Ghost Hunters: Tales from Dartmoor

There really is a very high Guff Rating to this episode. And again it’s such a shame. Because we get the impression that something may really have been happening at the house at the beginning of the programme. I mean perhaps it wasn’t anything paranormal. Perhaps it was family troubles expected in a household with teenage children where the father has seen his business lately go down the pan. Or bad plumbing. Or perhaps it was something genuinely weird. But investigating where such weirdness might originate (it’s focused on Richard’s room – could it even be Richard, poltergeist style? Has he even spoken to a doctor about having feelings that Something was telling him to Do Things? That would be the place to start maybe.) But no. We go down the familiar route of getting in a Psychic. And they go down the familiar road of shouting in weird voices and sending spirits towards the light. The funniest bit is where the Entity’s mother turns up for him. For pity’s sake. But the family don’t know what’s hit them. In fact after the psychic showdown they just sit there in shock. Like you would. Still, as the narrator explains, things are better now. And maybe that’s enough isn’t it, the problem is solved. But is the end truly worth the means?

The second half employs John The Psychic again. And he puts on a truly Acorah-like performance at Jay’s Grave, regaling us with information that any child in Dartmoor knows. Don’t even get me started on the “local historian” who can’t tell the difference between folklore and fact. Anyway, things get fractionally more interesting when he and a ‘psychic artist’ allegedly both come up with the presence of a Reverend in a local house. If we’re very generous (going on John’s previous showing) and assume the two of them truly did access some information about a man who once frequented the place, ever so occasionally – this does still not go any way to explaining where that information came from. The thing is, Jane and Brian Harper, who live in the house, seem to know full well already of the man’s existence. Is it then not possible (keep assuming the information is not widely available) that it could be telepathy rather than Spirits that provides the information. But besides. What house wouldn’t get visited occasionally by the vicar in those days. It’s not like any name was provided. This could have been discussed by the Narrator. But I suppose I have to remember this is just Entertainment. I shouldn’t let it wind me up so.

Narrator: One of the most extraordinary findings from our researches for these programmes is that the so-called paranormal is far more normal than is commonly believed. Go to any town or village, almost walk down any road or street, and you will come across stories of extraordinary events that are difficult to explain away on any rational or scientific basis. In this programme we tell two strange stories that come from Devon, from villages on the southern edge of Dartmoor. The Allen family live in the village of Heathfield Down, and are just about as typical a family as you are likely to meet anywhere in England. Ricky, the father, is in his early 50s. He’s served in the armed forces. His business ran into trouble in the recession and he now runs a minicab service. Jackie his wife is a highly qualified surgical nurse. She spends her days in the operating theatre at the local hospital. Suzanne the daughter is 21 years old, and Richard, the son, is 20. The first indication that something was not quite right was a strange sense of dread and foreboding in Richard’s bedroom.

Richard: It was very strange feelings I had inside myself. The.. the ghost actually felt like it was.. I don’t know, it was telling me to do things or, trying to, but, it was all very confusing really.

Suzanne: There was, erm, not arguments but it was fraught. Richard especially was always in strange moods. He would get in really bad moods for no reason, and things like that. And you didn’t feel happy wandering about the house – or I didn’t feel happy wandering about the house, at night.

Narrator: At first the family were scarcely able to admit to themselves that anything was radically wrong. The strange events and disturbing feelings continued unabated, growing more unnerving all the time.

Jackie: And then there used to be this smell of – it’s like you have a candle, and you blow it out – it’s like that instant smell afterwards that you get.  And it used to be up the top of the stairs, on the stairs, in this room. Not all the time, but when it come, it was strong.

Suzanne: My tv used to turn on and off, and over channels quite a lot, it used to just – I mean the remote control used to be on the floor. There was just no reason, nobody was using the telly downstairs. We tried the remotes in the other rooms to see if it would switch channels in other rooms, but it didn’t. Erm, so that was another thing. Also when we first moved in, the toilet chain used to flush for no reason. Erm. We actually had the whole bathroom taken out and put back in when it was refurbished, and obviously everything was new. It used to be an old chain flush that you pulled down. It’s all new but it still used to happen, the chain would still go. Especially at night when you were settled down to sleep.

Narrator: So desperate had the situation become that Brenda, a neighbour interested in spiritual affairs, was asked if she could perceive anything wrong in the house.

Brenda: There was something definitely wrong in this room. In fact it was such a powerful thing that I could hardly stand up. Erm. I tried backing out of the room, which was very difficult, to get down the stairs. So I had to sit on the stairs because the power was too much for me.

John Parker, Psychic Medium: I had a phone call from Brenda to say that this house was very very cold, and there was a lot of bad vibration. The family itself, the atmosphere amongst the family had changed. I rung Helen, who was my friend, we worked together, and arranged to come out.

Narrator: John Parker’s day job is bricklaying. In the evenings, at night, he operates a psychic rescue service for people in distress. He claims that his caseload runs into the thousands. Helen is described as a trans-medium. As John explains it, entities or spirits they encounter would enter Helen’s body so that John can talk to them and try to convince them to move onto the next world. Helen however didn’t want to be filmed.

Rick: As they walked into the door, Helen walked straight upstairs where she felt she ought to go, and John came into the living room here. And Helen came down a few minutes later and she said yes, there’s definitely an entity up there that shouldn’t be there.

Jackie: And she said, John we’ve basically got to do this tonight, and now.

Brenda: We were all sitting round with our arms folded across our solar plexus. This was so that the entity didn’t jump into anybody else. We’re also not supposed to speak, for the same reason.

Suzanne: Erm, Helen sat down and went into a trance, and she just breathed very deeply. John then, after a while, started to talk to Helen. The voice come through first of all was another lady who puts the spirit into Helen’s body. And she said she was ready to begin.

Richard: And it didn’t actually like strike me that it was actually real until the lady, er the lady’s voice like totally changed. And it was like a deep masculine voice coming out of this lady. And the ghost was speaking through this lady, saying like Ah, ah I wanted to kill him, and things, and that like freaked me out a bit.

