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Summary

In 1955, former nightclub manageress Ruth Ellis shot dead her lover, David Blakely. Following a trial that lasted less than two days, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. She became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and her execution is the most notorious of hangman Albert Pierrepoint's 'duties'. Despite Ruth's infamy, the story of her life has never been fully told. Often wilfully misinterpreted, the reality behind the headlines was buried by an avalanche of hearsay. But now, through new interviews and comprehensive research into previously unpublished sources, Carol Ann Lee examines the facts without agenda or sensation.

A portrait of the era and an evocation of 1950s club life in all its seedy glamour, A Fine Day for a Hanging sets Ruth's gripping story firmly in its historical context in order to tell the truth about both her timeless crime and a punishment that was very much of its time.

©2012 Carol Ann Lee (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about A Fine Day for a Hanging

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Balance redressed in Ruth's story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

It's a compelling account of real life and times and a gross miscarriage of justice.

What other book might you compare A Fine Day for a Hanging to, and why?

One of Our Own by the same author is a further investigative account of a mass murderer, Myra Hindley. Different to the Ruth Ellis story, but meticulously researched

What three words best describe Maggie Ollerenshaw’s performance?

Drop the accents.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

It's been done.

Any additional comments?

Carol Ann Lee wrote an outstanding account of Myra Hindley in One of our Own, so I was looking forward to this book. She investigates the life and times of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1954. It's an authoritative and meticulously researched work. At times very moving, it brings the issues, times and those involved to life and I learned a great deal from the story.

The historical context, portrayed exceptionally well, is of particular importance. Post war Britain was still predominated by class. Mrs Ellis was her own worst enemy in many ways. From humble beginnings in Rhyl, she married 'above her station'. Her husband, George Ellis was much older and alcoholic, but a dentist by profession and Ruth gained a taste for good living. She became a night club hostess, a brassy, bottle blonde who enjoyed socialising and mixing with the well to do. And that was her downfall; as manageress of a London club which attracted wealthy motor racing enthusiasts, she fell for Derek Blakeley. He was a violent and abusive drunk, but from a privileged background. She murdered a man despite being a domestic violence victim herself.

And there's the rub; she was judged and condemned for her social status and appearance as much as the crime she committed. Her defence team was poor and missed numerous opportunity to present relevant evidence which would have influenced the outcome of the trial. In terms of so called justice, this case weighed heavily on the miscarriage scales. Ultimately it was a landmark case which contributed to the removal of the death penalty for murder in Britain.

The opening chapter was one of the most moving I've ever read. It starts with events immediately prior to her hanging, including dialogue exchanges with prison staff and Albert Pierrpoint, the executioner. Her dignity and self control was memorable and heartbreaking in equal measure. Carol Ann Lee has done her subject proud, put the record straight and written a truly evocative account.

This review is from an Audible version of the book. I hated the accents.

7 people found this helpful

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excellent and compelling. I enjoyed it very mulch.

enjoyed this wonderfully researched and descriptive book. wonderful narrator too. learned a lot about Ruth's early life

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The ultimate book on Ruth Ellis

An exhaustive, occasionally exhausting, study of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Ruth Ellis unquestionably killed her lover David Blakely (despite some fantastical conspiracy theory in one of the appendices) however, viewed through 21st century eyes, her conviction and execution feel extraordinarily harsh.

In 1955, women were expected to embrace homemaking and motherhood, not to harbour serious career aspirations, and to be chaste. Working class people were expected to know their place. Ruth broke all these "rules" and was characterised as promiscuous, calculating, a bad mother, ambitious, and self-serving.

That she had been abused as a child, was recovering from an abortion, and she had been regularly battered by David Blakely was ignored, furthermore she was given a loaded gun by another man, a rival for her affections, who drove her to the pub where the murder took place. He was never prosecuted.

'A Fine Day for a Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story' must surely rank as the ultimate book about Ruth Ellis. Carol Ann Lee has left no stone unturned in her quest to understand Ruth’s life, the life of her victim David Blakely, the murder, conviction, hanging, and the aftermath.

Whilst reading the book I occasionally found it wearisome and too detailed, however on reflection, the extraordinary detail allowed me to really understand all the main players in this tragedy and to gain an in-depth understanding of the case.

Anyone interested in the era, or true crime more generally, will ultimately be fascinated by this illuminating and comprehensive account.

