Many a knighthood has been bestowed on doctors, scientists and other investigators of the body, of nature and of such unseen forces as electronics. To my mind, few of them deserved such a distinction better than Harry Price; but he died in 1948, having received no public recognition for having devoted his life and fortune to endeavouring to discover the facts about those invisible powers which we still term the ‘supernatural’.
Had he survived for another quarter of a century his long years as a pioneer might have been duly honoured; for today a new generation of scientists is far from being sceptically hostile. Such phenomena as hypnotism, thought reading and telepathy are fully accepted and in many universities, particularly in the United States, professors and bodies of students devote their energies to exploring the super-normal faculties inherent in mankind.
But Harry fought a long, lone battle against, on one hand, the Victorian educated scientists who derided the occult and, on the other, fanatical believers in spiritualism whose favourite mediums he exposed as frauds.
For the latter task he had prepared himself well when young by learning to become a most adroit conjurer, and so was readily able to spot the tricks used to impress the gullible. Later he established a laboratory and there spent countless hours improving electrical gadgets by the use of which he rendered it next to impossible for mediums to fool their audiences. When I was seeking material for my first book with an occult background he very kindly showed me over it.
This book is of particular interest because in it Mr. Paul Tabori so ably describes the many types of occult manifestation that Harry Price explored. They included poltergeists, eyeless sight, fire-walking, telepathy and séances with many famous mediums. In his search for truth he also made many trips abroad. However, I would suggest that readers other than those who actually make a study of psychic investigations should skip Chapter Eight as it deals with little other than Harry Price’s relations with bodies studying occult phenomena in other countries.
Chapter Twelve tells the story of Borley Rectory, said to be the most haunted house in England, and it is in connection with it that Harry Price’s name became best known to the British public. He leased the house for a year and wrote two books and many articles on the numerous occult manifestations there; yet, even after the rectory was burnt down in 1930 the controversy about whether the hauntings were genuine or not continued.
It so happens that I am able to add a footnote to the question. In the early 1950s the late Kenneth Allsop – who afterwards became a well-known broadcaster but was then still a journalist – was sent down by a national paper to Lymington to interview me. Over lunch he told me what follows:
His editor had sent him to investigate Borley and with him he took a staff photographer. They stayed for some nights in the then empty house and nothing in the least abnormal occurred. On his return to London he wrote his article declaring his belief that the so-called hauntings were either trickery or due to the over-excited imaginations of observers.
He had just finished when the photographer, who had been developing his plates, came into his room, put one of the photographs in front of him and said: ‘What d’you make of this, Ken?’
The photograph was of the rectory, taken from the far side of the road that ran along one side of it. It was well established that at one time there had been a fence with a gate in it along the grass verge on the rectory side of the road. In the photograph, where the gate had been, was the clear outline of a nun. They took the photograph to the editor, but for reasons known only to himself he suppressed both the article and the photograph.