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Thursday, April 16, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER ALAN FRISWELL: The Great Highgate Cover-Up

Alan first came to my notice when he turned up at our stall at last November's Unconvention. He was clutching a box that had once held a plastic Christmas Tree. He thrust it at me, and said "Here's your mermaid".

I vaguely remembered Richard F having said that one of his mates had offered to make us a feegee mermaid, but I had forgotten all about it. Sad to say, so many people offer to do stuff for us, and then fail to deliver, that I had got into the habit of treating all such offers cum grano salis, but the advent of Alan shows that I should not be such a cynical old sod. Now he has become a guest blogger..

In a small, but temporary diversion from the Scary Spider Stories, I would, if I may, after reading Neil Arnold’s fascinating blog detailing some of the history of the Highgate vampire, like to add my own small chapter to the legend.

Now I love a good vampire--I’m sure we all do--and I’ve always had a special interest in the Highgate story in particular, principally because it is--comparatively speaking at least--just down the road from me. Around 1970, it seemed to be in the news practically every other day, and was a regular topic for discussion on the Thames TV Today programme, which was an early evening current affairs/news magazine show that was broadcast on weekdays from 6.00 to 6.30 during the 1970’s.

Possibly the Today programme’s finest hour was the highly entertaining stand-off between presenter Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols on 1st December 1976, in which the Pistols, after allegedly having numerous high-octane lagers and several bottles of Blue Nun fired into them in
the green room by enthusiastic Today programme PR people, had gone on to categorize Grundy as: “A f*****g rotter!”, and as “A dirty f***er! “ Grundy’s opinions as to the validity of these claims was never fully disseminated, as he was promptly sacked for egging the Pistols on.

But I digress.

Back in 1970, the Today programme had reported several incidents of witnesses describing strange apparitions flitting about the tombstones of Highgate, and staring at people toothily through the cemetery gates. On one particular evening, the presenter, Eamonn Andrews, promised that on the following day, the Today programme would reveal the true identity of the bloodsucking creature, and finally lay the legend to rest.

This was intriguing news, to say the least; and by the next day-- Friday I believe--the viewing figures had probably doubled.

So at 6.00, the programme started, and after the opening titles, the camera tracked in to a fairly low-rent mock-up of a Hammer horror film set, with the requisite dry ice and cobwebs. In the centre of the scene, which looked like an old dungeon, stood a large bench, upon which lay a coffin with an open lid.

From the shadows emerged a figure dressed in black, and as it moved to centre stage, so to speak, it was revealed as an actor who had obviously made a game attempt to assume the appearance of a vampire, but was suffering somewhat severely from the attentions of an over-
zealous make-up artiste who, prior to this particular assignment, had presumably not known Max Shreck from Max Bygraves. The unfortunate thespian had been caked in thick, white greasepaint and his mouth smeared with crimson-red lipstick. A bizarre black wig, which one can
only assume was to give him the ‘Christopher Lee look’, had instead the appearance of a dead cat that had been sewn on to his head. Far from achieving the pallor of the eternal undead, the poor bugger looked like a transvestite that needed a blood transfusion.

This ‘vampire’ reached into the coffin, retrieving a severed head from which it appeared to suck blood with all the enthusiasm of an amateur dramatics player after a few sherries, at which point the lights came up to herald the arrival of Eamonn Andrews.

Eamonn congratulated the player on his ‘performance’, and broke the startling news that the Highgate vampire, was in fact none other than this very actor, who had been filming a horror movie in the cemetery, and had then been ‘sighted’ by various members of the public who had
inadvertently concluded that they were seeing some supernatural creature.

So that’s all, folks, said Eamonn; there was no Highgate vampire, it was just some people making a horror film. Problem solved, right? So now we can all forget about it.

Oh yeah? Cobblers.

The truth, is that there was no horror movie--or any movie for that matter--being made in Highgate at that time. Hammer films had actually been in there to film scenes for Taste The Blood Of Dracula, which did star Christopher Lee, but that was in 1968. Amicus films shot some
tombs and mausoleums for the title sequences for Tales From The Crypt and Beyond The Grave in 1972 and ‘73 respectively, but in 1970 the only horror movie that had filmed in Highgate was the low-budget/underground Andy Milligan project The Body Beneath, which to be fair, was indeed a vampire film, but had been shot earlier in the year, and then in the daytime with a bunch of ‘actors’ that were dressed as hippies, not vampires. The relevant point about Milligan’s film, is that they had been denied permission from the local authorities to film in Highgate, so they jumped over the wall and filmed while no one was looking. It would therefore seem very unlikely that they would admit to such a misdemeanour on national television, as their trespassing would have almost certainly resulted in legal action, and subsequent arrests.