4/5

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Recommended

I had little interest in this story & little knowledge of the case but bought this book after reading Carol's book about Myra Hindley. After a while the narrative drew me in and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this title.

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poor choice of narrator

i enjoyed this book but found the narrators voice very mono tone which became annoying after a while. A very factual account of what has always been considered a controversial case.

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Very Informative And detailed

I’m of an age to remember this (77) I remember asking my mother at the time, are they really going to hang a woman?
My Mum was obviously against My Father sat on the fence, All in all very moving.

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If you choose one book about the state sponsored murder of Ruth Ellis, this is the one.

Thoroughly researched.
Pulls no punches but makes Ruth and David more than the one dimensional characters of films and other “ murder” based literature.
Murder and sex in 1950s Britain and sexism and the law and the double standard, I laughed and cried and felt for all of those women judged for wanting more than to warm slippers.
I enjoyed the narration unlike others who’ve reviewed this and this is a book I will listen to again soon.

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Powerful and compelling

This is a fascinating book, and the best I have come across about Ruth Ellis.

The meticulous research by the author manages to disentangle a lot of the sensational and often exaggerated or invented stories about Ruth Ellis.

The listener is left with a heartbreaking, thought-provoking life-story and a description of a woefully inadequate justice system heavily biased against women.

It is written in a well-balanced way, allowing the listener to form their own conclusions.

I learned a lot about Ruth Ellis as a person, and it was hard not to cry as she began to unravel and lose her sense of self prior to killing David Blakeley.

The book portrays the harsh realities of addiction, domestic violence, exploitation and abuse going unchallenged in a society that expected women to keep quiet and do as they’re told. Ruth Ellis had too much spirit and independence to follow the norm.

But this book also provides a compelling insight into the post-war club scene in Britain, and the rollercoaster of hope and despair experienced by young girls and women aspiring to be film stars and glamour girls.

This book exposes the complexities of human nature and relationships in a gripping context.

The narration is pretty average, but in my view it didn’t detract from the book and I was glued to it from start to finish.

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A fabulous book

I cannot paradise Carol Ann Lee enough as a meticulous researcher and excellent author. The narration was great, really enjoyable, conveying the story appropriately. I’ve previously read a hard copy of this book and the audible version was equally impressive. A brilliant retelling of the events concentrating on the facts. Highly recommended

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Good book spoiled by narrator

I listened to all but the last 2 hours of this. In the end I couldn't stand the narrator's attempts at accents and different voices for each character. It totally put me off, the way she says Jacqueline made me cringe. Otherwise this would have been 5 stars.

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  • Julia
  • 30-12-15

And I Thought I Knew Her Story

I was born less than two years after Ruth Ellis was hung or rather, as the British judicial system prefers to put it " The law must run it's course". Every time Ruth's name came up in conversation my Mom would become quite tearful. We never discussed it. I never asked. I knew that it was 'taboo'.

Like the author Carol Ann Lee I happened upon the 1980's movie 'Dance With A Stranger' and I too became totally mesmerized not only by Miranda Richardson's hypnotic performance as she 'became' Ruth Ellis, but by the tragic tale and how unfair the British system of law was seeing as this woman had only just miscarried of a child and was plainly out of her mind.

Carol Ann Lee goes far and deep into Ruth's past. Follows up on everyone involved and even explores many plausible alternative plots that I initially thought were a little 'out there' however this was the same period as the Profumo affair and it appears that there were some lines of commonality.

Maggie Ollerenshaw gave a phenomenal performance. I could listen to her reading from the Phone Book.

FIVE stars all round.

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  • Elizabeth
  • 04-01-13

writer digs for deeper meaning than film version

Would you consider the audio edition of A Fine Day for a Hanging to be better than the print version?

both were very good

What was one of the most memorable moments of A Fine Day for a Hanging?

In todays world the woman would be viewed as a victim of [domestic] violence

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

fairly well

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was deeply moved by the book

Any additional comments?

it gave a very good overview of the time period in Britain

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  • Lauren Thompson
  • 02-07-20

Incredibly detailed and well-writen

Carol Ann Lee was extremely thorough in her research. Very informative and well-written. Such an intriguing story.

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  • DAVE
  • 24-11-15

Tragic story -so well told.

I love the true crime genre. and this is one of the best I have read (listened to) in years. So well written with impartial, genuine and honest regard for all involved.