“Leaving Las Vegas” was a film based on an autobiographical novel by John O’Brien who committed suicide. In the film the central character Ben Sanderson goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. He befriends a prostitute, Sera, and they establish a relationship. In the book she is performing masturbation on him when he dies, a challenge the director avoids. Blackpool was the suicide capital of Britain. Many people prefer to commit suicide in a hotel to avoid distress to relatives. The sea is available as a means of self-extinction. Like Las Vegas Blackpool has a reputation for hedonism, somebody might come here to enjoy themselves as a final act. Blackpool’s historic popularity as a favourite honeymoon venue attracts romantic suicides. Before dealing with romantic suicides I cannot resist mentioning the Rector of Stiffkey. Was a name ever better chosen? Sigmund Freud visited Blackpool twice before the First War. The Rector of Stiffkey, Harold Davidson, was defrocked by the Bishop of Norwich for having too close relationships with the prostitutes he was keen on rescuing. Basically this was a stitch-up. He supported agricultural labourers and annoyed the land owning hierarchy. Befriending prostitutes was a late Victorian fad. Prostitutes were to the late Victorians what daffodils were to Wordsworth. Charles Dickens and William Gladstone were enthusiastic prostitute botherers. The Bishop of Norwich probably thought that when the Rector of Stiffkey was defrocked all would return to peace and quiet. One is reminded of the Spanish saying: “How do you make God laugh?” “Tell Him your plans.” The Rector of Stiffkey became the best known Church of England clergyman of the twentieth century, probably of all time. Luke Gannon (another larger than life character… to be looked at another time) paid for him to appear in a barrel on the Golden Mile where cotton workers on holiday paid to look at him.
Blackpool Borough Council decided that the Rector of Stiffkey brought down the tone of Blackpool and instigated his arrest for attempting to commit suicide. It was another stitch up, and he was acquitted. He went on to be killed by a lion at Skegness in 1937. This may be one source for the monologue Albert and the Lion performed by Stanley Holloway. To return to romantic suicides Ernest Sykes and Malena Florence May Sykes stayed at the boarding house of Mrs Peck at 37 Charnley Road, Blackpool in May 1919. They stayed for eleven days and left on Wednesday to catch a train to Huddersfield. They were a honeymoon couple and had come from Bournemouth. Mrs Peck said:” They were extremely loving towards one another and very lively. ” She adds puzzlingly:”Money was no object for them and they lived the best. On one occasion they had mushrooms for breakfast.”
Before they left on Wednesday afternoon Mr Sykes wrote in the visitor’s book:”the honeymoon of heaven.” The next morning. Thursday 8 May, 1919, two bodies were found on sandhills at Harrowside. They were Mr and Mrs Sykes. Mr Sykes had been a corporal in the Tank Corps. He had been gassed and wounded. He was aged thirty-eight. He had a wife and four children. “Mrs Sykes” was a dressmaker from Bournemouth aged twenty-two. Her real name was Malena Florence May Hayter. Mr Sykes’ actual wife testified that he had been a loving family man but had become strange after being wounded in France. The couple each had two bullet wounds and a Webley Service revolver was discovered nearby. Their deaths sum up the experiences of a generation. Ernest Sykes was familiar with weapons and with death. It may have seemed that there was no alternative. They may have chosen death rather than the banality of life. They had used up all their money, only three shillings were found on their bodies.
Linda Hill and George Brown stayed at a boarding house in Dickson Road Blackpool on 21 May, 1935. They used the name Mr and Mrs Jones. In the early hours of 24 May a Police Constable heard groans coming from a shelter on the Promenade. He found Linda Hill was fatally stabbed in the heart and George Brown was seriously wounded.
George Brown aged 20 and Linda Hill aged 24 had worked at at Laundry at Sparkhill, Birmingham. Linda was engaged to a Police Constable called Alfred Whithard. George and Linda seem to have fallen in love. Linda broke off the engagement. There was a confrontation between George and Linda on one side and Alfred and Linda’s grandmother on the other side. George and Linda stormed off. George wrote a letter to his mother from Blackpool where he makes it clear that he and Linda intend to end their lives. He says: “If you ever come here again I want you to walk along the front until you nearly reach the Pleasure Beach. In a side Road is a little church. You can see it from the prom. Well go inside because that is where your son married the girl he loves.” They went into a church and undertook a private ceremony. They were running out of money. Linda sold the signet ring that Alfred had returned to her when she broke off the engagement. With the money they bought a knife. The only money they had left was three and a half old pence. Linda wrote to a friend at the laundry where both Linda and George worked: “George and I were married here on Thursday. Not the kind of marriage most people have… we just went into the church and prayed and said a few words to each other.” She continues: “We have had three glorious days but now our little money is gone and we must wish you all goodbye- until-but we know it is the end for us.” George Brown was tried for murder and attempted suicide. Before his appearance at Blackpool Police Court there was a disturbing display. A tailor’s dummy was covered by a shroud. Beneath the shroud were the clothes she had been wearing. More disconcertingly there was a jar near the dummy containing her heart. These were removed before George Brown appeared. George Brown was found guilty and sentenced to death at the Manchester Assize Court. His defence was that Linda had asked him to stab her and guided his hand as he did so. The newly appointed judge had tears in his eyes when he announced the sentence. The Jury recommended mercy and George Brown was reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment. For these couples a holiday in Blackpool was the most wonderful experience they could imagine and they determined to enjoy one another’s company and then die. Tragic, fatalistic, brittle gaiety was one response to the First World War. I am still bemused by “mushrooms for breakfast.”