19.10.17

ROLL UP FOR THE MAGICAL MEDICAL SHOW

Wendy Moore. The Mesmerist: The Society Doctor Who Held Victorian London Spellbound. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2017.

Today I think that most of us would think that science and surgery, spirituality and showbiz are clearly separate things but less than 200 years ago, in the late Georgian and early Victorian England things were much more mixed, up as these books show. We should be reminded of this by the use of the word 'theatre' to describe an operating room.

Wendy Moore’s sympathetic but not uncritical biography of John Elliotson takes us back to the 'good old days' of holistic medicine, or what passed for medicine, dominated by the time-old doctrine of humours and the time-old practice of bloodletting as a cure for just about everything, a technique that more often or not made a bad situation worse. That was, however, better than being operated on without anaesthetic, antiseptics or antibiotics. If the shock of the operation didn’t kill you then there was a good chance that sepsis would. Speed was of the essence but that could lead to some nasty complications, such as when one of the characters in this book, Robert Liston, achieved a record time of sawing off a patient’s leg in two and half minutes. Such was his rush however that he also sawed off his assistant’s fingers and through the coat tails of a spectator. Sadly both the patient and the assistant died from infections and the spectator dropped dead from shock, a 300% mortality rate.

It was not surprising in these circumstances that ambitious young doctors would try anything to improve this dire situation and to rebel against the old dominant. Two of these radical reforming medics were John Elliotson (1791-1868) and Thomas Wakley (1795-1862), who started out as firm friends but ended as bitter enemies. The cause of the rift lay in the title of this book, Elliotson’s support for and use of mesmerism in general and in particular the antics of his star patient/pupil/turn Elizabeth Okey (1821-1871).

John Elliotson
The relationship between these two men and the role that Elizabeth played in its failure is the central story of this book. Elliotson in his endeavours to make medicine more modern and scientific had taken up with the new fads of the time, phrenology and mesmerism and had introduced the latter to both his original hospital, St Thomas’s and to the brand new University College Hospital, part of the equally new University College London. Unlike the old universities of Oxford and Cambridge, UCL was a radical institution, open to all regardless of religion and a place for new innovative ideas.

It was as a patient at UCH that Elizabeth Okey had been introduced to Elliotson. She was the daughter of a rather impoverished London goldsmith and had been having fits of some sort since a head injury at the age of 12. Times had not been good to her, from being the second eldest and the eldest daughter in a family of 9 to 11, a position that probably entailed quite some authority and responsibility, and alternating with periods of being fostered by an uncle who ran a bookshop, where she and her sister Jane were again the centre of attention, she had been reduced to the role of a housemaid.

Housemaids were among the lower ranks of servants and as such they were meant to be almost literally invisible, coming when called, speaking when spoken to. The naturally intelligent and ebullient Elizabeth was forced into the role of the quiet, demure servant girl who would sit and do her needlework.

Being admitted to hospital was probably a relief from this life of tedium. At first she was bled, blistered and given doses of not entirely pleasant medicines (if you weren’t ill before you went through this you certainly were afterwards). When this produced no results Elliotson had mesmerised by the resident mesmerist Baron Dupotet. After a while it seems to have occurred to Elizabeth that being mesmerised gave her the perfect excuse to release her hidden laddette, behaving like a music hall artiste, telling comic stories, doing impersonations and singing both straight and comic songs.

There lay the downfall of both Dupotet and eventually Elliotson, for in effect Elizabeth became a stage act, acting ever more uninhibited, with Dupotet’s encouragement she began to show wild talents, going round the hospital diagnosing other patients, claiming to foretell the future and so on. At this point Elliotson went on holiday, and with his patron out of the way Dupotet was given the boot for reducing the hospital to chaos. That might have ended the whole thing but Elliotson himself took over the mesmerism and the reign of Elizabeth, shortly joined by her sister Jane would continue and Elliotson would drift into almost being a professional showman.

Now Elizabeth was increasingly in charge, doing mesmerism herself, diagnosing patients, and making a claim that was to presage what was to come; the was being advised by a 'negro spirit'. He was to be then joined by a more sinister figure, one in a white robe which she saw by the beds of patients who were going to die, the later the figure the sooner the death. This new spirit she called Jack alias 'he Great Jackey. Elizabeth had already moved from servant to superstar now she was moving on to shaman.

However nemesis was at hand in the form of Elliotson’s old friend Thomas Wakley, founded of the radical campaigning medical journal The Lancet and the radical MP for Finsbury. One of Wakley’s campaigns was for the professionalisation of medicine, so the idea of an eminent doctor like Elliotson allowing an unlearned young woman to diagnoses illness was anathema. Elliotson played into his hands by claiming that mesmerism was based on an actual physical effect and that when Elizabeth and Janet were brought into contact with nickel over which mesmeric they underwent strong reactions but did not react at all to 'mesmerised' lead. Thus Wakley was able to perform a series of experiments that showed Elizabeth did not react to nickel unless she was told it was there, and reacted to neutral substances as if they were nickel when told they were. This convinced Wakley that the girls were frauds and that mesmerism was a load of nonsense. Both Elliotson and Wakley stuck to their own polarised views and ignored a third possibility, that 'mesmerism' was based on suggestion.

It was to be that approach that was to lead mesmerism to be rebranded as hypnotism and for its medical use, including for a time as an anaesthetic in surgery, before being side-lined by the rise of chemical anaesthetics such as ether and chloroform. Elizabeth and Jane were returned to their working class roots, much to their disgust, Elizabeth eventually dying of consumption as so many Victorians did.

Meanwhile mesmerism was being upstaged by a new fad; spiritualism, of which Elliotson was originally sceptical, before being converted by Daniel Home to both spiritualism and Christianity, both of which he took up with his usual zeal.

Times were changing and Elizabeth and Jane Okey were soon to be well and truly upstaged by two even younger sisters from America, the Fox sisters. – Peter Rogerson.




16.10.17

NOT-SO-ORIGINAL SINS

Chris Chambers, The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice, Princeton University Press.

Chris Chambers is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University who has, over the course of his 15-year career, become increasingly disillusioned with the culture that prevails in the psychological sciences. This book is his summation of all that’s wrong with psychology, and what needs to be done to fix it, using the seven deadly sins as a metaphor – the ‘cultural sins’ that ‘pose an existential threat to the discipline itself’ – devoting a chapter to each (although the metaphor is bit contrived, as his sin of ‘unreliability’ covers a number of distinct transgressions, including some of his other six).

For me, the book got off to a shaky start, as Chambers’ headline example of how unscientific psychology has become is Darryl Bem’s 2011 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper that presented evidence for short-term precognition, asking ‘how could such a bizarre conclusion find a home in a reputable science journal?’ and ‘if accepted practices could generate such nonsensical findings, how can any published findings be trusted?’ 

For Chambers, the significance of Bem’s publication is that, as it meets all the normal standards of psychological research, it has finally forced those within the profession who know that precognition isn’t real to question those standards, presenting him with the perfect hook to hang the message he’s been banging his head against the wall to get across for years: ‘History may look back on 2011 as the year that changed psychology forever.’

