“Drunk History” (US) Tells the Story of the Suffragette Bodyguards

The Comedy Channel’s hit series Drunk History, in which interesting past events are related by inebriated comedians, has followed in the footsteps of the UK version of the show by featuring the jujitsuffragettes of the Edwardian English women’s rights movement.  “Civil Rights” was the title and theme of Drunk History’s episode 5, season 5 show, which screened in the US on Feb. 20, 2018.

The suffrajitsu segment is narrated by Kirby Howell-Baptiste and stars Tatiana Maslany as Emmeline Pankhurst, who is introduced leading the ill-fated “raid on Parliament” on November 10, 1910. This raid was the fourteenth attempt by the Women’s Social and Political Union to present a petition to Parliament and developed into a near riot in which many protestors complained of police brutality; the event later became known as “Black Friday”.

The Drunk History episode exerts some dramatic licence in stating that Mrs. Pankhurst’s sister was killed during the protest.  In reality, she died about a month later (possibly as the result of an accident while she was being force-fed in prison).

Actress Maria Blasucci plays martial arts instructor Edith Garrud and several scenes are set in her opulent dojo, where she is shown training the new suffragette Bodyguard team in the womanly art of jiujitsu. Gert Harding, played by Kat Dennings, is portrayed as Mrs. Garrud’s star pupil; in reality, Harding did study martial arts with Garrud and also led the Bodyguard team.

The show also offers fairly accurate representations of two key WSPU rallies in which the Bodyguard clashed with the police. The Campden Hill (Camden) rally, which was also portrayed in the Drunk History UK episode on the same theme as well as the 2015 feature film Suffragette, shows how the Bodyguard tricked the police into arresting a body double while the real Mrs. Pankhurst made her escape.

The second re-enactment is of the famous “Battle of Glasgow”, when the Bodyguard openly confronted and fought with the police on the stage of St. Andrew’s Hall, in front of some 4500 shocked witnesses. Although the show implies that this event turned the tide of the radical suffrage movement and led directly to the enfranchisement of women, the real history is (of course) vastly more complicated.

In reality, the First World War broke out shortly after the Glasgow brawl, at which point Mrs. Pankhurst suspended all militant suffrage activities and supported the government throughout the crisis, especially by organising and encouraging women to “do men’s work” while their husbands, sons and brothers were fighting overseas. It’s generally conceded that the suspension of WSPU militancy, in combination with the work done by women during wartime, tipped the balance in favour of “votes for women” as the conflict drew to a close.

The “Civil Rights” episode of Drunk History also includes interesting segments on the Birmingham Children’s March and the disability rights activists who organized America’s longest sit-in of a federal building. It is currently available to view for free via the Comedy Channel website (some conditions apply) or to purchase via Youtube or via Amazon.  Note that the dialogue does include some swearing and mildly raunchy slang and so may not be safe for work.

If you enjoy Drunk History’s take on the suffragette Bodyguard story, keep an eye out for the upcoming full-length documentary No Man Shall Protect Us, which will cover the same subject in much greater depth, albeit with much less drunken hilarity.

“A New Uniform Inspired by Uko-Tani”

The notion of London bobbies studying the newfangled Japanese art of self-defence clearly intrigued Edwardian cartoonists.  The Penny Illustrated Paper of March 4, 1905 imagined that a new police uniform inspired by “Uko-Tani” – the cartoonist meant Yukio Tani – would incorporate the white shorts that were then fashionable as jiujitsu leg-wear.

“Ju-Jitsu For The Police: Its Possibilities” (#7)

The seventh and final of Ralph Cleaver’s 1905 cartoons doubles as a follow-up to cartoon #6, allowing that the rascally hooligan might not be quite the jujitsu expert he believed himself to be.

The implicit criticism that Japanese unarmed combat seemed to work best when both parties were “playing the game” was made by a number of observers during the very early 20th century.

“To Defy the Hooligan: Advice to Ladies” (1905)

A satirical self-defence article from the Bristol Magpie of February 2, 1905:

NOTWITHSTANDING there are already numberless systems of self defence extensively advertised and practiced, Magpie hopes to be excused for bringing before his readers just one more, “The Magpie System,” which has been devised by a brainy professor, specially for ladies, in this respect filling a great and crying need.

To get to business; we will commence with railway assaults as these are the most common and the most dreaded. In the first place, dear ladies, you must never travel alone without a copy of the Magpie and a trusty life preserver, which latter can easily be concealed conveniently to hand, in the byways of your skirt. If you find yourself in a railway carriage, the only other occupant of which is one of those terrifying objects – a man – you will, after having reviewed in your mind all the crimes you can remember committed under similar circumstances, readily see that you are in a critical position and will prepare to act accordingly.

Wait till your natural enemy is buried in the latest phase of the fiscal problem, looking out of the window, or otherwise engaged, and then give him a tap over the “brayne panne” with the aforesaid weapon. One blow is usually sufficient, and all that remains is to throw the body through the window far into the night, or day as the case may be. Of course the man might have been as innocent and free from guilt as Mr. Balfour or E. T. Hooley, but that is a side issue and you cannot afford to take any risks in this strenuous life.