And even if a movie had been in production, any ‘vampire’ actor would have been surrounded by lights, cameramen, electricians, wardrobe and make-up people, catering vans, extras and assorted producers and directors, screaming things like: “Action!”, and: “Cut!”, and: “Are we in time for last orders?”, all of whom would surely have tended to give the game away somewhat.

So what was going on? Eamonn Andrews comes on the Today show and tells a blatant lie about a ‘film’ that doesn’t exist. Why?

It would seem to appear, that Thames TV, and the Today programme in particular, were complicit in a fairly elaborate hoax to explain away the Highgate ‘flap’, by staging a fake vampire film story for some unknown purpose.

There can realistically be only two possible explanations.

Firstly, the local police were becoming increasingly concerned about the attention that Highgate cemetery was attracting from ‘vampire enthusiasts’, and rather more sinister individuals who were damaging graves and mausoleums in black mass ceremonies. In the late 1960’s, vandalised graves were a routine problem. After an edition of the Today programme was broadcast on Friday 13th 1970, in which details of the ‘vampire’ case were given, the graveyard was invaded by an army of wannabe Van Helsings, in numbers that overwhelmed the police who tried to contain them.

The residents of the Highgate area are, generally speaking, what can best be described as ‘posh’, and these well-heeled inhabitants of Highgate Hill were being perhaps understandably perturbed by gangs of vampire killers, Satanists, New Age disciples and assorted hippies, freaks and weirdos descending upon their oasis of upper-class tranquillity. This situation would have undoubtedly resulted in words being exchanged in local office as to a means to resolving the problem.

It’s also true that media people have traditionally lived in the Highgate area, and there is of course, a chance that one or two of the Thames TV higher echelon might have lived near the cemetery, and had their peace and quiet disturbed by prototype Buffys invading their back gardens with hawthorn stakes and Double Diamond bottles filled with Holy Wter

These factors might just have ‘convinced’ Thames TV to create a fake story in order to drive a stake through the heart of the Highgate myth, and hopefully, kill the whole thing off.

Which brings us to possibility number two.

As Neil Arnold describes in his blog, there are still sightings of strange, seemingly supernatural entities in Highgate cemetery to this day. In an age when the local constabulary would surely hope that the most terrifying creature to be found lurking among the hedgerows in the Highgate area would perhaps be George Michael, this must be disturbing news.

A real vampire in Highgate? Could it be possible? Yes, I know it sounds nonsensical, but the last time I looked, this was the CFZ site wasn’t it? Zooform phenomena and all that? And from a purely Fortean point of view, just as we cannot confirm any given putative phenomena without unequivocal proof, the same must work conversely, in that however unlikely something might be, unless there is rock-solid evidence to confirm that it ain’t so, then it might be so.

I’m not an expert on evil spirits, or discarnate shades from the land of darkness, but I do know enough about quantum physics to understand that ‘reality’ as we perceive it, might be rather more complex than we would like to believe, and that life--or life-forms that might conceivably exist outside of our normal capabilities of perception-- even bloodsucking life-forms--are by no means out of the question--or if they are, lets see someone come along and prove it.

I don’t believe for a moment that someone said all this to Eamonn Andrews, but if Thames TV were indeed ‘advised’ to stage a fake explanation for the Highgate vampire, it might have been motivated by possibly more sinister reasons than simply diverting a bunch of dole-queue hippies from vandalising graves.

I’m not saying that I believe in vampires, but I’m not saying that I don’t believe in them either. And if there were such creatures, surely Highgate cemetery would be the ideal place for them to hang out.

In any truly comprehensive examination of crypto-phenomena--which I think vampires would fall under--an objective approach is surely the only way. So in the case of the Highgate vampire, let’s keep our minds open, and perhaps our garlic handy…..

2 comments:

Neil A said...

When people believe in things enough...they start to happen. Two individuals were involved in the Highgate case, and their squabbles certainly overshadowed the mystery of the vampire. Even if this 'creature' was nothing more than the local resident ghost, some 'thing' in that cemetery was capable of draining energy from passers by. I've uncovered a lot of weirdness from the time, and to the present, and it remains a wonderfully atmospheric case. The cemetery is the ideal place for such a legend, and what makes it even more strange is the fact the Friends of Highgate Cemetery really don't like any talk of it. However, the case at the time, was indicitavie of similar hysterias and panics, from the Halifax Slasher, to the Gasser of Matoon and Spring-Heeled Jack.

Richard Freeman said...

A cracking post. Any chance of gathering these anecdotes togeher in a book?