It’s not really what his book is about, so I’ll just say by playing on the prejudice against psi Chambers is, in my view, being unfair and, ironically in light of what is to come, selective in his reporting. Bem’s study wasn’t a one-off, but the latest in a series of experiments into an effect, sometimes dubbed ‘presponse’, that have been carried out for two decades by scientists in various fields, including physics, with similar positive results.

But that aside, Chambers’ survey makes for sobering reading, exposing as it does psychology’s staggering lack of scientific rigour and the shameful practices it routinely, and blatantly, employs.

Chambers’ first sin is bias, meaning chiefly publication bias on the part of the psychological journals, which favour papers that present new, headline-grabbing and above all positive discoveries. Given the ‘publish or perish’ culture that is, according to Chambers, more prevalent in psychology than other sciences, this drives many of the other sins, as researchers play up to the journals’ biases: ‘psychology has embraced a tabloid culture where novelty and interest-value are paramount and the truth is left begging.’



Among the many harmful consequences of that culture is the discouragement of the direct replication of previously published research – something that, given that most findings in psychology are based on probabilities, should be vital. Instead, follow-up research relies on ‘conceptual replication’, in which previous findings are put to the test using different, new methods. This, Chambers argues, isn’t replication at all since it assumes, rather than tests, the truth of the original conclusions.

Chambers gives the example of research by psi-sceptic Chris French that failed to find the ‘presponse’ effect, but which was turned down for publication on the grounds that it was a direct replication of Bem’s original experiment. (However, elsewhere Chambers notes that ‘failing to replicate an effect does not necessarily mean the original finding was in error’.)

Replication is the ‘immune system of science’ that weeds out false and even fabricated results, but it is ‘largely ignored or distorted in psychology’, which even displays a ‘contempt’ for the practice. A 2012 survey found that, staggeringly, only two in every thousand papers published in psychological journals were direct replications of a previous experiment - and half of those were carried out by the same team that did the original work.

Psychology’s attitude to replication was illustrated by 2014’s ‘Repligate’: an exercise to directly reproduce a number of experiments, the results of which had stood since the 1950s, failed to confirm many of the original findings. Astonishingly, but tellingly, some in the psychological community rounded on the team responsible, labelling them ‘replication police’ and even ‘Nazis’.

Another consequence of publication bias is the dubious but widespread practice of ‘HARKing’ – Hypothesising After Results are Known – by which, if the results of an experiment don’t come out as predicted by the original hypothesis, the experimenter devises a new hypothesis that does fit and presents the research as if that was the idea all along. Studies have estimated that anything between 40 and 90 percent of published papers have been HARKed.

A similarly dodgy practice driven by publication bias, ‘p-hacking’, lies at the heart of Chambers’ second sin, ‘hidden flexibility’. The gold standard of psychological research is p, the probability of an effect being due of chance. Since the 1920s p has been set – entirely arbitrarily – at 5 percent (in statistical terminology p = .05), meaning that the odds have to be better than one in 20 that the results are down to chance before they are accepted as showing a real effect. However, if results don’t clear that bar, they are p-hacked, exploiting what are known euphemistically as ‘researcher degrees of freedom’ to justify excluding chunks of data, until the magic .05 is achieved. Chambers writes of ‘watching colleagues analysing their data a hundred different ways, praying like gamblers at a roulette wheel for signs of statistical significance.’

The practice also compounds the conceptual replication problem: ‘A p-hacked conceptual replication of a p-hacked study tells us very little about reality apart from our ability to deceive ourselves.’

Chambers’ third sin is the umbrella one of ‘unreliability’, which includes more on psychology’s contempt for replication, among other sub-sins. A particularly gob-smacking one is the lack of true statistical power in much psychological research. For example, samples are often too small for proper statistical analysis, making the conclusions drawn from them unsound: not only are positive findings falsely reported, but genuine discoveries are often missed.




Unreliability is concealed by sin no. 4, ‘data hoarding’. Unlike most other sciences, psychology doesn’t abide by the convention that the raw data from an experiment or study is made available for independent scrutiny, usually by being deposited in a public database. Instead, it is jealously guarded, psychologists even routinely (73 percent of the time, according to one survey) refusing requests to share it – and when they do they often impose gag orders on how the data can be used and reported. This is despite data sharing being a condition of publication in most psychological journals and part of the code of conduct of professional bodies such as the American Psychological Association: ‘Few psychologists, and least of all the APA, seem to care whether psychologists share their data or not.’

The lack of rigour and scrutiny generated by the previous sins facilitates the biggest sin of all, corruptibility - outright fraud through fabricating data. Although there have been several high-profile exposures - such as that in 2011 of Dutch social psychologist Diederick Stapel, who perpetrated one of science’s largest ever frauds, building a high-flying career on made-up data – it’s impossible to tell how common fraud is in psychology, given the weak controls and the fact that many institutions cover up any cheating that does come to light: often it’s the whistle-blowers whose careers suffer. Chambers summarises that ‘Falsifying data offers a low-risk, high-reward career strategy for scientists who, for whatever reason, lose their moral compass and sense of purpose.’

Sin no. 6 is ‘internment’, by which Chambers means the ‘culture of concealment’ that restricts information to those within the profession, for example through the astronomical subscription fees demanded by journals which makes them available only to the richest institutions, rendering them ‘telegraph lines between the windows of the ivory tower’. Although this doesn’t only apply to psychology, Chambers argues that it is more invidious because of psychology’s public role: ‘Psychological discoveries generate substantial public interest, are relevant to policy making, and are hugely dependent on public funding.’

Also shared with many other sciences is the final sin of bean counting, the ‘growing push toward weighing up the worth of individual academics and their research contributions based on various “metrics,” and then to use those metrics to award jobs and funding.’ Metrics include the number of papers published and the number of citations, a system that rewards researchers for producing many low-quality papers rather than fewer of high quality or significance.

In the final chapter Chambers looks at ways to solve these problems – chiefly through the pre-registration of papers (setting out the hypothesis in advance to eliminate HARKing), full sharing of data and measures to protect whistle-blowers - while also telling his own personal journey. He also sets out steps that individual researchers can take to improve their practices and to be aware of ‘our unconscious biases, fragile egos, and propensity to cut corners’.

Seven Deadly Sins gives a candid and honest account of a profession that Chambers clearly cares deeply about, seeing the important contribution it can and should make to society. His ultimate message is that ‘If we continue as we are then psychology will diminish as a reputable science and could very well disappear.’




Although aimed principally at the psychology profession, Chambers writes that the book is for ‘anyone who is interested in the practice and culture of science’. For the most part, he successfully balances writing for members of his profession while keeping it accessible to outsiders. The only parts where he wobbles are those dealing with statistics, which assume a familiarity with concepts and methods that, while being part of psychologists’ workaday skills (or perhaps not, as Chambers shows how many within the profession don’t understand what some of the figures mean in real terms) are rather esoteric to the general reader.

As one of those general readers, the message that I took away from the book is, quite simply, that none of psychology’s findings, as frequently reported in the media, can be trusted. As described here psychology is, if not quite (yet) a pseudoscience, then at least a rogue science.