Narrator: According to John Parker’s explanation afterwards, the spirit was a long dead person called Phillip. He lived on the land where the house now stands. He was a practitioner of black magic. As part of one of his rituals he had murdered his best friend, and now seemed unable to escape from the location.

Suzanne: And Phillip come in and he was really angry at first, he started swearing at us and all sorts of things. It was as if he could use modern day language but he couldn’t understand it. Erm John called him ‘Babe’ a couple of times and he kept saying ‘I don’t understand Babe, I don’t understand Babe,’ and yet he could swear at us in modern day language.

Rick: The conversation between John and the entity, as I said was aggressive, and the point of that was that the entity didn’t want to leave. He was enjoying himself, he was getting up to mischief and generally creating havoc. And John’s point to him was that he should go because of the havoc he’s causing, and that he cannot advance himself or grow unless he actually moves on. It was his time to go, he shouldn’t be here, it wasn’ t his place.

Suzanne: He tried to get up, or to get Helen to get up out the chair several times. John kept telling him to sit down again. But John said he couldn’t actually get out of the chair, but he was trying because he was just trying to escape.

Brenda: There was one time when I felt quite afraid, and that was when the entity jumped out of the body of Helen the medium, because nobody knew where the entity was actually headed for. So I think at that point everybody felt a bit scared.

Suzanne: Erm, John said you’ve been taunting Richard, you’ve been doing wicked things. And he said ‘yes’. And he said ‘Why?’  - It was all for power and control and he wanted to kill people still even though he was dead.

Jackie: Erm, and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and John got a bit angry at times because of the swearing the entity was doing. And basically it come down to it that it was actually a friend of his that he could actually see in the light, that actually talked the entity into going with him, from the light. Plus his mum was there as well for him to go to.

Suzanne: We all sat there very quietly for a while and just sat in shock, I think. Although things had happened before it was a great shock to hear it and see it in front of your eyes. It’s not the sort of thing you believe until you see. Erm, we sat there for a long long time, all of us! And sort of slowly, gradually, like you come round from a sleep, we began to talk.

John: I actually in terms of speaking about it, I broke him. I broke the mind so that he would accept what he done, he done. The minute you got to that stage, the mental attitude of the spirit changed. And he became like an ordinary human being. All you have to do is to convince the person, the entity itself, that it is not of this world. Once you can do that, it’s a simple matter then of bringing someone in, and both of them going together. And it’s as simple as that.

Narrator: In John’s explanation, the murdered friend returned and there was a reconciliation. They moved off together into the light – that is always the phrase that is used. The point is, whether or not you choose to accept John’s explanation, it is undeniable something happened in the house that evening that transformed the atmosphere there.

Richard: Since it’s all happened, and John and the lady Helen is gone, and the ghost has been sent forward and whathaveyou, I haven’t actually sensed any weird or different smells or any strange happenings. I’ve been a lot lot happier in myself. And my whole attitude’s changed a lot really. There’s no more flushing of the loo in the middle of the night or anything like that really.

Suzanne: We don’t get smells any more. Richard’s moods are better! [laughs] and things are a lot happier. I can wander about the house at night and go up and downstairs without worrying at all. I wouldn’t worry as much as I did, that’s for sure.

Jackie: After John and Helen went, there was never ever any more smells of candles burning, no more problems at all.

Rick: I went up into the bedroom where it was, and there was a very very strong smell of sweetness, like very strong flowers. A smell that couldn’t have been put there. Very very strong and very very fragrant, beautiful.

Narrator: A few miles to the west of Heathfield Down where the Allens live, right up on the edge of the moor, under the looming rocks of Hound’s Tor, there is a lonely crossroads. This is the site of a single isolated grave, known locally as Jay’s Grave. Jay, it seems, was a young woman – Kitty Jay, and her grave is associated with a long standing mystery. It always has a fresh spray of flowers on it. No-one admits to putting them there, no one has seen anyone putting them there. But nevertheless, they are always there day after day after day. Kirsty Peake has lived near here for many years.

Kirsty Peake: I ride past here every day, so I come up here with the horse to meet friends to go riding. And when I come past, I always notice that there are flowers on the grave. And even when it’s really bad weather there’s always flowers on the grave, or greenery or something local. And I speak to people and they’re not putting the flowers on.

Geanor Williams, local historian: During the summer I come here very very often and there’s always fresh flowers here.

Narrator: Gina Williams is a local historian who’s looked into the background of many of the stories of Dartmoor, including the story of Kitty Jay.

Geanor: She was an orphan girl who took work at a nearby farm called [Carna?] and she became pregnant and hung herself, because there was so much stigma attached to it. And she was buried at this crosswise. Because they believed then that the devil couldn’t get at her soul.

Kirsty Peake: Well James Bryant, who had the land round here in the 1850s, 60s, he in fact had the grave opened to check, and did in fact find the bones of a young woman. And it’s he who had the grave made as it is now, putting in headstones and footstones. And since then, the flowers have appeared, always.

Narrator: Over the years the mystery of the flowers has inspired many people to spend a vigil at the grave, to see where the flowers come from. But with no very conclusive result.

Geanor: Some time ago some scouts camped here and erm, they watched all night, or so they said. They never saw anybody or heard anything. And when they got up in the morning, there were fresh flowers on the grave.

Narrator: We asked John Parker to visit Jay’s Grave to see if he could shed any light on the mystery, both on her death and the perennial flowers.

John: To pick up a vibration, what is here, and what can be seen. Here lies a young lady between 16 and 22 years old as I look at her. And she is laid out in this direction, pointing due east. [He waves his hand about over the grave]. From this, I pick up a vibration of very very sad. But there’s not one human remains here but two. One of a baby, very very small.

Narrator: That of course doesn’t really get us any further forward. We already knew that a young girl was involved, and the legend has it she was pregnant. And that of course is the problem with mediums. It is extremely difficult to verify either the information they come up with or the contacts they claim to make. However there is no doubt that they do very often help to clarify or resolve difficult psychic situations.

