The story of John ‘Jack’ Bellingham who murdered the British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in the Palace of Westminster in 1812 was one of the first ‘Tales From The Courts of Law’ stories and was inspired by Tim Crook’s crime reporter/legal affairs knowledge about the origin of the ‘insanity’ defence in criminal law. It featured a superb performance by Mike Shannon (Richard Shannon’s father) in the role of Bellingham. Mike drew out all of the sad and tragic dimensions of a character who had been provoked and made mentally unwell by the oblique, indifferent and unfair actions of the powerful and uninterested.
The cast included: Alexandra Mathie as Mrs. Anne Billings, Mike Shannon as Jack Bellingham and Mike and Richard played all the other parts. The production was written, directed and produced by Richard Shannon and Tim Crook. Tim Crook played himself. The source material for the dramatisation was provided by the account of the shooting and trial in the Newgate Calendar, the publication of which in May 1812 even provided contemporary etchings of the emotionally tortured Bellingham and an illustration of the assassination itself.
Budget drama for independent radio, recorded in a news reporter’s booth, but it proved immensely popular with the listeners in greater London in 1988.
The Newgate Calender account of Mr. Bellingham’s execution provide all of the pathos and drama needed for a sombre and somewhat forgotten story from English history:
‘On the Monday morning, at about six o’clock, he rose, and dressed himself with great composure, and read for half-an-hour in the Prayer Book. Dr Ford being then announced, the prisoner shook him most cordially by the hand, and left his cell for the room allotted for the condemned criminals. He repeated the declaration which he had frequently before made, that his mind was perfectly calm and composed,and that he was fully prepared to meet his fate with resignation. Just before he left the room to proceed to the place of execution he stooped down his head,and appeared to wipe away a tear. He was then conducted by the Lord Mayor, sheriffs, under-sheriffs and officers (Dr Ford walking with him) from the room in which he had remained from the time his irons were taken off, through the press-yard and the prison to the fatal sport, before the debtor’s door at Newgate.’
‘He ascended the scaffold with rather a light step, a cheerful countenance and a confident, calm, but not exulting, air. The fastening of the cap being accomplished, the executioner retired, and a perfect silence ensued. Dr Ford continued praying for about a minute, while the executioner went below the scaffold, and preparations were made to strike away its supports. The clock struck eight, and while it was striking the seventh time, the clergymen and Bellingham dropped out of sight down as far as the knees, his body being in full view, and the clergyman was left standing on the outer frame of the scaffold. The body was afterwards carried in a cart, followed by a crowd of the lower class, to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and privately dissected.’ (Page 142, The Complete Newgate Calendar, Illustrated, Vol. V, collated and edited with an appendix by G.T. Crook, 1926., privately printed by the Navarre Society, London.)
Archive extract from Jack Bellingham’s evidence.
Script print-out for award entry 1988.
Digital audio tape master for the Drama Collection 1990.
Mini-disc master for LBC rebroadcast 1990s.
Cassette pack of ‘Rogues’ Gallery’- 2 cassettes, inlay card and plastic case.
The publicity and cueing information for the broadcast and cassette package (‘Rogues’ Gallery’)
Jack Bellingham – The only man to assassinate a British Prime Minister.
The year is 1812. Napoleon is on the march fighting British troops on the Iberian Peninsula. Europe is in crisis. In England the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, is gunned down in the lobby of the Old Palace of Westminster. The assassin is Jack Bellingham – an obsessive petitioner who turns to murder in a desperate bid to publicise his persecution at the hands of the government. Criminologist Tim Crook questions the ghosts from this shocking episode in English history.