1956 portrait of a year and a death in Orchard Avenue



Reading archive copies of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre  I experience awe.    Let me explain.  You are utterly unlikely to exist.  That of all the atoms in the universe a selection should come together and constitute you is infinitely improbable.   Between your ears weighing  three pounds is the most complex structure in the universe.  If you exist in a random lottery you are infinitely more likely to be bacteria than  person.  Your body is host to 37.2 trillion organisms, bacteria, fungi, archae, protists, viruses but only one of them is you.  If every living thing in your body were a human being it would equal the population of the earth  multiplied it by 5400.  And you would be one of them.  For every year you spend alive you will not exist for 140 million years.  If the population of the UK were in proportion to this unlikeliness  it would be half a person.   Given the near impossibility of your existence you would be entitled to think that there was some point in your (or my) existence.  There is no evidence that it does.

Reading the archives of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre you realise that somehow we accommodate the inexplicability of existence. Tragedy for a person and family is news to neigbours and largely neglected.  This strange paradox  that we (you, me…) are the most significant being  and at the same time entirely dispensible…   well all I can say is its a  rum do.

Is this purple prose?   I apologise and go back to a crime and a time.


Thanks to the Gazette you realise that many people will get up eat their breakfast, go to the toilet, clean their teeth and  they will not live to see another day.  As Jimmy  Hoffa said: “The undertaker  steals their watch and their wedding ring.”

On Saturday 23 June 1956 at 6 pm Joe Brandon of Orchard Avenue was getting ready to go out.  He would not  see Sunday.

The joy of reading the Gazette from 1956… it is like being in a similar but different world.  The Suez crisis happened…  although this was a foreign policy snafu  of Iraqi proportions there was no defining moment: it was like the air leaving a balloon.  An astonishing amount of news print is taken up with foreign news.  We export Harry Allen to hang  9 Cypriot terrorists, or probably just 9 Cypriots.   In his retirement Harry Allen gave out change on Fleetwood Pier.

The Gazette explores daftness in its  letters.  The terms “Wog” and “Gyppo” are used freely.  They will melt away at the appearance of “British Steel.”  An editorial approves when a Policeman (Kenya I think) is dismissed for marrying a Kikayu.  The editor has the right to answer all letters and so has the last word on everything.  He explains that he has heard that Kikayus make good wives.  So that’s all right then.

Mr Russell is awarded £350 to be paid by the correspondant who had been “cuckolding the petitioner.”  “Mrs Russell was a good wife and Mr Russell had lost a competent housewife,” says the judge.

A man writes a letter to the Gazette to complain that he is charged as much by his barber as a hairier man.  Picture  the  mind that would find this the main preoccupation.  Another writer  opines that people who write letters to the paper are all stupid.

A man drowns in the sea… he has been charged with indecent behaviour and he has already served four years for a similar crime.  Another man is charged with attempting to commit suicide.

A war veteran of 60 (First War) known for his cheerfulness hangs himself in his Layton home.

Accidental death is endemic.  Fatal accidents at work, at home, crossing the street… the fact that domestic gas  could eliminate  families.  A fifty year old woman sitting in Redman’s cafe is killed when a piece of  the ceiling lands on her.

Fourteen year old Brenda Coleshill from Runcorn dies in a fall from the Grand National.

Sometimes it is like another century:  this headline: “Cockfight case.”  Sadly it didn’t happen in Blackpool.  My favourite headline: “Trail of havoc in Lytham St Annes- MAD BOAR CHASED THROUGH THE STREETS.”

A man who stole three pounds twelve shillings and sixpence used his gains to embark on a “drunken orgy.”

There were worries about Teddy Boys and controversy when Blackpool Council considered banning a Liberace Film because it had inspired uncontrolled feminine desire.  Liberace.  It is instructive possibly, but I can’t at the moment think why,   that Liberace was the object  of feminine lust.  Was it a symptom of moral decline that three men were convicted for spying on courting couples in the sand dunes?  One of the men claimed that the police were persecuting him and he had been innocently roaming the sandhills with his binoculars.

Errol Flynn looking like I feel most of the time appeared at the Central Working Mens Club off Central drive to award prizes to bodybuilders on TV.

The multiplication and banality of  comedy and tragedy that  is eye-popping. In crime Billy Hill is well known… a household name… he is mentioned in  film…  the predecessor of the Krays…    there is no evidence Billy Hill  ever killed anybody…  unlike the Krays who did.  A brilliant man,  Billy Hill lost his judgement  in his hatred of Jack Spot..  Billy Hill  evolved an intricate but ludicrous  plot to involve Scarface Jock Russo,   who was to claim that he had been attacked by Jack Spot.   The plot involved a vicar who owed gambling money to Hill’s organisation, giving evidence to support the story.  Jock agreed and then fled to Blackpool where he ran a protection racket.

When Billy Hill moved out of crime he opened a casino which was more profitable.

In the Gazette Allan Prior is writing the TV page.  He praises Dragnet an American TV series which he says is “documentary.”  He went on to write Z Cars.


So how did Joe Brandon meet his  end?  He lived with Anne Brandon in Orchard Avenue off Highfield Road.  Anne was not his wife but she used his surname.  Both Anne and Joe had previously been married but were separated.  Another member of the household was Jack  Hibbert a lodger.

Joe Brandon (34)  was a self-employed painter and decorator.  He was not fully employed.

At 4 pm on  Saturday June 23 1956, Joe returns from work.  He complains that there is nothing to eat.  He complains that Anne can’t cook properly, and goes out.  At 6 pm he comes back and gets ready to go out drinking as he does nearly every evening.  Anne asks if they can go out together.  Joe Brandon says no.   At 9pm Joe is in the Waterloo with two of his friends when he meets Jack Hibbert.  At 9.45 they go to the Farmers Arms… the vaults.  In those days women weren’t allowed in the vaults but Anne Brandon could see Joe Brandon from the other bar and sent drinks for him and Jack Hibbert.  At 10.45 Jack and Joseph returned to Orchard Avenue.  Anne Brandon could not get in.  Anne Brandon thinks that Joe has shut her out.

Anne offers to make Jack and Joe a cup of tea.  Joe refuses which upsets Anne.  There is an argument in which Anne accuses Joe of having a “new woman.”  Joe  punches Anne but Jack Hibbert steps between them.  Joe tells Anne to leave.  Anne says: “Where shall I go?”  Anne is standing at the door about to leave.

And then…  you really want to slap him… Jack  Hibbert thinks it will be a good time to put the dogs in a kennel in the back yard.

When Jack comes back… it can only have been minutes… Joe is lying on the floor.

“Good god Jack she’s done me good and proper.”  Anne nurses him and tries to embrace and kiss him.  According to Hibbert Anne tells Joe: “she didn’t mean it and asked him not to leave her.”

An ambulance is called.  Anne says: “If he dies they can hang me.  I don’t want to live if he doesn’t.”  At that time Joe was dead although Anne who had worked as a medical orderly knew that he was seriously wounded but did not know for some time that he was dead.  She asked if she could see him.

Joe had been stabbed with a breadknife which was usually in a drawer in the kitchen. Since Jack Hibbert in his exasperating way had chosen that  moment to see to the dogs  we cannot know the sequence of events.

The pitiful image of Anne in the ambulance.  She is covered in blood.  She wants to believe that Joe is still alive.  She wants to see him.  Somewhere in her mind the idea is forming that she has killed the one she loved.



The trial was in October in Lancaster.  Jack Hibbert witnessed many of the events.  His evidence was that Joe Brandon hit Anne  and that he was nasty  towards her.  He disparaged her cooking and he refused to go out with her.  When she bought him a shirt he said he didn’t want it.  Jack Hibbert’s  opinion was that Joe was embarrassed by Anne’s deafness.  Anne’s deafness must have been moderate… she was able to give evidence in court.  Here is Jack Hibbert’s reply to a question: “It is clear to you that despite these quarrels that the woman was very fond of Joe Brandon.”


Anne was providing money and gifts for Joe.  Joe comes across as being  dreadful.     Anne said that their relationship was happy at first but that Joe had troubles at work and then worked for himself and then did not have a regular income.  And he began to drink more heavily and gamble.  On the night of Joe’s death they had both been drinking.

Was Anne Brandon a prostitute?   My reason for asking is that in the Gazette her name is always followed by “described as a housewife.”  This unusual form of words must mean something.   If Anne  was a prostitute it is a rare case of a prostitute killing somebody instead of being killed.  We  do not know.  Prostitution was  often  part-time or occasional , in a case in Blackpool in the same year a woman explained that she only solicited when she wanted to buy clothes.  Whenever we hear of money changing hands it went from Anne to Joe… but Anne was not working.

Joe was unspeakable in his behaviour towards Anne.  She had been treated for an injured jaw, twice he hit her and broke her dentures  and she had injuries that were still visible at her trial.  She was also being treated for anxiety.   And she suspected Joe might have another girl friend.  They were both drunk.

After his death Joe’s  brother said that he had been in Whittingham Hospital suffering from depression when he was younger.  His brother also said that he had been married but was separated and that his mother had lived with him until Anne Brandon had moved into Orchard Avenue.


The jury had three choices: guilty of murder, of manslaughter or self defence.  Self defence would mean that Anne was not guilty at all.  The jury chose manslaughter and the judge acknowledged that she had been provoked  and had suffered violence at the hands of Joe Brandon.  The judge sentenced her to eighteen months.

It is just within the bounds of possibility that she is still alive.  She killed the man she loved.   Imagine her state of mind in the ambulance, covered in blood, hoping but not believing that Joe is still alive.   Anne Brandon wanted  security, affection.  And instead she got Joe Brandon.   Hopefully she found peace.





Neville Heath: the Charmer: The Blackpool connection


The link between Neville Heath, Margery Gardner and Blackpool is weak.  But it is such a  tale that I am cheating.  It also has similarities with Gordon Cummins… the Blackout Ripper  and Evelyn Oatley late of Anchorsholme.

When we read about Neville Heath we are in an Agatha Christie mystery… all the props are there:  retired Majors, Eastbourne hotels, and Neville Heath himself who actually sounds like Biggles or Bulldog Drummond.  When Oscar said that life imitates art he was not as daft as he sounds.

I believe that Neville Heath modelled himself on the heroes of popular fiction.  He was  athletic, tall, good-looking, a fighter pilot, a war hero, the kind of man that women adore…   There was just that thing about stealing money, and claiming  rank and decorations that he  was not  entitled to, and whipping women and killing them… Biggles didn’t do that. Not in the books anyway.   Heath  sounds like Biggles or one of those straight-jawed dim characters: this is Neville Heath writing to his brother Mick who is  about to join the Air Force: the date is Tuesday October 15th 1946:

“You’ll shortly be going into a damned good service….”

“Use King’s Regulations and Air Council instructions as your bible and stick to it.”

Or writing to his father:

” This I regard as just another journey…. To my very  limited intelligence it is nothing more than another  “op”- and like all “ops” it may prove to be quite exciting.”

The following day Neville Heath was hanged.



margery gardner

Margery Gardner

You grow fond of people you write about.  Margery Gardner… brave,  artistic, good-looking, stylish, bohemian but…   poor, anxious, often ill,  bad judge of character,  enjoying an unconventional love life, friend of  eccentrics such as Quentin Crisp (he recalled discussing with her the attractions of men in uniform and her leopard skin coat)  and  criminals…   She loved London… she lived in Chelsea… In spite of the difficulties  Margery Gardner would chose no other life.

Margery came from a wealthy Sheffield family. The family home is  grand… it is now a hall of residence of the University of Sheffield.    Her father worked in the family solicitors firm that went back to the 18th Century.  During her early education she stayed with an aunt and shared a governess with her cousin.  At school she was a gifted artist and won national prizes for her drawing.  Her head-teacher said that she was “more than half a genius.”  Her mother was alarmed  by an unsuitable boyfriend and sent her to Chelsea School of Art

Spanish saying: “How do you make God laugh?   Tell him your plans.”

Her tutors at Chelsea included famous artists such as Henry More.     In 1936 she met Peter Gardner and they married in 1939.   He was the son of a brigadier and born in Egypt.  He did not do well and had a series of jobs.  Although he went to Sandhurst he did not complete.  Margery’s family disapproved.  When war came he joined the RAF.

Peter was stationed near Blackpool.  Margery lived in Blackpool and worked in a hairdresser and beauty parlour.  Sadly she had a still born child in 1941.  When not accompanying Peter Margery stayed in Chelsea which was heavily bombed.  Peter had a  nervous  condition that needed treatment…  and was hospitalised in Grantham.  He  took to escaping from hospital to go on drinking binges and to finance them he stole from pubs.  He was caught and jailed for two years.

Margery remained loyal to Peter.  Her family disapproved.  Margery was determined to make a home when Peter finished his sentence.  She found a flat in Chelsea.  When Peter Gardner was released things didn’t go according to plan.  Peter was a heavy drinker, highly strung  and unstable.  Peter and Margery separated although they continued to see one another.

Margery was pregnant again.  In 1944 she had a daughter Melody Ann.  Melody spend her early years in a nursery for training nurses, Margery’s mother paid the fees, Peter contributed nothing.   Her marriage was over when the Nazis launched their doodle bug assault on London.

Margery had difficulty finding  regular  work.  Her health was bad.  She was an arresting figure with an ocelot fur coat and good looks.  Although her odious husband said after her death that she drank too much nobody else ever saw her drunk except once.  Peter Gardner died of cirrhosis within a year of Margery’s death.

She wrote to her mother saying she had a boyfriend.  This was (probably) Peter Tilley Bailey.  He was a gentleman thief.  He had served time for stealing a car and Margery had been with him at the time although she was not charged.  According to her friends Peter Tilley was Margery’s only boyfriend at the time although Peter Tilley had other girlfriends.

Margery reminds us of the beatniks  and the hippies.  They had matters in common:  art and creativity,  little regard for convention, respect for eccentricity and bohemianism, tolerance for criminality and an experimental attitude to sexual matters.

It is just possible that you have seen Margery Gardner… she sometimes worked as a film extra.

On the evening of  20 March 1946, Margery was  short of money.  She would be dead within six hours.  At 7.15pm she met her friend Trevethan Frampton an art student and they spent an hour in the Trevor Arms.    They were joined by a number of men, some of whom Margery knew.  Amongst the men was Neville Heath.  Neville Heath asked Margery if she would join him for dinner.  Margery said she already had an arrangement for dinner with an Army Captain.  Trevethan left at 8.30 saying he might meet Margery later at a club they both visited.   The Army Captain met an old friend unexpectedly and was unable to dine with Margery.  At this point Margery had about eightpence… she could not afford a drink.  Heath introduced Margery to his air  force friends: “A great little scout.”  Heath took Margery to the Normandie Hotel for dinner and at 9.30 pm they went to the nearby Torch Club and then on to the Panama club.  At the Panama Club  Neville Heath and Margery unexpectedly met Peter Tilley with a young nurse, this did not go down well.  Witnesses at the club say that Margery, unusually , drank heavily and  threw herself at Neville.

Shortly after midnight on Friday 21st June 1946 Neville and Margery took a taxi to the Pembridge Court Hotel. The following afternoon her body was found.  I haven’t the heart to describe her injuries in detail but she was tied up, the victim of a violent sexual attack, she had been whipped and the whip had left distinctive marks.