Dr Peter Fenwick, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist: When a psychic medium is perceiving something that has happened, the question is what is occurring. There are two sets of explanations. The first one is that these are particularly sensitive people – sensitive to non-verbal cues, so they’re picking up atmosphere from everything that is around. There’s nothing paranormal about it. That’s the first explanation. The second one is, we do not yet fully understand the nature of time. As far as the brain is concerned, time can alter enormously. For example, the whole of creation I can see in one split moment of time in certain mental states. So time is an artefact of the way the brain is constructed.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy: Nowadays, many people believe that – oh, isn’t mediumship just a bit of a charlatan’s paradise, and frauds and so on. And no doubt there is a percentage of mediums who are fake. But the fact that there are fake coins in circulation doesn’t mean that all coins are counterfeit.

Narrator: Counterfeit coin or real, we decided to set up a rather more difficult test. And so without warning we asked John Parker if he would visit the cottage nearest to Jay’s Grave to see if we could establish any verifiable connections to her story. The house is now owned by a retired couple.

Brian Harper: We’ve lived here for about ten years, having retired from the Royal Airforce, and we’re well aware of the story of Jay’s Grave. And as you’re aware, we’re about the nearest really old house.

Narrator: John spent some time walking round the house, absorbing the atmosphere. Meanwhile we had arranged for a psychic artist, Mary Searle, to come to the house and sit in one of the rooms set quite apart from John, to see if she could draw any of her own perceptions.

John: I, I couldn’t find anything incorporating Jay’s Grave, but I have seen two people who have returned on a nostalgic visit. One, a lady, early 50s maybe, 5 foot 4, 5 foot 5. I also saw a man in the main bedroom, 40-50 years old. Quite longish hair. With something about his neck, with sort of two tassels, who I have the impression is like a clergyman. Other than that, there’s nothing else, just that. But I think these two are here because when they were on the earth they had some sort of association with the building itself.

Narrator: John felt he’d made contact with two psychic personas. One of them he described as a clergyman, either of the 18th century or possibly the early 19th. Meanwhile Mary, completely isolated, had drawn a clergyman’s portrait. It was by any standards an extraordinary meeting of minds.

John: The vibration I get off him is – he’s friendly, he’s come for a visit as though he used to live here. Can you understand what I mean?

Mary: Yes, yes. He used to live here yes. But he wasn’t like an owner of the place. I felt he lodged here, John.

John: I dunno.

Mary: Well, I can’t…

John: Well, all I can put is that he’s actually stayed in this house, that’s what I was picking up.

Mary: Yes, oh yes. Mmm.

Jane Harper: I just think it’s uncanny that both John and Mary can come up with the same thought in one hand and portrait in the other, of the same person. Being a Reverend in this particular case. I don’t know if he’s put a name to it – has he put a name to it?  [gets spectacles out] Oh it just says parson or clerical. Erm, and that also Steven Nosworthy is mentioned in our deeds.

Brian: A Reverend Nosworthy, Steven Nosworthy, is mentioned in these abstracts of title. And though I feel he didn’t actually own the house, his family, the Nosworthys owned it. And there’s no doubt as a vicar in the local parish, there’s no doubt he either passed this way or visited a house owned by his family during the early 1800s. Well I was impressed by the similarity in what the two people had to say. Because although I’m not specifically a sceptic – I would say I’m a bit of a realist, I would like things presented to me in hard fact. But I did find it gave me rather a start when the parson or vicar type element was introduced into the conversation.

Narrator: But John had mentioned a second person, a woman this time. Remarkably, Mary had also produced a second drawing of a woman named Eliza attached to it.

Jane: As far as Eliza goes, in the deeds there is an Elizabeth Nosworthy who in fact was going to marry Robert Nosworthy. And looking at her face, although there have been Elizabeths later on, in 1910, er this woman is obviously too old to be a 19.. she’s got to be one of the older characters. And is possibly Elizabeth Nosworthy, who would look very weatherbeaten even at the age of 50 [The drawing shows an older masculine face with no clues of costume].  Because up here would have been a very hard life. It’s bad at times now! But then it would have been very bad indeed.

Narrator: Just who it is who puts the flowers on Kitty Jay’s grave we may never know. But we do know that one Reverend John [sic] Nosworthy, and later on a woman called Elizabeth, must have passed these very crossroads on many occasions. And who knows, they may still do so. Certainly it would seem that some element of their presence remains detectable in the house beneath Hound’s Tor.

Ghost Hunters: Haunted Ballroom.

So the haunting at the church hall had been going on for, like, 30 years? Surely the place should be stuffed with ghost hunters and their equipment.

There's a lot of talk about modern ideas of consciousness. This is something I haven't read up about. But you can't help thinking that things can't have come on in quite the positive way that the scientists in this programme insist - otherwise surely we'd have made some sort of considerable breakthrough by now and it'd be generally known. I need to do some reading.

Also mentioned is the Stone Tape Theory. It's an oldie but a goodie. It's so tempting. But again, this programme was made 20 years ago and what progress has been made with it. One imagines, precisely none, unfortunately. And I suppose that's because it's just not in a form that's scientifically plausible or testable. I've signed up to a course run by Edinburgh University this autumn, and I imagine it'll be discussing the methods that parapsychologists use. But it won't be touching on anything so wacky. I imagine it'll be adaptations of methodology currently used in psychology and social sciences, and relying on statistics. What else can you do, when ghosts refuse to appear on demand? 

Narrator: Stories of ghosts or hauntings, spirits from another world, call them what you will, tend to be associated with the emotions of fear and dread. Perhaps that’s inevitable. But it’s by no means always the case. In this program we look at the other end of the spectrum. Two stories of hauntings that seem to arise as a result not of pain, but of pleasure – the intense emotional attachment to a place where there has been great happiness.

Rita Cole, Dance Instructor: I never ever believed in ghosts. In fact I used to scoff at people who did. I used to think, you know, it’s odd, I just can’t understand it at all. No such thing. And it took a lot for me to understand how and why it happens. But now, I wouldn’t scoff at anyone, because it does happen.

Dennis Cole, Dance Instructor: Well, it’s just a fact that I cannot disregard what has happened. What I’ve heard and what I’ve seen. So now I can only believe that there must be something other than we humans!