This is particularly alarming given the way its pronouncements about individual and collective behaviour are used for political and public policy purposes. As Chambers notes, ‘Applications of psychology in public policy are many and varied, ranging from tackling challenges like obesity and climate change through to the design of traffic signs, persuading citizens to vote in elections, and encouraging people to join organ donor registries.’ He gives the example of the Behavioural Insights Team set up by the Cameron government in 2010 to apply psychological science to public policy, which, like many other official bodies, simply accepts the validity of the published research.

With my Magonian hat on, I was naturally interested in Chambers’ study from the perspective of the methodological and statistical criticisms customarily levelled at parapsychology. It turns out that a huge amount of ‘straight’ psychological research suffers from exactly the same faults - a clear case of double standards. Imagine, for example, the outcry if a parapsychologist was found to have p-hacked their results.

Given the lengths to which parapsychologists go to forestall such criticisms, wouldn’t it be ironic if their research, including the likes of Bem’s, turned out to be more reliable than the norm? – Clive Prince.

13.10.17

BIG IN JAPAN

Antony Cummins. The Dark Side of Japan: Ancient Black Magic, Folklore, Ritual. Amberley 2017.

The Land of the Rising Sun, with its great natural  beauty and sophisticated culture, has many shadows. While every culture, as a reflection of human nature, has its dark side, Japan's is more complex and multi-layered than any other I know. It is full of surprises and enigmas that continue to unravel as you go deeper. The Dark Side of Japan is a book that does exactly what it says on the cover. It unveils some of the darkest aspects of the Japanese psyche to be found in ancient beliefs, legends, superstitions and black magic.  

Antony Cummins sets the scene unequivocally in his Introduction: Welcome to Hell.  He presents the Japanese as "a people of esoteric teachings, some aficionados of ancient ceremonies, others masters of warfare, clad in their strange armour and steeped in bloodthirsty ways".  That, at least, was the popular Victorian image. His view of modern Japan is that while it is "still a cultural goldmine, it has been stripped by tourism and trade with the West and is starting to look played out". This does seem to be overly pessimistic. Could we not say the same thing about any modern industrialised nation?  

Unique among modern nations, Japan remained isolated from the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution. It was only in 1853 that Japan was forced to open to the West by an armed American fleet.  They certainly made up for lost time, becoming an advanced industrialised nation in only a few decades. As a sign of how quickly the Japanese emerged onto the world stage, by the beginning of the 20th century they wanted to be recognised as equal with the Western powers. In 1904 they took on the mighty Russian Empire in a territorial dispute over Korea and Manchuria.  By 1905 Japan and its navy had won a complete victory over the Russians, much to the surprise of world observers.

It is Japan's long isolation from the rest of the world that makes its culture so distinct. Cummins observes that "it was only a few generations ago that its medieval period faded from living memory.  The strong echo of that time has only begun to die in the last few decades, and before it falls silent it is our task to capture it".

The author is particularly interested in Samurai culture and martial arts, especially those of the Ninja.  It is for this that he is best known, with several published books to his credit and a YouTube channel where he discusses and demonstrates various aspects of Japanese martial culture. Interestingly, a Google search of his name provides a top entry, from a website called way-of-the.samurai.com, that claims he is a fraud, evidently from someone who has an axe to grind. While Cummins is acknowledged as having academic degrees in Ancient History and Archaeology, he is attacked for not being able to speak or read Japanese and of putting his own interpretation on translations of ancient texts. On the same critical Blog page is a lengthy entry in his defence, pointing out that he is not a fraud because he has never claimed to be able to read Japanese.

The idea for writing this book came to Cummins while reading some of the Japanese folklore and ghost stories collected by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904). Hearn was of mixed Irish and Greek parentage, and in the latter part of his troubled and eventful life settled in Japan.  He fell in love with the country and married the daughter of a Samurai family and had four children with her.  In 1896 he became a naturalised Japanese citizen assuming the name Koizumi Yakumo and converted from Christianity to Buddhism. His work has historical value because he provided the West with some of its first accessible descriptions of pre-industrial Japan. At the beginning of the 20th century Japanese art, style and culture became extremely popular and gained an exotic image, which to some extent persists to this day.

Inspired by Hearn's supernatural stories, Cummins set off on a library hunt for more material, and found much of the information for this book in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. Some of the material comes from ancient Japanese text, ably translated by Yoshie Minami and Mieko Koizumi who have worked with Cummins on his previous books. As a team they clearly work well together, and Cummins admits that their part in the work takes considerably longer than his.  

Most Japanese people are flexible and pragmatic in matters of religion. Chapter 2 'The Dead and Human Sacrifice' begins with this explanation: "The afterlife in Japan is based on a mixture of religions including native Shinto and Buddhism." One thing to bear in mind regarding the Japanese mentality is that they see the divine spirit or kami (a word that can mean 'god') in almost everything, particularly in Nature. Most homes have a family altar where dead relatives are remembered and honoured. Small offerings of tea, water, rice, fruits, sweets, etc. are placed daily on the altar, and the spirit of the deceased take the invisible essence of the nourishment. In this way the dead stay around the family as guardians and protectors, not fading away as in Western tradition.  

Chapter 3 'Hags, Vampires, Ghouls and Ghosts' has some fascinating information on types of ghosts.  "The first is shi-ryo, which is the spirit of someone who is dead.  These only haunt at night.  The second is iki-ryo, which is the spirit of a living person. The Japanese believed that if someone was angry enough their spirit, without them knowing it, could leave the body and attack their enemy in broad daylight."  An example of this is Lady Rokujo in the epic tale Genji Monogatari, where she attacks her rivals because of intense jealousy.  This spirit is strong enough to kill, as in this case.

TRADITIONAL ONI DEMON MASK
There is a whole catalogue of mythical creatures that were terrifyingly real to villagers and peasants.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the kappa which killed humans in a gruesome way, and could rape women.  If a baby resulted it had to be taken outside and hacked to death. Demons are known in Japanese as oni and devils as akuma. The horned  might, in some cases, cut off  their horns and try to become monks, perhaps seeking redemption. Small ones might do mischief such as tickling monks' heads to disturb their meditation.

Perhaps the most useful information in The Dark Side of Japan is the 'Ancient Black Magic' part.  Here the book becomes a veritable grimoire of spells and talismans for self-protection, punishing or destroying an enemy, safe travel, dispelling a nightmare, recovery from disease, having good luck, a long life, and more. The Chapter on 'Ill Omens and the Chi of Death' is not likely to be of much use unless you are about to go into battle and need to read the meaning of various patterns of smoke emerging from your enemy's castle. If you do go into battle as a samurai and happen to cut off someone's head with a sword you will need the information on how to deal with the head to prevent it from getting its revenge on you.

Death features in one form or another throughout. There is a special place for suicides in Japan, a densely forested area near Mount Fuji known as Aokigahara. In 2003 there were 105 recorded suicides, but in recent years the authorities avoid giving the statistics to deter would-be suicides.  Warning signs are posted at the entrance. Sometimes hikers get lost in the forest, and it is inevitably a place with a grim atmosphere, haunted by disturbed spirits. Some of these came from the cruel practice, that evidently continued into the 19th century, of ubasute, leaving elderly people to die there when their families could no longer care for them.