That afternoon the investigation was led  Divisional Detective Inspector Reginald Spooner.   Chain-smoker, heavy drinker, workaholic.  Another character from  crime fiction, .  The hotel room at Pembridge Court had been booked in the name of Lieutenant Colonel Heath.  Lieutenant Colonel Heath had been staying with a lady but not Margery Gardner.  Heath had stayed at the hotel before using different names, dressed in different uniforms and accompanied by different wives.  A description of Neville Heath (but not a photograph)  was circulated.  The case was  a classic English murder…  the kind of crime that people loved to read about in the News of the World.  A  smart hotel, a good looking charming war hero, an attractive woman who was a film extra  who had shady friends and who had posed for life drawings.

Neville Heath was the most wanted man in the world.


Neville Heath in the meantime had taken off to the Tollard Royal Hotel  Bournemouth where he divided his time between flirting, drinking heavily, charming everybody, and sending letters to police asking to communicate through the Personal Column of the Daily Telegraph.  He registered as a South African:  Group Captain Rupert Robert Brook.  Rupert Brooke the poet had often visited Bournemouth and was described by Yeats as: “The handsomest young  man in England.”

Group Captain Brook settled his attentions on tall slim attractive 21 year old Doreen Marshall.


doreen marshall


Doreen Marshall


When she disappeared witnesses recalled her closeness to the dashing Group Captain.  Group Captain Brook presented himself at the Police Station to help.  The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Constable Suter,  had an uneasy feeling and without arresting the Group Captain kept making excuses to keep the Group Captain at the station…  asking questions, checking details…

To grasp the audacity of the Group Captains’s behaviour imagine the scene: Neville Heath as Group Captain Robert Brook is at the Police Station.  He meets Doreen Marshall’s father and sister who are also at the Station.  They  have a conversation.

Suter is under pressure to release Group Captain Brook.  Brook had came to the Station voluntarily to help.  Suter points out that Brook bears a close resemblance to a description of Neville Heath.  Brook laughs and says that other people have pointed that out.

Now all this time Neville knows that he has murdered Doreen Marshall and that her body is still undiscovered.  Leaving aside  moral criticism the audacity of Neville Heath is eye-popping.  During his stay at the Pembridge Court Group Captain Brooks, as he was claiming to be, got into a conversation with Peter Rylatt, a former Army Captain.  The subject Neville Heath came up.  Of course everybody was talking about Neville Heath on the run and sought for the murder of Margery Gardner.  “I knew him, he was a fairly decent kind of chap.”  This is Group Captain Brook talking about Neville Heath who is… himself.

WTF as the young folks say.

Long story short.  Suter rings Spooner.  A search of Neville’s room reveals a whip.  Spooner goes to Bournemouth.  Heath is taken to London.  Doreen Marshall’s body is found.  The body had been hidden in undergrowth.  Writing about crime you might become a bit thick skinned but I cannot describe the details.  The attack was  savage and sexually sadistic.  Neville  would have been covered in blood, it is suggested that after the attack he bathed naked in the sea and then had a cigarette then hid the body.  The following morning at the hotel he showed no sign of agitation.  One can feel  for all victims but Doreen Marshall aged 21, an ex-Wren… what words?



neville heath

Neville Heath


Neville Heath came from a loving repectable middle class family.  His school was  modelled on a public school… houses, prefects, games etc.  It is simply true to say that the public school was  a religion in British culture.  Take  popular fiction… children who went to Mill Hill Ragged School (there really was one in Preston) read books about Billy Bunter and in their comics they read about public schoolboys.  Lord Snooty…  remember him?  These tales had an extraordinary hold.   The public school was a template for all kinds of institutions: borstals, the Air Force.  The pre-war military had a  reliance on public schools through  Officer Training Courses.  Wealthier young people  might  have access to flying clubs.  In  the armed forces a public school ethos prevailed.  I have gone on about this probably far too long in order to place Neville Heath in that ethos.  About to be hanged and in the face of  facts he insisted he had been to private school.  What was it all about this public school thing that seized a nation’s imagination?  Courage, loyalty, determination, good humour, team spirit, athleticism,  contempt for anything intellectual or complicated… a  culture of dimness, youth, good looks, charm…    It is easy to see why these qualities were desirable in other settings and why the heroes of the popular fiction of the 30’s were grown up public schoolboys.   There was something else…  an attachment to violence… a contempt for  outsiders.  Bulldog Drummond is an anti-semitic xenophobe with Fascist tendencies…  But lets not get carried away.

What is startling is how closely Neville Heath fits this template and how it informs he behaviour.  It is not unusual for people to model themselves on a literary hero.  Lenin modelled his early self on the hero of What is to be Done?  And who are Christians supposed to take as a role model?   I will give a very brief biography of Neville Heath simply because the  intensity of his activities would require a lot of space: for example in his address book there are four hundred names… most of them women.

After school Neville got a job and then joined the RAF.  He was trained as a fighter pilot.  Then he  got in trouble over money.  It was a trivial thing involving a bounced cheque which could easily have been a misunderstanding.  But  Neville  decided to run off stealing his commanding officer’s car and communicating with his commanding officer suggesting correspondence in the Personal Column of the Daily Telegraph.  Dismissed from the RAF he met a bank manager at a seaside hotel and rushed back to the bank manager’s house and robbed it.  He got sent to a borstal with an enlightened director who modelled the borstal on a public school.  Neville adjusted well and was looked on as a  role model.  Interestingly he was in Borstal with Brendan Behan who had been sent there because of his attempt to support an IRA group which was carrying out a bombing campaign.  I don’t know the details of this group, it may have been based in Liverpool and may have been the group that planted a bomb at Blackpool Town Hall in 1939.

Neville often  thrived in disciplined organisations and all the evidence is that he was happy in Borstal.  He remained friends with the staff and even went back to lecture the boys.

Neville Heath joins the Army when war comes and is in Egypt.  Money is the problem and he solves it by having two pay books.  When he is found out he is sent back to England by ship stopping at Durban in South Africa.

In Durban he pulls off his most audacious stunt.  Arriving in South Africa he is a prisoner.  He walks off the boat, assumes a new identity hinting that he is linked to a famous banking family, he joins the South African Air Force, qualifies as a pilot and becomes a pilot instructor.  He marries a beautiful heiress from one of South Africa’s leading families. Elizabeth… a debutante. They have a child.    He has been staying at hotels without paying and so on and  his new family pays off his debts to keep him out of trouble.

In South Africa he is a popular character… he and his wife Elizabeth are a golden couple and a great deal is drunk.  Some of Neville’s past his revealed but he is a valuable asset to the SAAF.  Meantime Neville wants to be transferred to Europe where the action is.  When appraising Neville Heath an  indigestible fact is that he left a safe and respected role in South Africa, and his beautiful wife,  to return to England where bomber crews had a 66 percent chance of being killed.

He is transferred to England and again commissioned as a pilot under another name.  This time he is a bomber pilot… A bomber pilot is different from a fighter pilot.  A bomber is big and heavy and cumbersome.  And it is filled with bombs and a crew.  Say you are a bomb aimer…   it is over in minutes, a pilot is under strain for many hours.


Neville was part of a raid on the bridge at  Venlo   in the Netherlands.  The aim was to prevent supplies and troops reaching  the Germans.  Finally the bridge was blown up by the retreating Germans.

The aircraft, a Mitchell Bomber, reliable, noisy, was struck by flak after the bombing and fire began to spread.  Neville ordered the crew to bale out.  The navigator,  Freddie Silvester previously a teacher, struggled with his parachute.  Neville helped him and Freddie Silvester and Neville baled out.  Seconds later the aircraft exploded in a ball of flame.  Neville and the crew had two weeks “survivor’s leave.”  Freddie told his wife that Neville had saved his life.

Neville was under observation by his Squadron Leader.  A  member of his crew had refused to fly with him.  This had caused his Squadron Leader to take that member’s  place on the Venlo Raid,  with the idea of keeping an eye on Neville Heath.  Although Neville’s conduct was exemplary his Squadron Leader felt he might be  having a breakdown…  Neville was drinking heavily and there was an embarassing incident.    We do not know more about this incident which was witnessed by his Squadron Leader  but we do know that Neville had previously flown into an  uncontrollable rage.  He met an MP in South Africa who delighted in telling unlikely stories about his false leg…  it was bitten off by a crocodile and so on.  This was not intended to be believed but Neville, beside himself,  called him a liar and threatened the MP.  Neville had to be held back from attacking the MP.  Strange that a serial liar should be incensed by a lie.  Was it because Neville  regarded himself  as the supreme liar and the MP was threatening Neville’s territory?

Regarding the later incident his Squadron Leader,  Fielding-Johnson: “He seemed to become an entirely different person. ”

Neville would not fly for the RAF again.  Neville also got a genuine  if informal medal …  the Caterpillar Club… for crew who parachuted from aircraft.  Neville returned to South Africa but not to the welcome he might expect…   In South Africa his wife told him she wanted a divorce.  According to Neville Heath’s later account he intended to shoot Elizabeth and himself but had a “blackout.”   After the trial Elizabeth did not harbour ill feelings  towards Neville but she did say that drink made him a different person.

The divorce unsettle Neville Heath. He went on a spree, absent without leave from the SAAF, and his fallback behaviour, staying at hotels without paying.  The divorce settlement involved Elizabeth’s family paying of debts, in return Neville gave up rights to his child.

During his bomber pilot days in  England,  apparently happily married, Neville had become  engaged.  The church was booked, the reception organised, Heath told his fiancee that the wedding would have to be postponed as he had to go back to South Africa.  From South Africa he wrote that his wife refused to divorce him…

In South Africa he was arrested for fraud but, sympathetic to a damaged ex-officer, his sentence was suspended.  The SAAF tried him for among other things, awarding himself a DFC and an OBE.  While awaiting court martial he took the opportunity to steal from another officer.   In addition his former fiance’s father in England had written to the South African authorities with details of  Neville’s  breach of promise and other misdemeanours.  He was dismissed from the SAAF and deported from South Africa.  It was later said by Neville that he changed following his separation from Elizabeth.  We have no idea if this is true.

In England he worked seriously to obtain a pilot’s licence.  Because of  his conduct the RAF made it clear that he would not be allowed to fly.  He had worked hard and in a disciplined way for his pilot’s licence.  He had borrowed money from his father and he told his mother that he had actually qualified.  After his hanging his mother said that she thought Neville had told her this to save her from disappointment.  Neville went off rails which he had never been entirely on… fraud, heavy drinking, high spending, falsely claiming rank and honours.   It was a consequence of fraud the Neville was flush with money when he met Margery Gardner.



It is possible to argue that the death of Margery  Gardner was manslaughter.  Suppose a sexual encounter had got out of hand?  It turned out Neville had previously been turned out of a hotel for whipping a woman.   One of Margery’s acquaintances claimed that she had an interest in such things but Spooner in his politically incorrect way said that the witness was: “a mental case.  ”

A witness said that Neville had twenty five pints of beer before the left with Jane.  And he drank more with the meal and at the nightclubs.  And Jane Gardner was drunk.

But the murder of Elizabeth Marshall?  21 years old, an ex-Wren, inexperienced?

Neville Heath was sentenced to death.  He was indifferent to his fate… he told his legal representative: “Put me down as not guilty old boy.”

He did not make any effort to appeal and told his mother and father that he would rather die that live in prison.  A woman juror wrote to the Home Secretary saying that she had concerns  about Neville Heath’s mental state.

Awaiting hanging Neville Heath was unconcerned.  Interestingly he re-read the Thirteen Steps in which an innocent man evades the authorities.  A bit like Neville Heath except for the innocent bit.  Neville Heath was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint.  The governor asked him if he would like a whiskey.   Neville said (his last words?): “Make it a double will you?”

Pierrepoint’s account of the hanging is (is it just me?) disconcerting.   We have to remember that Pierrepoint was shaping a lucrative career as a celebrity hangman.  First of all Pierrepoint used a special strap to pinion Neville’s hands: “I had a more than formal interest in this execution.”

And after the hanging:

“As he hung I stripped him.  Piece by piece I removed his clothes…  A dead man, being taken down from execution is a uniquely broken body whether he is a criminal or Christ…”



Neville Heath , good looking, brave, bold, tall, athletic, clever, cool … but indifferent to cruelty and killing.  There have been many works around Neville Heath.  The most wonderful piece of work is the Gorst Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton.  For my money Patrick Hamilton is the most underrated author.  I don’t  believe that the trilogy comes close to explaining Neville or the nature of evil…  but it captures the strange labyrinthine rituals of middle class life in the thirties and this was the milieu in which Neville operated. The Gorst Trilogy was made into a television series: The Charmer by the writer Allan Prior from Blackpool.  Allan Prior said that he based his character on the Gorst Trilogy but also on Neville Heath.  Since Hamilton based Gorst on Neville Heath…  but I’m sure Allan Prior knew that.  In the trilogy there is an incident in which the young Gorst ties up a girl in a shed.  There was an actual incident when Neville was young when he and his friend attacked a young girl at a party.  Characteristically he apologised to her father who was an MP and nothing came of the incident.

A theme in Neville’s life is the literary quality of his behaviour.  When he was originally sentenced to borstal the prison chaplain said he was a “Raffles.”


The connection with Blackpool is through Margery Gardner who worked in Blackpool while her husband Peter was in the RAF.  After the trial of Neville,   Margery’s  husband Peter used her paintings and drawings for an exhibition on the Golden Mile.  Morbid interest in the works of the murdered, an unfairly notorious, Margery Gardner probably attracted seaside visitors more than artistic considerations.   Neville’s beloved brother Mick  did follow his footsteps at least in as far as joining the RAF was concerned.  He was stationed near Blackpool.  He visited Tussauds waxworks and there he saw his brother staring back at him. He lived in fear that he might have some of Neville’s tendencies.  Eventually he found his feet in civilian life.  Margery’s daughter, Melody, on a visit with a schoolfriend read a sensational book which described her mother’s death.  On the same journey in Tussauds in London she saw the model of her mother’s killer wearing the actual jacket he wore at the trial.  Melody took years to recover.

What to make of Neville Heath?  Let me try this out:  we think he is more calculating than other people… that there is more going on in Neville’s brain.  But actually there is less.  And it is  this absence that enables him to act as he does.  When you think about Neville Heath is it possible that he was a robot… a handsome void?   Just a guess.

An incident comes to mind.  Neville Heath is living at home and studying hard for his pilot’s licence.  A woman comes to the door. Neville’s mother answers.  The woman is the wife of Freddie Sylvester.  Freddie Sylvester said that Neville Heath saved his life and the wife wanted to thank him.  Freddie Sylvester had subsequently been killed on  another operation.

But consider Margery Gardner and Elizabeth Marshall…  the loss to their friends and parents.






























































Edith Oatley, Anchorsholme to the West End: Gordon Cummins the Blackout Ripper

Second Blackout Killer Victim

Evelyn Oatley



I  intended to write a piece about two ladies who lived briefly in Blackpool and were murdered.  But I became interested in Evelyn Oatley and the Blackout Ripper.  So this is the story.

I am a left wing bigot  but however you try you  cannot portray  the women who were victims of the Blackout Ripper as exploited by men.  The boot is on the other foot.

These murders happened in 1942.   The blitz and the blackout had transformed London to gothic strangeness.  The last thing the government wanted was a panic around blackout measures and so the case was not heavily reported.

To get our bearings: 1942 main events:   Pearl Harbour, Germany declares war on USA (!).   Singapore surrendered in the same month as  the activities of the Blackout Ripper.  Blackpool experienced its single most lethal murder. (???)

World War 11 was a  game of two halves.  An informed observer would have bet on a German victory in early 1942.  The same person would bet on an allied victory at the end of 1942.