Rita: Just before Miss MacPherson retired, she said to me ‘You know Rita, I will never ever leave this place’. And you know I don’t think she ever will. And I hope she never does!

Narrator: This story of love from beyond the grave comes from the city of York. This church is right in the heart of the city. And in the church hall here Mary MacPherson, known to everybody as Mary Mac, ran a very happy and very popular school of ballroom dancing.

Rita: Miss MacPherson was a very strong personality, a very strong character. Brilliant dancer, brilliant dance technician, a wonderful lady in general. Had her idiosyncracies! But at the time I had a great admiration for her. For her work and for her as a person. She was very direct, and very very forthright, strong. But immaculate in appearance. I never saw her with a hair out of place. Her clothes were always very expensive tastes.

Narrator: Rita and Dennis Cole had been persuaded by Mary to take over the running of the school. And it may be it was with some prescience, as within a year she died of a brain tumour. But it seems she was determined to keep her word never to leave the place. Because immediately after her death, strange things began to happen.

Rita: I started dancing, or I took over the studio in 1964, and slightly after that when I started hearing sounds after Miss MacPherson died. And I heard the counting of the coins first, when I was waiting for a pupil to arrive. And all of a sudden I heard this noise, with heavy coinage being banged onto this desk. Counted up and banged onto the desk. And  I walked across the room, and the nearer I got to the desk the louder the sound became. But when I reached the desk it stopped. So I walked back and it started again. So I didn’t dare tell anybody about this and I kept it very much to myself. And then my mother, she came down one day and she had the same experience. And she came home, rather looking aghast, and I said ‘what’s wrong?’ and she said ‘I was at the studio and I heard this strange noise.’ I said ‘Was it the counting of money?’ She said yes it was  - and banged into piles? She said yes. So and you’ve also heard it? I said, yes I have. She said, and you never told no-one? I said no, I didn’t tell anyone, I thought they’d think I was crazy!

Dennis: One evening when we were teaching, footsteps came up the corridor, came into the cloakroom, and the couple I was taking – we were waiting for them, whoever it was, coming into the hall. And the gentleman I was taking, of the couple I was taking, said ‘Oh I think she must be shy.’ And I went to the cloakroom to see this female – because it was the sound of high heels – and erm, of course there was just no-one there. I couldn’t disregard that, and nor could the couples that were in there at the time.

Rita: We started hearing footsteps coming down the corridor, and then we’d hear the door open. And we have a metal coat rail, and we’d hear the metal hangers being taken off and replaced. And we’d go and see who it was, and there was never anyone there. We went out into the street to see if the feet were outside, and we were getting the kind of echo coming up the corridor, but we didn’t, there was just no-one there at all. We had two young ladies, very very young ladies, early teens, about 12,13, and one evening they came to me one evening for a drink – they wanted a squash or a coke, so I served them with it, gave them their change. They went to sit down to drink their coke, and had a sip out of the coke and my husband said to them – now it’s time you two got up and had a dance! You see. So they put their drinks down, and they put the change that I’d given them down, and they got up to dance. And all of a sudden the change flew up into the air and landed onto the floor, and Sally-Ann – she was a lovely little girl, always brushing her hair – so her hairbrush always was with her, and her hairbrush shot up under the chair too! So they came howling into the kitchen to me and said, Oh, Rita! And they told me what had happened, you see. And I said well, Are you frightened of the money?! And they said, We don’t want it. Well I’ll change it for you, I’ll give you another ten pence each! So I did, I swapped it over for them. But nothing I could do about the hair brush! So she took it to church the next morning and had it blessed!

Narrator: So extraordinary things have happened in the church hall. How do we know that it is Mary Mac who is responsible? Well there have been a number of sightings of the old lady going about her business. Remarkably, whenever that has happened, people have smelt Mary Mac’s perfume, the scent of carnations about the place.

Rita: A lady, one evening I had her for a lesson, and then she used to come back to a class afterwards. And she came back for her class afterwards, and she said to me, ‘Who was that old lady you had for a lesson after me?’ Old lady? I said, I didn’t have an old lady after you. She said ‘You did, I passed her in the corridor and she gave me a very funny look.’ And I said, no, I’m sorry, it was my coffee break, I didn’t have anyone. So I said, describe this lady to me, please. So she says,’she was a smallish lady, very smart, very immaculate, a blueish rinse in her hair, and she had a creamy fluffy blouse and a navy blue suit on, are you sure you didn’t see her?’ I said, I’m positive. I said if I were to show you a picture, a group picture, could you have picked that lady out for me? Now this girl, she was a stranger to York, she’d come to work in York with the bank, and this was years after Miss MacPherson had died. So I produced a photograph which was taken in London at Grosvenor House, and the girl immediately went to the lady who had the dancing school before me, which was Miss MacPherson.

Narrator: Eventually the story of the haunted ballroom reached the ears of John Mitchell, who then was researching a book on the ghosts of York. John is a highly experienced paranormal investigator.

John Mitchell: I think that this is one of the most remarkable cases that was collected, because of the characters of the witnesses. I have known them now for over twenty years, they have never altered their story. They have nothing to gain and a great deal to lose if they came out into the public eye, and I just believe in them.

Narrator: So what is happening in the church hall at St Mary’s? It does seem that Mary MacPherson loved the place and her life here so much that in some strange way she has maintained a connection with it. Some element of her personality, down to the detail of the perfume she used, seems to have survived her death.

John Mitchell: There is certainly personality after death – what form of life it is I don’t know. I mean, obviously if we accept the story of the couple going out and being able to describe what she was wearing and the scent of carnations, then obviously Mary Mac is still wearing the sort of clothes she was wearing when she was part of the school in the physical life.

Narrator: The question of consciousness is still a very murky area. Our general understanding is that our consciousness, our vital sense of self, resides within our brains and when the brain dies so does our consciousness. But many mainstream scientists are now asking whether that can possibly be the whole story, as there are so many cases where despite the absence of the working brain, so to speak, through the use of anaesthetics, for example, the mind still continues to operate. This raises the distinct possibility that even after the dissolution of the brain, in death, some part of our personality could go on functioning.

