An Interview With Rev Lionel Fanthorpe
A few years ago I was captivated by a talk given by Rev Lionel Fanthorpe at the first Muncaster Paranormal Conference and having been a fan of his since the days he presented Fortean TV in the mid 1990’s, I was disappointed that I missed the opportunity to speak to him. Therefore I was delighted when he agreed to give an exclusive interview for Mysterious Britain & Ireland.
You are the President of BUFORA (British UFO Research Association) and also the President of ASSAP (the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena) with of course Patricia being the First Lady, but when and how did you first become involved with these organisations?
When we were making the Fortean TV series for Channel 4, we were frequently invited to lecture at Unconvention, and when we there we met Phil Walton who was then the Chairman of ASSAP. He and other ASSAP Officers invited us to be President and First Lady, which we considered a great honour and were delighted to accept.
Our BUFORA connection came via Lionel Beer who used to invite us over to their meetings near London, which we found very interesting and informative. They also did us the honour of asking if I would be their President, and again I was more than happy to accept.
We have been interested in all kinds of weird, strange, enigmatic and paranormal mysteries for over forty years. In fact, when we lived in East Anglia I was lecturing for Cambridge University’s E-M Board on a Course entitled “The Psychology and Sociology of Unexplained Phenomena”.
You probably first came to my attention when you presented Fortean TV (1997-1998), which I must add, I thoroughly enjoyed. Was it as much fun as it looked on screen?
So glad that you enjoyed Fortean TV. We loved doing it. Patricia was in it too although heavily disguised in various episodes as King Kong and the Ogopogo Lake Monster! It was just as much fun to make as it was when it appeared. Our Director and Producer found the oddest places to do the on-site shots!
I didn’t realise that you did a similar format of investigation and then sang about it on the television back in the 1950’s. How did this compare to working in television in the late 1990’s ?
The two were very different. Fortean TV went everywhere and specialised in shooting in strange locations. BBC TV and Anglia TV in the fifties were all in studio pieces and were in the format of me telling viewers about a mystery and then doing the song that I had written to go with it. One short example was the Phantom Coach that supposedly raced across Norfolk with its headless horses driven by an equally headless coachman carrying headless passengers. One verse went like this:–
The phantom coach it rolls by night
From Yarmouth to King’s Lynn.
The headless coachman sits above
The headless men within.
Why do they roll across the years
And through the endless dark?
The dead men in their phantom coach
That never leaves a mark!
(c) Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe 1958
Given the success of subsequent paranormal based programmes such as “Most Haunted”, do you think there’s a market for the return of “Fortean TV”?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! If anyone wants a new series, I am ready, willing and eager to present it for them — and to write a new series of songs! Any producers and directors out there — please give me a call!
[img_assist|nid=2539|title=|desc=|link=popup|align=right|width=200|height=195]How long have you been interested in paranormal subjects and what first got you hooked?
When I was a schoolboy at Hamond’s in Swaffham, Norfolk, I found some marvellous books in the School Library: H.G.Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Hugo Gernsbach and others. From reading the fictional paranormal, I started wondering whether equally intriguing mysteries existed in what we laughingly think of as “reality”. From that I decided to investigate for myself — and forty plus years on I’m still just as intrigued by it all. We live in a very strange universe. A great thinker once wrote: “The Universe is not only stranger than we think — it is stranger than we are able to think!” I believe he was right. The more we investigate the more we know that we don’t know!!!
How would you describe your approach to the paranormal and has this changed over the years?
I am basically an objective, scientific researcher. At least I try to be! I want to find out the real facts. I also go along with Charles Forte in his basic belief that nothing is so firmly established that it is unquestionable and nothing is so ridiculous and fantastic that it isn’t worth investigating. Rigid fundamentalists and traditionalists in both science and religion are the biggest obstacles to progress.
Which mysteries/cases in the British Isles and Ireland intrigue you the most and why?
The Green Children of Woolpit in Suffolk is one of the most intriguing mysteries in the UK. It was faithfully recorded by Ralph, the Abbot of Coggeshall. In essence a mysterious green boy and girl appeared in the village. Who were they and where did they come from? There has never been a satisfactory explanation. I am also intrigued because the girl reportedly lost her strange green colouring and married a man from King’s Lynn — which is where my great-grandfather, Henry, came from!