The mood in early 1942 was uneasy, fearful, exhausted.


Evelyn Judd was born in Earby  in 1918 which was then in Lancashire but is now in Yorkshire.  She  longed for the glamour of a life in theatre.  Unfortunate in Earby.   In newspapers Evelyn  is described as  “a talented actress”,  but I found no evidence that she did act.

Evelyn  became pregnant at 15 and her daughter was adopted.  She had a very close relationship with her mother.

And how did she meet Harold who was a  chicken farmer in Thornton?  We don’t know but my guess is that Blackpool  and dancing were involved.   Evelyn loved dancing.

Harold was smitten.  In 1934 he financed a journey by Evelyn to the West End.  She had a flat in Great Portland Street and  made a living as a dancer and a nightclub hostess.  She was unable to find work in the theatre.  She had a stage name, Lita Ward.  She claimed to have worked at the Windmill Theatre.

What did Harold make of all this?  Perhaps he thought that when Evelyn got this acting bug out of her system she would settle down to the life of a poultry farmer’s wife in Thornton.  And in 1936 Evelyn returned to Thornton and on June 26 they were married at the Registry Office in Blackpool.  Photographs of Evelyn show a dark blonde attractive woman.  Unlike most photographs of the time they are revealing , modelled on Hollywood glamour shots.

It could  have worked.  Evelyn could have got this theatre thing out of her system and settled down as the wife of a poultry farmer.  Her husband adored her.  But it didn’t.  Harold’s business did not prosper and he moved to Lyddesdale Avenue in Anchorsholme.    Evelyn returned to the West End.  Harold visited her regularly.  She made a living as a dancer and a nightclub hostess and a prostitute.  Evelyn also had affairs.  And she told Harold about them.  Loving Harold hoped that in the end she would realise that she did not need to seek love because she was already loved.  Evelyn saw Harold as a shoulder to cry on.

When the war came there were few  theatrical opportunities in the West End and Evelyn was getting on by dancer standards.  The life of a prostitute was not at all unsuitable for a girl who likes  glamour, and dancing, and drinking, and men in uniform.  And there is a  community of prostitutes in which Evelyn was highly regarded.  She was confident, generous, trustworthy,  she didn’t work  Sundays.

Harold continued to make the round trip to see her.  At one point Evelyn  was in a relationship with a military man and they asked Harold if he would divorce Evelyn so that they could marry.  Harold agreed.   He put Evelyn’s happiness above his own.  But Evelyn’s relationship with the serviceman collapsed.

On Tuesday 3 February 1942 Harold waved goodbye to Evelyn at Euston Station.  Evelyn would eventually value  his  devotion. Maybe he was right… time was on his side.

On the night of Monday 9 February 1942 Evelyn, fashionably dressed, waved to her friends who were in the company of two air-force cadets from the Regent Park Reception Centre.  She entertained various gentlemen, a Canadian military man and a civilian.  She may have entertained six to eight clients that evening.

On Tuesday 10 February her body was found when a neighbour opened the door for two men who wanted to read and empty her meter.  She had been mutilated and posed.  She was exposed and had been penetrated with objects including a torch.

The next time Harold saw Evelyn she was a corpse.   Good natured, kindly, generous Harold…  And Evelyn, with her  dreams of fame and her mother’s photo in her cigarette case.

Evelyn had been robbed.  She had about £20 in her purse…  which had the purchasing power of almost £1000  today.  And her cigarette case had been stolen with the  photograph of her mother inside.  She had been mutilated with a can opener.  The killer had concentrated on the breasts and sexual organs.  The killer had partially strangled her so that Evelyn was semi-conscious.  Her artery had been cut with a razor blade…  blood shot six feet across the room.  The killer was left handed.

Evelyn was the second victim of the Blackout Ripper.


I had intended only to write about Evelyn Oatley but I found myself bewitched by the other victims.  I am not the first person to be enchanted by prostitutes (Dickens, Gladstone) .  This is late romanticism where the artist identifies with the prostitute…  Another strand is the notion that like  priests and doctors and undertakers they have privileged access to what people are really like.  The term “sex worker” that somehow puts prostitution in the same realm as working at Tesco…  well that doesn’t work.  Whatever, as the young folks say:  it is just true that people (especially men) are fascinated.

Jack the Ripper, the Blackout Ripper and the Yorkshire Ripper.  You will find all kinds of bosh about  hatred of prostitutes but it does not take much thinking to work out  that if you want to kill a woman and get away with it the  prostitute is your best bet.  The Blackout Killer’s first victim was not a prostitute.

The Blackout Ripper killed four women and attacked two over six days.  Apart from revulsion there is something eye-popping about his  work ethic.


Evelyn Hamilton, the first known victim, was born in the North East of England.  Her father died when she was young and her mother paid special attention to her education.   She went to a prestigious school and then to Edinburgh School of Medicine where she obtained a diploma as a pharmacist.  She worked hard and worked at Yardleys Chemist in Romford.  Among her belongings was a book on women’s suffrage.

She was a solitary figure with no close friends and  no men  in her life.  She was anxious and depressive.    Her dress was  dowdy as if she never wanted to draw  attention to herself.  She was a Socialist.  She was given notice at Yardleys the Chemists because business was dwindling but she  immediately got a new job in Grimsby.  She was packing to go to a new job in a town she did not know.

Edith left her lodgings for the last time on Sunday 8 February 1942.  She was going to spend the night in London and travel to Grimsby on Monday.  Evelyn took the railway to Baker Street.   She took a taxi to the Three Arts Club.  At 10.50 Evelyn took a taxi to the Maison Lyonesse, half a mile from her hotel.  There is an hour when she drops from sight.  At 11.45 she orders a meal and a glass of wine.  It is her forty-first birthday.     Four cards are found among her belongings…

On Monday 9th February  at 8.30am  two plumbers going to work noticed a torch outside an air-raid shelter in Montagu Street.  Then they saw a leg.  And then they saw Evelyn Hamilton’s body.  She had fought hard against her attacker and had been strangled.  Her body had been exposed, posed and mutilated.  There  are unexplained injuries that might have been caused by penetration  with the torch.  Her two pairs of undergarments are about her knees.   She felt the cold on Sunday 8th February and she would never feel the cold again.  Evelyn who was almost noticeable because of the care she took to avoid notice.  There are anomolies about the timing.  There is an unaccounted hour after she left the hotel.  And how had the killer managed to get this loner into the shelter?  She died ten seconds from her hotel.  Why didn’t she get a taxi after her meal?     The killer was left-handed and Evelyn’s money was stolen.  It was her severance pay and amounted to £20, £1000 today.



Margaret Lowe the third victim of the Blackout Ripper was in a class of her own.  She had the misfortune to come down in the world twice.  She was born in 1899 in idyllic surroundings in Napier New Zealand.  Her family returned to England.  Her father died during the war and she  lived in poverty with her mother widowed with three children. In 1919 she was convicted of living on immoral earnings.

In 1921 she married George Frederick Lowe.  Her fortune took a turn for the better.  Her husband set up a shop in Southend which flourished.  In 1932 George died.  They had a four year old daughter Barbara.  Margaret took to drinking, the business fell apart, Barbara was taken into care, and Margaret took to prostitution.

In twelve months she had gone from being a prosperous shop owner with a husband and daughter to being a depressed alcoholic lone prostitute. Margaret was unhappy and a loner.  Unlike most prostitutes she did not have a “patch” but walked in a long square near Picadilly Circus.  She worked late at night.  She was well-spoke and generally wore a fur coat.  She did not socialise and seemed to detest both her clients and other prostitutes.  Other prostitutes called her “The Lady.”

At odds with the implication of gentility was the fact that she dealt with troublesome clients violently, decisively and frequently.  She was  often seen drunk and singing.

The single bright spot in her life was her daughter Barbara who had grown into vivacious young lady of fifteen.

On Tuesday 10 February 1942 Margaret was in a cheerful mood when she ordered lamb livers, kidney, fat and suet.  Her daughter was visiting her on Saturday and she was going to make a suet pudding.

Margaret lived at Gosfield Street in a flat that today would be worth be well over a million pounds.  Neighbours heard a man leaving early on Wednesday morning.

Margaret was solitary and friendless.  Her body was not found until Saturday when her daughter. Barbara,  was unable to get her to open the door.  A constable opened the door and found Margaret’s body on the bed.  The body was posed and exposed and mutilated using things that the murderer had found in the room: a potato peeler.  She had been penetrated with a candle.  Margaret had been partially strangled by a left handed person.  She was 43 years old.

I was puzzled that the door was locked.  Did the killer use her key to lock the door?


Doris Jouannet is the only one of the Blackout Ripper’s victims who had the experience of being driven around in  silver Rolls Royce.  She was born in 1907 in Northumberland.  She was the daughter of a single mother who died shortly after her birth and she was raised by her aunts.  And that’s almost all we know.  She next appears on the world stage as a prostitute in London and then her fortunes took a considerable turn for the better.

In 1935 she was 25 and she married Henri Jouannet.  French born Henri was 60.  Henri had interests in hotels including the Royal Court Hotel in Sloane Square.  Doris became used to a very high standard of living.  Various money worries including a decline in hotel trade meant that the couple were not as well off as they had been but they were still prosperous.  They lived in an apartment at Sussex Gardens… a prestigious address.

In her last recorded conversation Doris said that she was not getting on with Henri and that she had a meeting with another man in Piccadilly.  This man either cancelled the meeting or did not turn up and Doris set off for home.  Doris had taken up prostitution again and with her tallness, her striking looks, her expensive clothes and her commanding manner she attracted wealthier clients.  She was said to be Russian.

On Friday  evening,  12 February Henri returned home.  His wife’s bedroom door was locked and there was no reply.  A policeman entered the room.  Doris had been murdered, exposed, her body posed,  mutilated with knives and a potato peeler that the killer had found in the kitchen.  In this case too the killer seems to have locked the bedroom door.



On  Thursday 12 February 1942 at  8pm 30 year old  Greta Hayward was an hour early for a date.  An airforce cadet offered to buy her a drink while she waited for her friend near Piccadilly Circus.  She agreed on condition that she could meet her friend by 9pm.  He asked if he could meet her again and she agreed and gave him her phone number.  The airman had had a few whiskies.  He forced her into a darkened doorway, took off his respirator in its canvas container and  kissed her.  He started to squeeze her throat with his left hand. A 24 year old night porter, John Shine, sensed something was wrong and shouted “Stop police!”  The airman ran off leaving behind his gas mask and its container.


About 10 pm the same day a tall slim attractive red-haired  prostitute, Kathryn Mulcahy, was propositioned by an airman and took him back  to her flat at 29  Southwick Street Paddington.   While they lay naked on the bed, he caressed her neck with his left hand.  She bent both his thumbs back till they nearly snapped and kicked him in the chest.

Kathryn screamed “Police.  Murder!” and knocked on her neighbours’ doors.  Her neighbours saw the airman but he was unruffled and apologised, peeled of five one pound notes and left without haste.  He left behind the belt from his air force tunic.

Meanwhile Greta Hayward made her way to the Police Station in the West End.  She described the airman. Five foot nine, fair hair, an air force cadet… but most importantly he had left his air force respirator in its bag.  And on the respirator was a six digit service number.  When Greta talked to DI Clarence Jeffrey there were a number of anomalies.  Greta’s money had been stolen, but if this was a simple theft why had the attacker bought drinks for Greta and taken her phone number?   If it was a planned assault why did he not have a weapon?  And it was peculiar for an assailant to subdue a victim by strangulation.  But funny things  happen.  On the plus side there was a good description of the airman, both by Greta and by John Shine and critically there was the respirator with its six digit number, 525987.  The cadet was most likely at the Regents Park Reception Centre for initial training.




At 5.45 am on Friday 13 February 1942 Gordon Frederick Cummins was interviewed.  He denied the assault on Greta Hayward and was arrested,  When told that he would take part in an identification parade he admitted that he had drunk too much and blacked out and he apologised.  He was charged at Bow Street in the afternoon and was held in Brixton Prison.

At around the time that Gordon Cummins was arrested Kathryn Mulcahy  was telling the story of her attacker.  A doctor confirmed that attempted strangulation had taken place and she was able to give a good description of her attacker.  She also had his tunic belt which he had left behind.  There were bloodstains.

On Friday 13 February 1942 the bodies of Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouannet were discovered.

When Gordon Cummins gave an account of his movements he was relaxed and good humoured.  He  stuck to the facts.  The investigation was hampered because comings and goings at the reception centre were inadequately recorded.

Two one pound notes which had been given by the airman to Kathryn Mulcahy could be traced to Gordon  Cummins.  Gordon Cummins’ uniform was taken for forensic examination and thirteen small bloodstains were found. Chief Inspector Greeno was in charge of the investigation into the Blackout Murders.  At some time it must have  struck him that there was a similarity between the victims and the attacks on Kathryn Mulcahy and Greta Hayward.

At 6.30pm on Saturday 14 February 1942 DS Leonard Crawford search Gordon Cummins’ flat.  Odd items: a black fountain pen, a silver cigarette case, a comb with several missing teeth and a gold watch seemed anomalous.  Doris’ husband identified the pen, the gold watch and the comb.  Margaret Lowe’s 15 year old daughter Barbara, identified the cigarette case.

On Tuesday 27 April 1942 at Bow Street George Cummins was charged with the murder of Doris Jouannet.  Meanwhile George Cummins’ fellow cadets found a cigarette case and a handkerchief hidden above a fridge.  The handkerchief belonged to Evelyn Hamilton and was identified by a laundry mark.  The cigarette case belonged to Evelyn Oatley.  The cigarette case bore the initials LW, from Edith Oatley’s stage name, and inside was a photograph of Evelyn Oatley’s beloved mother.

In addition there was now fingerprint evidence from Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouannet’s flats.

In the face of overwhelming evidence George denied everything.  The trial was at the Old Bailey.  George offered no defence, called no witnesses.  The trial lasted only a day and the jury took  35 minutes to find George Cummins guilty.

His parents and his wife continued to believe that he was innocent.  His wife?  Yes well I was coming to that.


gordon cummins



Gordon Cummins

So what kind of man attacks six women and kills four in six days.  Apart from that how did he do it?  Don’t forget that George Cummins had a full day as a cadet.  He was killing in his spare time.  George Cummins had volunteered for aircrew possible pilot training.  Who was he?

He had a loving mother and a strict father.  His father was a pious Catholic and a schoolteacher.  There had been a  scandal in his father’s life.  Some money had gone missing in a school where he worked.  He claimed he was innocent but paid the missing money.  He was able to go on to another teaching post.

Gordon left school at 15.  He took a diploma in chemistry.  He was fired from three jobs after about 6 months.  His employer said he was: “abnormal and dense.”  He was very easily distracted, crazy about girls and fond of drink.  He adopted a posh accent.

Gordon moved to London and in 1935 he met 22 year old Marjorie Stevens, a secretary. In 1938 they were married at Paddington Registry Office within walking distance of two of the murders.  The couple rented a flat in Barnes a suburb of South West London.  Shortly afterwards Gordon joined the Air Force.  Although he was stationed all over the country he regularly visited Marjorie.  Marjorie was very private, but she believed in Gordon’s innocence until he died and she said, in a very rare interview, that their marriage was: “very, very happy.”

