Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shoot the Pianist!

In the 1960s there was a French film starring Charles Aznavour, called Tirez sur le Pianiste - Shoot the Pianist. I never thought I would come to write about an actual attempt. I discovered this story while digging into the history the Palace.

In the early days of silent film, subtitles carried the rather crude dialogue, and atmosphere was created by a skilled pianist who would vary the music according to the scene.

In 1920 the resident pianist at the Palace was Gladys Smith who lived at her parent's house at 97 Anson Road.

She was being courted by an 18 year old by the name of Reginald Riley. He was an electrical apprentice in the Carriage Works. He lived with his father at the George at Stony Stratford, and we may infer that he was probably lodging in an unimproved outbuilding.

Gladys seems to have become fed up with Reginald and decided to terminate the relationship. She wrote letter to him on Christmas  eve 1919 to tell him as much.
 ‘I wish you the best of luck, and also health. I hope you will take care of yourself and control yourself.’ 
 ‘I feel convinced that being apart will be the best for both of us.’ 
Reginald was not willing to let go, and on the night of Saturday, December 27th 1919 at 10.10pm he went to see her as she was leaving the cinema and the two walked to her home. When she was about to go in he then asked her not to, and as they stood at the doorway she asked him if he been drinking. When he replied that he had she told him she hated it, to which he demanded, 
What game do you think you are playing with me. We don’t have much time together and tonight we have had no time at all.”
When he asked if she still wanted him she replied, 
“No, not in the way you have shown yourself of late.”
At this he grabbed her hand and said he would frighten her and make her put her hands up, but she replied, 
“No you won’t, you haven’t frightened me yet.” 
The next move shocked Gladys. He took a revolver out of his pocket and fired it at her. She apparently did not see the gun or feel anything, but she did see a flash and hear the report. She went inside and slammed the door.
Once inside  she discovered that only  a button had been shattered and her coat was singed. It was a narrow escape.

Her father and the lodger went out to challenge Reginald Riley n found him quiet unconcerned and asked Mr Smith to give him a fag!

Another neighbour was now on the scene and they jointly tried to get the gun away from him  and, while his pockets were being searched, he suddenly made a run for it. The men immediately gave chase but as they got near the fugitive he turned and fired at the then. Before long he was out of  ammunition and the despertethe youth threw the gun away and ran into a back way. Here he was seized by his pursuers who took him to the house of police sergeant Honour. 
There Mr. Smith explained that Riley had shot at his daughter with a revolver and when asked if he understood the accusation Riley said, 
“Yes, sergeant. I quite understand. It is quite true what they say.” 
On being told he would be arrested on a charge of attempted murder he said, “Alright, sergeant. I feel a bit upset. They had been saying things about me.” 
Police sergeant Honour then took him to Stony Stratford police station, where upon being charged the prisoner said, “I am a good shot, and I can’t understand how I came to miss her.” 
He was then remanded in custody until January 2nd when, unshaven and with eyes seeming a little wild, he appeared at Stony Stratford police station before a packed court. There he was further charged with shooting at a man with intent to harm, and for stabbing Francis Craddock at Wolverton on Christmas Eve. This had been with a knuckle duster made from an old knife, and during the evidence the reconstructed coat button, flattened on one side, was produced. During the proceedings it was revealed that about six weeks ago he had bought a revolver and cartridges for 10s from an apprentice fitter of York Road, Stony Stratford, and also disclosed was his home service in the R.A.F., from June 1918 to May 1919. By the verdict of the court he was detained for trial at the Bucks Assizes at Aylesbury, where on Friday, January 16th 1920 he appeared before Mr. Justice Horridge. 

Three charges were brought but acting for the defence Sir Ryland Adkins MP said that although his client pleaded guilty he asked that the intent to murder be dropped, and this was agreed. The Judge said the report he received from the Governors of Borstal Gaol stated the prisoner to be a most respectable young man. He had no previous convictions and the case was not recommended for the Borstal Institution. As for other evidence, a report was read from the Bucks constabulary stating that on July 29th 1919 the accused had been seen in London Road, Stony Stratford, in a very excited condition. When asked what was the matter he said he had killed his girl at Stony Stratford but when he ‘came to himself’ after being detained he wanted to know why he was there. This the defence claimed proved him to be of a highly strung disposition, and therefore liable to be greatly upset on receiving a letter from his sweetheart saying it would be best for them to part. 


In conclusion the Judge said that men must learn that they could not act in this way just because girls, as they had a perfect right to do, declined their company. This kind of thing was by no means exceptional in his experience, and a sentence of 18 months’ hard labour was imposed.

Reginald Riley appears as a very unstable character and was also very possessive We know the type, common enough even today, but without the slightly lunatic tendency to fire guns at people.

I don't know what happened to Reginald Riley and he does not appear in North Bucks again. perhaps he emigrated.

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