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Albert Pierrepoint | Britain’s Most Famous Executioner

Aug 12, 2022
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22
minutes

He was Britain's most famous hangman and was responsible for the executions of up to 600 prisoners.

In this episode, we'll explore the curious life of a man who ended people's lives for a living.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Britain’s most famous hangman, Britain’s most famous executioner, a man called Albert Pierrepoint. 

[00:00:33] We’ll talk about how one actually becomes an executioner, what it took, and the road Pierrepoint took to this most unusual of jobs, we’ll look at what he actually did, and we’ll try to get a sense of what motivated him, what did he really think, and where did he see his place in society.

[00:00:52] I should warn you that there is a lot of death in this episode, it is about Britain’s most famous executioner after all, but it is a fascinating story nonetheless.

[00:01:04] Ok then. Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:01:08] Children have all sorts of dreams about what they want to do when they grow up. 

[00:01:14] Doctors, teachers, nurses, film stars, football players, astronauts.

[00:01:20] Albert Pierrepoint, on the other hand, always wanted to be an executioner.

[00:01:25] Indeed, when he was just 11 years old, Albert wrote in a school essay, “When I leave school, I should like to be the Official Executioner.” 

[00:01:36] His father was an executioner, his uncle was an executioner, and sure enough young Albert Pierrepoint would go on to achieve his dream, becoming the country’s most famous executioner, and being responsible for the executions of up to 600 people.

[00:01:54] When Henry Pierrepoint died in 1922, his 17-year-old son, Albert, received two blue diaries. 

[00:02:03] Were they his memoirs, his reflections on life, love letters to his wife, or a great unpublished novel?

[00:02:12] They were not.

[00:02:13] The diaries contained information on every single one of the 105 executions that Henry Pierrepoint had done. 

[00:02:23] At the time, at the turn of the 20th century this is, the UK still had capital punishment, where the most serious of crimes are punished by death.

[00:02:34] And the most common method of capital punishment in the UK was hanging. 

[00:02:40] This involved putting a rope, otherwise known as a noose, around someone’s neck and hanging them from a tall wooden frame, which was technically called a “gallows”. 

[00:02:52] In these blue diaries, Pierrepoint's father, Henry Pierrepoint, described in detail how to hang people and the best way to do it, a sort of executioner’s cheat sheet

[00:03:05] Now, this might not sound like the sort of thing you or I would be keen on reading, but this 17-year-old boy, Albert Pierrepoint, was fascinated. 

[00:03:16] It would spur him on, encourage him even more, to follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and become an executioner.

[00:03:25] And sure enough, ten years later, in 1932 he made his first move, and he got a position as an assistant executioner

[00:03:35] Now, it’s worth spending a minute to talk about the role of the executioner, as understanding this can help us understand Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:03:46] Given that executions were relatively rare, it wasn’t a full-time job. 

[00:03:52] You would apply for it, you’d be offered a position on an official list, given some basic training, and when there was a prisoner that the court had decided to be executed, you’d be called up and paid for your time.

[00:04:07] So, if you were the sort of person who didn’t mind doing it, it was actually quite a good way to earn a bit of money on the side, alongside your main job.

[00:04:17] As an assistant executioner, young Albert Pierrepoint’s role was to watch and help the official executioner

[00:04:25] Sometimes he worked with his uncle Thomas, who taught him some of the most important things to do when hanging someone. 

[00:04:33] And while we are going to try to avoid too many graphic descriptions here, the one thing to stress is that the role of the executioner, as Pierrepoint would later go on to explain to anyone who asked, was mainly about professionalism.

[00:04:50] You needed to tie the knots in the right way, behave as a professional, and never let your emotions get in the way of the job that needed to be done. 

[00:05:00] After all, your job was to take someone’s life on behalf of the British state.

[00:05:06] Disappointingly for Albert Pierrepoint, but probably not so disappointing for everyone else, executions were rare in the 1930s, in that there weren’t very many of them. 

[00:05:17] So, while this was good news for the prisoners, it wasn’t that great for the enthusiastic young executioner who wanted to start his career as soon as possible.

[00:05:28] He would have to wait, and he spent most of the 1930s working in the grocery business, and assisting his uncle whenever the opportunity arose.

[00:05:39] Finally, in 1941, Pierrepoint was able to hang, to execute, his very first criminal, as “lead” executioner

[00:05:50] The man was Antonio Mancini - not the famous painter, but a London gangster of the same name. 

[00:05:58] Mancini had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. 

[00:06:03] On the day of the hanging, Pierrepoint did everything that he was supposed to do. 

[00:06:08] Mancini seemed to appreciate the young executioner’s professionalism, and Pierrepoint would later recount that Mancini’s last words were “Cheerio”, which is a very English way of saying goodbye.

[00:06:22] After that, things went quiet again, and Pierrepoint didn’t have many executions

[00:06:29] However, everything changed after the Second World War, and the high number of war criminals that had been sentenced to death provided Pierrepoint with plenty of work, and plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself. 

[00:06:44] In fact, during the decades that followed the Second World War, Pierrepoint would go on to hang around 200 war criminals. 

[00:06:53] Most of them were Nazis, either Germans or British Nazi sympathisers

[00:06:59] One of Pierrepoint's most famous executions was the Nazi prison guard Irma Grese, also known as “The Hyena of Auschwitz.” 

[00:07:08] Irma Grese was only 22 years old and one of the only three female guards to be sentenced to death. 

[00:07:16] Now, while Pierrepoint was insistent that the hardest thing about being an executioner was maintaining a cool head and being professional, getting it right was actually harder than you might think.

[00:07:29] At the time in Britain the preferred method of hanging was something called the long drop.

[00:07:36] I'm afraid that to describe this skill I'm going to have to go into some grisly detail, so if you don't want to hear this, you should probably skip ahead a couple of minutes.

[00:07:47] Okay, so you might think that hanging someone is simple, you just put a rope around their neck and the job is done. 

[00:07:55] It’s actually a bit more complicated than this.

[00:07:59] This long-drop method that Pierrepoint needed to use was introduced in England around the early 1870s. 

[00:08:07] This method allowed the prisoner to “drop” and then be brought up quickly by the rope. This resulted in a faster and less painful death as the drop was usually accurately measured according to the person’s height and weight.