Let us take another view of the case. Suppose that by some means or other, you allow the man to get the best of the early exchanges, and find yourself apparently in his power, you must, whilst appearing to accede to the hooligan’s demands, stealthily disengage one of your hatpins, which are, I understand, like your troubles always with you, and plunge it into any tender spot which your assailant leaves exposed. A very slight knowledge of anatomy is of advantage here, as it will help you to decide where to strike, but it may be laid down as a safe rule, that if the pin sinks in the flesh to a depth of seven or eight inches without reaching bottom, you have, so to speak, touched the spot, and your man is at once placed hors de combat. You now recover your hat pin, adjust your toilet, and turn to the pages of this journal for further information.

We now come to the ordinary footpad, the common or garden form of Hooliganitus. Should you find yourself in a dirty street, commanded by a dirty Dick Turpin to “stand and deliver” you must use that sense of tact with which the gods have so liberally endowed your sex. Throw your bulging purse heavily on the pavement. The clink of the filthy lucre will generally cause Turpin to lose all caution, and as he stoops to pick up the spoils, you spring with all possible force on to his back. This will send him sprawling face downwards, and you can either sit on his head till the police arrive — which will be from one to twenty-four hours — or punish him yourself by seizing his ears and bumping his face in the gutter ad lib.

Sometimes, however the rascal is too wary to be had by the purse bait, and then a hand to hand struggle is inevitable. Close with him. Put your right arm somewhere around his neck, your left arm somehow around his waist, knock his feet from under him anyhow, and if you are as strong as Sandow you will be able to walk away victorious. But if, by some strange chance, you are bested, and find yourself on the ground with the man on top of you, then the hat pin trick is the correct thing.

Other tricks may be described briefly. Face your man squarely. Soozle round him a bit and then if you are able to reach so high, kick him in the wind. If you cannot soar to such heights, the shins of man are very sensitive and make a good substitute. Here again, a superficial acquaintance with the science of anatomy is most desirable.

Of all attacks whether in love or war, that which comes from the rear is acknowledged by every competent authority to be the most dangerous. We are pleased to be able to give a word of advice on this point. Whenever you find yourself in a difficult locality, WALK BACKWARDS. This will completely confound your enemy, as he cannot tell whether you are coming or going, and will effectually guard against an attack from behind. Those ladies who are skilled in the mysteries of the cake walk will find no difficulty in carrying out this part of our system, but we admit it has its disadvantages, (see sketch) and a little practice is highly recommended. For this purpose we cannot suggest a better place than Magpie Park during the dinner hour, and to that lady who proves herself most adapt we will award suitable recognition.

Everyone will agree that our methods are most effective and easily mastered, but should private lessons be desired, the editor will be pleased to send terms and particulars on receipt of stamped addressed envelope.

“Ju-Jitsu For The Police: Its Possibilities” (#6)

The sixth of Ralph Cleaver’s Sketch cartoons posits jujitsu against, rather than for, the police, as a grinning hooligan executes a textbook kugi-nuki (scissors takedown) against a hapless bobby.

Dating back to  circa 1900, casual observers had sometimes worried that the “new art of self-defence” might be employed by those on the wrong side of the law; this is why membership in E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club had been subject to the approval of a “committee of gentlemen”, whose role was (partly) to assess the prospective new member’s moral character.

“John Steed’s Sword-Stick”: an Umbrella Fighting Tutorial from The Avengers Annual of 1967

Having already addressed the umbrella combat of debonair super-spy John Steed in general terms, our attention now turns to some of the specifics, as delineated in The Avengers Annual of 1967.  The following graphic tutorial probably  accounted for a number of damaged umbrellas and wounded feelings between siblings and young friends.

John Steed’s Sword-Stick

The sword stick is essentially a light but surprisingly strong weapon which is used as an extension of the arm, a lever, or a locking stick. It enables the user to actually start his offensive before his opponent is within reach of him. It is silent, accurate and has great psychological advantages. While it can be lethal, it is mostly used to overpower without injury or to incapacitate an opponent.

An important technique used with the stick is “tension”.  When it is released at one end, the built-up energy causes it to go immediately into a movement almost too rapid for the eye to follow!
It is also a fact that when the sheath is cast aside or thrown at the opponent, his eyes almost invariably follow it and provide a distraction of great advantage.
Steed grasps shoulder and pulls it towards him while thrusting his umbrella between arm and body. The action is confined to pulling shoulder towards him and thrusting umbrella away – note that the curved handle is held to trap the arm so that from a forward movement, it will hook over the wrist. Steed can now move swiftly behind his opponent and, if he wishes, force him face downwards to the ground.
In this the main action is a left hand movement in order to keep the right hand free for a strong grasp on the gun hand. The right hand holds the stick in tension against the left so that when it is drawn it whips around to a violent blow on the gun hand. Steed uses his right hand to twist the gun away and takes an offensive threatening posture with the sword.
From the ground Steed slides his stick between his adversary’s legs at knee level. It is held firmly with both hands and all the following twisting and rising action must be smooth and continuous. The first movement is to twist umbrella between the legs and rise to a sitting position, proceeding to twist and rise onto one knee. At this stage adversary begins to fall and Steed rises fully to the offensive position as opponent falls backwards.
As the assailant kicks out, Steed steps back and traps the heel with his stick. As the leg extends forward it is forced upwards. Steed rises as high as possible to throw his assailant backwards to the ground. He is then able to take up a threatening pose over floored opponent.