Ralph Noyes, Science Writer: I think there is a mass of evidence for the continuation of consciousness after the dissolution of the particular gubbins we happen to be lodged in for the time being in this three-dimensional place. Erm, I can’t say that I’m utterly convinced. I think that different interpretations could be placed on the material which has come through. But there’s a pretty strong indication that we continue, consciousness continues, personality continues. If I had to bet on it, I’d bet on it. I’d give it odds.

Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate in Physics: The assumption that scientists usually make is that the mind is just the brain. On the other hand I feel that the evidence from psychical research suggests that while it is certainly influenced by the brain, it is something more than the brain. For example, experiments where people appear to be able to view what’s going on at a distance, as if they were there, rather suggest that the mind has some extension and part of it at any rate can travel about. So the brain may just be a computer that the mind can use.

Peter Fenwick, Consultant Neuro-psychiatrist:  The old science is breaking down at the edges. The evidence is accumulating that you have now to take into account the fact that mind can act outside the brain. And that then opens the whole question of entities going on after death, of there being some imprint on this world caused by people who have lived. And we just have to take these questions now as real scientific questions, and generate the appropriate theories to explain them.

John Mitchell: And  I think that if it is Miss MacPherson she is keeping a very friendly eye on the place. She’s not a frightening character, I think she seems rather benevolent. She just likes to look in occasionally and see that all is well. But of course she had to make her self known somehow. Perhaps the rattling of the coathangers, the counting of the money – obviously she’s a Yorkshire ghost if she’s interested in the money still! – and these were her way of drawing attention to herself.

Rita: Miss MacPherson loved the dancing world. She loved it and I don’t think she ever wants to go away from us. She’s happy with the people, she’s happy just circulating. I’m sure that’s it.

Narrator: Just across the Pennines from the city of York is the equally historic city of Lancaster. And in the centre of Lancaster is the Grand Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in the country – it goes back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. It has a very long history of paranormal activity. In her prime the great actress Sarah Siddons played here. Tonight the star billing goes to Al Jolson.

Steve King: Here at the Grand in Lancaster, which is over two hundred years old now, I had a strange feeling. I mean there are ghosts, there have got to be ghosts in a theatre that old. But I had a strange feeling when I was doing the Jolson, I got a cold shiver as though somebody had walked over my grave, sort of thing. And I don’t know, I just felt there was something there at that particular moment. And if it’s the ghost of the theatre, who might be haggling with Al Jolson… I could see a fight starting [laughs].

Narrator: The experience described by Al Jolson (or Steve King to give him his real name) is by no means uncommon. Over the years many members of the audience, as well as players on the stage have described unusual, inexplicable experiences. Many of them, strangely, talk of apparitions that seem to float in the air, well above the existing floor level. At first hearing, that seems to make them stranger than ever. But as it happens there is a very practical explanation.

Ray Langley, Civil Engineer: The old building is different to what it is now. The pit floor was at a higher level. And of course the circle, you had the Georgian type boxes along the sides and the back. So of course, if there was anybody haunting, you might say, they would be walking along the old level.

Tosa Laurence, Lancaster Footlights: The time that I had an experience was when I was working on a costume play. And to see the effect as it was on the stage I walked through the auditorium to about half way up the aisle, and turned round, and saw a lady of indeterminate age who was walking between me and the stage. And I said ‘What are you doing there?’ And at that moment she faded. It wasn’t like a puff of smoke, she faded like an old photograph fades, until there was nothing there. I found it very upsetting and I have not spoken to anybody about it except one member of the Footlights. We were doing the Taming of the Shrew at the time and this lady was certainly dressed in a period-type costume, but of the wrong period! And this is why she struck me as being in the way, and I was annoyed, and my tone must have been very annoyed. There was one other thing. I later realised that she wasn’t walking on the floor. She was neither at the height of the stage, nor at the height of the auditorium, it was somewhere in between. But I was concentrating on the costume rather than anything else.

Narrator: Melanie Warren is a very well-known paranormal investigator. She’s taken great interest in the goings-on at the Grand.

Melanie Warren: Tosa’s evidence impressed me because it matches several other stories that I’ve heard. In the 1950s Pat Phoenix, who was an actress, was working here. She saw a similar person, and she disappeared in much the same way as Tosa described. And also Myra Jackson, who saw a woman on the stage. It seems to be the same woman that everybody’s seeing. I think Tosa’s testimony impresses me because she is such a strong lady in herself. And she really is not keen on talking about the experience that she had. She only came on the programme and talked about it because she was convinced that she saw something, even though she can’t explain it.

Tosa Laurence: I have personally never had any experience of ghosts. I can’t say that I believe in ghosts. I know this was something that I may have imagined because it was so fleeting. But no I’m not that sort of person. I’m extremely realistic really!

Narrator: As we mentioned, in her heyday the famous 18th century actress Sarah Siddons played at the Grand. She came to Lancaster at least partly because her brother in law ran the theatre. Legend has it that her spirit remains to haunt the place. We called in a very experienced psychic medium, Joan Norton, to see if she might establish contact with anything that might be historically verified.  We gave her no warning of where she was going.

Joan Norton: But I feel particularly drawn to behind me, to that corner over there. Strong vibrations. Over here a different feeling again. Er I feel as though something’s coming down on me here.

Narrator: Well Joan didn’t make contact with Sarah Siddons. But there seems to be some connection with the theatre’s distant history.

Melanie Warren: She’s come up with a few bits of evidence that fit the facts. She mentioned, for example, that she got the feeling of a fire here. Now this entire theatre, the interior of it was completely destroyed, and much of the roof went as well, when there was a fire here at the end of the last century, and the place has been completely rebuilt. She also said she felt that there was something below the theatre, downstairs. She wasn’t to know that in its original form there were dwelling houses actually underneath the theatre. She also said that her strongest feeling was on the left side of the stage.

Joan Norton: The names very significantly attached to the theatre are Walter and Alexander.