[00:08:23] The problem was that the length of the rope needed to be exactly right. 

[00:08:28] Too short and the prisoner’s neck wouldn’t break, and they would suffer a longer death.

[00:08:34] Too long and there was the risk of decapitation, of the head actually separating from the body.

[00:08:41] I apologise for the detail here, but the point to reiterate is that it was far from an unskilled job, and Pierrepoint was very good at it.

[00:08:52] So good, in fact, that he became the top hangman in the country, and was called upon for all of the most famous executions.

[00:09:01] One of the problems for Pierrepoint, however, was that he soon ran out of war criminals to hang, so he was forced to get another job.

[00:09:10] This job involved beer, a bar and customers. 

[00:09:14] He became a pub landlord

[00:09:17] It seems, however, that this career choice was made to fit in with his real passion for execution.

[00:09:25] When he was asked about his new role as a pub landlord, Pierrepoint replied, “I wanted to run my own business so that I should be under no obligation when I took time off. ... I could take a three o'clock plane from Dublin after conducting an execution there and be opening my bar without comment at half-past five.” 

[00:09:44] So, what was it about Pierrepoint that made him so good at his job? 

[00:09:50] Some say that he built a reputation for being fast, relaxed, and efficient during his hangings. 

[00:09:57] He was also very good at making sure that the noose was the correct size so that the prisoner had a quick and somewhat painless death. 

[00:10:05] He was compassionate; in that, he was nice to the people he was about to hang. “You mustn’t get involved in whatever crime they’ve committed,” he once said. 

[00:10:15] “The person has to die. You’ve got to treat them with as much respect and dignity as you can. They’re walking into the unknown. And anyone who’s walking into the unknown, well I’ll take my hat off to them.”

[00:10:28] All of this led to historians calling him a “modern hangman”, a hangman that was kind and gentle. 

[00:10:35] Now, it might be difficult for you or me to imagine that someone who chooses “executioner” as their career would be known as a kind and gentle person, but he was, reportedly, a very kind and gentle soul.

[00:10:50] After polishing off, after executing, around 200 Nazis, he was frequently called upon to execute Britain’s most notorious criminals.

[00:11:01] One such criminal was a serial killer called John Haigh. 

[00:11:05] Haigh was known as the Acid Bath Murderer. He murdered nine people and dissolved their bodies in acid before being caught, sentenced to death and hung by Pierrepoint in 1949.

[00:11:19] Then, a year later, Pierrepoint was called upon for another hanging, this time of one of the customers at his pub.

[00:11:27] It was a man called James Corbitt, who had been sentenced to death for murdering his mistress, his lover.

[00:11:35] Pierrepoint and Corbitt weren’t close friends, as such, but they would chat and sing at the pub together, and they even had nicknames for each other.

[00:11:45] Pierrepoint called Corbitt “Tish” and Corbitt called him “Tosh”.

[00:11:51] When it came to the execution, Pierrepoint was his usual consummate professional, his normal true professional. 

[00:11:58] As Pierrepoint put the noose around his neck, Corbitt said “Hallo, Tosh”, to which Pierrepoint replied “Hallo Tish, how are you?”, before executing the man seconds later.

[00:12:11] This all adds to the image of Pierrepoint being an ordinary man, a pub landlord who simply happened to be the country’s most famous executioner.

[00:12:22] However, being an “ordinary kind man” sometimes worked against him

[00:12:27] People thought it was strange that such a kind and gentle person made money from hanging people. They thought that somewhere deep down there was a monster, that a man who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, no matter whether these people were criminals themselves, that this sort of person must be truly evil.

[00:12:48] And, although Pierrepoint clearly did believe that he was simply doing a job, it’s clear that he did struggle with this himself.

[00:12:57] This was particularly true when it came to the more controversial hangings that he carried out.

[00:13:04] Not long after hanging his customer, James Corbitt, in 1950, Pierrepoint hanged a man called Timothy Evans. 

[00:13:12] Now, this is a rather sad story but also a very important one because it eventually became one of the reasons why the death penalty was made illegal in the UK.

[00:13:24] Timothy Evans was 25 years old but had the mental age of a ten-year-old. 

[00:13:30] When Evans’ wife and daughter were found murdered, Evans was accused, found guilty and hanged by Pierrepoint.

[00:13:38] But three years later, Timothy Evans’ landlord, John Christie, was arrested for the murder of several women. 

[00:13:46] The women’s bodies were all found in his house, on the same street as the one he rented to Evans.

[00:13:53] After he was arrested, John Christie admitted to murdering Timothy Evans’s wife, as well as many other women. 

[00:14:01] He met the same fate as Timothy Evans - he was executed by Pierrepoint, but it did little to make up for the fact that Pierrepoint had been responsible for the execution of not just an innocent man, but an innocent man without the mental ability to defend himself.

[00:14:18] Now, of course this wasn’t the first time that someone had been executed for a crime they didn’t commit, and it wouldn’t be the last.

[00:14:26] But it was a very high profile case, and brought the role of the death penalty further into question in the UK.

[00:14:34] In 1953, Pierrepoint also executed a 19-year-old man called Derek Bentley, and this is particularly interesting because it involves a linguistic misunderstanding. 

[00:14:47] Bentley was arrested during a burglary along with his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig. 

[00:14:54] At first, the police struggled to arrest the teenage pair because they kept running away and hiding. Craig, the younger of the boys, was also trying to scare the police with a gun that he had brought with him. 

[00:15:08] When the police told Craig to put down the gun, he refused. 

[00:15:14] Bentley, the 19-year-old then reportedly said, “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:20] The younger boy then pulled the trigger, shot one policeman in the shoulder, and when another policeman arrived, Craig shot one of the policemen dead.

[00:15:31] Now, this case, and ultimately the execution of the 19-year-old Bentley, all hinged upon, it relied upon, what Bentley actually meant when he said “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:45] Did he mean give him the gun, literally “let him have the gun”, or was he speaking in more colloquial terms?

[00:15:53] Colloquially, “to let someone have it” can mean to shoot them or to attack them.