Japan is, of course, famous for ritual suicide, either for honour or disgrace.  The chapter 'Samurai and their Weapons of Death'  tells you all you need to know, in detail. It is worth mentioning that the popular term hari-kari is a mispronunciation of the correct term hara-kiri, which literally means 'belly-cut'. The more formal Japanese word seppuku, when written in Japanese characters, has exactly the same meaning. One of the last seppuku rituals to take place in Japan was in 1970, when the writer and actor Yukio Mishima performed it in public after a failed military coup.

Mishima himself once said, in an interview conducted in English, that the two outstanding characteristics of the Japanese were elegance and brutality. The latter aspect was certainly in evidence during World War II, no doubt the darkest period in Japan's history, ending in disaster. Nowadays, on the face of it, Japan is a nation of style and elegance, totally committed to peace with Article 9 of its Constitution, enacted in 1947, outlawing war as a means of resolving international disputes. However, it has to be admitted that there are certain elements within the country, under the general category of "nationalists", who would like to see Japan armed with nuclear weapons and militarily independent again. This debate is ongoing within the nation and looks likely to intensify over the coming few years.

On a lighter note, the final chapter 'Superstition in Modern Japan' lists a great many odd and curious superstitions that show the continuing influence of ancient myths. One good example is that you should cover your navel when it thunders, because the god of thunder wants to take it and eat it. This may seem ludicrous, but my Japanese wife confirms that as a child she used to do that.  It obviously gets passed down through the generations.  

Another custom, actually a taboo, is that you must never put your chopsticks in an upright position in your bowl of rice. Not only is it considered bad manners, it mimics the ritual that is performed in parts of Japan at a funeral ceremony. A bowl of rice, with the chopsticks standing vertically, is presented as a symbolic offering to the deceased relative. Furthermore, it is a practice for each family member to use chopsticks to pick out a piece of bone from the ashes after a cremation.  

In his Conclusion, Cummins opines that "the loss of Japanese customs is certain, as no nation in the world remains untouched by our pervasive global culture". Another pessimistic viewpoint from the author who presents himself as an insider who knows Japan intimately? Maybe, but all of that remains to be seen. The least we can say is that nothing is certain where Japan and its people are concerned. -- Kevin Murphy

9.10.17

AND WAS JERUSALEM BUILDED HERE IN ASHTON-UNDER-LYNE?

Jane Shaw and Philip Lockley (editors). The History of a Modern Millennial Movement: The Southcottians. I.B.Tauris, 2017.

This collection of eleven papers traces the development of the various sects and groups claiming descent from Joanna Southcott (1750-1814 ), who proclaimed herself as the “Woman clothed with the Sun” out of Revelations and who believed she was about to give birth to a new Messiah, the Shiloh. Instead she died and her followers divided over the years into various groups. Some became associated with the followers of Richard Brothers (1757-1824), who had claimed that the British were descendants of the tribe of Judah. The main figures in this tradition were George Turner and above all John Wroe (1782-1863) whose followers adopted Jewish dress, dietary rules and circumcision.

Wroe was perhaps most noted for his period in Ashton-under-Lyne from 1822 to1831. The Southcottians had built up a significant in the Lancashire cotton and coal towns. A number of local mill and mine owners had joined the movement and contributed to it financially. This allowed the members to construct a number of buildings in the town, as well as 'Israelite' shops providing members, and the general public, with appropriate kosher food and clothing.

Central to the project was a 'Sanctuary' in the centre of the town, constructed to Wroe's stricture on the types of building materials which should be used: stone, oak and mahogany, with silver and brass fittings. With two glass domes for light – there were no street-level windows – galleries on four sides, and seating for over 1000, it cost £7,000, probably close to a million pounds in current values, and was largely paid for by the owner of a local mill and ironworks.

As well as the Sanctuary, there were four 'gatehouses' situated on the main roads leading north, south, east and west out of the town. The Southcottians must have made a considerable impact on theother residents of Ashton, with Sabbath processions through the town, headed with a wind band, hymn singing, and the congregation dressing in uniform: men in blue coats and white hats, women with white dresses, bonnets and embroidered veils.

Ashton, if not seen as the New Jerusalem itself, was certainly regarded as a prototype of the Heavenly City, and drew Southcottians from other groups around the country, who saw it as a 'gathering place' to prepare for the millennium.

The community began to disintegrate after an alleged scandal involving Wroe. The popular version is that Wroe asked the congregation to provide seven of their daughters as ceremonial servants, assigned as “a pattern of purity to the whole people.” Unfortunately shortly after this, three of the servants became pregnant! The girls made allegations against Wroe, which were never proven, but his fall from grace split the congregation and there was a riot in the Sanctuary and the southern Gatehouse, Wroe's residence, was looted.

Although the congregation split, and Ashton-under-Lyne never gained the status of the new Jerusalem, Wroe's preaching and encouragement of missionary work, established new Southcottian congregations across Britain and abroad. Wroe also continued the practice of having women preachers as a significant element of the group's services and proselytising.

Another controversial figure was a man who may or may not have been James Rowland White, who took the name James Gershom Jezebel and established a religious community in Gillingham. The sect promised bodily immortality but this did not come to James, who died of drink 1884. Other groups emigrated to Australia and the United States where some communities still exist.

Of these perhaps the House of David established by Benjamin Purnell in Michigan was perhaps the most innovative. Faced with gawking visitors he decided to make an opportunity out of a nuisance and established a theme park near but also a safe distance from his colonies living quarters. This theme park, Eden Springs included a miniature railway and a vaudeville theatre. Members also established a baseball team and a jazz band. None of this prevented Benjamin being indicted for sexual misdemeanours, perhaps because the state wanted his property. After Benjamin’s fall from grace the colony came under the control of “Judge” H. T. Dewhirst who turned it into a completely commercial operation including used-car dealerships, cabaret acts and fan dancing.

Benjamin’s widow Mary and some of her followers left and established their own colony Mary’s City of David but that too established a holiday resort, albeit a more respectable one, aimed at Michigan’s Jewish population, featuring a vegetarian restaurant.

Two middle class English women Alice Seymour and Mabel Barltrop, revived a more traditionalist “back to Joanna” version of Southcottianism, stripping away the British Israelite themes. Mabel, who became known as Octavia because she was considered to be the eighth prophet in the Southcottian tradition, established the Panacea Society in Bedford. It was this organisation which established the practice of putting adverts in the newspapers saying “Crime, banditry and the distress of nations will continue until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott’s box” Though a box was opened under the auspices of Harry Price, with just some junk inside, the Panacea Society argued this was the wrong box and such adverts continued into the 1960s and beyond. The Panacea Society also sent out strips of linen bathed in healing water. 

JOANNA SOUTHCOTT'S BOX

The last member of the Panacea Society died in 2012, and its assets have been turned into a charitable trust, archive and museum. It this archive which has in large part allowed the contributors of this book, to produce a modern scholarly study. Most of the people in this tradition have in the past been often treated as isolated cranks or charlatans. These contributors, mainly theologians, seek to treat the Southcottians as a serious religious tradition worthy of scholarly study.

