The story that has cropped up in the Daily Mail recently that a number of nasty murders of women for whom the killer was never identified may have been the work of Freddie Mills, 1919-1965, the champion boxer. In his time he was a major media celebrity, along with other boxers, often on screens and in effect an example to us all.
This takes us back to the days when gambling was subject to strict legal limits, many goods where short in supply and in major cities, especially London, the criminal gangs ruled the roost, controlled the poorer streets and paid off the police. Freddie, if not a crook, was obliged to be one of their friends along with the others in his trade.
Over half a century later it is difficult to imagine, let alone understand, the role of violence in our society. It could not be avoided. National Service conscripts would be ordered into the ring to fight their comrades. In schools gymnasia and elsewhere , boys would be obliged to put up their fists against their best friends. Boxing was a major sport routinely given top billing by the BBC and the news reels.
This was not the result of wars etc. it was a social norm. Go back another generation or two and the "Punch" cartoons would have men squaring up against each other, either as nations, political rivals or just disagreeing about ordinary matters. Men were expected to fight their case literally, and take the punishment if they lost.
Flogging was routine. It was not until 1948 that legal corporal punishment was abolished. Flogging in the Army had been abolished after 1881 after too much gross misuse and cruelty but other forms of violence could be used. A man could only stand so much running on the spot in the heat of India or the cold of an Aldershot winter.
In the schools, at all levels, canes, birches, ropes and almost anything to hand might be and would be used. Some Heads were notorious floggers. Keate of Eton in the early 19th Century was said to have flogged most of the cabinet and a high proportion of the members of the House of Lords. In the Elementary Schools with classes of 50 and 60 a teacher or his pupil teachers might beat most of them in an ordinary day.
Inevitably, employees, notably child workers might be beaten. Especially vulnerable were the workhouse people and the apprentices or people put out to work. Females sent out into domestic service must have prayed to be in a house where the beatings were light and rare. Often their prayers went unrewarded.
Husbands might beat their wives, in cases of rare horror, there might be a wife who had become adept at beating her husband, especially one who had spent the wages on drink before staggering home. In one of my ancestral towns, the fishwives were not ladies to argue with, and that included the husbands.
So when we look back at Freddie and wonder, he was said to suffer headaches during his career, we are looking at a badly damaged man. How wrong he went and how much was known may emerge fully. What it will tell us, again, is that we should be very careful of those who our media tells us are to be admired.
Because while we think we have curbed the physical risks as part of ordinary life it is still there. What is more violence and to extreme levels can now be streamed easily at any time by anyone and anywhere, including our younger generation. Add this to the revival of gang warfare in some urban areas for various reasons and we could find our present ideas and controls no longer apply.
Looking back at the past, while some things might be welcome, other things are not and the idea that violence can become once again a norm and indeed desirable and praiseworthy, especially when groups are involved, is something to concern us.
It is not just it might happen, it is already happening.