It may be that a combination of marriage and the Air Force improved Gordon’s behaviour.  His CO said he was “exemplary” and that he “never complained.”  Opinions varied about Gordon.  Some found him charming.  Others said that he was a liar, claiming distinguished birth and education, drunken, a womaniser and a thief.  He had nicknames reflecting his grandiose claims: “The Duke” or “The Count.” He was always short of money and he needed a lot of money to fund drinking and womanising.  His stay near Bath was accompanied by a series of thefts from women and two women had been hit and robbed near Bath.  Gordon managed to become a member of an elite club called the Blue Peter Club.  And then he ran off with the money. .  His final posting was to Regents Court for pilot training one week before the death of Evelyn Hamilton.


Consider two episodes during Gordon Cummins’ killing spree.

Monday 9th February (remember he had murdered Evelyn Hamilton in the early hours of that morning)  Gordon left his flat at 6pm, went for a drink with his friend, met two prostitutes, went to their flat, then he left picked up Evelyn  Oatley and murdered her.  It is possible he murdered Evelyn Oatley and Evelyn Hamilton on the same day as well as doing his duties as an airforce cadet and going with another prostitute.

Or  on Thursday 12 February 1942. At  9 pm he attacked Greta Hayward, at 10pm he attacked Kathryn Mulcahy and about 11.00 pm he picked up and later  murdered Doris Jouannet.  This again  after a working day as a cadet.

A possible explanation might be alcohol plus amphetamines.  Amphetamines were  freely available to servicemen, in Germany just about everybody including Adolf, used them.  Apart from increasing alertness and wakefulness they can also make people  more reckless and less fearful… a handy thing if you are piloting a bomber.  Germany’s victory over France  might be down to amphetamines… their tank drivers just went on and on.   What do amphetamines do in combination with alcohol?  I haven’t got the foggiest idea but I think its likely that they make violence more likely and perhaps induce dreamlike states.  There is no evidence that Gordon used amphetamines and he certainly did use alcohol in abundance.   Another feature of Gordon’s case is the robotic repetitiveness of his actions.  So fear of impotence?  A private almost religious ritual to appease the terrifying feminine  gods?  A hatred of women?  All of these?  None of them?

Gordon Cummins’ choice to offer no defence intentionally closed examination of his behaviour.  The jury took 35 minutes to reach a decision.  He was hanged on Thursday 25th of June 1942 at Wandsworth  by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by Harry Allen.  Harry Allen, after his retirement used to give change on Fleetwood Pier.   It is  claimed  that Gordon Cummins, who was 28,  was hanged during an air-raid.  A memory of the  Blackout Ripper contributed to the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 film “Frenzy”.

It will not benefit Evelyn Hamilton or Evelyn Oatley or Margaret Lowe or Doris Jouannet to think of them with sorrow and pity.  But it won’t do any harm either.  And  think of Harold Oatley… I believe he died in the 60’s.  Did he pause in Anchorsholme  and reflect on his lost love…


Many thanks to staff at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre for unfailing help.  If you are interested in learning more about the Blackout Ripper the most detailed source o is a Podcast called Murder Mile which is simply wonderful.  It is written and read by Michael Buchanan-Dunne who also conducts Crime Walks in Central London.  Murder Mile is brilliant.









































































World War II in Blackpool Fylde: murders, vicars, prostitutes, fortune tellers and heroes

For the Devil has broken parole and arisen,

He has dynamited his way out of prison,

Out of the well where his Papa throws

The rebel angel, outcast rose.

Danse Macabre

W H Auden



My intention is to focus on crime and violent events  but I cannot resist  stories  from the Gazette  which were new to me.  You could say that Blackpool was populated by prostitutes spivs dotty vicars and heroes.  Or that it was our finest hour.


In 1939 Blackpool was bombed.  By the IRA.   The event was overshadowed by the War but a campaign by the IRA  was under way.  Brendan Behan aged 16 was on his way to Liverpool presumably to join an orperational unit.  He  was arrested and sent to Borstal where he met Neville Heath… more later.  ( Brendan Behan’s saying: “I am a drinker with writing problems” wish I’d thought of that  first).  Elsewhere Finland  was in a struggle with Russia.  Newspapers  took the side of Finland.  At about the same time Russian forces clashed with the Japanese and the success of Zhukov…  the most capable military leader of the war… influenced Japan’s “Southern Policy” aimed at the United States.  Later Finland was an ally of Germany ( I haven’t checked this but I recall that Finnish aircraft  had swastikas on aircraft long  after the war ended… politically incorrect or what?) and Britain was an ally of Russia. Air Force Command

Surprising insignia of the Finnish Air Force Command

I am told ( I have not checked) that on the day war was declared the Times devoted more words to the dance The Lambeth Walk than to war.

In spite of dreamy sense of catastrophe  Blackpool was booming …  new buildings: Derby Baths, the Odeon Cinema, the Casino, the New Opera House, the Solarium,  Woolworths, St Johns Market had recently been built.


The Gazette went  from  silly optimism to realism.  A  well informed gambler  in 1940 would bet that Germany would control Europe for generations.  The invasion of Britain was not  within the capacity of German forces but, as in the case of the Armada…  the threat united people.     The peculiar, restless, uneven nature of  Adolf destabilised his enterprise, his later career displays advanced fruitloopery.  An observation about history goes:  “Everybody knows what’s going to happen after it happens.”  My point is that from 1940 Britain victory seemed unlikely.

In 1942 Adolf declared war on the United States.  He was under no treaty obligation. Germany was now at war with the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States.   An eight year old could work out the outcome  on the back of an envelope.  Germany might survive a couple of years .  That it survived for three  is a   tribute to Adolf’s  (yawn) charisma.  The war transformed from a pursuit of realist goals to an  operatic suicide  with all the Wagnerian trimmings by Adolf.

Blackpool’s preparations make  bleak reading.  At the Raikes Garage on Church Street there was a store of paper coffins and the Town Clerk, Trevor Jones…  who much later committed suicide…  had detailed plans for public buildings to become mortuaries.  Pro-forma paperwork  to accompany each cadaver.  Trevor Jones was the brother in law of Amy Johnson who often flew to Squires Gate and visited the home in Newton Drive.  She perished in the war.

There were two thousand air raid shelters in the area.  Shelters on the promenade provided for 85000 people.  A shelter underneath the Metropole was the site of a murder.

The  expected bombing did not happen on time… both sides paused uncertain what to do….

Pill-boxes , anti-aircraft batteries and beach defences appeared.

Communists were enthusiastic about war until the Nazi Soviet pact.  Many Conservatives were opposed to the war.  It would lead to the end of the Empire.  They were right.   Adolf was  disconcerted by the Japanese victory at Singapore saying that it meant the end of the white race in Asia.  “Conchies” refused active service and sometimes refused to work in non-combat roles because this released others for combat roles.  The religious group most associated with conchies in Blackpool were the Christadelphians.  People who worked for the council who were “conchies” were dismissed.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union most opinion was united.  Four out of five German servicemen who died in the war did so on the Eastern Front.

A Spitfire Fund raised money.  At one of the events lion cubs were displayed and a young girl walked off with a lion cub.  The loss was  detected later.


Blackpool was a base for air-force training and for parts of the civil service during the war.  1700 civil servants moved to Blackpool.  770000 RAF troops received training, the biggest military training centre in the world.  The Olympia buildings in the Winter Gardens were used to teach Morse Code.  Troops bathed nude at Derby Baths.  Aircraft at Squires Gate took part in the defence of Manchester and Liverpool. Fires from Liverpool could be seen from Blackpool.  A third of Wellington bombers were produced at the Squires Gate factory.

The Vickers factory at Squires Gate built Wellington Bombers.  You see photographs of five young air force men and read that none of them survived the war.  These nineteen year olds  spent hours in aircraft  knowing that an unpleasant death  was their likely  fate.  Two thirds of bomber crews were killed.  A  General was asked what undermined courage… he said: “Imagination.”

All this activity had an economic effect.  Female unemployment fell from 3700 in January 1940 to 184 in August.

“If he’s being difficult shoot him.”  This is Lord Beaverbrook’s  speaking about a farmer  angling for compensation when the Warton Airbase was constructed.  12000 American airmen  moved into a small town.  And Blackpool to the North was a year round entertainment centre.  “Blackpool has more ways of parting people from their money than any other place in Britain. ”  Armed military police supervised dances at the Winter Gardens and saturday night there was a  fight between Americans and others.  Americans earned three times as much as British counterparts and their uniforms were  smarter.


Evacuation of children from northern cities meant that schools operated a shift system.    There was ill feeling because the allowances paid were small.  Some children were said to be difficult or wet the bed.  Many of the children  were from poorer homes and when they were billeted with middle class families there was mutual shock.  Evacuees drifted back.   Even though the  evacuation was not a success  the experience  helped more successful  evacuations during the blitz and the V1 and V2 campaigns.

In 1939 37000 children and expectant mothers arrived in four days.  There were complaints that children were not billeted in affluent areas… such as Newton Drive and Whitegate Lane.  There is a cringe-making report in the Gazette where children are chosen by host families and one family choses: “a negro.”


At one time half the homes in Blackpool were used as billets during the war either for civil servants, or evacuees or air force recruits.


Among evacuees were Barbara Windsor and the baby who became Cynthia Lennon.  “Put out More Flags” by Evelyn Waugh has his anti-hero become billeting officer  in order to make a nice living placing unspeakable families with genteel upper class couples (plenty of china).  They pay him to remove the children.  Evelyn Waugh visited Lytham Hall and although Brideshead Revisited is not based on Lytham Hall it had some influence (stately home, loopy catholics).

Mervyn Peake who wrote the wonderful Gormenghast Trilogy was in Blackpool for air-force training.  He is said to have written some of it on North Pier.   Also in Blackpool was R F Delderfield who wrote To Serve them all my Days.  He wrote a Worm’s Eye View a play based on his experiences in Blackpool which was a  hit in the West End starring a youthful Diana Dors.  Jack Rosenthal, who wrote many tv plays and dramas including Coronation Street wrote the Evacuees… a play based on his experiences in Lytham St Annes.

My favourite book about this time is by Allan Prior (father of Maddy Prior) who wrote for Z Cars and the Gazette.  “My old Man” is a masterpiece about human folly, an obvious autobiography it explores the  seedy  logical world of gamblers in Blackpool before and after the war.  The book opens with a policeman coming to take the Old Man to prison.  The Old Man is (surprisingly ) upper class… former officer , he  puts on his regimental tie when in trouble, and he has a live-in maid… never paid.  A feature of the book is the Old Man’s optimism.  His generation saw the First World War and were surprised to be alive.

“Vamp till ready” is a work by the  poet  Roy Fuller who lived in Blackpool and was from a wealthy family… he writes about the vulgarity of his (I think) Rochdale relative who was a Conservative councillor and Mayor of Rochdale.  He was also very Left Wing at this time.  He recalls a comrade who died in the Spanish Civil War.  The book is so charming and dry that you never know if he is aware of the irony of his position.


Blackpool suffered one lethal enemy bombing on 12 September 1940.  A German aircraft  dropped bombs which landed on Seed Street near North Station.  The aircraft  was returning  after a raid on Manchester.   Eight  people died and the street was destroyed.


On October 1 1940 a  lone bomb destroyed several houses in Church Street, Ansdell and one person was killed.  In Kirkham one hundred and thirty houses were damaged and two people lost their lives in 1941.

A bomb hit Leopold Grove in Blackpool but nobody was injured.

Non-lethal bombings happened at North Shore Golf course and  Lindale Gardens near the Vickers site at Squires Gate.  139 bombs and 11000 incendiaries hit Blackpool and the Fylde.North Shore Golf

Damage at North Shore Golf Club

The most severe incidents were accidents.   On 27 august 1941 a training flight resulted in a mid air collision between aircraft which caused the fuselage of one aircraft to crash onto the entrance of Central Station…  eighteen people were killed.  The engine of one of the aircraft destroyed 97 Reads Avenue which was never rebuilt.  The body of one of the aircraft crew was found in Regent Road with an unopened parachute.


The most distressing Fylde  incident was the crash of a B24 Liberator heavy bomber on Wednesday 23 August 1944 at Freckleton.  The aircraft had taken off from Warton.  The weather was  unusual … hurricane-like…and the aircraft crashed into cottages and a snack-bar at Freckleton before ending up in Holy Trinity reception classroom.  In the school 38 children and 6 adults were killed.  In the snack bar which catered especially for American servicemen 14 adults were killed.  The three aircraft crew were killed.

An injured child recalls  that Bing Crosby sang to the victims.


Thanks to the Gazette.  Freckleton: the aftermath


On August 9 1944  about 3.40pm Mrs Hannah Haworth  aged 55 was enjoying a holiday in Blackpool from her home near Preston. She was staying at a hotel in Queens Drive with her husband and daughter.  She was hit by a bullet and  died in hospital.  The coroner said the bullet came from  aircraft  training over the Irish Sea.

The major source of casualties in Blackpool and the Fylde was traffic accidents in the blackout.  In  august 1940 eleven people died in a motor coach  returning to Rugely  from Blackpool.

There were  reports in the Gazette of women being molested in the darkness.  Although crime was under- reported burglars must have found the blackout helpful.    Rationing provided an incentive  for theft.  Blackpool traders needed sugar and fat to carry on their fish and chip shops , ice-cream businesses and rock manufacturing.     Businessmen needed to break the law to continue in business.  Crime moved up the social scale.   Police had to cope with extra rules such as blackouts and rationing and there was an increased population… civil servants and servicemen… on top of this the most experienced and able officers were taken by the forces.

Crime took a back seat compared to the war effort.  Looting was a feature of the blitz but not  reported.



This is Blackpool in the War: a number of young men training for the air-force.  Many civil servants.  Well paid American airmen at Warton.  Blackpool was the prostitute centre of Britain… with a changing stream of young men and an all year season.    Blackpool was a magnet for young women because of the glamour of all year dancing and the number of young men…   troublesome young girls appear in the town.

Blackpool has always been a dancing town and the transition from peace to war brings to mind the strange closeness of dancing and war .   Auden’s poem “Dance Macabre” captures this.  Probably reading too much into it… it was just dancing.

The police were not active in suppressing prostitution.  Possibly they thought it was a waste of time.  The Feldman Theatre had nude shows… the models were not allowed to move and by the kind of sleight that  makes you suspect the existence of God, the other Feldman, the  store on the prom, was a VD clinic.

Fortune tellers  were prosecuted.  The authorities may have mistrusted fortune-tellers…    Adolf had it in for fortune tellers in his later stages .

So there were clampdowns on fortune-tellers which involved a policewoman having her fortune told and providing evidence for a prosecution.



Strain on marriage was increased by the war.  Bigamy was common.  Divorce was expensive for working  people and couples drifted apart and  felt able to remarry. There were cases of bigamy in the courts  but this was a fraction of the real number.

A lady living in Park Road burned her still-born child in the fireplace.  She had an affair while her husband was abroad.  Witnesses spoke of her good character and her husband spoke up for her.

Abortion was an illegal option.

Mary Casey aged 28 kept a boarding house in Commercial Street.  She died and since she had been attended by Doctor Billing there was not an inquest.  She was buried at Carleton Cemetery.  At the insistence of her estranged husband she was exhumed.  Jennie Flynn aged 41…  a housewife of Lytham Road…  was charged with murder.  If found guilty she could have been hanged.