Clearly the main readership for which this book is aimed are students of theology, but it should be of interest to a wider readership interested in social history and to a wider public seeking to understand the past in its own terms. It gives an insight into how much of a foreign country the world of 200 years ago might actually be and how remote from our own secular world. These movements are often born out of deeply religious milieus where the Bible was often the only source of reading material and the total focus of the imagination. That world is only a handful of handshakes away. When my own maternal ancestors [PR] moved into Ashton under Lyne in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s they could easily have met people who had known John Wroe for example.

The study also highlights something that can be seen among a number of what originated as highly radical working class religious communities became successively more respectable and middle class. The radical heterodox world of Joanna Southcott and John Wroe gives way to that of the highly respectable conservative Anglican Mabel Barltrop, who bows to the patriarchal authority of the Bishops.

The study of such movements shows the continuing quest for the unrealisable dream of the Pure Land and the new model people to populate it, such dreams are always bound to end in disappointment at best and catastrophe at worst.

The book has an excellent summary of archival sources, though these reveal one sad event, that material donated to the Tameside Local Studies and Archives by the last disciple of John Wroe connected to the town, who died as recently as 1980, had been handed over to a delegation from a British Israelite group surviving in Australia and is no longer available for outside scholars. Our advice to libraries and archives would be not to surrender anything without a court order!

The book is a collection of essays by a number of scholars, but unlike many other such compilations, it presents a readable and coherent narrative, which displays a sure editorial touch. Although scholarly it is accessible to the non-academic, and is enlivened by some interesting archive photographs, including the remarkable cradle built for Joanna Southcott in preparation for the arrival of Shiloh in 1814, which is now on display in the Panacea Society Museum in Bedford, an institution which seems well worth a visit. – Peter Rogerson and John Rimmer


6.10.17

FROM COMICS TO THE COSMOS

Bill Schelly. Otto Binder: The Life and Work of a Comic Book and Science Fiction Visionary. North Atlantic Books, 2016

Who would rank among the Fortean’s Forteans? What sort of person would not only write books about Ancient Astronaut Theories and articles about UFOs but also pen such tales that made a fan of HP Lovecraft, and would shape the history of such seminal comic book heroes as Superman? Were this not enough, this person has written about space travel on behalf of NASA and became a member of NICAP. Why, Otto Binder, of course! He is one of the icons of the Golden Age of Comics and one of the true pioneers of comic book writing, ploughing a furrow that would eventually guide the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.

Bill Schelly has proven himself to be somewhat of a superfan, even writing on the subject of comics whilst at college, then parlaying such writings into acclaimed books after he finished his higher education. He extended his attentions to the silent screen by writing a lauded volume about the comedian Harry Langdon and accompanied this by lecturing at the University of Washington about early film. After this departure from his usual area of attention, he returned to the universe of comics. He interviewed and researched avidly and produced The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. He had to self-publish a thousand copies at first, then it went on to be lauded and was published in far greater numbers. After this, one of the figures he wrote about included Otto Binder.

Binder (pronounced to rhyme with ‘bin’ as opposed to, say ‘ring binder’) was initially one of a two-man team of writers. The other included his brother, Earl. When they wrote together their joint nom de plume was Eando (E and O) Binder (it was Eando who captured Lovecraft’s attention). This was how they started out, by bouncing ideas back and forth in order to generate stories. Although this arrangement was fairly flexible as Earl had to take on other work in order to keep his young family, some of their most recognisable work was generated in this fashion. It was Otto, however, who made comic writing his field. As a result, he wrote some of the most acclaimed Superman stories, Captain Marvel and the accompanying Marvel “family” he made his own and the series of stories that started out with the first that endowed artificial intelligence with emotions, I, Robot.

Later on, he helped to start and he became editor-in-chief of Space World magazine, which was a serious periodical concerning the nascent era of space exploration that was the most noticeable sign of the times. From material that passed through his hands whilst editing, Otto could not help but become fascinated by UFO cases. He believed in aliens, and that humankind was a chimera, genetic material from Earth that was crossed with something extraterrestrial. From this position, books were written concerning UFOs, conflating them with the ships of interplanetary aliens, and how they were interacting with us. This, then, was the direction Otto Binder took.

This book has been exhaustively researched by the epitome of fandom that is Bill Schelly. He had access to figures involved in the specialised world of American comics during its most trumpeted period, and he interviewed them before many of them passed away. The impact of gaining access to relevant private correspondence is plain to see. The reader is submerged into what feels like the minutiae of the everyday life that Otto lived. Influences that worked upon him and his brother can be almost felt as the narrative unfolds. The atmosphere of those days can be experienced as if it is still going on, such is the sheer density of the research done.

It would be highly surprising if there was a more detailed and exhaustive book about Otto Binder, his career and life, out there in the marketplace. Although this book was originally published in 2003, the copy reviewed here is a reissue from 2016. The detail is so dense that it is advisable that the reader is someone who has either a deep interest in Otto Binder or an abiding fascination with the comics of the era. The bibliography is substantial and the notes and index are detailed. Therefore, this is really for the dedicated enthusiast of Otto Binder, his life and his times. -- Trevor Pyne


2.10.17

INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT

Unidentified:  The National Intelligence Problem of UFOs: This is the book we’ve been waiting for  – the study the government did not do. by [Hancock, Larry]Larry Hancock. Unidentified: the National Intelligence Problem of UFOs. Treatise Publications, 2017.

In this book Larry Hancock, a noted writer on the Kennedy assassination, examines the USAF’s approach to UFOs as a threat to national security, largely concentrating on the period up to 1952. While no new dramatic information is provided or conclusions reached, what Hancock’s study - which relates the USAF’s response to UFO reports in the context of developments in the cold war - does demonstrate is how much the study was centred upon the possibility of a Soviet threat. 

At times there were reports which which heightened these fears and suggested that UFOs were spying on military bases and US atomic energy/weapons facilities. Nothing ever came of them and the alleged capabilities of the these 'craft' were far in advance anything the Soviets were known to be capable of. Added to that was the fact that there was no actual hard physical evidence for the security agencies to get their teeth into.

Once they had decided that UFO reports were not the result of Soviet activity they ceased to be of interest to the military, who really, one suspects, really couldn’t care less whether all the reports were due to misidentifications and misperceptions, or some were due to exotic natural phenomena or even extraterrestrial spaceships or something even more exotic. Their attitude was more or less, “if it’s not the Russians it’s none of our business”.

The only group of UFO reports that Hancock thinks were probably due to Soviet activity were the Swedish ghost rockets of 1946, which he suggests may have been captured German VI and V2 rockets.

This is not a book for those who want lurid tales of alien abductions and crashed flying saucers but should be of interest to anyone interested in the early years of the subject. It is generally well produced but could have done with an index. – Peter Rogerson

29.9.17

ELIMINATING THE IMPOSSIBLE

Through a Glass, Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of All by [Bechtel, Stefan, Stains, Laurence Roy]Stefan Bechtel and Laurence Roy Stains. Through a Glass Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of All. St Martin’s Press, 2017.

