Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pretender to the Throne

Despite his instance that he doesn't believe in bloodsucking vampires - and never did - contemporary press coverage of the Highgate Vampire Case depicted David, cross and stake in hand, on the hunt for its alleged undead denizen. How did this connection come about? A recent confession holds the key.

The Highgate Vampire Case began with a distinct lack of vampires. The February 6, 1970 issue of The Highgate and Hampstead Express carried a letter called "Ghostly Walks in Highgate". It read:
Some nights I walk home past the gates of Highgate Cemetery.

On three occasions I have seen what appeared to be a ghost-like figure inside the gates at the top of Swains Lane. The first occasion was on Christmas Eve. I saw a grey figure for a few seconds before it disappeared into the darkness. The second sighting, a week later, was also brief.

Last week the figure appeared, only a few yards inside the gates. This time it was there long enough for me to see it much more clearly, and now I can think of no other explanltion than this apparition being supernatural.

I have no knowledge in this field and I would be interested to hear if any other readers have seen anything of this nature.¹
The author of the letter was David Farrant. Despite claiming "no knowledge in this field", his website states otherwise. Here's what it says concerning the formation of the British Psychic and Occult Society (BPOS):
Although formed in its infancy in 1964, by 1967, the numbers of dedicated members had considerably increased, and it was decided to establish all the interest - membership included - into an official Society with the purpose of investigating psychic phenomena and all things ‘occult’. It was then officially named as the British Psychic and Occult Society, and membership was organised more thoroughly with the appointment of executive members and the distribution of a regular newsletter which invited contributions from the general membership, and the opportunity to share knowledge of ’ghosts’ or things occult or to participate in psychic investigations.
What the website fails to mention, is that the (alleged) contemporary name of the organisation was the British Occult Society, with its name changed to BPOS in 1982. However, the earliest public reference to the BOS was published in a Hampstead and Highgate Express article called "Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?" (27 February 1970), in which Sean Manchester is listed as its president (1). Manchester also published the first edition of his 1985 book, The Highgate Vampire, under its imprint.

By February 13, 1970, several other witnesses had written into the Ham & High to share their own supernatural sightings at the Cemetery. The most notable thing about these accounts was their lack of consistency: "Hardly two correspondents gave the same story." So what exactly was supposed to be haunting the Cemetery? How did spectral sightings get swept aside in favour of vampires?

It began when Manchester promoted his vampire theory in "Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?". What could've been a bizarre footnote in the Highgate Case was given credence by another person investigating the phenomena. On March 6, the Ham & High asked "Why Do the Foxes Die?". You might be surprised by the answer:
Tobacconist, Mr. David Farrant, 24, who first reported seeing the ghost last month, returned to the spot last weekend and discovered a dead fox.

“Several other foxes have also been found dead in the cemetery.” he said at his home in Priestwood Mansions, Archway Road, Highgate. “The odd thing is there was no outward sign of how they died.

“Much remains unexplained, but what I have recently learnt all points to the vampire theory being the most likely answer.

“Should this be so, I for one am prepared to pursue it, taking whatever means might be necessary so that we can all rest”(1).
This was far from the only time David jumped on board Manchester's vampire theory, latterly trying to maintain some kind of exclusivity over paranormal investigations at the Cemetery. For instance, here's what David had to say when discussing one of the earliest books to give coverage to the Highgate Vampire Case, Basil Copper's The Vampire: In Legend, Fact and Art (1973):
His chapter deals with my arrest in Highgate Cemetery in 1970 and goes on to detail our findings in that case.

Bonky [David's nickname for Sean Manchester -ed.] had not got around inventing his vampire fiction at this time and other people who were making all sorts of claims about that case were really regarded as ‘non-entities’.
As I've clearly demonstrated, not only were Manchester's "vampire fiction[s]" already in place as early as February 1970, but David subdued the nature of his own spectral sightings, just so he could hop along with Manchester's vampire theory! So much for integrity.

Indeed, David also failed to mention that Copper's chapter mainly concerned David's vampire hunting activities at the Cemetery! And why was David arrested (August 17) in the first place? Under the pretext of (wait for it) hunting vampires!

Let me clarify something here: I don't think it's illegal to hunt for vampires (in England, at least). However, that'd hinge on what you do to hunt 'em out. Considering the vandalism, corpse desecration and what not that'd been already happening in the Cemetery, largely fuelled by the vampire theory's popularity in the press (thanks to Sean and David), you can imagine what the police thought David intended to do when they found him armed with cross and stake at the Cemetery, especially after his vampire-hunting commentary to the press.

He was arrested for "being in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose" and gave a false name to police. However, the court could not establish that David had an intent to "damage coffins" and the Magistrate mentioned "the cemetery was not an enclosed area in the strict legal sense." He was let off, but not before arguing that looking for vampires was akin to "some people to spend[ing] vast sums of money trying to locate the Loch Ness Monster."

