|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 41, June 2002. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
Stephen Knight was born, a Wednesday’s child, on September 26th, 1951, at Hainault, Essex. He attended West Hatch Technical High School, at nearby Chigwell, where, in his own words, he was “unsuccessfully educated”, and told by his teachers, “Your future lies in ruin before you.” He was inclined to agree when he took his first job as a trainee showroom salesman for the London Electricity Board.
But he had already made up his mind that what he really wanted was to be a journalist, and found himself facing the first – and toughest – assignment that any journalist ever has to cope with: getting a foothold in the profession. Determination stood him in good stead. In 1969, aged eighteen, he succeeded in having himself accepted as a trainee junior reporter on the Ilford Pictorial, and when that paper folded about his still-wet ears, contrived a desk place on the Ilford Recorder. Sacked somewhat prematurely from the Recorder, he achieved a smooth, upwardly mobile transition to the Hornchurch Echo, where, at the age of twenty, he was promoted to chief reporter. For a month’s span in 1973, he worked on the East London Advertiser, before rejoining the staff of the Ilford Recorder, where he became chief reporter and subsequently feature-writer-cum-dramatic-critic-cum-book-reviewer.
Still restless, he parted company again with the Recorder, this time of his own volition, in 1975, to take up a position on the Travel Trade Gazette, but was off on his own travels again in 1976, as a full-time, self-employed writer, following the enormous success of The Final Solution.
He had meanwhile married Margot Kenrick, acquiring two stepdaughters, Natasha and Nicole, and, in 1977, she bore him a baby daughter of his own, Nanouska. The following year, he, Margot, and Nanouska took a trip to Australia. In August 1978, from Singapore, en route, he sent me a cheerful postcard. Later, he told me that he was scenting the antipodean track of Constance Kent, the young fratricide of Road Hill House, who would, in 1979, stand fully discovered and revealed by Bernard Taylor in his definitive book on the case, Cruelly Murdered, as the one hundred year old Miss Ruth Emilie Kaye, who had died, full of redemptive honours – a congratulatory message from the King and Queen no less – after a career of nursing lepers, on April 10th, 1944, in a rest home in the municipality of Strathfield, New South Wales.
In 1979 Knight produced his first novel, an Edwardian detective story really, with a supernatural tinge, Requiem at Rogano. He did not, I remember, like the publisher’s choice of title. He told me that he had wanted to call it The Heretics of Rogano. It was generally well received. A satisfactory successor to his Ripper book.
After all this early-flowering success, the year 1980 was to prove his, as majestic language has it, annus horribilis; and in a most unexpected way. It began low key and innocuously enough, with Knight’s seeing an advertisement which appeared in the London Evening Standard seeking people who suffered from epilepsy to take part in a B.B.C. Horizon programme documentary on the disease. He answered it because he wanted to have an opportunity of talking about the public’s misunderstanding of the illness.
Three years before – in 1977 – he had started to have epileptic episodes. “When I was ten, I was hit on the head by a cricket bat.” The doctors believed that a consequent area of dead tissue discovered in the brain was the causal factor. Recently, his epileptic fits had been steadily increasing in intensity and duration. “Not knowing why was,” he said, “rather frightening.”