When Canadian medium ‘Margery’ produced the voice, seemingly of her dead brother, even when her mouth and nose were covered by a sceptical investigator, the said spirit demanded, ‘Now, Doctor, isn’t that convincing?’ To which the man replied, with utter seriousness, ‘How do I know you don’t talk through your ears?’

Telling the story later, Margery laughingly remarked, ‘what amazing things people are willing to believe in order to avoid believing the things they don’t want to believe’.

This exceptional book, which is albeit focused on the research of Sherlock creator Arthur Conan Doyle, and is a resolutely objective review of the facts, nevertheless segues into the thinking person’s rebuttal to all those decades of sceptics tying themselves in knots in order not to confront the evidence for certain aspects of the paranormal. And if anyone talks through their ears … although other orifices are available … as we see repeatedly documented in these pages, it has often – if not exclusively - been them.

Over the years Spiritualism has fallen out of favour with the mainstream and accrued an unenviable reputation. It doesn’t help that a séance circle with a fake medium intoning ‘Is there anyone there? Two knocks for “no”…’ is the sort of ridiculous cliché scenario so beloved of the lazier sitcom writers, for example. On the whole, the media have ensured that the public view Spiritualism as a joke – and a jaded and outdated one at that.

These authors make their own position clear right from the start. Stefan Bechtel and Laurence Roy Stains are journalists – though the latter is also an academic - who, while not being Believers, are not not Believers. Their admiration for the courage of pioneering investigators into Spiritualism such as Arthur Conan Doyle seems tinged with more than a little indignation at the defamation and infamy heaped on them, both at the time and by subsequent generations. It is interesting, to say the least, what nuances objective research can reveal – as we see later with the Cottingley Fairies.

And far from being the ‘credulous old fool’ that sceptics now call later-phase Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes showed extraordinary discernment and even – heaven forfend! – characteristic rationality in his forays into the world of the séance room.

This big bear of a Scottish physician, with his aptitude for hard work and his love of Boys’ Own-style adventures – he signed up as ship’s doctor for an incredibly dangerous Arctic voyage when he was still a medical student – had very little about him that was fey or airy-fairy.

To him, delving into the by then well-established claims of Spiritualism to provide evidence of communication with the dead through talented intermediaries known as ‘mediums’ was an adventure like no other. But while of course Doyle is known first and foremost for the great adventures of Sherlock and Watson, what we should never forget about him is that he was primarily a scientist. It is worth quoting these authors at length here:

‘Maybe the scientific method couldn’t be applied to seances, but Arthur Conan Doyle and his generation could apply a scientific attitude. That attitude called for an open-mindedness about what we don’t know and keen observation about what we do know. That was the real strength of spiritualism, said Doyle; the movement was “the most serious attempt ever made to place religion upon a basis of definite proof…. It was founded upon the rock of actual personal observation.”’

As he wrote in 1920: ‘But let it be real Science which comes to us, not prejudice and ill will, which judge a case first and examine it afterwards. That is not Science, but the very antithesis of Science.’

Indeed.

Profound bias against the subject has been endemic from the very beginning: the first scientist to examine spiritualism systematically was the chemist, Professor Robert Hare of the University of Pennsylvania. At first he joined the learned throng in publicly anathematising spiritualism as ‘popular madness’, but wrote later: ‘I had been brought up deaf to any testimony which claimed assistance from supernatural causes.’

Challenged by a believer, Hare set up meticulous experiments in order to entrap mediums. But as the famous naturalist – and spiritualist – Alfred Russel Wallace wrote, ‘he was in every case only able to obtain results which proved that there was a power at work not that of any human being present. But in addition to the power there was an intelligence, and he was thus compelled to believe that existences not human did communicate with him.’

What clinched it for Professor Hare was that the apparent spirit of his sister, who, without any form of ‘fishing’ or prompting on the part of the medium, gave the name of their grandfather’s business partner who had died in England seventy years before. But when Hare published this, together with a welter of other veridical information, he felt the weight of his peers’ mockery. Doyle wrote, ‘The brave report … led to a disgraceful persecution…’ And the American Scientific Association – as Bechtel and Stains point out – ‘then turned its attention to a far worthier topic: why cocks crow between midnight and 1:00 a.m.’ An outraged Doyle noted, ‘From the hour of the Hare report there has been no excuse for the human race.’

In more recent years there have been academics galore involved in what used to be known as ‘psychical research’: for example, during the 1980s and 90s the President of the London-based Society for Psychical Research was a very distinguished professor of electrical engineering while his opposite number up at the Scottish SPR was a world-renown professor of astrophysics. But this pales compared to the roll call of the great in the early days. The father of American psychology, William James, listed the likes of Professor Lodge, the English physicist and Professor Charles Richet, the eminent French physiologist, as among the most active members of the SPR. As the authors point out, Lodge was later knighted for his scientific achievements, and Richet won the Nobel Prize. (And it really will not do to fall back on what might be termed epochism, the widespread 21st-century myth that somehow intelligence back then wasn’t nearly as, well, intelligent as it is today. According to the prevalent understanding of epochists, for example the average sceptical undergraduate of today is obviously sharper, better-read, more incisive and observant than all the so-called geniuses of history put together – especially those who investigated spiritualism.)

Whichever way you look at it, however, these eminent scientists really were not the sort of chaps to be taken in by the ‘two knocks for “yes”’ school of mediumship and even the most superior sort of sleight of hand. And neither was Arthur Conan Doyle.

MRS PIPER
It’s usually believed that he became involved in spirit communication (alleged) while demented with grief after the death of his son in 1918. Not so. What moved him so resolutely from – to use his own favourite phrase – ‘the left of negation to the right of acceptance’ was the work of his contemporary, the American medium known simply as ‘Mrs Piper’.

Having made a name for herself as a notable medium, she was fair game for the scourge of the séance room, the Australian sceptic Richard Hodgson – who had exposed Madame Blavatsky’s more dubious practices. He was despatched, covertly, to the US to put her through her paces. She – or rather her ‘spirit control’, speaking, it was believed, through her – gave him a wealth of details about his early life. Yet he had been careful not so much as to give his name. Hodgson was shaken when Mrs Piper said that his late childhood sweetheart had one eye with a spot of light colour in the iris. When Hodgson asked how she knew this, the answer was simple: his long-gone sweetheart was standing right there, and the spirit control could see her eyes for himself. But things were about to get a whole lot more intriguing – even, in their own way, sensational.

A new spirit ‘came through’, one George Pellew, who had died very recently in a riding accident and who had met Hodgson once, promising him that if he died first and was ‘still existing’ he would get in touch. And apparently he did, and such was the effect that his astonishingly detailed communications had on the arch-sceptic Hodgson, that he ceased to be ‘a very Saul persecuting the Christians’. And it didn’t end there.

In a nice irony, it appears that after Hodgson himself dropped dead, he began to ‘come through’, giving evidential information such as he had once demanded. Sadly, as with all the most fascinating material here, space dictates that I can only allude to it (actually the ‘Hodgson’ communications are only a part of the so-called ‘Cross Correspondences’, arguably the most persuasive, complex and detailed evidence for survival of human consciousness after death ever recorded).