Phew! Talk about a close call! You probably think David gave up the vampire hunting charade by then, right? After all, he'd already been established in the press as a vampire hunter (helped along by his support for the vampire theory and posing with anti-vampire regalia) and even managed to get himself arrested. Surely, he learned his lesson and put the stakes and crosses behind him. Well, you'd think so, but no.

On October 15, 1970, about two weeks after the resolution of David's trial, he took part in an episode of a BBC current affairs program called 24 Hours. He performed a re-enactment of his investigative methods at the Cemetery, which played during his introduction. The following extracts are taken from Kevin Demant's transcript of the episode:
LAURENCE PICETHLY On August 17th, the former associate of Sean Manchester, Mr. Allan Farrant [David's local name -ed.], who used to own this Tobacconist Shop in Highgate, decided to pay a midnight visit to the cemetery to combat the vampire once and for all. At the cemetery, Farrant was forced to enter by the back wall (C/U of DF leaping into the cemetery), as he still does today. He armed himself with a cross and a stake and crouched between the tombstones, waiting. But that night, police on the prowl for vandals discovered him. He was charged with being in an enclosed space for an unlawful purpose but later the Clerkenwell Magistrate acquitted him.
Now, in spite of all attempts by the cemetery owners to bar him Farrant and his friends still maintain a regular vigil (of the ?)² catacombs in the hope of sighting either the vampire or the Satanists.
Yep, "armed himself with a cross and a stake". How does David justify this re-enactment for the cameras, if he claims he wasn't hunting for vampires at the time? A Supernatural World forum member named timelord asked him something along these lines, also touching on why David, a professed Wiccan at the time, would be wielding Christian implements against the undead. Here's how Dave responded:
Why did Perter [sic] Cushing walk around with Christian crosses;carry bottles of holy water and stakes, and make references to the bible? Because he was making films, that why! And why not? But I am sure in real life he did not beieve in vampires. That's the whole point that you seem to be missing:

When I was filmed by the BBC I was asked to bring props with me, including a 'stake'. Their film was based on all the fuss about 'vampires' that had already been reported in the press. If I did photo-shoots (at that tme) it was because the TV and the Press wanted that angle for their interviews.
Thing is, it wasn't a Hammer Films Production: it was a re-enactment for a news program. Nor was it the only time David posed with such regalia (the "photo-shoots" David mentioned).

Let's move onto the rest of the interview. Did David do or say anything that'd make it perfectly clear that he did not believe in vampires? Anything at all? No. Quite the opposite, in fact:
DAVID FARRANT We have been watching the cemetery since my court case ended and we still find (muffled)³

LAURENCE PICETHLY Have you seen this vampire ?

DAVID FARRANT I have seen it, yes. I saw it last February, and I saw it on two occasions.

LAURENCE PICETHLY What was it like ?

DAVID FARRANT It took the form of a tall, grey figure, about eight feet tall, and it seemed to glide off the path without making any noise.
Ok, so he's re-enacted one of his "investigations" on telly, didn't correct the reporter when asked about his sighting and...and...surely, he let it drop there, right? No more vampire associations after that. Must've dropped the act! Guess again.

On October 16, 1970 - the day after the BBC broadcast - Barrie Simmons' "Midnight Date with Highgate's Vampire" was published in the Evening News. The reporter was guided through the Cemetery by someone armed with a "cross made out of two bits of wood tied together with a shoelace and a stake to plunge through the heart of the beast," which he had in a "Sainsbury's carrier bag".

Who was that "someone"? Yep, our Dave. At it again. So what does David have to say for himself, this time? After all, it's pretty obvious that if he didn't believe in vampires, he was certainly going out of his way to convince the public that he did. Unfortunately, rather than 'fess up to his dodgy shenanigans at the expense of his own credibility, he blames other people for twisting the original spectral reports into a vampire. It was the Press that coined the term in association with himself!
Quite apart from this, it was other people who turned the original entity or ‘ghost’ into a ‘vampire’. The Press originally coined this term in connection with myself (the article in the London Evening News dated October 15 was headlined “Midnight Vigil for the Highgate Vampire”) so is it any wonder that I should use this term for the enlightened masses as a point of reference? It is tantamount to me making a statement about the Loch Ness Monster and referring to it as such. It would be a statement for point of reference only. Not an admission that I believed ‘Nessi’ really was a ‘monster’! (In fact, I do not personally believe this to be the case).
It'd be laughable if he didn't actually expect his readers to swallow that garbage hook, line and sinker. Also, as we've seen, David's vampire connection began as early as March 1970 - and only because he directly engaged it, himself.