[00:15:59] Ultimately, the judge decided that Bentley told his friend to shoot the policeman, he was found guilty, sentenced to death, and it was Pierrepoint who carried out the execution.

[00:16:10] His friend, the 16-year-old Craig, was under 18, and consequently was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.

[00:16:20] Just like with Timothy Evans, the case was very controversial.

[00:16:25] Firstly, Bentley hadn’t actually pulled the trigger, and it wasn’t clear whether he was telling his friend to put down the gun or to shoot the policeman.

[00:16:35] And secondly, like Timothy Evans, Bentley had a reduced mental capacity. He had the mental age of a 10-year-old.

[00:16:44] This wouldn’t be Pierrepoint’s last controversial hanging.

[00:16:47] In 1955, Pierrepoint was the hangman in the case of the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom.

[00:16:56] Her name was Ruth Ellis, and she was sentenced to death for murdering her abusive lover. 

[00:17:02] The case attracted attention all over the country with many people writing to the government to try and stop the hanging. 

[00:17:11] It didn’t work, but Ruth Ellis would be the last woman to be hanged in Britain. 

[00:17:16] Things were changing…

[00:17:19] Two weeks after hanging Ruth Ellis, although he didn’t know it at the time, Pierrepoint would conduct his last execution. 

[00:17:28] He was scheduled to conduct another one in January of 1956, but the prisoner was granted a last minute reprieve, they were not hanged.

[00:17:38] And after this, after a career executing up to 600 prisoners, Pierrepoint retired.

[00:17:46] Many people said that it was because he didn’t agree with the execution of Ruth Ellis, but he later said that this was not true. 

[00:17:55] Others speculate it was because his travel costs weren’t paid fully after the planned hanging in January. 

[00:18:02] Or perhaps he had simply had enough, after 25 years of the job and 600 satisfied, or rather unsatisfied, clients. 

[00:18:13] In any case, just a few years after Pierrepoint retired, in 1965 capital punishment was made illegal in the UK. 

[00:18:23] After retiring, Pierrepoint moved to the seaside with his wife, and published his autobiography, aptly titled “Executioner: Pierrepoint”.

[00:18:33] This book really is our best clue into how Albert Pierrepoint the man felt about the job he had dedicated most of his life to doing.

[00:18:42] Perhaps surprisingly, Pierrepoint revealed that he didn’t believe that capital punishment worked, writing “it is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time.”

[00:19:00] He may have changed his mind about this shortly after, though. He was reportedly concerned about the rising crime rate in the UK and said that maybe capital punishment would be the only way to solve it.

[00:19:14] Fortunately it had been banned, though, and Pierrepoint was never called upon again.

[00:19:19] He lived out the rest of his life as a pub landlord, quiet, silent about his previous life. Indeed, most of the customers at his pub had no idea that the man who was now pouring their drinks had spent most of his life executing criminals.

[00:19:37] And, in 1992, at the ripe old age of 87, he died, of natural causes I should add.

[00:19:45] Ever since, people have tried to get under the skin of Albert Pierrepoint, they have tried to understand what being the country’s most famous executioner does to a person, and tried to figure out the real Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:20:00] There are books, TV series and radio shows, and–perhaps most famously–an excellent 2005 film that explores the sense of guilt that Albert Pierrepoint felt.

[00:20:13] Clearly, no matter whether you believe that you are simply carrying out the law, it’s hard to believe that being present at the deaths of 600 prisoners does not have an effect on a person.

[00:20:25] Was Pierrepoint haunted by his role, or did he simply believe he was doing a job like any other?

[00:20:32] We will never know for sure, but it seems that Pierrepoint had a rare talent, if indeed one can call it a talent, for completely shutting off his emotions and putting up a wall between himself and the job he was paid to do.

[00:20:48] If it is a talent, it’s a talent that is fortunately no longer needed, but it is one that certainly comes in useful when your boyhood dream is to become Britain’s Most Famous Executioner.

[00:21:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:21:06] I know it isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of subjects, but it is interesting to try to understand this man’s motivations, and to see how he saw his role in the world.

[00:21:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:21:21] Do you think that Pierrepoint felt regret for his life choices?

[00:21:25] Do you think that someone who is responsible for the executions of so many people can ever be completely innocent of their deaths?

[00:21:33] If you live in a country where capital punishment is still legal, is there a strong movement to abolish it?

[00:21:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:21:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Britain’s most famous hangman, Britain’s most famous executioner, a man called Albert Pierrepoint. 

[00:00:33] We’ll talk about how one actually becomes an executioner, what it took, and the road Pierrepoint took to this most unusual of jobs, we’ll look at what he actually did, and we’ll try to get a sense of what motivated him, what did he really think, and where did he see his place in society.

[00:00:52] I should warn you that there is a lot of death in this episode, it is about Britain’s most famous executioner after all, but it is a fascinating story nonetheless.

[00:01:04] Ok then. Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:01:08] Children have all sorts of dreams about what they want to do when they grow up. 

[00:01:14] Doctors, teachers, nurses, film stars, football players, astronauts.

[00:01:20] Albert Pierrepoint, on the other hand, always wanted to be an executioner.

[00:01:25] Indeed, when he was just 11 years old, Albert wrote in a school essay, “When I leave school, I should like to be the Official Executioner.” 

[00:01:36] His father was an executioner, his uncle was an executioner, and sure enough young Albert Pierrepoint would go on to achieve his dream, becoming the country’s most famous executioner, and being responsible for the executions of up to 600 people.

[00:01:54] When Henry Pierrepoint died in 1922, his 17-year-old son, Albert, received two blue diaries. 

[00:02:03] Were they his memoirs, his reflections on life, love letters to his wife, or a great unpublished novel?

[00:02:12] They were not.

[00:02:13] The diaries contained information on every single one of the 105 executions that Henry Pierrepoint had done. 

[00:02:23] At the time, at the turn of the 20th century this is, the UK still had capital punishment, where the most serious of crimes are punished by death.

[00:02:34] And the most common method of capital punishment in the UK was hanging. 

[00:02:40] This involved putting a rope, otherwise known as a noose, around someone’s neck and hanging them from a tall wooden frame, which was technically called a “gallows”. 