The death was a consequence of an abortion.  Mary Casey had an affair with a lodger, Mr Seed.  Mr Seed asked Jennie Flynn for help on December 22 1939.  Mary Casey became ill after the abortion.  Dr Billing was called in.  Mary Casey died and Dr Billing gave the cause of death as heart failure.  It is interesting to recall that this was the Dr Billing who certified that Alice Burnham, the victim of Brides in the Bath murderer Joseph Smith, had suffered a heart attack in the bath at Regent Court.  He had two of his former patients exhumed.   Mary Casey’s estranged husband told Jenny Flynn that he was not satisfied with the Doctor’s explanation.  Jenny Flynn offered the husband  money.  Mary Casey was exhumed and a post-mortem carried out.

On April 29 at Manchester Jennie Flynn was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for “using an instrument for an illegal purpose.”  Her representative said that she: “denied running her boarding house for the purposes suggested by the police.”  The detective investigating the case, Detective McKenna, later apprehended  German war criminals who were hanged by Mr Pierrepoint.



At his time the newspapers did not usually refer to homosexual offences.  Blackpool may have had one of the earliest gay communities outside of the big cities.  The degree of tolerance varied and there are stories of young policemen acting as bait in public toilets and of accused men committing suicide.  If anybody wants to share memories of those times… policemen or gay men…  I would be very glad to learn more about this hidden history.


Gunner Elvet Howells aged 29 of the Royal Artillery was charged with the murder of John Thompson Wood aged 41, a Blackpool Bus Conductor at Mr Wood’s flat in Whitegate Drive.  John Wood had twelve stab wounds.  John Wood and Elvet Howells had been having drinks and John Wood invited Elvet Howells to stay the night.  John Wood had four stab wounds in the chest and eight in the back.  Elvet claimed that John Thompson proposed an indecent act and when refused John Wood attacked  Elvet Howells, who acted in self-defence.  The jury took five minutes to find Gunner Elvet: “Not Guilty.”  Elvet Howell’s claim of self defence is hard to square with the fact his knife was used and the multiple stab wounds.  But Elvet Howells was in the uniform of the Royal Artillery.




An anecdote (from after the war) has  Blackpool’s Chief Constable buying  fruit from a shop in Cookson Street which was a brothel.  It would be surprising if he used his ration card.

Two cases involving policemen are reported.     One officer was accused of burglary and  identified by a fellow officer.  The accused said, and his wife supported him, that he had been at home at the time of the crime.  One piece of evidence against the accused was that his bicycle had been involved.  The accused said that his bicycle had been stolen from his shed.  The accused policeman  was acquitted.

A second policeman was accused of planning to steal fat from a warehouse.  He had been seen unlocking a door to the warehouse where his duties would normally have taken him.  Because of an unforseen event…  an aircraft crash… his duties were disrupted.  He  returned to the warehouse later.  In his defence it was said that he and his wife owned a boarding house and did not need that quantity of fat.  He too was acquitted.


I have written before about Blackpool’s saddest year so I will be brief.  Blackpool councillors supported the founding of the Blackpool Regiment.  The Blackpool Regiment, this was an informal name it was really the 137 Field Regiment Royal Artillery,  of who 580 were sent to Singapore which surrendered on 15 Feb 1942,  224 died 134 as prisoners of war.

Leo Rawling’s  book about his experiences as a prisoner of war is  unique because it is a squaddie’s point of view.  Leo came to Blackpool when he was 13 and had his own business when he was 17 signwriting and stagepainting.  His drawings document the experiences of prisoners.  He worked on the bridge which was the model for Bridge Over the River Kwai.  Gratifyingly, in a way, he spends as much time moaning about officers as the Japanese.  His point of view reinforces what we kind of always knew that the POWs were not selfless heroes but ordinary people and that there were resentments between POWs who thought some camps were “cushy”.  It is  a gloriously amateurish  resentful punkish work that tells us as much as we dare know about what it was like to be a POW.  Leo went on to work as an illustrator especially for the comic Victor.rawlings

One of Leo’s illustrations from The Dawn Came up Like Thunder


The anxiety of relatives and friends can be imagined.  It was often months before a “missing”  person was located so many families did not know if their sons, or husbands were alive or dead.  .


Because of these concerns the following the Japanese Surrender Professor McGrath of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine gave a talk  at Blackpool Central Library to five hundred wives, mothers and girlfriends about what to expect from the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment.  Generally the survivors were returned by ship which gave them an opportunity to gain weight and recover.  They were questioned about their experiences and advised not to talk.  For all we know this may be good advice.

Because of the surrender of Singapore the events of Tuesday 3 March 1942 did not receive attention.  Six people were found dead in a house on Marton Moss.  Edmund Smith had killed his wife Freda and four children and himself.  They are buried together at Marton Cemetery.  This is the  most lethal crime in Blackpool’s history.



Two former residents of Blackpool featured in the Gazette.  One murdered the other and was hanged.   Twenty-five year old Ernest Hamerton formerly of Cheltenham Road Blackpool, a kitchen porter, was charged with the murder of Elsie Ellington also from Blackpool.  The murder happened on January 16, 1940.  The couple had moved to London.  Elsie Ellington was 29 and had  worked at the Lyons Cafe in Church Street.  She lived at Leaford Avenue in Blackpool.  Ernest Hamerton had formerly worked at “one of Blackpool’s leading hotels.”  Which one?     He was handy for the Imperial… but  we don’t know.

Elsie was found stabbed to death.

On Friday February 9th 1940 he was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey.  Ernest Hamerton asked for no leniency.  He said: “The last words of the girl who I knew loved me when she was dying were: “You bad———-.”

“If I had lived those three words would have haunted me to the grave.”

An event which may have been connected with gang crime was the assault on a taxi driver Mark Abson aged 29 who lived at Elaine Avenue Marton.  This was not a murder .  Mark Abson died following an operation on his lip which had been caused by an assault… three men were charged with malicious wounding and acquitted.  Mark Abson was attacked on August 25th  1945 at the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Club in Talbot Road.

How could this be connected to a gang?

Mark Abson had been complimented by Magistrates on April 11 1945 for telling police about suspicious behaviour by three men who had robbed the Brewer and Turnbull Warehous at  Hornby Road.  The thieves took two carpets.   The carpets were in storage and may not have been missed for some time.  The carpets were valued at £1100.  They must have been large or high quality, you could easily buy two houses for less than that in Blackpool.  So the crime involved high value goods.  The thieves would need a client who could sell the carpets.  The thieves must have had inside information about the warehouse.   Two of the gang were jailed for a year and one for fifteen months.  Brewer and Turnbull were among the earliest and most famous removal firms and closely connected with Blackpool.


Although Mark Abson’s name had not been released at the earlier trial he had been threatened.  He carried a stick in his taxi to defend himself.  So was the assault connected to the robbery ?   Chief Constable, Frank Barnes, opposed bail, on the grounds that witnesses might be intimidated.  He said that some witnesses had been threatened and that others were too frightened to speak out.  The three accused were acquitted.  There were no witnesses.



Joan Long was found dead and partly clothed in an air raid shelter on Princess Parade in front of the Metropole early on Wednesday morning on the 26th July 1945.   There is a photograph of Joan in the Gazette from the time.  You look at it and look again.   It is taken post- mortem.   I will use another photograph from the Gazette.


Joan Long from the Gazette

Joan Long had a story to tell.  She enjoyed the benefits of being a young woman in a town where young men far outnumbered women.  She also enjoyed a drink.   Apart from their intended purpose air raid shelter provided privacy for couples.

The inquest was longer than usual because expert guidance was needed.  The cause of death was  strangulation.

Thomas Montoya, an American airman based at Warton, was identified at a large scale identification parade.  He said he had been with Joan Long but that he had not murdered her.  The trial was a Court Martial held at Blackpool Police Station.   The defence claimed that Joan had an epileptic seizure.  Joan was slightly impaired because she had suffered from meningitis.  Her father William Long described her as: “Not very bright.”  This might be a result of her childhood illness.

William Long , Joan’s father, had a story… he joined the Army as a Private and Left as a Lieutenant in the First World War.  Which was exceptional.

The British and Americans would not have wanted this case to gain too  much attention when cooperation was essential.  Thomas Montoya was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years.




A shameful  pleasure   of reading the Gazette is the reliable occurrence of vicars … the letters to the Gazette which turn  banality to an art form…and  councillors.    On the eve of VE day one resident found the “dog problem” in Bispham the most noteworthy event.   The most significant moment in history and a Bispham writer takes up his pen…

A  vicar mysteriously rails against anonymous letters (“cowardly”).  Unintended consequence is that you wonder what he’d been up to.   Vicars disputed about whether we should love the Germans… “snakes”.  One said that Jesus’ words (loving our enemies) did not apply because Jesus was “speaking before the day of poison gas and bombing planes.”  One Vicar deplores people getting married in May.  He puts this down to superstition.   During the war the Bishop of Blackburn led an annual “mission to the sands.”  A chaplain led prayers before council meetings.

Bishops mission to the sands

Thanks to the Gazette.  The bishops’ mission to the sands


An interesting letter which sparked many others concerned the burial of German war dead…  A German victim was buried at  Lytham and flowers were put on his grave…  which prompted outrage.

Many writers   resent holidaymakers because they take up room on  trams.  The  “sandwichgate” saga was an exchange of letters.  Why do workers have to go home for their dinners (filling up trams), why can’t they take sandwiches?   Have you considered comes the reply how long you would have to queue to get the ingredients?

A letter is from a mother who protests when  her son, killed in the war, was named by a spiritualist.

One Blackpool councillor used a newspaper article to criticise his fellow councillors for “defeatism.”  He said that half of Blackpool councillors were defeatist.  This must have been disconcerting for other councillors.     Another councillor accuses him of being a “cowardly sniper.”  Much fury, rage and so on.  “Town Hall Watch on Spies” said the Gazette  on April 30 1940, in St Annes Alderman W.  Hope  said that the 64000 enemy aliens were the advanced guard of the Nazis (many  had fled the Nazis).

There is anger especially when the Holocaust became known.   Another bishop is  scorned for regretting the destruction of Cologne Cathedral. Many military historians debate the effectiveness of bombing to this day: the critical question: could the same resources be used more effectively?   Almost two thirds of bombing crew were killed and  in unpleasant ways.  A bomber is a slow moving container  filled with bombs being shot at.

The horror of the war  especially perhaps for the Germans who had limited possibility to mourn their losses.  The sufferings of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad were Dantean.

We should think about the Merchant Navy and also especially the Fleetwood trawlermen.  Being a trawlerman in peacetime  was  hazardous enough but in war time there were u-boats, enemy aircraft and  mines. A growing  concern in letters to the paper is housing.  Many people were desperate for a home and returning servicemen made the problem worse.  It was  felt that people who had suffered in the war were entitled to good housing.  Grange Park and Mereside were planned partly as homes for heroes and the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment were given special consideration. For many people Blackpool was heaven during the war.  It was spared serious bombing and entertainment boomed.   In the background there was suffering not least for the Air Force Trainees and the Blackpool Regiment.



Thanks to the Gazette.  A variety of entertainment in wartime Blackpool.  Theatrical agents relocated to Blackpool.


The presence of so many civil servants meant that many discussions about the future of the country were held in Blackpool and the ideas that led to the welfare state and the Health Service were refined.  Alongside this the evasion of rationing meant that entrepreneurs with a flair for living close to the edge thrived.  Two national stereotypes Arthur Daley and Sir Humphrey were conceived in Blackpool.

Nothing is more striking than the range of fate in wartime Blackpool and the Fylde.  One moment you are walking in Norbreck and the next a bullet out of the sky enters your head.  One day you are dancing in the Tower and the next you are  flying over cities you  remember from geography lessons last year.

I hope to continue by looking at two murders which involved women who at one time lived in Blackpool.

Thanks to Local and Family History and their ever helpful staff at Blackpool Central Library…  The newspaper archives of the Gazette  and many of the personal reminiscences were invaluable.

Adolf Hitler… artist


First of all please don’t read this if you are not interested in Adolf…  it is way out line with my other interests and second please take it as a personal attempt to excorcise a fascination (oddly the words fascinate and fascinate are connected) my main self disgust regarding my interest is that I am investing him with a significance that he did not really have.  In other words when you are reading about Adolf you are trying to construct something that isn’t there… a person.  That the interior Adolf was an absence rather than a presence.  If you got through that you can possibly face the rest…


Adolf… from rum coot to world leader…incomprehensible steps.

It is with self disgust that I write about Adolf. But there you are…  bit like pornography.  One reason is to  draw a line.  I want to write about Adolf so I don’t have to think about him any more.

Apologies…  this is very unacademic…  relying on memories.  I will  edit this but I wanted to get it down quickly.

David Irving, the name you cannot mention if you want to be taken seriously. The problem is that he is a bit of  a fuehrer fan, he knows more about Adolf than any man living,  so every historian relies heavily on Irving… but cannot admit it.

Irving makes the point that Adolf was a physical person…   He was five foot nine, had bad teeth. In later life he had bad breath, he had a bad pasty complexion,  he was flatulent.  He never took exercise apart from walking his dog.  Towards the end of his life, aged 56,  he  could hardly walk and chairs had to be placed so he could get from one room to another.   In his final phase his memory was unreliable.  He shook violently and he had some underlying illness…  syphilis or more likely parkinsons. He was insomniac.  Addicted to amphetamines and a range of quack medicines to function at all.  A  hypocondriac he took to remedies that accelerated his decline.  He hardly slept.

He had had a heart attack and his life expectancy was limited … his suicide accelerated the irreversible process.  Towards the end he abandoned restraint and when presented with a dish of sugary cakes he would wolf them down regardless of guests spilling sugar over his clothes.   Despite his  deterioration , the destruction of his cities and the certainty of defeat he could still summons a commanding presence…

At times he crossed the line into madness.  The most astonishing thing about Adolf is that a nation,  the most advanced nation in the world put themselves in the hands of this entity who you would not leave in  charge of a whelk .  And the rise of Adolf was  was extremely  evitable.  It couldn’t happen.     It has the strange feel of a  fairy story or a myth gone wrong.  Adolf overcame adversity to bring misery to millions.

Just to make clear I don’t like Adolf.  Given the opportunity I would consider it an honour to put him in a rubble bag and hit it with a baseball bat until there were no lumpy bits.  Although I regard Adolf as an effectual clown… one of the strange reliefs about reading about Adolf is that he was funny… there are times when you feel a kind of satanic delight at the ease and confidence … the  elan  with which he devours experienced soldiers, diplomats, politicians…  Much of the time Adolf was a rebel against a reactionary rigid elite…  This former tramp dispatching the best political minds of Europe without entirely noticing them.

Adolf overcame many obstacles to become for a moment the most powerful man in the world…

The single most puzzling thing…  is how did this crazy neurotic with the people skills of a Ryanair Customer Care representative,  a man who could guarantee an empty seat next to him on a crowded bus, how did this man the most unlikely person to ever do anything, how did this non-smoking, vegetarian, non-drinking, strange hobo get to be the leader of a party and then a country and then a continent?

Does history have  lessons?  Don’t get into any vehicle with a member of the Kennedy family.  Only one I can think of.  There’s that chestnut:  those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.  Or in the case of Afghanistan repeat it twice.  But it seems to me that knowing history makes you more likely to repeat previous errors.   What happened  was unlikely to have happened.  It is common to blame politicians for not seeing it coming which is like blaming a donkey for being struck by lightening.  So here goes…

A summary of the reasons Adolf should not be leader of… well anything…


Aside from the  obvious reason: Adolf’s  weirdness, there are a  number of  reasons for his unsuitability.

He only became interested in a career in politics when he was thirty.