As if his historical revisionism, buck-passing and shiftiness wasn't risible in its own right, the remainder of his comment has this to say about people who question his contemporary claims and actions to the media, in contrast with his current ones. Yep, you guessed it: it's their fault!
For somebody to select this line (not yourself personally admittedly) and now try and use it as ‘evidence’ that I believe in real vampires, perhaps shows the limits of this person’s mentality ; and, to be honest with you, it does not say much for the mentality of people believing such staged propaganda!
Staged propaganda, indeed! Always someone else's fault! When will he ever take personal responsibility for his own actions? Well, folks, I'm happy to report that he...kinda has. At last.

In one of his latest postings on The Supernatural World forum, he had this to say, in responding to another forum member asking him if he had any regrets about the handling of his investigations into satanic graveyard desecrations at Highgate:
The worst I did was to go along with another person's innane wild assertions about a 'blood-sucking vampire', but again, this was only because this was the 'angle' the Press and television wanted at the time - 'vampires' apparently selling more newspapers or attracting more interested audiences for TV. Even today, aome of those film clips of myself 'hunting a vampire' are still being shown or repeated. Do I regret this? NO. Because this is the way it happened. I can't change the past, but ironically there are people who would like to try and do so.
It's a shame he had to taint his confession with more attacks on other people. This habit reoccurs so often in his writings, I'm starting to wonder whether he deploys psychological projection, "a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies their own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings."

This could be a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, in which persons "can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of others' needs and of the effects of their behavior on others, and insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen." That'd explain his contradictory stance on freedom of speech.

When forum member, Cú Chulainn, casually mentioned, "Yes, David's claims should be scrutinised and questioned. After all, what would be the point of an open forum? But then so should those of the Manchester camp." David responded without irony:
I don't quite follow that. Surely recalling an event - or events - from the past is not making a claim. Its called memory. You speak like the James Randi lot when you start asking for proof of claims. There are some things that just can't be 'proved' - like the existence of God for example.
Yes, despite over forty years in the field, he can't grasp the concept of scrutiny and questioning his claims. On a public forum. Sheesh.

Incidentally, the "James Randi lot" refers to the members of the James Randi Educational Foundation Forum, which is inhabited by überskeptics of the paranormal. He was a former poster there (and conversation topic), frequently asked for evidence of his supernatural claims, none of which, he could provide.

Yet, at the same time, he expects Manchester and his ilk to provide "modern scientific evidence" to prove the existence of vampires. Once again, he's unaware of the irony:
I have also pointed out that there is no modern scientific evidence to support the existence of such fictitious beins - indeed challenged anybody to produce such evidence here. I very much doubt that anyone will be able to do so. Why? Because such evidence simply does not exist.
As I pointed out (repeatedly) on the James Randi Forum a few years ago; it is not possible to prove - or disprove - the existence of 'non-matter' or spirit. you can't put consciousness in a test tube to analyse it. It is invisible to human perception for one thing.
But I did NOT mean that an inability to 'prove' such things should give a 'free licence' for assuming that other supernatural absurdities, such as 'vampires', might exist. They do not, and never have done! With respect, the psychic and spiritual have always been a part of the human psyche - 'provable' or not - but to attempt to extend thid to 'vampires' or little green men from Mars, is really taking it from one extreme to the other!
And so David's love/hate relationship with vampires continues. On one hand, he's spent years denying their existence, on the other they serve as a signpost to his career. They've wend their way into his life to such an extent (largely through his co-operation), he even named his multi-volume autobiography, In the Shadow of the Highgate Vampire. Talk about a one-hit wonder! All because of a few publicity stunts at the Cemetery.

Speaking of which, he recently published an extract from his book on the forum. It concerns a legendary duel between David and Manchester. The passage serves as an expose of Manchester's own (alleged) publicity-seeking activities, but includes this self-defeating chestnut:
As a result of seeing these posters [advertising the proposed duel -ed.], I was approached by Adrian Roxan, a reporter from the North London Hornsey Journal. He had already been in contact with Manchester who had confirmed that the duel was to go ahead, and Roxan said he wanted to hear my side of the story. He also asked if I would mind being photographed holding a sword. I agreed to talk to him, but said that I didn’t have a sword, but that if he brought one with him next time, I would agree to be photographed [my emphasis -ed.].
David goes on to say that the article ("'Death Duel' May Settle Feud", Hornsey Journal, 28 July 1978) confirmed the duel in question. It never did take place, of course, but it's a fine example of how desperate Dave was for publicity - any kind - despite criticising his rival's aptitude for "obsessive publicity seeking ventures".

Turns out birds of a feather do flock together, after all.

¹ Quoted in Bill Ellis, "The Highgate Vampire Cemetery Vampire Hunt: The Anglo-American Connection in Satanic Cult Lore", Folklore, vol. 104, no. 1-2, p. 21.

² "around the", according to Holy Grail Church's "The 1970 television interviews with David Farrant".

³ "signs of their ceremonies", ibid.

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