[00:02:52] In these blue diaries, Pierrepoint's father, Henry Pierrepoint, described in detail how to hang people and the best way to do it, a sort of executioner’s cheat sheet

[00:03:05] Now, this might not sound like the sort of thing you or I would be keen on reading, but this 17-year-old boy, Albert Pierrepoint, was fascinated. 

[00:03:16] It would spur him on, encourage him even more, to follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and become an executioner.

[00:03:25] And sure enough, ten years later, in 1932 he made his first move, and he got a position as an assistant executioner

[00:03:35] Now, it’s worth spending a minute to talk about the role of the executioner, as understanding this can help us understand Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:03:46] Given that executions were relatively rare, it wasn’t a full-time job. 

[00:03:52] You would apply for it, you’d be offered a position on an official list, given some basic training, and when there was a prisoner that the court had decided to be executed, you’d be called up and paid for your time.

[00:04:07] So, if you were the sort of person who didn’t mind doing it, it was actually quite a good way to earn a bit of money on the side, alongside your main job.

[00:04:17] As an assistant executioner, young Albert Pierrepoint’s role was to watch and help the official executioner

[00:04:25] Sometimes he worked with his uncle Thomas, who taught him some of the most important things to do when hanging someone. 

[00:04:33] And while we are going to try to avoid too many graphic descriptions here, the one thing to stress is that the role of the executioner, as Pierrepoint would later go on to explain to anyone who asked, was mainly about professionalism.

[00:04:50] You needed to tie the knots in the right way, behave as a professional, and never let your emotions get in the way of the job that needed to be done. 

[00:05:00] After all, your job was to take someone’s life on behalf of the British state.

[00:05:06] Disappointingly for Albert Pierrepoint, but probably not so disappointing for everyone else, executions were rare in the 1930s, in that there weren’t very many of them. 

[00:05:17] So, while this was good news for the prisoners, it wasn’t that great for the enthusiastic young executioner who wanted to start his career as soon as possible.

[00:05:28] He would have to wait, and he spent most of the 1930s working in the grocery business, and assisting his uncle whenever the opportunity arose.

[00:05:39] Finally, in 1941, Pierrepoint was able to hang, to execute, his very first criminal, as “lead” executioner

[00:05:50] The man was Antonio Mancini - not the famous painter, but a London gangster of the same name. 

[00:05:58] Mancini had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. 

[00:06:03] On the day of the hanging, Pierrepoint did everything that he was supposed to do. 

[00:06:08] Mancini seemed to appreciate the young executioner’s professionalism, and Pierrepoint would later recount that Mancini’s last words were “Cheerio”, which is a very English way of saying goodbye.

[00:06:22] After that, things went quiet again, and Pierrepoint didn’t have many executions

[00:06:29] However, everything changed after the Second World War, and the high number of war criminals that had been sentenced to death provided Pierrepoint with plenty of work, and plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself. 

[00:06:44] In fact, during the decades that followed the Second World War, Pierrepoint would go on to hang around 200 war criminals. 

[00:06:53] Most of them were Nazis, either Germans or British Nazi sympathisers

[00:06:59] One of Pierrepoint's most famous executions was the Nazi prison guard Irma Grese, also known as “The Hyena of Auschwitz.” 

[00:07:08] Irma Grese was only 22 years old and one of the only three female guards to be sentenced to death. 

[00:07:16] Now, while Pierrepoint was insistent that the hardest thing about being an executioner was maintaining a cool head and being professional, getting it right was actually harder than you might think.

[00:07:29] At the time in Britain the preferred method of hanging was something called the long drop.

[00:07:36] I'm afraid that to describe this skill I'm going to have to go into some grisly detail, so if you don't want to hear this, you should probably skip ahead a couple of minutes.

[00:07:47] Okay, so you might think that hanging someone is simple, you just put a rope around their neck and the job is done. 

[00:07:55] It’s actually a bit more complicated than this.

[00:07:59] This long-drop method that Pierrepoint needed to use was introduced in England around the early 1870s. 

[00:08:07] This method allowed the prisoner to “drop” and then be brought up quickly by the rope. This resulted in a faster and less painful death as the drop was usually accurately measured according to the person’s height and weight.

[00:08:23] The problem was that the length of the rope needed to be exactly right. 

[00:08:28] Too short and the prisoner’s neck wouldn’t break, and they would suffer a longer death.

[00:08:34] Too long and there was the risk of decapitation, of the head actually separating from the body.

[00:08:41] I apologise for the detail here, but the point to reiterate is that it was far from an unskilled job, and Pierrepoint was very good at it.

[00:08:52] So good, in fact, that he became the top hangman in the country, and was called upon for all of the most famous executions.

[00:09:01] One of the problems for Pierrepoint, however, was that he soon ran out of war criminals to hang, so he was forced to get another job.

[00:09:10] This job involved beer, a bar and customers. 

[00:09:14] He became a pub landlord

[00:09:17] It seems, however, that this career choice was made to fit in with his real passion for execution.

[00:09:25] When he was asked about his new role as a pub landlord, Pierrepoint replied, “I wanted to run my own business so that I should be under no obligation when I took time off. ... I could take a three o'clock plane from Dublin after conducting an execution there and be opening my bar without comment at half-past five.” 

[00:09:44] So, what was it about Pierrepoint that made him so good at his job? 

[00:09:50] Some say that he built a reputation for being fast, relaxed, and efficient during his hangings. 

[00:09:57] He was also very good at making sure that the noose was the correct size so that the prisoner had a quick and somewhat painless death. 

[00:10:05] He was compassionate; in that, he was nice to the people he was about to hang. “You mustn’t get involved in whatever crime they’ve committed,” he once said. 

[00:10:15] “The person has to die. You’ve got to treat them with as much respect and dignity as you can. They’re walking into the unknown. And anyone who’s walking into the unknown, well I’ll take my hat off to them.”

[00:10:28] All of this led to historians calling him a “modern hangman”, a hangman that was kind and gentle. 

[00:10:35] Now, it might be difficult for you or me to imagine that someone who chooses “executioner” as their career would be known as a kind and gentle person, but he was, reportedly, a very kind and gentle soul.

[00:10:50] After polishing off, after executing, around 200 Nazis, he was frequently called upon to execute Britain’s most notorious criminals.