Another mystery that intrigues us both is the story of the treasure chest allegedly found in Callow Pit in Norfolk. During the Middle Ages, two friends almost retrieved it but what was described as “the spirit of the pit” tore it from them, leaving only the handle in their hands. For many years that handle was on the church door at Southwood. What really happened? Is there still a treasure chest in the depth of Callow Pit?
Which mysteries/cases from around the world have intrigued you the most and why?
We were among the pioneer investigators at Rennes-le-Château as far back as 1975 when I was lecturing for Cambridge E-M Board. The mystery of Bérenger Saunierè’s inexplicable wealth has never been satisfactorily solved and we are still closely involved with the Bloodline Team and their investigations near Rennes. We shall be lecturing on it at Esoterikon in Washington DC July 3rd and 4th. Full details of Esoterikon are on the Internet. The Rennes mystery has not yet been satisfactorily resolved, but it is one of the most interesting enigmas of all time.
The Money Pit on Oak Island Nova Scotia is another conundrum that still remains unsolved. Some time before 1795, when young Smith, Vaughan and McGinnis rediscovered the mysterious shaft, someone had built an amazing flood system to guard something thirty metres and more below Oak Island. Was it there to guard a treasure? To protect an important corpse? Or to keep something unspeakably dangerous in? Work is still going on there, and we would love to be part of today’s Oak Island team.
After studying mysteries for as long as you have, you must have come across many investigation techniques being adopted and abandoned. How do you see the future of paranormal research developing, and what areas of research are you keeping an eye on?
As science and technology progress exponentially in our remarkable 21st century, the possibilities opened up by new electronic equipment are fascinating. Avant garde physicists are already talking about parallel universes and probability tracks that may well run alongside the experiential universe in which we think we live our “real” lives – whatever “reality” is. To be able to move between these tracks – to visit what are well described as “the worlds of if” — would be a truly intriguing area of paranormal research.
I have been told that you have written over 250 books which is a phenomenal amount. Most of these were written when you worked for Badger Books, how did you manage to write so many and which are your favourites?
I sold the first short story to Badgers in 1952. It was called “Worlds Without End” and dealt with the question of whether the Universe was finite or infinite. The Badger bubble more or less dissolved in the 1960s, but we greatly enjoyed turning out vast numbers of horror, fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories for them. When they finally ceased publishing, all rights reverted to us. Of all the fiction we have written, our absolute all time favourite is “The Black Lion” – it’s a sword and sorcery adventure. Actually, it’s the first of the Derl Wothor trilogy – we will get the other two finished one day!
The basic production technique was for me to dictate the stories on an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. A bank of audio-typists (family and friends including Patricia and my late Mother) then typed the manuscripts for me. I was working full time as well: first as a journalist, then as a teacher.
You have an image of being a leather clad, rock, biking vicar and as a lot of my friends are bikers, I have to ask what you currently ride and what is your favourite bike?
I was a biker way back in 1952 even before I became a car driver. I have ridden Ariels, BSAs and Nortons over the years. I had a Harley Glide for about twelve years, but she failed her MOT very expensively about three years ago, and the dealer offered me a new 800 Sportster in part-exchange, saying that they would repair the Glide to MOT standard and sell it. The Sportster’s a nice little bike – but I’m into big bikes. I traded it in with a dealer friend in Cardiff for a big Kawasaki 1500 twin Drifter – which I am riding currently. I find it absolutely superb. It’s a dream to handle. I am currently President of Jumbo GB (the bikers’ charity that helps children with special needs plus their families and carers). We are always looking for additional members – biker brothers and sisters, please look up Jumbo GB on the Internet. I am also Chaplain to the Blue Knights (the police bikers’ club) Wales Chapter One.
Are you currently working on any projects you can tell us about?
Hoping to do some more filming about mysteries for the Enigma Channel at Bezier in France, and Patricia and I are working on two mystery books for Dundurn (our current regular publishers in Toronto). I teach at Cardiff Academy where I am the Director of Media Studies, and I tutor a lot of private students from post-graduate level downwards.
For more information about Rev Lionel Fanthorpe please visit his website here.