This two-part series for Channel 5 begins by painting a portrait of Broadmoor – and its most famous patients – today. This hospital, surrounded by barbed wire and subject to high-level security, houses some of the most dangerous and disturbed minds in the country. Broadmoor has become a byword for the very worst in human nature and is perceived by some as a kind of bin into which we throw the people who scare us the most. But what is Broadmoor really for?
Episode One - Ripper and Co. 1863-1952
In 1863, Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum was born out of Victorian compassion and Christian principles as the law declared it immoral to blame the insane for their crimes and send them to the gallows. Instead, this unique institution, the first of its kind in the world, would provide a refuge for the criminally insane across all social divides. We take a look at some of the hospital’s first residents, including Richard Dadd, a famous artist who, believing himself to be controlled by an Egyptian god, killed his father, and Edward Oxford, who tried to assassinate Queen Victoria.
We hear about the first head of Broadmoor, ex-military surgeon John Meyer, who implemented ‘moral treatment’ – a wholesome routine of exercise, work, plain food and fresh air. This unshakeable belief in the healing powers of virtuous living – a healthy mind in a healthy body – meant that psychiatric care at Broadmoor remained basic and unchanged throughout the Victorian period.
Episide Two: Patients or Prisoners? 1952-2013
We pick up the story in 1952. For nearly 90 years Broadmoor had contained an extraordinary array of mentally ill criminals, and staff had experimented on them with a range of shocking and dangerous treatments. But the regime was essentially liberal, security lax, and Broadmoor had excited little public interest – until notorious child-murderer John Straffen escaped and within hours strangled a 6-year-old girl.
Then everything changed. From then on the press would see it as home to Britain’s worst fiends and monsters, ripe for a great tabloid headline, whilst the public would see the secure hospital as a place of danger and mental illness a source of fear. What, we all wondered, was Broadmoor actually for? Was it there to protect us from the most dangerous people in the country? Or was it there to treat and cure the most damaged minds in the country?
These questions underlie the story of Broadmoor over the last 60 years. With exclusive access to key staff who have worked at Broadmoor, this film unfolds stories of terrifying crimes, ingenious escapes and miracle cures as it tracks the hospital’s continuing attempt to work out what it is for, and what to do with its patients.
But Broadmoor will always face an impossible challenge, fulfilling its two purposes. It’s a hospital whose task is to treat the sick, schizophrenics like Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper and Robert Napper, rapist and brutal killer of Rachel Nickell. But if and when it succeeds - could such men ever actually be freed in the face of the inevitable public outcry?
- Executive Producers: Philip Clarke, Fiona Scott
- Producer/Director: Duncan Bulling
- Production Manager: Tracy Garrett
- Producer: Nick Adey
- Editors: Paul Hodgson, Tim Arrowsmith
Courtesy of James Miller.
- How has Broadmoor changed since its inception 150 years ago?
- In 1870, the Chocolate Cream Poisoner struck in Brighton.
- An actor portraying Graham Young, the teenaged Tea Cup Poisoner.
- An actor recreates John Straffen's infamous escape.
- Gordon Lowe retraces John Straffen's footsteps around Broadmoor Hospital.
- Mark Stevens, Senior Curator, Broadmoor Archives, and author of Broadmoor Revealed.