His previous experience as a tramp and a corporal were not the usual background for a German politician.

He was not German.

He had no education beyond secondary school.

He was not a member of any elite and Germany was a hierarchical and traditional society.

His career in the Army does not suggest leadership.  The German Army was  desperate for officers that it overlooked its traditional exclusiveness and combed the ranks for officer material.  We do not know why Adolf was overlooked but his strangeness seems the most likely.

There are  many memories of Adolf as a soldier including the one that he was a well-known homosexual.  Possibly unreliable both admirers and detractors portray him as a solitary, odd and untypical  figure.  His bemused colleagues saw him explode with fury at the idea of going with a French prostitute.

His friendlessness and isolation make him an unlikely politician.  There is as far as I know not a single personal letter of Adolf.  He didn’t visit the wounded.  He didn’t visit bombed cities.  He didn’t have  close friends.  When a train of wounded soldiers pulled up next to his train Adolf wearily had the blind drawn down.  As far as we know his closest friendship was with a chauffeur who he gave a state funeral when he died an unusual natural death.

His friendship with Eva Braun is  one-sided.  He had little interest in his relatives being out of touch for years.  His half-brother Alois worked as a waiter in Liverpool for many years and married an Irish lady.   Besides his aloneness Adolf was  unusual  in that he never engaged in any normal pastime.  You will not see him kissing babies or anybody.  Or dancing.  He didn’t engage in any activity apart from walking his dog.  I do not know of a single picture of Adolf that hasn’t been subject to propaganda scrutiny or of any recording of his voice when he is not giving a speech…  There is no photograph I know of him laughing.

This inability or refusal  to engage with normal life would be  a weakness in a conventional politician.  Adolf was clumsy and gauche in normal circumstances.  Maybe this is what focused his attention on a stylised simplified appearance.

These are some of the reasons that Adolf should not be the leader of a party , or the leader of Germany, or the most powerful man in Europe.   But the elephant in the room Adolf’s weirdness… his unfathomable strangeness… should have made his impossibility as leader self evident.  The notion of Adolf as leader is comical… or it would be if…


Adolf’s rise was based on his  oratory.  People who heard him were transformed. The German Workers Party was one of many Nationalist groupiscules… it was a drinking and talking club which made zero effort to build a following.  The leaders realised that Adolf the speaker could propel their party to prominence… actually a prominence beyond the dreams of a demented fantasist… the German Workers Party was the germ of Nazi Germany and of Europe for a time.  The German Workers Party believed that they could use Adolf for their ends… a belief that was to guide subsequent organisations and individuals.  Early Adolf’s career was a repeating pattern… people recognised something in him and felt that they could easily use it to further their ends.

Adolf was an unequalled orator and propagandist.  The Party grew but there was a crisis.  .  Members resented Adolf… he was too dictatorial, he was too anti-Semitic…  he was too weird.  To  grasp the significance of this last  criticism you have to recall that the GWP (forerunner of the Nazi Party) included alcoholics, pornographers, gay mercenaries, people who believed that they were living on the inside of a round planet, people who believed that Aryans were in psychic communication with Atlantis and/or Tibet…    One critic of Adolf at this time suggested that he was in league with the Jews.  To qualify as weird in the German Workers Party implies… something spectacular.

Let us visit early Adolf about this time.  He is arriving at a dinner party:  “Through the open door I could see him in the hallway politely and almost servilely greeting our hostess, laying aside riding whip, velour hat and trench coat’ finally unbuckling his cartridge belt with revolver attached and hanging it on the clothes hook.”  From the same description: “But the protruding watery blue eyes sometimes stared with inflexible hardness.”  Adolf was not auditioning for the role of Captain Hook in “Peter Pan,” he was the future most powerful man in Europe.  When you’ve stopped banging your head on the wall… You’ve got to ask… How?


Aside from his unusual dress sense what other evidence that Adolf was as loopy as a bag of frogs?  There was the incident when he was recovering from gas poisoning.  According to Mein Kampf  he heard of Germany’s defeat and he went blind.  We do not know if this was emotional in origin but it sounds like it.

The most compelling evidence of loopiness is Mein Kampf.  In this work, which sold 5 million copies in Germany, Adolf bares his soul… well not so much soul as…  broiling mass of  strangeness.   Mein Kampf is so  loopy that one assumes that nobody read it…  if they had I do not think that they would have trusted their fate to Adolf.  As far as I can tell there are these basic points:  the Germans are really the Aryans who are the only creative race on the planet, the Jews are plotting to destroy the Aryans by polluting their racial purity for example by the “negrification” of France or by seducing pure Aryan maidens and  polluting the Aryan blood, and finally Germany needs space to the East.

Those  Jews use all manner of cunning tricks not least “modern art” which undermines the pure folkish wisdom of the Aryans.

But  it doesn’t stop there.  Jewish pimps thrive in the cities where the young overexcited by modern films instead of spending their time on military drills seek out prostitutes and the children of these unfortunate relationships contribute to the weakening of the Aryan bloodline.  But there is worse…   Syphilis…  further weakens the  Aryan bloodline.  Of course the democrats…  who are probably in league with etc etc…  are feeble in dealing with syphilis which requires strong stern measures etc…

The crafty but subhuman Jews are actually Bolsheviks who are  capitalists determined to overthrow the natural racial hierarchy ruled over  by the Aryans.   Bolsheviks are   in league with the capitalists who are, obviously, Jews.  And it goes without saying that the Social Democrats and kind of more or less everybody else but Adolf and his Party are in league with the Jews who are really Bolsheviks and Capitalists working together.  But they are helped in this endeavour by the press which is really owned by…  go on you know…  Incidentally and just to put the record straight Jesus was an Aryan and executed by…

Given that Jewish people constituted maybe 1% of the German people you might think:  “Jolly well done you Jews you’re certainly punching above your weight…”  But Adolf did not take this view.  He took the view that the Jewish people were: “vermin.”

Fortunately for mankind the Jewish people had been tumbled.  When the rabbis met in a Prague graveyard to plan their takeover of the world their plans were revealed.  Comprehensive and cunning were those plans and most of all they were stealthy and secretive so that if something happened… say a factory closed… you might think it was to do with the economy… but there my friend you would be wrong.  Ask yourself:  who runs the economy…?

Of course the Aryans had a political system tried and tested by the pre-Roman Germanic tribes.  Aryans recognise this intuitively because of racial memories written in their blood which the Jews are industriously polluting.  The tribe choses a leader and the leader leads.  None of this cabinets and parliaments and so on invented etc…  to pollute the intuitive Aryan way of doing things.  No… one leader ruling by decree.  That’s the Aryan way.

And while we’re at it the Aryan people need land so that they can rear their offspring in proper folkish traditions…  there’s quite a lot of land to the east of Germany.  Of course there are people there but… well they aren’t Aryans so…

This might sound a little harsh but Nature… nature decrees that life is a merciless struggle between creatures where the successful creatures eat the unsuccessful creatures.  Its not  me Adolf saying this its Nature… And of course some  christian types who try to mitigate this are really part of a Jewish plot to weaken the bloodline.

But of course to be realistic Germany… home of the Aryan… had been defeated in the First World War.  Well no it hadn’t actually…  No what had happened was that the Jews… fearful of a triumphant Germany… had arranged a stab in the back which had caused the defeat of Germany just at the very moment when Germany was about to triumph…   They had arranged revolutions and rebellions and strikes and they had spread defeatism…  So Germany won the War but was cheated of victory by etc etc.

Adolf greatly admired Allied propaganda and disparaged German Propaganda.    Effective propaganda makes the difference between winning and losing.  And here is an important point… believing with fanaticism can enable victory.  The mistake that scientists  make is that they believe that there is an objective world: in reality the world is determined by beliefs and the purpose of propaganda is to promote fanatical belief.  Belief, fanatical belief, is creates reality.  So Adolf could change the boiling point of water by fanatical belief.  Obviously.

At this point you may think I am exaggerating. .  Let’s look at Adolf’s own words.  I hope you will agree that that if you could subtract Mein Kampf from its historical context and carry a savage editing Mein Kampf would be a comic masterpiece like Diary of a Nobody or Scouting for Boys.  Actually more Scouting for Boys.

Here we go…

“If physical beauty were not forced today not forced entirely into the background by our foppish fashions, the seduction of hundreds of thousands of girls by bow-legged repulsive Jewish bastards would not be possible…  Systemetically these black parasites of the nation defile our inexperienced young blonde girls and thereby destroy something which can no longer be replaced in this world…”

Or this about syphilis… one of Adolf’s very favourite topics…

“The struggle against syphilis and the prostitution which prepares the way for it is one of the most gigantic tasks of humanity…”    You will not be surprised to learn that prostitution managed by Jewish people.  By a kind of extended metaphor modern art is a disease which is spread by etc…

Adolf blames education… after school a boy should “harden his young body” by a military drill and physical exercise.

This focus on syphilis, prostitution and the seduction of blonde girls by bow-legged Jewish gentlemen suggests loopiness of an advanced order.  There is a  scent of sexual deprivation, inadequacy and envy…  blonde girls being seduced by Jewish bastards… spot of lip-licking… for god’s sake is there no privacy in this Men’s Hostel?

Adolf was a close acqaintance of Julius Streicher whose paper Der Sturmer featured blonde girls  with enormous breasts being ravished by Jewish gentlemen.   One imagines that the readers combined outrage with arousal.  If only I were a bow-legged Jewish bastard.  Julius Streicher was a man so loathsome that  Nazis rejected him but Adolf remained an admirer…

Such a concentration of  drivel leaves you reeling…  and the question how did this man become the leader of the Party and then of Germany and then of Europe.   Did nobody spot…  David Irving… .. makes the unconsciously telling comment when Adolf visited Finland… “None of the company thought he was insane.”  (I’ve quoted this from memory… it’s something like that.)

A recurrent theme in Mein Kampf is that there is an endless struggle between the Aryans (good) and the Jews (bad).  This is a cosmic eternal struggle and if the Jews win…  and only an extraordinary leader kind of like Adolf… can ensure that they do not…  well at the very least the Aryans will be enslaved…  all those blonde girls…  but  it is the end of meaningful life on this planet.  Again and again Adolf sees a specific issue as the focus of a conflict whose consequences are cosmically significant.  Adolf believes he is the saviour of the Aryans.

To summarise Mein Kampf:  there is a race called the Aryans.  There isn’t.  The Jews are a race.  Jewish authorities consider that Judaism is a religion… not a race.      Mein Kampf bases a world view on a cosmic conflict between imaginary entities.

Mein Kampf is permeated with images of violence, hatred, disease, invasion, enslavement, impurity.  A feature of the work is that none of the opinions are argued from evidence.   I will not…  it just seems a waste of time… bother to point out the  errors, except with regard to Adolf’s views about evolution.  Adolf sees Nature, Providence and God as closely related.  He sees evolution as a struggle to eat or be eaten.  This is one aspect but a great deal of life is dependent on cooperative relationships:  for example complex life including Adolf  is only possible because of symbiotic relationship between single celled creatures.  And we all depend  on the activity of bacteria.

The Adolf of Mein Kampf is bitter, anxious and it seems to me envious of the sexually successful (he believed) bow-legged Jews.

Apart from that… spot on.


Well of course he wasn’t.  But there is something…

Let’s start with Wagner.  If Adolf had a mentor it was Wagner.  Wagner’s operas were a background to his existence.  Picture Adolf’s last days.  Birthday, marriage, suicide, cremation.  All against a background of total destruction.  And as he’s committing suicide his staff are getting drunk and dancing…  danse macabre.  And Adolf’s concern that his body does not remain.  Isn’t Adolf  arranging his disappearance to preserve a mystery…  that he might rise again?  Are we in real life or a Wagner Opera?  Wagner was an anti-Semite.  But Wagner was also half-Jewish.  Go figure.

There was a mystery in Adolf’s ancestry.  His paternal grandmother became pregnant when she was a servant.   One of the obsessions of Adolf is that Aryan maidens are seduced by their Jewish masters.

Now it is unlikely that the mystery father was Jewish but, obsessed with race and the pollution of race, it must have provoked Adolf.  The kindest person in the world would not recognise Adolf as Aryan.  Modern DNA testing demonstrates that Adolf has characteristics more common amongst Berbers and Jews than among Austrians. In Mein Kampf Adolf talks about “bow-legged Jewish bastards…”  But they were unlikely to be bastards… unlike Adolf’s father…

One of the mainsprings of Adolf’s thinking was the Jewish Conspiracy.  It has  been debated whether Adolf actually believed in a Jewish conspiracy or whether it was part of his grasp of mass psychology to portray an enemy within as an incentive to solidarity.  The answer is probably both especially because Adolf was always able to believe whatever suited him best.  There are occasions when Adolf overlooked a person’s Jewishness.  Heydrich, Himmler’s second in command in the SS, had Jewish ancestry and this was known.  Much odder… and let’s look at this because it is contrary to our expectations.  The case of  Adolf’s chauffeur Emil Maurice.  Emil had an affair with Geli…  Adolf’s adored half-niece.  Then  Maurice took Adolf to court over a matter of wages.  Then Maurice applied to join the SS.  It was found that Maurice had Jewish ancestors.  Himmler did not want him in the SS.  So what do you think Adolf would do to a man who had an affair with Geli… probably the love of Adolf’s life, had taken Adolf to court and was partially Jewish?  Answer Adolf overruled Himmler and Maurice joined the SS.  Let’s not pursue this too far but… curious??    An indication that at least at times Adolf’s anti-semitism has a tactical element.

Another way of looking at the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the basis of the Jewish Conspiracy,  is that Adolf took it as a manual of how to seize power.  Just to explain a little the Protocols were a conspiracy dreamed up by the Czarist secret police to inflame anti-semitism and Russian Nationalism.  The claim was that they were a blueprint by Jewish Leaders to seize power using deceit, subterfuge, deception, lies, propaganda, wealth, political parties, violence…  The Protocols had been exposed by Adolf’s time as a forgery…

But hang on a second…  don’t they describe Adolf’s own methodology for seizing power?  Basically the Protocols are a manual for seizing power using any means and establishing a new order in which authority and obedience are the key components.  Like Adolf…

Adolf did believe that there was a life and death struggle for the future of mankind between Jews and Aryans.  Adolf came to see himself as the only person who could lead this struggle successfully so that the future of the world literally rested on his actions.  He took the conspiracy to seize power described in the Protocols as a prescription for his Party.   To take an  example… when Adolf invaded Poland the excuse was a manufactured incident.  Victims from concentration camps were shot and put into German uniforms and presented as victims of Polish aggression.  This kind of thing might have been taken from the Protocols.  Adolf’s embrace of deception could have been inspired by the tactics  of the Protocols.  Ideas which might have origins in Judaism are the “Chosen People” and the concept of racial purity which Adolf attributed to Judaism.


Well as far as we know Adolf had about six relationships with women in his life.    My friend had  relationships with more women in his first week at university but I will not mention his name because he is now the Archbishop of Canterbury.  I made that bit up to see if you were awake.  By my count three of his girlfriends committed suicide more  attempted suicide.  The future Mrs Hitler scored three attempts and one success.

We deduce from this that Adolf wasn’t a ladies man.  Well…


It does cross one’s mind that Adolf may have been gay.  There’s all that stuff in Mein Kampf about “manliness” … and young men being “hardened” by drilling.   A fellow runner in his regiment claims that he was widely seen as gay and had a boyfriend.   If this is true it might explain why he was not officer material.  Then again the accuser disappeared into a concentration camp pretty promptly.