Melanie Warren: She came up with one name Walter, and a very brief look through the history has shown that there was a Walter. She said that Walter was connected with the running of the building. There was a Walter. Edmund Sharp took over the building in 1843. He worked wonders for the building. He died in 1877 and he passed on the building to his two sons and another gentleman called Walter. This was in 1877. Again it’s the Victorian era we’re looking at. All the evidence that’s coming in seems to suggest that whatever is going on here dates from the Victorian era.

Narrator: Theatres of course everywhere have a long tradition of connection with the paranormal. The life of these buildings is suffused with emotion and passion and high drama, as the actors strut and fret their lives upon the stage. It isn’t difficult to believe that here if anywhere the very fabric of the building absorbs some of the emotion that is expended down the years. It is classical stone tape theory.

Leslie Ryan, Lancaster Footlights: This is a theatre, emotion is high. I reckon a lot of it must dissipate into the vastness behind you!

Archie Roy, Prof. of Astronomy: One theory of haunts is one which may be called for want of a better phrase, the stone tape theory, where you have to postulate that in the case of a typical haunt some very emotion laden scene, or one very important scene from the point of view of the humans that took part in it – has somehow become registered on the environment. Not necessarily within a house, maybe even outside. And that it looks, it’s almost like a psychic video that has been created. And someone who comes along who is sensitive enough to act as a psychic video player will play that tape, and see the figures or perhaps even hear voices or hear sounds. And it is nothing to do with the people who originally were there, they are no longer there, it is simply a record.

Melanie Warren: I am not convinced that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. I tend to think that they’re more likely to be recordings on the atmosphere, or emotions trapped in the fabric of the building. It’s a very difficult theory to explain, but that’s the simplest we can come to it.

Leslie Ryan: It often happens after we’ve done a costume play or we’re re-enacting something in period, that the appearances get intensified.

Narrator: Well Al Jolson could scarcely be described as costume drama perhaps. But it isn’t hard to imagine the ringing tones of this old tin pan alley number seeping into the bricks and mortar, and adding another layer to the emotional fabric of the grand old theatre.

Ghost Hunters: Phantom Pilot

The best thing about this episode is the completely gobsmacked expression on the pilot's face when describing his experience. Otherwise there's a lot of Archie Roy expounding extreme speculation like fact, as usual. And I recognise that a lot of 'crisis apparitions' have been recorded. But I'm not sure that makes them 'very very common' as he'd have you believe. Also, this episode really doesn't explore very well where the vision could be coming from. Is it conjured up by the mind of the experient entirely? Or is it their mind picking up something from the person they see? Or is it entirely down to the person who appears (whether still alive or dead)? I mean these are quite different things, and the distinction is very important to the analysis of the topic as a whole. Captain Bob's great though. You cannot doubt that he's relating what he experienced. 

Jean: A thing happened to me a long time ago, with my mother in law when she died. She came one evening, well one Thursday night. I didn’t know what it was, the bed was just rumbling about you know and things do – I thought it were a cat under the bed. The following night, I saw my mother in law sat at the bottom of the bed. In a grey coat, green headscarf, as large as life. And she said things had been moved out of her house, and so on and so forth, and she was very upset about it. So I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t hurt, upset, frightened or anything, because she wouldn’t harm me. So I said I would look into it. So I phoned my brother in law the day after, asked him what he was doing with mum’s things. He said he’d put them away for safe-keeping while he decorated. Plus an ebony box which she also explained about, with a dragon on. And I didn’t know about this box. Anyway he says, oh that was mum’s jewellery box, and I said well put it back please on the chest of drawers where it belongs. And put her ornaments back. And I told him why. He did this for me as a favour, he didn’t ask any questions. Sure enough the night came, I felt her walk in and the feeling round the bed, she came again. She sat down, took her scarf off. And I said, well things have been put back now, mum. I says, you’ll be alright now. Please leave me alone, I said, because I’m losing a lot of sleep. You know, I says, you can rest in peace. So up she went, and turned away, and I said – oops you forgot your scarf! And she picked her green scarf up, put it back on her head and went. Never seen her again since. 

Narrator: Jean’s strange encounter with her dead mother in law, for all its extraordinary and eerie qualities, is a remarkably common experience. It’s clear from the research records that many thousands of people from different cultures and different parts of the world have had something similar happen to them. They seem to happen most frequently between members of a family, or people who have a profound emotional connection with the dead person. And they’re remembered with immense clarity – the time, the place, the details of dress and movement and so on. In paranormal circles they’re described as ‘crisis ghosts’.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy: One of the interesting aspects of apparitions is the close relationship between the appearance of many apparitions and the fact that the person whose apparition appears was going through a crisis – either in fact in danger of death, or actually dying. And the first set of collections of these was the 1895 one by the Society for Psychical Research. And we’re not talking about a set of anecdotes, we’re talking about cases that were exhaustively researched. Obituaries looked up, witnesses interviewed, newspapers looked at, tombstones, the lot.

Narrator: Perhaps the single most extraordinary thing about these crisis ghosts is their profound realism. They seem to be so true to life in terms of dress and mannerisms, and characteristics and expression of the living personality – so real and solid in fact, that those that encounter them immediately respond to them in living terms. They engage them in conversation and so on, right up until the moment when the apparition is revealed for what it is, because it disappears or moves off through a wall.

Archie Roy: And usually you find that if there is more than one person present, then in a third of the cases, all of them see the apparition. It looks solid, it looks real, it may act out a very reasonable scenario so they will for example see the door open, and Uncle George comes in – and they’re surprised, because the last they heard Uncle George was in Australia, and they’re in London. And they’ll say – George! How did you manage to get here so quickly?- and he’ll smile, and on occasion you might get a word or two. And then, only then he will do something that a human being couldn’t do, like disappear or walk through the walls. And then they begin to get scared. And then, sooner or later word comes that at that moment Uncle George was drowning off the Great Barrier Reef or something like that. Sadly, because of the two world wars, there have been many many cases like that, of a person being shot down in their plane at a time when the family thinks they see him, large as life, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in mufti, walking up the garden path. Oh, John has got unexpected leave, oh how wonderful! And they go to the door and open the door, he’s not there, and then they begin to wonder. It’s very very common.