All of this, plus much, much else served to convince Doyle that at the very least there was something worth investigating.

(One of the cases examined at length in this book that will appeal to many more technically-minded readers is that of the – alleged of course – communication from Flight Lieutenant H. Carmichael Irwin, captain of the famous airship the R101 when it crashed in France in 1930, killing 48, himself included. The details ‘he’ gave in seances were highly technical and utterly bemusing to famous British medium Eileen Garrett. It was only further research that corroborated them – and indeed, actually cast light on the mechanics of the tragedy.)

As the First World War made its terrible depredations, evidence from ‘beyond the veil’ began to stack up, admittedly gold among the dross of the fakes and charlatans that vilely fed upon the grief of the credulous. It was in 1916 – two years in fact before the trauma of his son’s death – that Doyle wrote in his ‘coming out’ as a spiritualist essay, ‘In spite of occasional fraud and wild imaginings, there remains a solid core in this whole spiritual movement which is infinitely nearer to positive proof than any other religious development with which I am acquainted.’

Of course Doyle was not infallible, but neither, as we discover here, was his ‘frenemy’, the famous escapologist Houdini. Actually, though Houdini was very much that curious creature – the arch-sceptic so extreme as to make ‘debunking’ something of a crusade (and to hell with the actual facts) - Doyle was convinced that some of the latter’s stage illusions were genuine, results of his own secret psychic ability. And strangely, it does seem as if Houdini had succeeded in ‘spooking’ himself on at least one occasion. Later, while investigating the astonishing medium ‘Margery’, Houdini was caught sabotaging her equipment. And later still, perhaps the deceased Houdini himself might have ‘come through’ a medium… Or perhaps not. Or…

What clinches it for most critics of latter-phase Doyle is his involvement with the so-called ‘Cottingley Fairies’, photographs taken by two Yorkshire girls in the early 20th century allegedly showing frolicking fairies (and one gnome) by a stream near their house. Doyle endorsed the photographs with near-indecent enthusiasm, almost certainly arising from – as Bechtel and Stains sagaciously muse – a desire to validate the fairy visions of his father, who had died in a mental institution. Certainly, the overwhelming pro-fairy advocacy of the creator of Sherlock Holmes proved jaw-dropping to the father of one of the Cottingley girls, who remarked incredulously about him being ‘fooled’ by ‘our Elsie, and her bottom of her class’! Yes, by anyone’s standards, the Cottingley Fairies were not Doyle’s finest hour.



But at this point I must add a personal note. In the early 1980s I was Deputy Editor of the now-iconic publication The Unexplained, and in that capacity was the second person ever to hear the recorded confession of Frances, who sixty years before, together with her cousin, had fooled the creator of Sherlock at Cottingley. Yes, the old lady chortled, they’d done it. It was easy. Cut-outs from magazines held up in the grass with hatpins. But then she said, matter-of-factly, that the reason they’d faked them was because they had tried over and over to capture the fairies they saw all the time and failed. But one of the pictures was real… Of course she could have been having a last laugh, but it’s interesting that she also mentioned that she still occasionally saw them – and her voice echoed a real horror. The ‘fake’ fairies had always been real – to her and her cousin. And to Doyle, of course.

Throughout Doyle’s three decades of spiritualist adventures, it is worth remembering the famous lines uttered by the rapier-sharp Sherlock: ‘… when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…’ Sherlock might have been Doyle’s fictitious alter ego, but of course they shared a mindset. Doyle was never interested in the impossible – why waste his precious time? – but he was prepared to devote his best years to the improbable that might or might not reveal itself to be the truth. And with his unquenchable spirit of adventure, it seems he was often nearer to it than most.

Did the deceased Doyle himself ever apparently ‘come through’? Of course he did, it is reported. In fact, ‘Doyle’ passed on his thoughts via a medium to the famous ghosthunter Harry Price. In the quotation that Bechtel and Stains choose to end their book, ‘Doyle’ said, ‘It is far more difficult to establish a fact than it is to advertise an illusion’.

The authors add only one word: ‘Quite’.

Let me add another: ‘Quite’. -- Lynn Picknett


23.9.17

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A UFO MAGAZINE

Steve Holland and Roger Perry. The Men Behind The Flying Saucer Review. Bear Alley Books, 2017.

For those of us who entered ufology in the mid 1960s, Flying Saucer Review, or FSR, as it was generally known, was the acme of ufology and if you got an article published in that journal you knew you had arrived. I first read FSR in the Autumn of 1967, almost exactly 50 years ago as I write. The September/October issue included an article on a hole in the ground in France which was assumed to have been produced by a spaceship, a sceptical article on ocean light wheels, an account of a very strange experience of a group of children in mid 1950s California, and a very odd article asking 'Do the cherubim come from Mars?'

That rather set the course for the about the next twelve years or so, a mixture of intriguing and mind boggling articles, along with banal tales of lights in the sky and some utter nonsense. FSR even reproduced an article on Warminster by John Harney and Alan W. Sharp from MUFORG Bulletin, as well as featuring the first two articles written by our late friend Roger Sandell. I can still remember the awe I felt as a teenager on first meeting John Rimmer and John Harney, who had actually met the editor of FSR in the company of the august figure of J. Allen Hynek.

The editor concerned was Charles Arthur Bowen (1918-1987), who's period of editorship (1966-1982) marked the magazine’s golden age. It was interest in Bowen that first drew the authors of this short booklet to interest in Flying Saucer Review, for what linked them, Bowen and several other contributors to FSR together was their involvement with children’s comics. Bowen was a contributor to Boys' World, the Eagle (to which he contributed articles on sport) and a magazine called Countdown, which I confess I had never heard of, the only thing that name conjured up to me was the popular afternoon TV quiz show.

Bowen was not the first editor, for Flying Saucer Review was founded back in 1955. Unlike its early rival Flying Saucer News, the review was not founded out of organised ufology but by people in the publishing industry. The driving force was the rather sinister Ian Waveney Girvan (1908-1964), a man deeply involved in hard right pro-Nazi politics, before and after the war. Girvan was trained as a chartered accountant but by the end of the 1930s had become involved with Westaway books, the co-director of which was the Nazi sympathiser John Beckett. Beckett was interned as a potential traitor during the war, and the company's chief financer was the pro-Nazi Lord Tavistock, later Duke of Bedford. Bedford was in effect Girvan’s employer by the late 1940s. By this time Girvan was fed up with life under the thumb of the Duke and found employment with a firm that shared premises with Westaway Books, Carroll and Nicholson. The authors of this booklet suggest that this was at the instigation of Beckett who wanted to use the firm to produce far-right political material.

However it would appear that Girvan had realised that involvement in neo-Nazi politics was not exactly conducive to a good bank balance in the post-war world, and soon found a new cause, flying saucers. While at Carroll and Nicholson he took the opportunity to commission the mystic and science writer Gerald Heard to write the first commercially published British UFO book The Riddle of the Flying Saucers. This claimed that the flying saucers were piloted by super-intelligent Martian bees.