Certainly in his younger more sartorially challenged career Adolf was heavily dependent on Rohm a kind of swashbuckling, mercenary, homosexual who organised the SA.  The SA was the most distinct feature of the early Nazis… a kind of militarised street-fighting body.   Rohm was one of Adolf’s  intimate friends… Rohm regarded Adolf as his equal.    Adolf asked Rohm to return from Latin America an  unfortunate choice because Adolf had him shot.  So the early Nazis were  extravagantly gay.  After Rohm was executed Adolf…  I was going to say turned his back on gays…   Having killed Rohm Adolf went out of his way to persecute homosexuals…  This was his tactical move to make himself more mainstream and reject the criminal violence of the past.  The new respectable Adolf replaced the ruffian SA with the gentlemanly psychopathic SS.

From a political view the murder of Rohm was brilliant.  It showed that Adolf was prepared to act against the lawless, violent, criminal SA which had actually been the basis of his early career.  In doing this he won the approval of many law and order types and the Army.  The impudence… establishing law and order by extrajudicial murder… is magical… a component of Adolf’s astuteness in his early career was his ability to make something look like its opposite.

Adolf the  dodgy ladies’ man lived with his niece Geli Raubal who was the daughter of his half sister.  He was recapitulating the sexual history of his father, Alois.  Adolf’s mother Klara was his father’s cousin and many years younger than her thrice married husband.  She called her husband “uncle.”    Klara came to Alois’ household  as a servant.  Adolf’s sister, Geli’s mother, Angela,  was employed as housekeeper by Adolf.

Geli committed suicide using a revolver that Adolf had given her.  If I had a girlfriend I would give her flowers or chocolates.

An actress called Renata Muller committed suicide (possibly)  in 1937.  She claimed that Adolf used to have her trample on him.

Earlier as a budding politician he had surprise Helene Hanfstaengl by putting his head on her lap and saying: “If only I had someone to look after me.”   She told her husband that Adolf was: “an absolute neuter.”

Given Adolf’s  awkward attitude to women and the kind of feeling that there was something unusual one could consider the possibility that he was close to asexual and that this lack of distinctive gender enabled him to occupy both male and female states of mind.  Although he referred to his rapt audiences as “feminine” there is  the feeling that he is behaving in a traditionally feminine way.  When he tells off his generals he is shouting, screaming, accusing, crying and they are stoical, masculine…  it is like they are husbands being scalded . And Adolf’s epic strop when Jodl… who usually  diplomatic…  contradicted  Adolf over an order… Adolf went into a hyper- sulk, refused to eat or shake hands with his generals, eating  his meals alone and having a team of stenographers write down his every word.

Again Adolf had a range of ways to signal his favour or disfavour and so create competition amongst his courtiers.  So his courtiers became like suitors searching for a token of his esteem, terrified of losing favour.  It is comical to see Adolf playing the main courtiers against each other with a feline knowingness.

Adolf incomprehensibly had many female admirers and sackfuls of letters from women.  Women were said to be amongst his early audience and Adolf’s oratory resembles an enactment of intercourse.  The stages of a Hitler speech were a build up of tension, its release and euphoria.

So what to make of it all?  My guess is that Adolf was very uncomfortable with physical contact especially because in all his appearances he sought an attitude of dignity and any sexual element would humanise him. His brilliance was to turn his weirdness into a mystical otherness.

In addition he had good reason to be afraid that any offspring from a relationship might be dodgy.  For a man who emphasised blood and race and struggle to have a child  was a risky business especially when you think that four of his siblings died in infancy or early childhood and some of the survivors were not a full shilling.  A distant relative of Adolf was killed by the “euthenasia” he ordered.

In Mein Kampf , in fact in Adolf’s entire world view, enslavement is the theme.  Either the Aryans are to be enslaved or they are entitled to enslave others on the basis of their cultural superiority.  The image of the beautiful Aryan maiden being seduced by the “bow-legged Jewish bastard” is one of the uses of power to enslave and links enslavement and sexual gratification…  one of the Nazi’s pet themes was that German maidens were used by Jewish Masters for sex.   It is not difficult to see that this submissiveness/ dominance dialogue has a sexual basis. The same person can be both submissive and dominant in a sexual context.  This is because the submissive can play the role of a dominant and identify with the submissive.  Ian Brady was probably bisexual he enjoyed smacking Myra Hindley’s bottom with a hairbrush and taking photographs.  But there is an ambiguity… is Myra really dominant because she manipulates by submitting?  It is not a coincidence that Ian was an admirer of Adolf…  he “got” the sexual tones of Nazism.  Consider the state of mind of a dominant in a sexual context.  He requires the submissive to obey…  surely this points to lack of confidence.  Adolf had two phases…  overweening master and  self effacing subservient…  it was often noticed that he displayed the subservient face to… for example… Ludendorf.  But aren’t they the same thing?   The common factor is the Self and it is either glorified or denied as the case demands but in either case the Self is central.

With Adolf’s inability to grasp the notion of relationships between equals in any context it is not hard to imagine that he would think of sexual relationships in this way.  When he speaks of his conquest of Europe he says: “I had to rape rather than seduce her.”

When Germany was close to defeat he cheers up his people by saying they will be destroyed and the women will become “barrack whores.”  Relishing this a trifle too much?


Well no.  But in Mein Kampf there is the shrill adolescent tone of sexual envy of the “bow-legged Jewish bastards” who are chirpily humping the blonde maidens by their hundreds of thousands.  And in all this talk about disease and prostitution and decay and racial mixing meaning degeneracy and invasion and Adolf’s fear that he could be killed by “some nigger”…  an underlying theme of unwilling penetration.  This might account for Adolf’s  sexual minimalism.  Or it may be that he sublimated the sexual drive into a kind of emotional relationship exhibited most strongly in his speeches.  Or it may be that he wasn’t well equipped.  There is no evidence for this but there mini-clues .  A  recurring theme in Adolf is the desire to have the biggest… well anything.  Over and over he boasts about having the biggest table, the biggest window…  his plans for building for Germania with Speer…with the biggest public buildings… his only aesthetic seems a kind of gigantism…  Why?

The long relationship with Eva Braun later Eva Hitler and within forty hours of the ceremony the late Eva Hitler seems to have been one-sided although she did fit into the standard model of Adolf girlfriends… much younger, blonde and dim.  Adolf took up with her after a serious suicide attempt and she was obsessed with him. Possibly he couldn’t face another suicide and was behaving in a  decent way.

Was it a reciprocal relationship?

Who knows, doubt it.

So Adolf and sex…  let’s face it we don’t know.  But everything we do know points to a strenuous effort to prevent us knowing…  And why do you make an effort to conceal?



The totally unlikely, incredible rise of Adolf did not happen without unlikely and  exceptional gifts on Adolf’s part.  There were narrow fields in which he was a nonpareil.    I think this goes a long way to explain  his unprecedentedly rapid rise and fall….  if you cut Adolf’s life into  three scenes: drifter in a shelter for homeless men: leader of an empire stretching from  North of Russia to the Arabian desert: pale shambling  near lunatic out of touch with his still huge army… six million men stretched from Denmark to Italy to Yugoslavia, casually lied to by his remaining officers, eating  amounts of sugary cakes with the crumbs clinging to his uniform, drugged by a quack doctor and  having to send his manservant to find the rare petrol to burn his corpse.

All the same man.



Its time to face it.  How did Adolf manage to overcome his multiple handicaps- awkward, clumsy, limited education, non-German, weirdness, lack of experience, drifter, lacking any evidence of purpose- a man whose highest possible reach would be to become under-manager in an off-licence, a man bound to end up in a managed institution  lecturing his bored colleagues.

A glance at Mein Kampf shows a man oddly unlike his image.  He is crackling with anxiety, hatred, sexual uncertainty and neuroticism, given to emphatic but unreasoned opinions, a mind full of imagery of decay and disease and parasitism, a man who sees the world and existence in terms of a final  battle between good and evil, the kind of person who can confidently sit on his own in a crowded bus.  On top of that he had a tendency to go into solipsistic rages when the spit would fly freely.  And he is terribly indecisive… his first adventure… the dispatch of troops to Austria… he halted and started again and halted again… he was in a state of collapse and Goering took over.

This inner tension… especially in a man who lacked releases… sex, alcohol, excercise… created a mysterious  energy which was under  partial control…  this  energy came across as compelling presence expressed in the eyes and the voice.  Since his younger days, when he went around like a cross between Captain Hook and a lunatic on the run, he managed to organise and manage his own appearance.  Imagine Adolf without the mustache and the haircut.  He made himself  recognisable, his appearance was a shorthand.  He also learned to master his appearance.  Early Adolf used to give speeches carrying a whip.  Later Adolf simplified his appearance and dress to a severe minimalism.  His appearance amongst medalled and uniformed officers conveyed modesty and purpose.

And let’s remember those eyes.  There are dozens of people who speak of the experience of meeting Adolf and being changed completely.  These were not always feeble minded.  Goebbels was a clever and gifted man.  He opposed Adolf’s vision:  he envisioned a “socialist” National Socialism.  He even thought of an alliance with Bolshevism.   He questioned the link between Judaism, Bolshevism and big business.  This “socialist” vision was  expressed by George Strasser and threatened Adolf’s leadership.  Goebbels was Strasser’s most capable adherent and a critic of Adolf who he called “reactionary.”  Until Goebbels met Adolf.

This is from Goebbel’s diary:  “I stand before him deeply moved.  This is how he is: like a child, lovable, good, merciful.  Like a cat, cunning, prudent and agile, like a lion roaringly great and gigantic.”

You might say that Goebbels was unusual… as indeed he was.  But others  fell under Adolf’s spell.  Here is the Canadian Prime Minister McKenzie King  in 1937 writing about his meeting with Adolf:  “eminently wise,” “a mystic,” a “deliverer of his people from tyranny.”

This personal magnetism, this ability to attract devoted followers,  arose from conflicts projected outwards so that people felt a piercing energy which they interpreted as truthfulness, sincerity… a kind of  magical self-certainty that swept away doubt.

This mesmeric presence takes a bit of explaining.  Here goes.  The pre-war Adolf was a drifter with no sense of purpose.  His war experience compelled him into a tougher more purposeful style.  In doing so he tamed his  demons to a very great extent.  It may  be that he became leader of the German Workers Party simply because there was nothing else he could do.  He had shown little interest in politics before and often spoke disparagingly about politics.  In this I think he was genuine.  Even though he was a grandmaster of the game of politics it did not excite him on except as a means to an end.

I will not go into the byzantine world of German politics but Adolf was brilliant.  A simple example is the murder of Rohm and the subordination of the SA.  In an amazing coup Adolf achieved several aims.  He won over the law-abiding disorder fearing public, he established himself as a law and order leader, he moved the Party away from the thuggish, gangster like SA, he further established his personal authority and he won over the Army who voluntarily agreed to swear a personal oath to him.

True he killed one of his oldest colleagues and  inspired  extra-judicial murders of enemies who had nothing to do with the SA.  Adolf may  have had conscientious regrets: he hesitated over the killing of Rohm and he always spoke of him with respect.  There is an operatic quality… to achieve power you have to sacrifice your friend.

By a single unexpected act he changed the game and increased his authority.  And further he endeared himself to lovers of order by extraordinary acts of  illegal violence and, two birds with one stone,   he bumped off kind of incidentally  old enemies as well.   This magnificent, breathtaking, insolent boldness typifies the style of the early Adolf and helps understand why he could run rings round his opponents.  Most hesitant people act cautiously and conservatively… Adolf was cautious but acted decisively and radically.

And this was repeated.  The German Workers Party and later Rohm and the SA thought they were using him as a means to gain power.  So many people thought that they could tame or manipulate or do business with Adolf and they were all wrong.  Well first they were wrong and then they were mostly dead.


Part of Adolf’s ability to elicit approval was his shape-changing ability to occupy different positions at the same time.  Or that his fluidity enabled people to project whatever they wanted to see there.    Conservatives believed he represented a return to tradition, revolutionaries believed he would overturn the old order.  Pagans, folklorists, cultists, Christians, revolutionaries, lovers of the modern, people longing for a change, people wanting to return to the past, lovers of drama, people who longed to belong to something bigger themselves, lovers of violence and people attracted to  dark glamour, people who wanted peace….   Adolf was  the perfect cocktail waiter… he concocted a mixture  to appeal to all tastes…

Adolf  drew on mythology folklore and religion to project an image as a prophet/ wizard.  He cultivated and air of mystery and he was not above hinting that he was in regular communication with the Almighty.  One particular advantage of this pose was that it vindicated his weirdness.  You kind of expect your prophets to be unusual.  Adolf’s non-drinking, non-smoking and apparent sexual abstinence all set him apart…  He regularly pointed to himself as an instrument of Providence.  Adolf frequently spoke of his admiration for the Vatican… one of the longest lasting human institutions on the planet.  There are similarities…  the rituals, the hierarchy…  the infallibility…  Nazi Rallies with singing and torches and martyrs  and drama are remodeled Catholic Ceremonies with a spot of  circus-parade  and wagnerian opera thrown in.  In a typical adroit way Adolf was able to benefit from religious belief and from the anxiety of those who had no faith and looked for a belief system to fill the gap.

It is easy to denigrate Adolf but that is with hindsight.  Many people supported or joined the Nazis because they admired the activities they put on for young people and their charitable work.  Many people saw the Nazis as agents of moral renewal.  Students were early supporters of the Nazi movement.  Lecturers, clergymen, doctors, philosophers, lawyers  and especially teachers . The people who supported Nazis longed for renewal and to cast off a shameful past.  The feeling of unity and a sense of purpose drew many people.  The economy revived and the Nazis showed concern for areas that had been neglected… especially agriculture.  Adolf’s popularity surged after he became chancellor.

There was no area of life in which Nazis were not represented.  Before Adolf was chancellor there was a Nazi Chicken Breeder’s Group.


Of course Adolf was not a democrat but in his strange shape-changing way he appeared democratic.  Adolf could  represent himself as a “normal man.”   a “man of the people” rather than the traditional elite.  His war service was a guarantee of authenticity.  For some reason the Army continued to be respected.  Adolf’s non-officer status meant that he shared the experience of millions of former combatants.

The idea that Adolf was an “ordinary man” was untrue but Adolf could assume a very modest demeanour.  Once he was leaving a building after a speech and he said to the caretaker: “Look don’t tell anybody I told you this but I’m thinking of compelling employers to provide playgrounds for the children of workers.”  This wasn’t exactly what he said, I can’t recall it, but the point is that he could talk to ordinary people in a very charming and confiding way.  His staff found him charming and affable and that he sought to create a “family” atmosphere.  His favourite company was lower class and male.  When his chauffeur died Adolf gave him a state funeral.   And he kept a photo of his chauffeur along with one of Geli.  All his life from Men’s Hostel to barracks to his career in politics he always had the same kind of entourage.

Another respect in which Adolf was democratic is that the Party with its multiple militarized sub-organisations found jobs for people who had never been involved in politics before.  The Party was represented by somebody you knew and could go to with a problem.

Adolf did realise that he must take power legitimately and he did so with great agility…  he was totally flexible and could charm crusty old school soldiers like Ludendorf.  He could also appear much less clever than he was so that dimmish career politicians felt that they could use him for their own ends.