[00:11:01] One such criminal was a serial killer called John Haigh. 

[00:11:05] Haigh was known as the Acid Bath Murderer. He murdered nine people and dissolved their bodies in acid before being caught, sentenced to death and hung by Pierrepoint in 1949.

[00:11:19] Then, a year later, Pierrepoint was called upon for another hanging, this time of one of the customers at his pub.

[00:11:27] It was a man called James Corbitt, who had been sentenced to death for murdering his mistress, his lover.

[00:11:35] Pierrepoint and Corbitt weren’t close friends, as such, but they would chat and sing at the pub together, and they even had nicknames for each other.

[00:11:45] Pierrepoint called Corbitt “Tish” and Corbitt called him “Tosh”.

[00:11:51] When it came to the execution, Pierrepoint was his usual consummate professional, his normal true professional. 

[00:11:58] As Pierrepoint put the noose around his neck, Corbitt said “Hallo, Tosh”, to which Pierrepoint replied “Hallo Tish, how are you?”, before executing the man seconds later.

[00:12:11] This all adds to the image of Pierrepoint being an ordinary man, a pub landlord who simply happened to be the country’s most famous executioner.

[00:12:22] However, being an “ordinary kind man” sometimes worked against him

[00:12:27] People thought it was strange that such a kind and gentle person made money from hanging people. They thought that somewhere deep down there was a monster, that a man who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, no matter whether these people were criminals themselves, that this sort of person must be truly evil.

[00:12:48] And, although Pierrepoint clearly did believe that he was simply doing a job, it’s clear that he did struggle with this himself.

[00:12:57] This was particularly true when it came to the more controversial hangings that he carried out.

[00:13:04] Not long after hanging his customer, James Corbitt, in 1950, Pierrepoint hanged a man called Timothy Evans. 

[00:13:12] Now, this is a rather sad story but also a very important one because it eventually became one of the reasons why the death penalty was made illegal in the UK.

[00:13:24] Timothy Evans was 25 years old but had the mental age of a ten-year-old. 

[00:13:30] When Evans’ wife and daughter were found murdered, Evans was accused, found guilty and hanged by Pierrepoint.

[00:13:38] But three years later, Timothy Evans’ landlord, John Christie, was arrested for the murder of several women. 

[00:13:46] The women’s bodies were all found in his house, on the same street as the one he rented to Evans.

[00:13:53] After he was arrested, John Christie admitted to murdering Timothy Evans’s wife, as well as many other women. 

[00:14:01] He met the same fate as Timothy Evans - he was executed by Pierrepoint, but it did little to make up for the fact that Pierrepoint had been responsible for the execution of not just an innocent man, but an innocent man without the mental ability to defend himself.

[00:14:18] Now, of course this wasn’t the first time that someone had been executed for a crime they didn’t commit, and it wouldn’t be the last.

[00:14:26] But it was a very high profile case, and brought the role of the death penalty further into question in the UK.

[00:14:34] In 1953, Pierrepoint also executed a 19-year-old man called Derek Bentley, and this is particularly interesting because it involves a linguistic misunderstanding. 

[00:14:47] Bentley was arrested during a burglary along with his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig. 

[00:14:54] At first, the police struggled to arrest the teenage pair because they kept running away and hiding. Craig, the younger of the boys, was also trying to scare the police with a gun that he had brought with him. 

[00:15:08] When the police told Craig to put down the gun, he refused. 

[00:15:14] Bentley, the 19-year-old then reportedly said, “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:20] The younger boy then pulled the trigger, shot one policeman in the shoulder, and when another policeman arrived, Craig shot one of the policemen dead.

[00:15:31] Now, this case, and ultimately the execution of the 19-year-old Bentley, all hinged upon, it relied upon, what Bentley actually meant when he said “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:45] Did he mean give him the gun, literally “let him have the gun”, or was he speaking in more colloquial terms?

[00:15:53] Colloquially, “to let someone have it” can mean to shoot them or to attack them.

[00:15:59] Ultimately, the judge decided that Bentley told his friend to shoot the policeman, he was found guilty, sentenced to death, and it was Pierrepoint who carried out the execution.

[00:16:10] His friend, the 16-year-old Craig, was under 18, and consequently was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.

[00:16:20] Just like with Timothy Evans, the case was very controversial.

[00:16:25] Firstly, Bentley hadn’t actually pulled the trigger, and it wasn’t clear whether he was telling his friend to put down the gun or to shoot the policeman.

[00:16:35] And secondly, like Timothy Evans, Bentley had a reduced mental capacity. He had the mental age of a 10-year-old.

[00:16:44] This wouldn’t be Pierrepoint’s last controversial hanging.

[00:16:47] In 1955, Pierrepoint was the hangman in the case of the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom.

[00:16:56] Her name was Ruth Ellis, and she was sentenced to death for murdering her abusive lover. 

[00:17:02] The case attracted attention all over the country with many people writing to the government to try and stop the hanging. 

[00:17:11] It didn’t work, but Ruth Ellis would be the last woman to be hanged in Britain. 

[00:17:16] Things were changing…

[00:17:19] Two weeks after hanging Ruth Ellis, although he didn’t know it at the time, Pierrepoint would conduct his last execution. 

[00:17:28] He was scheduled to conduct another one in January of 1956, but the prisoner was granted a last minute reprieve, they were not hanged.

[00:17:38] And after this, after a career executing up to 600 prisoners, Pierrepoint retired.

[00:17:46] Many people said that it was because he didn’t agree with the execution of Ruth Ellis, but he later said that this was not true. 

[00:17:55] Others speculate it was because his travel costs weren’t paid fully after the planned hanging in January. 

[00:18:02] Or perhaps he had simply had enough, after 25 years of the job and 600 satisfied, or rather unsatisfied, clients. 

[00:18:13] In any case, just a few years after Pierrepoint retired, in 1965 capital punishment was made illegal in the UK. 

[00:18:23] After retiring, Pierrepoint moved to the seaside with his wife, and published his autobiography, aptly titled “Executioner: Pierrepoint”.

[00:18:33] This book really is our best clue into how Albert Pierrepoint the man felt about the job he had dedicated most of his life to doing.

