postmodern, anarchist, cross-dressing, vegan, occult comedian currently working on the circuit. He prefers to call himself ‘Alternative’ saying: ‘I’m standing just outside the mainstream, occasionally peeping over the fence at what’s going on. It’s usually not very interesting.’
Andrew also describes himself as an amateur occultist and, to help him write, he worships a moon goddess. His fascination has resulted in some odd experiences; he once asked the universe for a sign and then met a man on a bus called Omen666 who gave him a Celtic cross and told him that the bus was ‘full of spirits’.
He plays with a steampunk rock band called ‘The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing’ who perform such songs as 'A Traditional Victorian Gentleman’s Boasting Song' and 'I Love A Girl In Goggles'. Their name is adapted from a phrase that was written on a wall near the scene of a murder attributed to Jack the Ripper. Andrew has a fascination for the subject and runs comedy Jack The Ripper walking tours around the various murder sites. He also once wrote a live show called Winston Churchill is Jack the Ripper, to highlight how, by cherry-picking the facts that suit, you can theorise that just about anyone who was around at the time could have been the Ripper (Churchill was a teenager at Harrow at the time).
Andrew's other shows have included Occult Comedian (2010), The Hour-Long Character Comedy Show (2009), The Totally Spot-On History Of British Industry (2008), Futuristicelectrodeathninja9000 (2007) and The Last Show Around (2005). His topics have included tales of hitchhiking to gigs, how to live rent-free, and how to practice black magic. He also talks about his political views and how they determine how to choose the right skirt to wear to a heavy metal gig.
He’s appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and in Steve Coogan’s Saxondale. He’s also performed in front of 5,000 people at the Sonisphere Festival and hosted the Metal Hammer Awards with Alice Cooper.
There have been endless theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper, but Peter Turnbull’s idea (in the book The Killer Who Never Was) may be the most intriguing of all: there was no such person. Turnbull’s contention is that the six Whitechapel Murders of 1888 were ‘copycat’ crimes perpetrated by different men in an atmosphere of mass hysteria whipped up by a cynical popular press.
Women dressing in a masculine way is seen as aspirational whereas men dressing in a feminine way is seen as embarrassing.
Amanda Palmer is an American performer who first rose to prominence with alt-rock duo The Dresden Dolls and has since enjoyed a successful solo career as an artist and musician. After studying drama at university in Boston, she worked for several years busking as a living statue called ‘The 8ft Bride’. She performed this act around the world and says she could write a book about the things that people left for her - ranging from beautiful poems to drugs.
In 2000, she teamed up with drummer Brian Viglione and formed The Dresden Dolls. During their shows, Amanda invited students from her old school to perform drama pieces and a troupe called The Dirty Business Brigade would mingle with the crowd before and during the show dressed as life-sized marionettes, coin-operated figures, living statues and other circus and burlesque acts, allowing the audience to experience numerous types of art simultaneously.
Amanda firmly believes that performers should be breaking down barriers with their audiences. To this end she often ‘couch-surfs’ while on tour; staying at friends’ and fans’ houses rather than in hotels or on tour buses. She is also a champion of new media, regularly using the latest innovations to make new fans and connect with old ones. This includes her forum, her blog, use of many free music and social networking sites, fund raising, and direct-to-fan marketing.
After an acrimonious split with her record company in 2012, she announced on her blog that she would be crowd-funding her new album. The Kickstarter project was ultimately supported by 24,883 backers and raised a grand total of $1,192,793 - the largest such project at the time. The album, Theatre Is Evil, was recorded with The Grand Theft Orchestra and released in September 2012. She celebrated by stripping off during concerts and allowing the fans who’d funded her to sign her naked body. This is not a first; she has frequently included nudity in public performances in order to challenge media-reinforced images of what women’s bodies ‘should’ look like.
She is married to acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman.
Every year, in Dunedin, New Zealand, two teams of sevens take part in the Nude Rugby International, which started as a celebration of New Zealand's National Nude Day. The 2012 match was interrupted… when a fully-clothed streaker ran onto the pitch.
For most of human history, musicians, artists, they've been part of the community — connectors and openers, not untouchable stars.
In 2012 Professor Volker Sommer was studying the behaviour of Nigerian chimps that used ‘dipping wands’ to eat army ants (Dorylus rubellus). The ‘wands’ - short sticks - were dipped into ants’ nests and removed once the chimp decided that enough ants had climbed onto them.
To see how effective this technique was, Volker used discarded wands to measure how fast ants ran up the stick, how many ants were harvested in a single dip, and the typical weight of those ants. However, the question he couldn’t answer was how much nutrition the chimps got from the ants. Measuring the difference between (a) what goes into a chimp and (b) what comes out would require a high degree of control that would interfere with the animals’ natural behaviour. So Sommer volunteered himself instead.
On each occasion the test was run, Sommer ate 100 Dorylus worker (after immobilising them in whisky). Over the subsequent three days, he detected 10.1% of ingested ant heads in his excreta. This enabled him to work out how many ants the chimps were eating, and his conclusion was that the number was too small for them to be serving any nutritional purpose. The chimps were obviously eating the ants for another reason. Sommer suggests that it was as a cultural identifier:
'What you're eating and what you're not eating helps create your social identity, and that's what I believe these chimpanzees are doing. They are eating these ants - they taste horrible - and by doing so they are saying, "Look, if you want to be a proper member of our group, you have to eat ants."'
Volker Sommer is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London. His areas of expertise are the evolution of social and sexual behaviour in primates and biodiversity conservation. He is a well-known science journalist in German-speaking countries, regularly featured by major magazines and newspapers. He is also a regular guest on radio and TV and has presented a number of TV documentaries.
Volker conducted a long-term field study of temple langur monkeys in Rajasthan, India and, in 1990, took part in an investigation of white-handed gibbons in Thailand's rainforest. Since 1999 he’s been leading a project to study the chimpanzees in the Gashaka-Gumti National Park, which covers 6,600 sq km (roughly three times the size of Greater London) of Nigeria. Volker chose Gashaka-Gumti as it is a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ that cannot be reached by car, has no airfields and no phone signal. While there, he and his colleagues founded the Gashaka Primate Project; a research and conservation programme, and were involved in the first ascent of Mount Gangirwal (7,963 ft) - the ‘mountain of death’.
He has made a study of homosexual behaviour in animals and found that it is nearly universal across species from worms to frogs to birds to humans. He reports that: ‘Sex is used as a social tool. It’s not always a straightforward function of reproduction. It is a means of making friends; of adding texture to the social fabric; of rewarding friendship. Sex, if it’s good sex at least, is pleasurable.’
Volker has also studied lying and whether it is a purely human behaviour. He draws a distinction between deception and lying; an insect isn’t ‘lying’ when it disguises itself and makes its enemies think that it’s part of a tree because, for a deception to be a lie, it has to be done consciously. He has found some evidence of conscious fibbing in non-human animals.
For recreation, he performs with the Cambridge-based orchestra Tanzango, playing Argentine Tango on the accordion.
Volker cites a study carried out by psychologist Richard Lazarus of the University of California at Berkeley which suggests that patients who repress thoughts about the seriousness of an upcoming operation suffer fewer post-operative complications than patients who dwell on it. And in a study of 69 patients with breast cancer, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania found that, five years after mastectomy, 75% of the women who had denied their illness were still alive and healthy as compared to only 35% of those who had resigned themselves to their fate.
There is gradualism in Nature, and thus we should be against the notion of species-ism in the same manner we are against sexism and racism.