Hello everyone, Della here – am guest blogging tonight but hopefully I can entertain you all as well as the Supreme Leader himself!
We attended a very interesting lecture tonight, at the Last Tuesday Society in Hackney. The talk was led by Mark Pilkington, who has interviewed David in the past for his Strange Attractor radio show. Mark has an extensive knowledge of the Highgate case, and is particularly interested in its role in the social history of the 1960s and 1970s. The event was billed as a cinematic survey of the film industry’s use of Highgate Cemetery, and it did not disappoint!
An author friend kindly drove us down to Hackney in the stifling summer heat, and we were very impressed with the venue. If you haven’t been to the Last Tuesday Society before I really recommend that you do; not only is the space visually stimulating (and seemingly air conditioned!) but the management and clientele are most friendly, hospitable and engaging. And check out the graphics on the website! Exquisite. Anyway, once we had made our way through the taxidermied bats and vases of Victorian glass eyes, we settled down in the auditorium for Mark’s talk, which began with an introduction to 1960s London’s fascination with the macabre.
I must admit I was quite delighted that Mark had tracked down some old north London news reports about the vampire scare which even we don’t (or didn’t!) have copies of. The selection of film clips was excellent, including a nearly destroyed remnant of Browing’s ‘London After Midnight’ starring Lon Chaney. We were also treated to a lot of contextualized Hammer excerpts and the astonishingly bad and yet weirdly compelling ‘The Body Beneath’, as well as a rare mondo clip which attempted to reconstruct the crucifixion of Joseph DeHavilland on Hampstead Heath on July 25th 1968 (Vittorio De Sisti’s Naked England (Inghilterra Nuda) released in 1969).
That bit wasn’t funny, it was quite horrific. But the greatest hilarity came upon us when the BBC 24 Hours news item upon the Highgate ‘vampire’ was screened, which instantly rendered the audience in fits of sillyitis – especially the closing sequence, the similarity of said clip to the clips we had just watched of hammed up horror films being lost on no one. What the audience didn’t know however was that David Farrant himself, who was also featured in the broadcast, was in the audience among them. Indeed, David found himself partaking in an impromptu questions and answers session when everyone had regained their composure.
I was glad that the lecture included a clip from Luigi Scattini’s ‘Angeli Bianchi, Angeli Nera’, as I have been musing over that sequence for some time. More can be read about the director (RIP) and how the occult troubles at Highgate Cemetery inspired his film here: http://luigiscattini.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/angeli-bianchi-angeli-neri-1969/ My apologies for readers who are not fluent in Italian! However, you can view the clip which was screened, with English audio below. Although slightly higher resolution versions are available online (sorry Jason!) I am providing this link because it will save readers watching the excruciating intro to the film itself.
Anyone who is interested in the ‘craze’ for desecrating graveyards and churches throughout the 1960s and 1970s (documented by Bill Ellis in his excellent work from 2000, Raising The Devil), will be aware of the necromantic rites which were carried out at Tottenham Park Cemetery on the night of Hallowe’en 1968. It was on this night that bodies were dug up and staked, and circles of flowers left in situ, with extraneous trails of flowers leading to fresh graves. The picture below was taken the morning after the events, and was part of the police documentation of the crime scene.
What is especially interesting about the evidence is the strong indication that whatever went on that night was not the work of people who had seen too many vampire films, but of people enacting traditional necromantic rites regardless of what Hammer double bill was showing at the Essoldo that week. For example, the upending of one of the violated coffins is potentially indicative of a concerted attempt to pose the corpse in a manner which would enable a necromancer to gain communion with its previous inhabitant. The staking of the corpse is also telling in ways that are so commonly glossed over.
We are all familiar with the endless recountings of thrillseeking teenagers (and some grown up oddballs) driving stakes into dessicated corpses in Highgate Cemetery. But the use of stakes in necromancy has a very different – although related – context: that of finalising contact with the spirit of the body which has been used in ritual. It is a common misnomer that the staking of corpses in Highgate began as a result of the media coverage of the Highgate ‘vampire’ flap. It is certainly true that irresponsible advice given on TV and in the local press during 1970 about how best to dispatch a vampire encouraged this revolting behaviour on a grander scale than ever before, and by people who previously would probably never have considered doing so. However it is true that on a small scale this was already happening prior to 1970.
An all too familiar crime scene is ‘caught on film’ in Scattini’s documentary, this time the location being Highgate Cemetery. We see a police car parked within the semi-circle of the Colonnade, a frightened witness being interviewed by DCs and uniformed police, and most significantly a circle of flowers, with a line extending from said circle to a recently opened grave. Presumably the detaining of the witness at the fresh crime scene indicates – although this is not made visually explicit – that a body was involved in the incident.
At first I wondered if the film crew had spliced in footage of the Tottenham Park carnage, but on close inspection the trees and paths do indicate that we are indeed viewing footage shot in Highgate Cemetery. Various European releases of the film show sequences obviously shot earlier, at dawn, and are a must for the morbid aficionado. Titled ‘Witchcraft 1970’ for its mainstream release, Scattini’s film was actually filmed in the first half of 1969, which would place the Highgate sequence at around Imbolc of that year, as indicated by the visible breath of the policemen. Were both outrages committed by the same people? We will probably never know. But the filmic record certainly contrasts sharply with the assertation of BBC reporter Laurence Picethly who, representing the official views of Highgate Cemetery staff during the infamous BBC 24 Hours broadcast of 15 October 1970, stated ‘In all their years here no grave-digger has ever seen a […] black magic circle’. Is a circle of flowers in a rundown cemetery in 1969, allegedly recorded by the police as having been made, the same thing as a black magic circle? If it is accompanied with evidence of the practice of necromancy I would say yes.
As to how the film crew knew to be there at dawn, and were allowed to film with the permission of the police, perhaps that is an even bigger question. For who could alert a film crew to be ready with charged camera batteries, boomsticks, a producer and director unless they knew the desecration would occur? And those police uniforms and indeed the police car do not look like they were hired from a fancy dress shop to me. You can read more of my conjectures about the pre-Operation Countryman conduct of the Met Police, including my speculations about the more venal motivations for the aggressive conviction of David Farrant for desecration at Highgate Cemetery here: https://davidfarrant.org/david-farrant-out-of-the-shadows-full-introduction/
But lest I go all Dan Brown, I best finish up.
At the end of the talk I took a few pictures of Mark and David, which you can see above. The heat had just about dropped by then, but regardless of that a good time was had by all. And I would like to say thanks to Mark and the Last Tuesday Society for a really interesting evening!