[00:18:42] Perhaps surprisingly, Pierrepoint revealed that he didn’t believe that capital punishment worked, writing “it is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time.”

[00:19:00] He may have changed his mind about this shortly after, though. He was reportedly concerned about the rising crime rate in the UK and said that maybe capital punishment would be the only way to solve it.

[00:19:14] Fortunately it had been banned, though, and Pierrepoint was never called upon again.

[00:19:19] He lived out the rest of his life as a pub landlord, quiet, silent about his previous life. Indeed, most of the customers at his pub had no idea that the man who was now pouring their drinks had spent most of his life executing criminals.

[00:19:37] And, in 1992, at the ripe old age of 87, he died, of natural causes I should add.

[00:19:45] Ever since, people have tried to get under the skin of Albert Pierrepoint, they have tried to understand what being the country’s most famous executioner does to a person, and tried to figure out the real Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:20:00] There are books, TV series and radio shows, and–perhaps most famously–an excellent 2005 film that explores the sense of guilt that Albert Pierrepoint felt.

[00:20:13] Clearly, no matter whether you believe that you are simply carrying out the law, it’s hard to believe that being present at the deaths of 600 prisoners does not have an effect on a person.

[00:20:25] Was Pierrepoint haunted by his role, or did he simply believe he was doing a job like any other?

[00:20:32] We will never know for sure, but it seems that Pierrepoint had a rare talent, if indeed one can call it a talent, for completely shutting off his emotions and putting up a wall between himself and the job he was paid to do.

[00:20:48] If it is a talent, it’s a talent that is fortunately no longer needed, but it is one that certainly comes in useful when your boyhood dream is to become Britain’s Most Famous Executioner.

[00:21:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:21:06] I know it isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of subjects, but it is interesting to try to understand this man’s motivations, and to see how he saw his role in the world.

[00:21:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:21:21] Do you think that Pierrepoint felt regret for his life choices?

[00:21:25] Do you think that someone who is responsible for the executions of so many people can ever be completely innocent of their deaths?

[00:21:33] If you live in a country where capital punishment is still legal, is there a strong movement to abolish it?

[00:21:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:21:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Britain’s most famous hangman, Britain’s most famous executioner, a man called Albert Pierrepoint. 

[00:00:33] We’ll talk about how one actually becomes an executioner, what it took, and the road Pierrepoint took to this most unusual of jobs, we’ll look at what he actually did, and we’ll try to get a sense of what motivated him, what did he really think, and where did he see his place in society.

[00:00:52] I should warn you that there is a lot of death in this episode, it is about Britain’s most famous executioner after all, but it is a fascinating story nonetheless.

[00:01:04] Ok then. Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:01:08] Children have all sorts of dreams about what they want to do when they grow up. 

[00:01:14] Doctors, teachers, nurses, film stars, football players, astronauts.

[00:01:20] Albert Pierrepoint, on the other hand, always wanted to be an executioner.

[00:01:25] Indeed, when he was just 11 years old, Albert wrote in a school essay, “When I leave school, I should like to be the Official Executioner.” 

[00:01:36] His father was an executioner, his uncle was an executioner, and sure enough young Albert Pierrepoint would go on to achieve his dream, becoming the country’s most famous executioner, and being responsible for the executions of up to 600 people.

[00:01:54] When Henry Pierrepoint died in 1922, his 17-year-old son, Albert, received two blue diaries. 

[00:02:03] Were they his memoirs, his reflections on life, love letters to his wife, or a great unpublished novel?

[00:02:12] They were not.

[00:02:13] The diaries contained information on every single one of the 105 executions that Henry Pierrepoint had done. 

[00:02:23] At the time, at the turn of the 20th century this is, the UK still had capital punishment, where the most serious of crimes are punished by death.

[00:02:34] And the most common method of capital punishment in the UK was hanging. 

[00:02:40] This involved putting a rope, otherwise known as a noose, around someone’s neck and hanging them from a tall wooden frame, which was technically called a “gallows”. 

[00:02:52] In these blue diaries, Pierrepoint's father, Henry Pierrepoint, described in detail how to hang people and the best way to do it, a sort of executioner’s cheat sheet

[00:03:05] Now, this might not sound like the sort of thing you or I would be keen on reading, but this 17-year-old boy, Albert Pierrepoint, was fascinated. 

[00:03:16] It would spur him on, encourage him even more, to follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and become an executioner.

[00:03:25] And sure enough, ten years later, in 1932 he made his first move, and he got a position as an assistant executioner

[00:03:35] Now, it’s worth spending a minute to talk about the role of the executioner, as understanding this can help us understand Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:03:46] Given that executions were relatively rare, it wasn’t a full-time job. 

[00:03:52] You would apply for it, you’d be offered a position on an official list, given some basic training, and when there was a prisoner that the court had decided to be executed, you’d be called up and paid for your time.

[00:04:07] So, if you were the sort of person who didn’t mind doing it, it was actually quite a good way to earn a bit of money on the side, alongside your main job.

[00:04:17] As an assistant executioner, young Albert Pierrepoint’s role was to watch and help the official executioner

[00:04:25] Sometimes he worked with his uncle Thomas, who taught him some of the most important things to do when hanging someone. 

[00:04:33] And while we are going to try to avoid too many graphic descriptions here, the one thing to stress is that the role of the executioner, as Pierrepoint would later go on to explain to anyone who asked, was mainly about professionalism.

[00:04:50] You needed to tie the knots in the right way, behave as a professional, and never let your emotions get in the way of the job that needed to be done. 

[00:05:00] After all, your job was to take someone’s life on behalf of the British state.

[00:05:06] Disappointingly for Albert Pierrepoint, but probably not so disappointing for everyone else, executions were rare in the 1930s, in that there weren’t very many of them. 

[00:05:17] So, while this was good news for the prisoners, it wasn’t that great for the enthusiastic young executioner who wanted to start his career as soon as possible.

[00:05:28] He would have to wait, and he spent most of the 1930s working in the grocery business, and assisting his uncle whenever the opportunity arose.

[00:05:39] Finally, in 1941, Pierrepoint was able to hang, to execute, his very first criminal, as “lead” executioner

[00:05:50] The man was Antonio Mancini - not the famous painter, but a London gangster of the same name. 