Narrator: A pilot coming up the garden path long after his death. A story very similar to that occurred not tens of years ago but as recently as last October, to an airline pilot indeed, as he crossed the foyer of a large modern airport used daily by thousands of travellers [Glasgow International is shown]. He bumped into a colleague. He still finds it difficult to describe the profound emotional shock on learning that the colleague, with whom he chatted with for some time, had in fact died in a very sudden and unexpected way some time previously.

Captain Bob: On the way I slightly deviated from my route instead of going to the bus. And as I deviated, I saw this friend of mine, in the door, come into the airport. I stopped, turned round – he came straight across to talk to me. I put my bags down, spoke to him fairly briefly  - What are you doing, you old bugger! – that sort of phrase. Now this is a guy that I’ve known for eight or nine years. We’ve both flown the routes to the Western Isles, up and down. We meet in the hotel, erm, et cetera, et cetera. We had a few words. I noted one or two things about him – I went to shake hands and he didn’t respond, which seemed a bit odd, er, puzzled me a bit. He was very thin, he’d lost a lot of weight. Anyway, all of a sudden he said ‘I’ve got to go’ and I said ‘fair enough’, picked my bags up and legged it for the door to get the bus for the hotel. The following day I went into town, did a bit of shopping, and went to see a friend of mine in the pub where we normally meet. And he bought me a drink, said hello, how’re you doing, what’s going on… not a lot and all the usual rubbish you talk about. And he said – just a minute – and he went round the corner to the paper rack, picked up The Scotsman from the paper rack, and came straight back to me. Put it on the bar in front of me, saying ‘You must know this man. You flew together, you were in the same airline.’ And to my Absolute Astonishment – I was stunned. It was the obituary of this friend of mine I’d spoken to the day before. And I just couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t possible. It was not possible.

Archie Roy: The captain’s case is a typical post-mortem apparition, with overtones of unfinished business. There is no doubt about it, we’ve investigated the case, we’ve talked to witnesses. And what is an important aspect to this is that it has made a tremendous difference in the attitude to life of the witness, the captain. Apart from that there is also almost the seemingly the indication that something to do with the man who died – who died incidentally after some short illness and unexpectedly – was trying to make his presence, his continued presence or existence still felt. And this is absolutely typical.

Captain Bob: Now. You can… think what you like. If I’m a nut then you can call me a nut! But I can assure you. As an ex-naval officer, fighter pilot, commercial pilot – I am not, er… what’s the word…  I don’t make up these silly stories.

Narrator: That encounter has profoundly changed Bob’s attitude to life and indeed to death. He has no doubts whatsoever that he met and chatted to his dead colleague. And that view underlines the powerful scientific relevance of these so-called crisis ghosts. They occur so frequently, and they are so verifiable in the sense that the dates of the death and the encounter can be clearly established. They pose a major challenge to scientific thinking. What is happening? What happens after death if this seems clear, some aspect, some dimension of the dead person is able to re-establish contact with the living [sic].

Archie Roy: There’s so many cases that we have to accept that a fraction of people, when they are dying or in danger of dying, somehow contrive that their apparition appears as large as life.

Narrator: Crisis ghosts are one of the most widespread of paranormal experiences - these appearances of people just before or just after their death to a loved one or to a relative. In Asian cultures they are very readily accepted  as a fact of life, so to speak. In the West, grounded as we are in so many centuries of scientific rationalism, they are regarded with the utmost scepticism. People who experience them are embarrassed to talk about them. Scientifically they scarcely appear above the horizon. There are very few theories that attempt to explain what is happening.

Archie Roy: There is a part of a human being that can operate outwith time and space, and by that I mean that human beings are not separated one from another as clearly as they seem to be. We have our bodies, we have our personal consciousnesses, we have our personal subconsciousnesses. But I go along with Jung for example, who said that the deeper he went into a person’s psyche, the closer he came to a level where it couldn’t be said to belong to that one person alone. And the analogy that one can use is that above the surface of the ocean the islands are separate. And below the surface of the ocean the islands are separate. But go deep enough and all the islands join on the bedrock of the ocean.

Narrator: If it is possible to generalise in this shadowy area, it seems that the contact is made with a particularly sensitive person at times when their minds are in a particularly relaxed and receptive state. That often occurs in and around the margins of sleep. It leads to a state that is known as lucid dreaming.

Pat: And in the dream I actually saw my father in a coffin, and he was in a funeral parlour, in this dream. And I remember going into this funeral parlour with my brother and sister, in the dream, and looking  - my father’s coffin was on like a wooden Charlie horse, you know the horses, the wooden horse, because it was a brand new funeral parlour. And in the dream he looked about two or three stone lighter than I’d remembered him. And his hair had turned snow white and he was in his coffin. And I remember asking the gentleman who owned the funeral parlour why his eyes weren’t closed completely, because you could see part of the blue of his eyes. And they said that he’d been in so much pain before he’d died that they’d teared, and they couldn’t close them properly. I also remember in this dream opening my bag and taking out a blue rosary beads and putting them on my father’s hands, because my father had been Catholic. Now I had never put those rosary beads into my bag. The next day, when I woke up the next morning, I got a telegram to say my father had died. When I came back, came back to Britain for his funeral, everything happened as it had in that dream. To the extent that my ex-mother-in-law had actually put that rosary into my bag. And that rosary was blue, a pale blue rosary, and that was the same as the rosary in my dream. And it was exactly as my dream.

Archie Roy: Very often, in the lucid or very vivid dream, that makes such an impression on the person that he remembers it when he wakens up, he will see someone, he will be in contact with that person, that person will talk to them. That person will be anxious, that person might have died even months or years before, and may have died without the person knowing it, and that person will be trying to get information across, unfinished business. And when the person wakens up they remember the dream. They then perhaps in a number of cases, carry out the plea of the person in the dream, and subsequently find out that the information given in the dream, and which may not be in the minds of any living person, is correct. And leads to unfinished business being finished.

