A Review by Eddie Brazil
A life long devotee of the supernatural, Eddie Brazil has been fascinated by the Borley Rectory case for over thirty years. Here he gives his views on a recent television programme's treatment of Harry Price's most famous case as well as looking at the world's first celebrity ghost hunter himself.
Introduced by a dulcet toned and manically laughing ex-Time Lord Tom Baker, we were treated to footage of the great man in his laboratory, along with film of Eleonore Zungun the 'devil girl', Kuda Bux the 'Man with the X-Ray Eyes' and the bizarre Brocken Experiment where Price attempted to turn a goat into a man. There were also melodramatic reconstructions of Price's famous cases performed it seemed by the local amateur dramatic society. The programme gave about ten minutes each to Price's major investigations including the opening of Joanna Southcott's box, Gef the talking mongoose, medium Rudi Schneider, the exposing of Helen Duncan and of course Borley Rectory.
Initially surprising was the choice of contributors giving their views on Price. First up was psychological illusionist Derren Brown. He was followed by psychologist Richard Wiseman who's sceptical views on ghosts are well known. In turn came two more magicians, Marc Paul and Ali Cook. Had the program makers set out their stall? Yet Price himself was an accomplished conjurer and member of the Inner Magic Circle. Who better then to spot the slight of hand of the fake mediums? He was rigorous in his testing of those who claimed to have psychical abilities and devised many instruments for use during his experiments and investigations to ensure he couldn't be duped. Indeed, the first half of the programme highlighted this, pointing out that Price would ruthlessly expose those he thought were fakers.
It was only when we came to Price's most famous case, the haunting of Borley Rectory that the show changed tack. Now it seemed that the probing, shining spotlight he had shone into the claimed mediumistic abilities of the likes of Rudi Schneider and Helen Duncan was now turned on him. Contributor, writer and historian Andrew Clarke pointed out that after Price turned up at Borley in June 1929 the phenomena altered. It changed from the traditional phantom coach and spectral nun, which were dismissed as hallucinations to the more familiar poltergeist incidents of ringing bells, bumps, bangs and flying stones. Was Price's skills as a conjurer being hinted at? Yet the programme makers conveniently left out the fact that Price himself was highly suspicious of Marianne Foyster, resident in the Rectory with her husband, the Rev. Lionel Foyster between 1930-35, suggesting that she could have been responsible for some of the phenomena, a fact which enraged the couple and saw Price estranged from them for most of their five year incumbency, yet the phenomena continued. Other contributors continued with half truths concerning Borley. Price's rota of observers, all cultured, intrepid, professional men and women were reduced to 'student ghosthunters'. Three of these 'students' were Sidney Glanville, Roger Glanville and Mark Kerr Pearce, an engineer, Squadron Leader and British Consul respectively. Price was also criticised for enrolling his observers, placing them in the classic haunted house, priming them with a list of phenomena they might encounter and then sitting back and accepting anything they reported. Material which provided him with two best-selling books. To be fair to Price he couldn't't win. If he had investigated the Rectory on his own he would have been accused of having carte blanche to report anything he thought would sell.
One got the impression that the programme wanted controversy and they hoped to get it with Price's handling of Borley Rectory, even if it meant being economical with the truth. Then again, Price didn't help his case. His maverick, cavalier attitude made him many enemies and episodes such as the Brocken Experiment and the opening of Joanna Southcott's Box did nothing for the furthering of our knowledge of the paranormal but did wonders for the profile of Harry Price.
The trouble is, does serious scientific
research and an independent publicity hungry ghost hunter go
programme concluded that Price had compromised
his research into the paranormal with his love
of highlight and spectacle. Even so he took psychical research
out of the cold laboratory and dusty parlour séance room and gave
it to a willing public.
Price was something of a contradiction.
A committed paranormal investigator and
father of British ghost hunting yet also a man who knew
the value of a good story when he saw one.
If he has a legacy it is indeed programmes
such as Most Haunted and
The World's Most Scariest Places?.
On the surface serious paranormal
research but underneath thrill-providing
entertainment. Yet Harry Price, the
man and his motives remain just as illusive as
the paranormal truth he spent his life searching for.
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