[00:05:58] Mancini had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. 

[00:06:03] On the day of the hanging, Pierrepoint did everything that he was supposed to do. 

[00:06:08] Mancini seemed to appreciate the young executioner’s professionalism, and Pierrepoint would later recount that Mancini’s last words were “Cheerio”, which is a very English way of saying goodbye.

[00:06:22] After that, things went quiet again, and Pierrepoint didn’t have many executions

[00:06:29] However, everything changed after the Second World War, and the high number of war criminals that had been sentenced to death provided Pierrepoint with plenty of work, and plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself. 

[00:06:44] In fact, during the decades that followed the Second World War, Pierrepoint would go on to hang around 200 war criminals. 

[00:06:53] Most of them were Nazis, either Germans or British Nazi sympathisers

[00:06:59] One of Pierrepoint's most famous executions was the Nazi prison guard Irma Grese, also known as “The Hyena of Auschwitz.” 

[00:07:08] Irma Grese was only 22 years old and one of the only three female guards to be sentenced to death. 

[00:07:16] Now, while Pierrepoint was insistent that the hardest thing about being an executioner was maintaining a cool head and being professional, getting it right was actually harder than you might think.

[00:07:29] At the time in Britain the preferred method of hanging was something called the long drop.

[00:07:36] I'm afraid that to describe this skill I'm going to have to go into some grisly detail, so if you don't want to hear this, you should probably skip ahead a couple of minutes.

[00:07:47] Okay, so you might think that hanging someone is simple, you just put a rope around their neck and the job is done. 

[00:07:55] It’s actually a bit more complicated than this.

[00:07:59] This long-drop method that Pierrepoint needed to use was introduced in England around the early 1870s. 

[00:08:07] This method allowed the prisoner to “drop” and then be brought up quickly by the rope. This resulted in a faster and less painful death as the drop was usually accurately measured according to the person’s height and weight.

[00:08:23] The problem was that the length of the rope needed to be exactly right. 

[00:08:28] Too short and the prisoner’s neck wouldn’t break, and they would suffer a longer death.

[00:08:34] Too long and there was the risk of decapitation, of the head actually separating from the body.

[00:08:41] I apologise for the detail here, but the point to reiterate is that it was far from an unskilled job, and Pierrepoint was very good at it.

[00:08:52] So good, in fact, that he became the top hangman in the country, and was called upon for all of the most famous executions.

[00:09:01] One of the problems for Pierrepoint, however, was that he soon ran out of war criminals to hang, so he was forced to get another job.

[00:09:10] This job involved beer, a bar and customers. 

[00:09:14] He became a pub landlord

[00:09:17] It seems, however, that this career choice was made to fit in with his real passion for execution.

[00:09:25] When he was asked about his new role as a pub landlord, Pierrepoint replied, “I wanted to run my own business so that I should be under no obligation when I took time off. ... I could take a three o'clock plane from Dublin after conducting an execution there and be opening my bar without comment at half-past five.” 

[00:09:44] So, what was it about Pierrepoint that made him so good at his job? 

[00:09:50] Some say that he built a reputation for being fast, relaxed, and efficient during his hangings. 

[00:09:57] He was also very good at making sure that the noose was the correct size so that the prisoner had a quick and somewhat painless death. 

[00:10:05] He was compassionate; in that, he was nice to the people he was about to hang. “You mustn’t get involved in whatever crime they’ve committed,” he once said. 

[00:10:15] “The person has to die. You’ve got to treat them with as much respect and dignity as you can. They’re walking into the unknown. And anyone who’s walking into the unknown, well I’ll take my hat off to them.”

[00:10:28] All of this led to historians calling him a “modern hangman”, a hangman that was kind and gentle. 

[00:10:35] Now, it might be difficult for you or me to imagine that someone who chooses “executioner” as their career would be known as a kind and gentle person, but he was, reportedly, a very kind and gentle soul.

[00:10:50] After polishing off, after executing, around 200 Nazis, he was frequently called upon to execute Britain’s most notorious criminals.

[00:11:01] One such criminal was a serial killer called John Haigh. 

[00:11:05] Haigh was known as the Acid Bath Murderer. He murdered nine people and dissolved their bodies in acid before being caught, sentenced to death and hung by Pierrepoint in 1949.

[00:11:19] Then, a year later, Pierrepoint was called upon for another hanging, this time of one of the customers at his pub.

[00:11:27] It was a man called James Corbitt, who had been sentenced to death for murdering his mistress, his lover.

[00:11:35] Pierrepoint and Corbitt weren’t close friends, as such, but they would chat and sing at the pub together, and they even had nicknames for each other.

[00:11:45] Pierrepoint called Corbitt “Tish” and Corbitt called him “Tosh”.

[00:11:51] When it came to the execution, Pierrepoint was his usual consummate professional, his normal true professional. 

[00:11:58] As Pierrepoint put the noose around his neck, Corbitt said “Hallo, Tosh”, to which Pierrepoint replied “Hallo Tish, how are you?”, before executing the man seconds later.

[00:12:11] This all adds to the image of Pierrepoint being an ordinary man, a pub landlord who simply happened to be the country’s most famous executioner.

[00:12:22] However, being an “ordinary kind man” sometimes worked against him

[00:12:27] People thought it was strange that such a kind and gentle person made money from hanging people. They thought that somewhere deep down there was a monster, that a man who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, no matter whether these people were criminals themselves, that this sort of person must be truly evil.

[00:12:48] And, although Pierrepoint clearly did believe that he was simply doing a job, it’s clear that he did struggle with this himself.

[00:12:57] This was particularly true when it came to the more controversial hangings that he carried out.

[00:13:04] Not long after hanging his customer, James Corbitt, in 1950, Pierrepoint hanged a man called Timothy Evans. 

[00:13:12] Now, this is a rather sad story but also a very important one because it eventually became one of the reasons why the death penalty was made illegal in the UK.

[00:13:24] Timothy Evans was 25 years old but had the mental age of a ten-year-old. 

[00:13:30] When Evans’ wife and daughter were found murdered, Evans was accused, found guilty and hanged by Pierrepoint.