This was not an idea that generally caught on, though it did inspire Dennis Wheatley’s Star of Ill Omen (1952) which introduced the idea of alien abduction. At about this time Girvan was head-hunted by T. Werner Laurie just in time to get the manuscript of Desmond Leslie’s occult orientated history of flying saucers, a sort of theosophical version of ancient astronauts, not one calculated to gain a great readership. Fortunately Leslie also sent in the manuscript of Adamski’s tale of meeting with the long haired blond Venusian. Girvan merged the two and possibly did some quite substantial editing and even ghost writing. The resulting book, Flying Saucers Have Landed, was a best seller in Britain and as a result supporters of George Adamski were to dominate British ufology for at a couple of decades at least

Perhaps it was that success that led Waveney Girvan to establish Flying Saucer Review along with a group of associates which included the young aviation writer Derek Dempster, the Hon. Brinsley Le Poer Trench, and a young librarian, Dennis Montgomery, who dreamed of a sort of Institute of Flying Saucer Studies, Also involved were the author Oliver Moxon and the managing editor of This Week, Lewis Barton. This was achieved, allegedly, with the support of Peter Horsley, an equerry to Prince Philip. Conspiracy theorists make of this what you will.

Presumably Girvan’s past made him to be too controversial to be editor, and that job passed to Derek Dempster. However with a little more than a year Dempster found he was losing his battle to keep the Review a sensible publication of record, and the supporters of Adamski, along with a number of people who had a general beef with science and modernity were increasingly dominant. There was also 'Pisces' “a prominent astronomer who does not believe in Flying Saucers” . One wonders if this was Patrick Moore, who had produced his own spoof contactee book along with a friend Robert Davies, under the pseudonym Cedric Allingham and who was to co-author a comic book for children with Desmond Leslie.

Dempster was succeeded as editor by Brinsley Le Poer Trench, the fifth son of an Anglo-Irish aristocrat. Like many younger sons of the aristocracy he was sent out to 'Trade', and in the 1950s was employed selling advertising copy in a gardening magazine. Trench shared Leslie’s background, though at a less exalted level, and his interest in theosophy and occultism. He also shared Girvan’s involvement in pre-war far right politics, being a member of the pro-German Right Club. Trench would continue to show far right views in later life, during his time in the House of Lords as Lord Clancarty he was a noted supporter of the racist Smith regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Under Trench’s editorship FSR degenerated into a receptacle for just about any contactee tale going, perhaps the nadir being articles by T Lobsang Rampa an alleged Tibetan lama, who was actually a very British plumber called Cyril Hoskins, who came from the less exotic realm of Thames Ditton.

This, and perhaps Trench’s publication of a book called The Sky People, which had unorthodox and barely comprehensible occult views on the Bible and the origins of humanity, may not have gone down too well with the more conventional Scottish Presbyterianism of Girvan, and the result was that towards the end of 1959 Girvan, now working in some obscure back office job on Girl magazine, took over the editorship himself.

Through a long ufological drought Girvan slowly steered the magazine away from its contactee roots, though continuing to give support to Adamski. By the mid 1960s the magazine was even publishing technical articles on orthoteny, a belief that flying saucer cases could be plotted on straight lines, including some by arch-sceptic Donald Menzel.

When Girvan died FSR faced an existential crisis, for some people including Girvan’s secretary wanted the editorship to go to Reginald 'Rex' Dutta, an occultist of boundless credulity, whose appointment would have terminated it as a serious publication. Instead it went to Charles Bowen, who was in place to ride the ufological tide of 1964-1969. In Bowen’s time FSR published case investigation and a range of more speculative articles by the likes of John Keel, Berthold Eric Schwarz, C Maxwell Cade, Aime Michel etc., as well as introduced tales of the great 1897 airship. In the early 1970s it even produced eighteen issues of a companion magazine FSR Case Histories. It also produced in the 1960s and 1970s several special issues of which the first and best known was The Humanoids, the first global assemblage of non-contactee entity cases.

By the mid 1970s FSR did look like entering the doldrums but was rescued by its involvement with Jenny Randles, especially after the setting up of UFOIN in 1978, which gave the journal a large number of interesting British cases. However by about 1981 things were clearly going downhill and more space was devoted to nonsense about crashed flying saucers. Charles Bowen’s health was in serious decline and the real work was being done by his de-facto deputy Eileen Buckle. However when Bowen finally retired Ms Buckle refused to take on the full job. That sealed the fate of FSR.

On the surface it might appear that the man who took over, regular contributor, diplomat, linguist, intelligence agent and long-time friend of Bowen, Gordon Creighton [left, in Diplomatic Corps livery] would be ideal for the job. There was however a terrible fly in the ointment, Gordon Creighton was paranoid to the point of clinical mental illness. John Harney recalls meeting Bowen at a BUFORA meeting some time in the 1970s, where the FSR editor described Creighton as “awfully nice chap, but nutty as a fruitcake”.

His paranoia was of two parts; the first, probably shared by a number of people of his age, class and background was that anyone whose values, beliefs, outlook on life or lifestyle would not meet the wholehearted approval of the more elderly and conservative members of the Rickmansworth Golf Club were agents of the monolithic global Communist conspiracy - this being particularly true of feminists.

Creighton’s additional spin on this trope was that the global Communist conspiracy was behind the scenes being run by the supernatural beings known to the Arabs and the wider Moslem world as djinns and to the rest of us as fairies, boggarts, elves, gnomes, fays, lutins, duendes, etc. etc., such supernatural beings also being responsible for most if not all manifestations that caused UFO reports. Furthermore this gigantic boggart-communist conspiracy already secretly controlled the world and would soon undertake overt world conquest. However this global conspiracy would from time to time divert their attention from world conquest to order the removal of books on UFOs from Britain’s public libraries.

Of course, those of us who argued that the latter was a load of tosh, were automatically assimilated into the conspiracy, AS was virtually every other ufologist in Britain, Jenny Randles and Hilary Evans falling into particular disfavour.

The pages of FSR were filled with doom-laden jeremiads warning that it would not be long now before Soviet tanks would roll through Europe, no doubt accompanied by the elfin hosts in their flying saucers. How unfortunate then that the monstrous evil empire, crumbled like a house of cards from 1989-1991. Soon it seemed the djinns would have to start selling their flying saucers on the street corners of Moscow at a knock down price. Not a bit of it, argued Creighton who like many of the other madder members of the secret services, came to the conclusion that the evil empire had not fallen, how could the empire of the djinns fall? it had only pretended to have fallen so that the West would be lulled into a false sense of security. 

Thus perished FSR, though it is said to have had some sort of barely-read ghostly afterlife somewhere. It belonged to the age that spawned it, that of the Eagle, Dan Dare and boys’ comics, of hobby magazines and aircraft spotting.

Another person who linked FSR to the world of comics, was the former deputy editor, T. Dan Lloyd who had been a writer on the Eagle. Lloyd was also a follower of Rudolph Steiner and his doctrine of anthroposophy. These connections presumably explain why my early teenage copies of the Eagle Annual featured articles by Girvan and another Werner Laurie author, Leonard Cramp.

This booklet opens up a door that it would be interesting to see others follow with fuller, more scholarly biographies and studies of the connections between 1950s/60s comics, occultism, far Right politics and evangelical Christianity. -- Peter Rogerson