What does The Long Shadow mean?

ITV renames Peter Sutcliffe drama to ‘The Long Shadow’ for sensitivity

The Yorkshire Ripper was a working title

ITV’s powerful new drama about serial killer Peter Sutcliffe was originally called The Yorkshire Ripper, but the name was soon changed to The Long Shadow – so what does it mean?

The drama was first announced in October 2020, from the makers of Des and White House Farm. At the time, the seven-part drama had the working title of The Yorkshire Ripper.

However, the title of the drama series, changed as the transmission date got closer. So what does The Long Shadow mean? And why was the name of the series changed?

Here’s everything you need to know!

Katherine Kelly stars as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow on ITV1
Katherine Kelly stars as Peter Sutcliffe’s second murder victim Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow (Credit: ITV1)

Why did ITV change the name of Peter Sutcliffe drama?

The ITV drama about Peter Sutcliffe had the working title of The Yorkshire Ripper. However, many objected to the term, which glorifies the criminal. People believe the moniker strips the victims of any respect.

Of course, police and the media coined the term when they were searching for the killer, and did not know the name of the culprit.

Explaining the change, writer George Kay says: “We started by calling it The Yorkshire Ripper when we announced it. But we learned over time that the name people use to describe Peter Sutcliffe – which obviously began before anyone knew his real name, but then continued after his identity was revealed – was disrespectful in many ways. It’s especially painful for the victims’ families. It creates a sort of dark brand around a man who doesn’t deserve that sort of attention.”

George adds: “This is a story we’ve been working on for four years. And, in that time, we’ve learnt lots of things and met lots of people in all parts of this story. I think we’ve been really good about being flexible and trying to learn and change and understand their stories and their opinions.”

Mark Stobbart plays Peter Sutcliffe in The Long Shadow
Mark Stobbart plays Peter Sutcliffe in The Long Shadow (Credit: Splash/Shutterstock)

What does The Long Shadow mean?

The new title refers to “the long shadow” that Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes left on the families of the victims, and the communities. To cast a long shadow over something literally means to have a bad influence over something that lasts for a long time.

The Long Shadow aims to shine a light on the victims, rather than the serial killer. Writer George Kay explains that he was inspired to write the drama after reading about the death of Sonia McCann.

On December 19, 2007, police found Sonia McCann dead at her home. After battling alcohol addiction in a rehabilitation centre, Sonia had taken her own life. Her mother, Wilma, was the first of Peter Sutcliffe’s 13 murder victims.

Sonia, who used her mother’s maiden name, told a documentary about her continuing grief in 2005: “I think most people remember the number 13 – the number of women Peter Sutcliffe killed. But what about the children? There’s 25 of them and no one remembers them.”

George Kay explains: “This is what our show, The Long Shadow, encapsulates. For in my view, 32 years after he first killed, Sonia became Peter Sutcliffe’s final victim.

“The Yorkshire Ripper was a working title, but The Long Shadow is more in tune with the story. We’re trying to tell the broader story, not just about the crimes and the investigation, which are really important, but the the effects of the crimes and the effects that continue long after Peter Sutcliffe himself was arrested.”

ALEXA GODDALL as Sonic MCCann and DYLAN HALL as Richard MCCann, the children of Peter Sutcliffe's first victim
Alexa Goddall portrays Sonic McCann, while Dylan Hall is Richard MCCann, the children of Peter Sutcliffe’s first victim Wilma (Credit: ITV1)

The Long Shadow on ITV focuses on the victims NOT Peter Sutcliffe

The case of Peter Sutcliffe was never before been fully dramatised on television. The Long Shadow, explains George Kay, is a story about far more than a murderer and his unprecedented number of victims. Its legacy and its effects, which changed British policing forever, are much more far- reaching.

He says: “There are the victims, whose lives were ended; the surviving victims whose testimonies were never believed; and the victims’ families, whose lives were ruined by the loss of their mothers, sisters and daughters.”

The seven-part drama also shines a light on the detectives “whose failures on at least two occasions drove them to an early grave”.

The Long Shadow aims to focus on the breadth of the case – the totality of those five long years, the thirteen murders and numerous attacks – and the legacy it left.

While Wilma was the first victim, there was an “ever-widening ripple”.

Read more: All the soap stars starring in The Long Shadow, including Emmerdale’s Sammy Winward as Peter Sutcliffe’s wife

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The Long Shadow continues on Mondays at 9pm on ITV1 and ITVX.

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Helen Fear
TV Editor