[00:13:38] But three years later, Timothy Evans’ landlord, John Christie, was arrested for the murder of several women. 

[00:13:46] The women’s bodies were all found in his house, on the same street as the one he rented to Evans.

[00:13:53] After he was arrested, John Christie admitted to murdering Timothy Evans’s wife, as well as many other women. 

[00:14:01] He met the same fate as Timothy Evans - he was executed by Pierrepoint, but it did little to make up for the fact that Pierrepoint had been responsible for the execution of not just an innocent man, but an innocent man without the mental ability to defend himself.

[00:14:18] Now, of course this wasn’t the first time that someone had been executed for a crime they didn’t commit, and it wouldn’t be the last.

[00:14:26] But it was a very high profile case, and brought the role of the death penalty further into question in the UK.

[00:14:34] In 1953, Pierrepoint also executed a 19-year-old man called Derek Bentley, and this is particularly interesting because it involves a linguistic misunderstanding. 

[00:14:47] Bentley was arrested during a burglary along with his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig. 

[00:14:54] At first, the police struggled to arrest the teenage pair because they kept running away and hiding. Craig, the younger of the boys, was also trying to scare the police with a gun that he had brought with him. 

[00:15:08] When the police told Craig to put down the gun, he refused. 

[00:15:14] Bentley, the 19-year-old then reportedly said, “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:20] The younger boy then pulled the trigger, shot one policeman in the shoulder, and when another policeman arrived, Craig shot one of the policemen dead.

[00:15:31] Now, this case, and ultimately the execution of the 19-year-old Bentley, all hinged upon, it relied upon, what Bentley actually meant when he said “Let him have it, Chris”.

[00:15:45] Did he mean give him the gun, literally “let him have the gun”, or was he speaking in more colloquial terms?

[00:15:53] Colloquially, “to let someone have it” can mean to shoot them or to attack them.

[00:15:59] Ultimately, the judge decided that Bentley told his friend to shoot the policeman, he was found guilty, sentenced to death, and it was Pierrepoint who carried out the execution.

[00:16:10] His friend, the 16-year-old Craig, was under 18, and consequently was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.

[00:16:20] Just like with Timothy Evans, the case was very controversial.

[00:16:25] Firstly, Bentley hadn’t actually pulled the trigger, and it wasn’t clear whether he was telling his friend to put down the gun or to shoot the policeman.

[00:16:35] And secondly, like Timothy Evans, Bentley had a reduced mental capacity. He had the mental age of a 10-year-old.

[00:16:44] This wouldn’t be Pierrepoint’s last controversial hanging.

[00:16:47] In 1955, Pierrepoint was the hangman in the case of the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom.

[00:16:56] Her name was Ruth Ellis, and she was sentenced to death for murdering her abusive lover. 

[00:17:02] The case attracted attention all over the country with many people writing to the government to try and stop the hanging. 

[00:17:11] It didn’t work, but Ruth Ellis would be the last woman to be hanged in Britain. 

[00:17:16] Things were changing…

[00:17:19] Two weeks after hanging Ruth Ellis, although he didn’t know it at the time, Pierrepoint would conduct his last execution. 

[00:17:28] He was scheduled to conduct another one in January of 1956, but the prisoner was granted a last minute reprieve, they were not hanged.

[00:17:38] And after this, after a career executing up to 600 prisoners, Pierrepoint retired.

[00:17:46] Many people said that it was because he didn’t agree with the execution of Ruth Ellis, but he later said that this was not true. 

[00:17:55] Others speculate it was because his travel costs weren’t paid fully after the planned hanging in January. 

[00:18:02] Or perhaps he had simply had enough, after 25 years of the job and 600 satisfied, or rather unsatisfied, clients. 

[00:18:13] In any case, just a few years after Pierrepoint retired, in 1965 capital punishment was made illegal in the UK. 

[00:18:23] After retiring, Pierrepoint moved to the seaside with his wife, and published his autobiography, aptly titled “Executioner: Pierrepoint”.

[00:18:33] This book really is our best clue into how Albert Pierrepoint the man felt about the job he had dedicated most of his life to doing.

[00:18:42] Perhaps surprisingly, Pierrepoint revealed that he didn’t believe that capital punishment worked, writing “it is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time.”

[00:19:00] He may have changed his mind about this shortly after, though. He was reportedly concerned about the rising crime rate in the UK and said that maybe capital punishment would be the only way to solve it.

[00:19:14] Fortunately it had been banned, though, and Pierrepoint was never called upon again.

[00:19:19] He lived out the rest of his life as a pub landlord, quiet, silent about his previous life. Indeed, most of the customers at his pub had no idea that the man who was now pouring their drinks had spent most of his life executing criminals.

[00:19:37] And, in 1992, at the ripe old age of 87, he died, of natural causes I should add.

[00:19:45] Ever since, people have tried to get under the skin of Albert Pierrepoint, they have tried to understand what being the country’s most famous executioner does to a person, and tried to figure out the real Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:20:00] There are books, TV series and radio shows, and–perhaps most famously–an excellent 2005 film that explores the sense of guilt that Albert Pierrepoint felt.

[00:20:13] Clearly, no matter whether you believe that you are simply carrying out the law, it’s hard to believe that being present at the deaths of 600 prisoners does not have an effect on a person.

[00:20:25] Was Pierrepoint haunted by his role, or did he simply believe he was doing a job like any other?

[00:20:32] We will never know for sure, but it seems that Pierrepoint had a rare talent, if indeed one can call it a talent, for completely shutting off his emotions and putting up a wall between himself and the job he was paid to do.

[00:20:48] If it is a talent, it’s a talent that is fortunately no longer needed, but it is one that certainly comes in useful when your boyhood dream is to become Britain’s Most Famous Executioner.

[00:21:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Albert Pierrepoint.

[00:21:06] I know it isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of subjects, but it is interesting to try to understand this man’s motivations, and to see how he saw his role in the world.

[00:21:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:21:21] Do you think that Pierrepoint felt regret for his life choices?

[00:21:25] Do you think that someone who is responsible for the executions of so many people can ever be completely innocent of their deaths?

[00:21:33] If you live in a country where capital punishment is still legal, is there a strong movement to abolish it?

[00:21:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:21:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]