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This is a repack of the three-episode series 'The Executioners', broadcast in January 2008 and produced by Alba Homevision, aired on the Crime and Investigation Channel. Originally uploaded by BrinksMatt.
This series explores the social history of Capital Punishment in Britain, America and France with a unique perspective through the often-overlooked and shadowy figures of the executioners themselves. Who were these men? What did they do? And what did it do to them?
1. The Hangman
2. Dynasties of Death
3. States of Death
Episode 1: The Hangman
They were cobblers, salesmen, barbers and landlords. Working men. However, they were anything but ordinary. They were the State's part-time killers; the hangmen.
From 1868 to 1964, their work was shrouded in mystery, conducted, as the state euphemistically put it, in 'private'. Behind prison walls these common working-men refined the process of judicial executions from an agonising, brutal death to one of the swiftest and most certain anywhere in the world.
What did they do? Why did they do it? And what did it do to them?
This is the story of The Private Executioners... a unique history of British capital punishment, seen through the eyes of those who dispensed it. And though the hangman's duties were grim, their experiences encompassed pathos, passion and even genuine humour.
The programme asks: How were hangmen selected? How were they trained? How much responsibility did they bear? And, did the hangmen ever believe they had executed the innocent?
Episode 2: Dynasties of Death
A typical 19th century wedding photograph. The guests well-groomed. Eminently respectable. There is nothing to distinguish it from countless others. But it tells the very darkest story of French history.
The groom, Henri Desfourneaux, is a killer. To his left, Anatole Deibler Desfourneaux, another. Two rows back another… Between them, they killed more than a thousand men. But they were not criminals, nor soldiers. They killed for mone but were not volunteers. They had no choice. They were the “bourreau” - the executioners. And they lived their lives apart from ordinary men – in the shadow of the Guillotine.
The story of the French ‘bourreau’ is perhaps the most remarkable in the history of judicial executions. Nowhere were executioners more shunned than in France. Since they were carrying out the King’s work, by divine right, they were seen as mystical figures. Holy but unclean.
It was nigh impossible for them to carry out any other trade. They were often forced to live outside town and city walls. Tradesmen refused to serve them. The only prospect of marriage was to marry into another executioner’s family. There were hundreds of them, forming a vast caste of death dealers. They lived together, loved together and killed together.
And yet they had no ‘official’ status. They were ‘un-persons’. They paid no taxes, were free to marry cousins, and exempted from military service. And since their children were refused schooling, and had to be taught by private tutors, they were remarkably cultured people, well-read, musical, artistic and theatre-goers. Many spoke English fluently and were sought out by British tourists.
And for nearly 200 years they became masters of, and slaves to - the guillotine. More than a killing machine, the guillotine represented a revolutionary ideal - that all men should be treated equally. Even in death. And since at one time only the nobility were beheaded, it elevated the status of all citizens who suffered it. And its swiftness, certainty and ‘humaneness’ were supposed to distance the executioner from the process. Without blood on his hands, there should have no longer been any stigma attached to the post.
But it didn’t turn out that way...
Episode three: States of death
The American Way of Death
In Britain it was the rope. In France; the guillotine. But in its short history the United States of America has experimented with a bewildering array of execution methods….And continues to do so.
This programme examines the history of the five principal methods: Hanging, Firing Squad, Electric Chair, Gas Chamber and Lethal Injection. The reasons behind their development have often been as shocking as the results, from corporate wars to so-called ‘religious’ sensibilities.
But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of American execution protocols has been the role of the executioner. Whereas British and French executioners were invariably well-known and truly responsible for the execution, even to the extent of supporting the condemned in their final moments, American executioners (with a few notable exceptions) have been altogether more shadowy figures.
The increasingly mechanistic approach to the death penalty seem to have been devised as much to shield the executioner from the consequences of his actions as they were to deliver a speedy and ‘humane’ death for the condemned. Some methods of execution effectively turned the condemned into the executioner. Were they successful? Why bother? If a society deems it appropriate to kill, why should there be any stigma?
This is the American Way of Death; the story of those who devised, delivered and suffered the ultimate punishment.
Tech Corner (all three files are similar.)
--- File Information ---
File Name: The Executioners 1 - Hangmen.avi
Duration (hh:mm:ss): 47:31.520
File Size (in bytes): 365,438,976
--- Video Information ---
Video Codec Name: XviD 1.1.2 Final
Video Bitrate (kbps): 887
frame Width (pixels): 608
frame Height (pixels): 352
frames Per Second: 25.000
--- Audio Information ---
Audio Codec: 0x0055 MPEG-1 Layer 3
Audio Bitrate(kbps): 128
Audio BitRate Type CBR
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