HAIRCUT 100: Day 56, No. 56. Dick Turpin (1705–1739): poacher, burglar, horse thief, highwayman, bandit king and murderer. The Turpin we know and love – a kind of eighteenth century Jesse James – is the quintessential English gentleman outlaw, although in real life he was a nasty piece of work. His exploits were romanticised by the Georgian working classes and the Regency literati, until the Victorians clamped down on stories that made crime appear glamourous, which is why Dickens tried to make Oliver Twist realistic. Turpin is often depicted in popular fiction as having dark curly hair, but in real life he was bald with ginger whiskers, his dashing good looks as fictitious as his famous ride to York, which was made up by W.H. Ainsworth in his novel Rookwood in 1834, almost a century after Turpin swung at York, having been identified after shooting a chicken in a pub garden. But, as Maxwell Scott says in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ Turpin’s ghost, astride Black Bess, is still reputed to haunt old coaching inns along the length and breadth of the country.
‘It is as necessary for a man to be a gentleman before he can turn highwayman, as it is for a doctor to have his diploma, or an attorney his certificate. What are the distinguishing characteristics of a fine gentleman? Perfect knowledge of the world – perfect independence of character – notoriety – command of cash – and inordinate success with the women … Look at a highwayman mounted on his flying steed, with his pistols in his holsters, and his mask upon his face. What can be a more gallant sight? England, sir, has reason to be proud of her highwaymen.’
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