Pat: Well, when I was about fifteen years of age I was up in London, and I was modelling at that time. And I’d been doing a lot of photographic work in the morning for a photographer, and I went back to the hotel to take a rest before the afternoon shoot. And I fell asleep, and I had a really unusual type of sleep. It was as if I was awake, but yet I was asleep. And I saw my grandmother. And I saw that she was coming from the back of a field, towards me. And as she came towards me she’d started to turn. And as she turned she grew younger till she was about thirty years of age. And she said to me in this state, this dream state I was in, she said – Patricia, I’m all right. I want you to know I’m all right. Everything is fine, and that I love you. And I want you to go to my house and look, there’s a certain drawer, there’s a key hanging – and she told me where this key was hanging to open this drawer. And you’ll find that I’ve left something for you. And she said, I want you to write my book, to write my story. It’ll be a real success. Now her name was Maggie, and when I woke up in that room in the hotel, the room was just filled with her fragrance. And I knew that she’d passed on. I called my father on the phone and he said my mother had gone back to Ireland to bury her. And I called Mommy in Ireland and told her to get this key – and it was where she’d said in the dream – and she went to this little dresser. And she pulled this big envelope out with my name on it. And in it was quite a lot of details about this book she wanted me to write, and a picture of her mother.

Narrator: Many of these stories involve actual appearances of people who have died. But there are many more that involve the passing of a message of some sort. The voice is clearly recognised, the sound is quite clear, and the message is remembered in all its detail. This is the sad story of Teddy, close friend of Jane and Sheldon.

Jane: Well I came back from holiday, and we were totally exhausted because we’d been up for twenty four hours, and I came in the house and went straight to bed. About half an hour later I sat bolt upright in bed like this – and there was no thought in my head, I went straight downstairs and I said, ‘Sheldon, you have to go and get Teddy, there is something wrong. You must go now, immediately.’ And he got up and he went.

Sheldon: So I went over to Teddy’s, and immediately I saw Teddy, he wasn’t doing very well. And I said ‘Enough of this nonsense, you’re going to the hospital.’ Now Teddy didn’t have a phone, so there was no way of calling an ambulance. So I helped him down the stairs, and he actually lay down on the back seat. And I got in the car and I started to drive off, and I tried to drive as fast as I could. At one point along the journey, I turned around, and I saw Teddy look up to me, and I saw his eyes roll. His eyes roll into the top. And at that moment I was terribly frightened that Teddy had died.

Jane: I could hear all this sort of commotion outside. And it was a commotion, there was car noise, and I could hear Teddy saying “Sheldon, Sheldon, you’ve got to let me out of the car, let me out of the car, I’ve got to get out, you’ve got to stop.” And I got up, you know, with hearing this whole commotion, went down to Lenny, because I wasn’t dressed or anything. ‘Lenny, Lenny, please go and help Teddy.’

Lenny: I was watching tv at the time, and my mum came in, and said ‘Help Teddy get out of the car,’ because she could hear him outside. Erm, I went outside to check if he was there, and there was no-one there, I couldn’t see the car, I couldn’t see my dad and I couldn’t see Teddy. I looked around, I looked round the corner and there was no one there, so I came back inside and told my mum. And she said she could definitely hear voices, and she could definitely hear Teddy’s voice in particular. And she said he needed help. And I said, you know, I said to her I thought she was crazy, basically! Because I couldn’t hear a thing.

Jane: And I knew then that there was something – that Teddy must have died or something had happened, so I went back to bed. Just waiting for a call. When you know something like that’s happened, it’s just everything goes still, and it’s just waiting to hear the news.

Sheldon: I sped as fast as I could. Ultimately I got to the emergency in the hospital and I rushed out of the car, through the doors, I ultimately found a nurse. The whole hospital team came running out to grab Teddy, and they took him into the hospital and I heard all sorts of electronic things going on. And then I was asked to wait in the waiting room. And I was about to make a phone call when a nurse came over to me and she said ‘don’t use that phone, you’d be more comfortable using this private phone in this room over here. ‘ Well, so, I did that and I telephoned Jane, and I said ‘I think that Teddy’s dead’. And Jane said ‘I know.’

Jane: When these things happen you’re there with the feeling, you can’t start, you don’t start analysing what is it or what does it mean or anything, you’re just in the feeling, you’re in that experience in that moment in time. I think afterwards, you know, when I got the phone call from Sheldon, and he was dead, there wasn’t that [gasp], a feeling of terrible shock, because it was quite, you know, because  you can’t actually explain this to other people because they think you’re a bit weird!

Narrator: The fact of crisis ghosts would seem to present science with a profound challenge. They are so widespread they can’t simply be brushed aside as aberrations or a few misguided individuals. The manifestations or apparitions are described with such clarity and detail, and they have such realism that they do raise fundamental questions about the nature of death and dissolution. Is there part of the human being that survives its worldly death. Is there a need, as some scientists would put it, for a new science, a science of the mind?

Dr Peter Fenwick, Consultant Neuro-psychiatrist: Ghosts which appear to people who have just recently been bereaved or possibly to other members of the family when they’re dying, I’d explain in two ways. Firstly, I’d take a normal scientific explanation: if you look at people who are recently bereaved, most of them have visions of the bereaved person. It’s a common function of death. But that doesn’t account for everything in the way of crisis apparitions. Because sometimes people know nothing about it, don’t expect it, and an apparition occurs. I think you have to argue that there may be emotional links, and there’s certainly some scientific evidence to suggest that emotional states in one brain may be transmitted across distance to another brain, where they can be measured. And that would be the sort of basis on which one would then explain crisis apparitions.

Archie Roy: I have to say that over the last hundred years there has been collected a vast amount of evidence on all sorts of aspects of psychic research which to anyone openminded, I would feel, makes it imperative to believe that a human being is not just the big animal that grew the big brain. That there are facets of the human being that can operate outside time and space, and perhaps mortality. The evidence is such that many psychical researchers would say that the question ‘shall I survive death’ is one that can be seriously contemplated by an intelligent person. And as for myself, I would say that if, when I die I find I have ceased to exist, I will be very much surprised.