The Party provided something for everybody.  The rallies were like circuses… the parades throught town, the music, the build up and release of tension.  They were entertainment and enchantment and drama.  People felt that they were part of something greater.  An English diplomat who had seen the Russian Ballet of the Czars said that Nazi Rallies were more impressive.  A French observer said that during the rally he (temporarily)  became a Nazi.  The cooperation of huge numbers in the service of one man was extraordinary.  To live in early Nazi Germany was exciting… a succession of dramas, the rallies, the international crisis… instead of politics there was engaging spectacle.  Drama was a key ingredient in the early Nazi years.

The Party of course had no democratic content.  Its function was to carry out the will of the Fuehrer.  The Party made no recommendations, it did not elect officers, it had no policies separate from the Fuehrer.  You could ask why did it exist?  Well it was there to arrange rallies and all the other activities… many of them charitable… that locked the people and the Party together.  And the Party or more correctly Adolf did have  the greatest public support that a Leader has ever had.   After he became chancellor Adolf grew in popularity.  People who had opposed him suddenly felt that they “got it.”  Adolf was like a modern rock star…  the nearest you will get to a Nazi Rally is a Rock Concert.  The nearest thing I can think of to the ecstasy of Adolf is Beatlemania/   This sense that speaking directly to the people constituted a more modern direct kind of democracy which superseded that old fashioned and ineffectual democracy.  This Party, this Adolf got things done.  In point of fact Adolf who could be extraordinarily indolent took intense care over the staging of rallies. The one thing that seemed to get his full attention was the arranging of spectacles.  In  shared spectacles people felt that they were part of an enormous organised movement…  that they… the people… had seized the state.  This was part of Adolf’s conjuring…  It is impossible to explain the success of Adolf’s oratory without the notion that there was a psychic bond between Adolf and his listeners.  Like a religious healer Adolf relieved his followers of stress and anxiety.

There is part of us that likes authority.  Many people like to be told what to do especially by a charismatic leader… it takes away the anxiety of choice and conscience and thought…  this mesmerised robotic state  is relaxed and peaceful.  Above all Adolf aimed at states of robotic obedience for his people but at some level he seems to have been a self-induced trance:  “I go forward guided by Providence in a somnabulistic  state.”  Had the mesmerist hypnotised himself?

The mesmerised sense of unity exemplified by Nazi Rallies with their awesome organised power appeared a metaphor for the Nazi State.

There is no doubt that Adolf had the highest levels of support that any leader has enjoyed at least for a time.   His first year as chancellor was a series of triumphs.   A sense of a new kind of more streamlined democracy was kindled by endless campaigns with a military flavour.   Great projects saw the actual landscape change.  His  adroitness enabled him to deliver  of  coups to the German people.  The typical Adolf coup… like the Night of the Long Knives when Rohm was killed would involve a unexpected highly prepared and coordinated action.  Adolf would typically have two alternative plans and would decisively carry out one at the last moment.  Within five years Adolf could claim that he had overturned the Versailles Treaty, disrupted relations between France and England, re-occupied the Ruhr, eliminated unemployment, ended civil unrest and disorder, occupied part of Czechoslovakia where German was spoken, formed a partnership with Austria, Germany was the most powerful European Country.  And most of all this had been achieved without bloodshed.  Adolf was a man of peace.  He could credibly present himself as a lover of peace.  And all these moves had made on his own initiative… often against advice.  A group of officers had planned to kidnap and kill him during the Czech crisis because they believed he was about to cause a European War for which Germany was unprepared.  And Germany was unprepared.  During the Czech crisis three German divisions faced seventy French divisions.  I  can’t remember the actual figures but it was of this order.

Adolf was a risk-taker and it paid off.  Nobody, probably least of all the German people, wanted a war.  Adolf had an acute sense of the breaking point and would push his demands to the point where the British would accept them and the French reject them.  In this way he broke the alliance of France and Germany.  A typical piece of clever Adolf footwork was discussing arms limitations with the British.  Discussing the number of aircraft Adolf casually mentioned that Germany had already exceeded the limitations and moved on to discuss Naval limitations.

Diplomats and politicians who met Adolf said he was relaxed, clever, witty and entirely in possession of all the details.  Adolf had an extraordinary memory.

Adolf had a deep awareness that the Germans did not want war and he did not like it.  When the first military campaigns were  successful many Germans accepted quick economic campaigns as worthwhile.  Adolf strove to avoid a sense of anxiety and keep life as normal.  In Berlin there were many domestic servants… women were not recruited for war industries…  life was normal…

When war came Adolf was  unhappy.  His foreign policy was expansion in the East and an alliance with Britain in the West.  However Germany enjoyed striking  success.  Some credit belongs to Adolf, he grasped the importance coordinated highly mobile  mechanised warfare.   He adopted against advice the successful plan for the the campaign against France.  He subsequently wrongly claimed that it was his plan.  He stunned the world with his pact with the Soviet Union.  Veteran Nazis resigned from the Party because of this alliance with the Bolsheviks.  Startlingly unexpected, game-changing: it was Hitler’s style.  It went against all Adolf’s previous utterances and in another characteristic move he violated the agreement.  .

The Gods of War were on his side.  Some features of his successes…  they were quick, and had a defined end, they involved unexpected actions and Adolf had a gift for understanding how his opponents would behave.

There were two features working together which led to Adolf’s success and later to his failure.  One was his growing personal power.  This increased with each victory.  The second was his increasing self-confidence.  The image of the Fuehrer, monumental and  curated, had involved an image of   decisiveness.  In fact Adolf was neurotically torn and suffered physical and psychological damage when making decisions.    The successes contributed to Adolf’s conviction that the Adolf that had been created by propaganda was real.  That he was infallible.  And this led to catastrophic  deterioration of his abilities and judgement.  Early Adolf was deeply flexible, whilst he made decisions he listened and judged.  There are endless paradoxes about Adolf but one is that he detested what he did best, manipulating a route through competing claims.  He loathed criticism or debate.  Since it was difficulties which had sharpened his wits and his skills so that he could achieve total power he was left with total power which did not require the skills he had used to obtain it.

One consequence  was that his courtiers  quickly learned to “manage”  Adolf by telling him what he wanted to hear.  Goering claimed he could supply the troops at Stalingrad by air.  He couldn’t.  But Goering… a tough man…  was sick when Adolf scalded him.  He sometimes resolved to tell Adolf the situation and when he saw him found that  he couldn’t.  Adolf’s deep belief that reality could be altered by fanatical belief meant that facts could be ignored.  Reality was changed to suit Adolf , which resulted in a distorted view.

A trivial but funny example of Adolf’s belief in his infallibility:  in an interview Adolf claimed he was one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He whistled a tune.  The interviewer told Adolf that he had got it wrong.  Adolf said no, the composer had written it wrong.

Adolf as opposed to his public image had spells of melancholy, spells of bone-idleness…  long spells of strange detached torpor.  He was able to conjure up an inward world… Wagner… planning  gigantic cities:  Germania the renewed Berlin… which provided an escape. When he first became chancellor he made an attempt to work normal hours but he ended up reading the entire works of Karl May… the cowboy writer he admired… and then he gave up.  Strange as it was he was kind of living the same life he had in the Men’s Hostel in Vienna.  Intense fantasising followed by spells of work.

The series of victories convinced him that he was actually an embodiment of Providence.   When he started off Adolf had seen himself only as an orator, it was others who had seen him as a leader or actually the Leader.  Now with countries falling  with ridiculous ease before him he began to think…

And at that point his judgement started to go…  This began at the Czech Crisis and the later Adolf  has much in common with the earlier Adolf  but with less of the astuteness  that had made him Fuehrer in the first place.  When Adolf reminisced he often settle on the “years of struggle”… his earlier years before he was chancellor.  This was the time when he was using his abilities to the full, when he was most engaged.

I will be brief.  Until the invasion of the Soviet Union (as Goebbels noted in his diary on the same day of the year that Napoleon had invaded Russia)  Germany had won a series of rapid victories.  The pace of life in Germany was hardly altered.  In Berlin there were thousands of domestic servants.  Adolf  pinned his hopes, gambled, that the Soviet Union would collapse.  It didn’t.  There are many indications that the  invasion was caused by restlessness on Adolf’s part.  Britain was unconquered and on an island protected by the Navy plans for invasion were fairytales.  Where else could he go?   Adolf’s argument at the time was that defeating the Soviet Union would deprive Britain of its reason for continuing the struggle… the hope that  the Soviet Union would take Britain’s side.  It does not take much thinking to realise that this was daft.  Britain welcomed the invasion.  It was also a case where Adolf’s thinking was, as his Army soon would be, over-extended.  He had lost a sense of the immediate.  He was fatally doing something because it was what he wanted to do and inventing reasons to justify it.  It had also been a favourite tactic of Adolf to deal with one crisis… and he was a master of crisis… by starting another one.

The attack  on Russia was unprecedented: there was no disagreement, there were no territorial demands, there was no diplomatic exchange, Germany and Russia had a non-aggression pact.

Cards on the table  I am an admirer of the Soviet Union’s recovery and defeat of Nazi Germany but it is also true that the Soviet Union was socialist only for rhetorical purposes and had begun to act like any other imperial power…  Britain for example.  Britain was acting to hold onto the Empire and was  as opposed to democracy as Hitler and Stalin.

It must have become clear early in the campaign that the Soviet Union was not going to collapse and it recovered from early defeats.  The German Army was forced back from Moscow…  the first time in this conflict that the German Army had retreated.    For the Soviet Union it was costly but there had been some coherent responses… most significantly the movement of weapons production  out of the range of German aircraft.  German economists first warned that Germany had not the resources for a long war.

The long war with the Soviet Union took a toll on Adolf.  He had never shown much capacity for sustained work.  Now he took command and his decisions grew less reliable.  Given his bohemian temperament the  strain of long days must have damaged him.  Instead of  lightening successes delivered to an adoring nation he was locked into a mincing machine that was destroying his Army and Airforce and the only option after Stalingrad was a long retreat.  After twelve week victories with  few casualties he faced years of retreat.    After Stalingrad Adolf had lost the initiative. He never got it back.

The man who loved dramatic coups and basked in the admiration and adoration of his people was in charge of an army in dreary retreat in which millions  were dying.  Adolf somehow distanced himself.  When one of his staff talked of the loss of young officers Adolf… dismayed said: “That is what they’re for.”

And Germany’s cities were being destroyed.  Adolf secluded himself in the weird environment his military headquarters:  “half monastery, half concentration camp” as I think Goebbels called it.

The single most jaw-dropping example of the decay of Adolf’s mental capacity…  even now I am stunned when I think about it.  On December 11, 1941 Adolf declared war on the United States.  This competes with his invasion of Russia for the title of the daftest decision in the history of the world.  It was Adolf’s last important strategic decision.  There was no need for it.  Japan had bombed Pearl Harbour four days previously but Germany was only obliged by treaty (not that Adolf ever took any notice of treaties) to support Japan if Japan were attacked.  The sheer productive capacity of the United States, the fact that Germany was at war now with: the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States…  I am guessing the figures but I believe that Germany was facing enemies that had seven times her population and  ten times her economic  capacity.

The decision was made in an offhand way.  Churchill was delighted.  So was Roosevelt who had to deal with stolid isolationists.

I have four suggestions.  One is that Adolf was facing increasing difficulties in the Soviet Union which had not collapsed as he had predicted and was swallowing lives and resources.  Of course declaring war on the US could not solve this but it was a distraction…  a propaganda distraction deflecting attention from the Eastern Front.   Adolf placed great importance on propaganda…  master illusionist mistook illusions for reality.   Adolf was pulling off his old trick of creating a crisis to distract from another crisis.   Two is  that Adolf was no longer in charge of events… events were in charge of Adolf and it is a short straight run to the bunker and the cremation.  A third explanation is that Adolf’s strategic acuteness was limited to countries close to Germany and he had very little understanding of more distant countries.  The gap was filled by  mythology and stereotype… the Soviet Union was a Jewish  Bolshevik state and therefore would collapse, the USA was a hotbed of racial mixing and soft living and  negrified music.  Final suggestion is that Adolf had switched from seeking a victorious peace to seeking an spectacular suicide.  His new priority was not to repeat the shame of 1918…  if Germany was going down it would go down in a Wagnerian melodrama…  It was about this time the Holocaust began to take on its  mechanised form.  As Adolf once said nothing binds people together like criminal acts.  One motive for the Holocaust was to make surrender impossible not only for himself but for foreign allies and for the upper reaches of the regime.  Himmler made sure that the Holocaust was known by the German elite.


Shelley said that ” The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of mankind.”  If we extend the meaning of poet to include artist what you get is Adolf.  Adolf saw himself  as an artist.    Adolf himself never made much of his paintings.  Historians often belittle Adolf’s artistic skills but his works were executed quickly and show skill.   Adolf was no shrinking violet.  At one point he claimed that if he had not gone into politics he would be Germany’s leading architect.  This was a bold claim since he had been turned down for an architecture course.  Adolf had a keen interest in architecture.  Adolf’s  closest colleague…  as close as he got to having a friend… Albert Speer was an architect and he escaped the pressures of being the leader of a nation that was being demolished by looking at Speer’s scale models for Germania.  There is a hint of romance about Adolf and Speer, no doubt Adolf does see Speer as his alter ego.  Adolf was absolutely fascinated by images…   he was more at home with images that with the realities they represented.  Every day he studied the situation map.  Did he see the map itself as the reality?

Adolf had always wanted to be an artist.  In Mein Kampf he records his resolution to be an artist was the cause of a violent row with his father when he was very young.  Adolf’s career was the antithesis of his father’s.  His father had worked his way up through conscientious effort and hard work and by conformity.  His father had been a servant of the multi-national Austrian Empire.  His father had put great store by regularity and order and discipline.   Adolf loathed the multi-national Empire with its racial mixing, he detested the civil service, and the bourgeoisie,  Adolf was undisciplined, aimless, following enthusiasm after enthusiasm… given to rages and outbursts of energy followed by spells of languor and indifference.   Adolf disliked  regularity in his own life preferring the inspiration of his “genius.”

Adolf showed an early adoration of Wagner’s operas.  Adolf identified with characters in the Opera.  My point here is that consistent with his image of himself as an artist Adolf saw the world in the form of images.  When creating images Adolf was at his most original and bold.  The Swastika…  is surely the most powerful brand identifier in the history of the world.  And Adolf’s branding of himself… the mustache and the floppy hair… made him identifiable.  The styling of the Nazi Rallies was down to Adolf.  The styling of the SS and the quasi pagan rituals… officers had a dagger which had a skull and when the officer was killed Himmler collected the daggers.  The black uniform, the sigils, the skull…

Adolf was both a master of and a captive of imagery…  like an artist he saw the world expressed in images.


What kind of artist?  One aspect of Adolf is his extraordinary skill as an actor.  Take Adolf’s famous rages… there is an account of Adolf having one of his extraordinary rants at a foreign ambassador and shortly afterwards laughing and joking.  Adolf’s tirades were not something to take lightly.  The Czech prime minister had a heart attack, Goering who was no sensitive plant was sick and retired to bed after an Adolf telling off.  Were these rages staged for intimidation?  Adolf said: “I am the greatest actor in Europe.”

We are told that young Adolf was good company and one of his party pieces was to mimic people he had met.  This combination of close observation and imitation could reproduce.  Actor’s skills.  And wasn’t Adolf playing the part of the Leader rather than being the Leader for much of his early career?  Part of Adolf was a strange absence into which any convenient persona could be projected.  The number of roles he could play was legion and he could slip between them fluidly.   Speer recalls Adolf talking glumly about suicide and immediately afterwards addressing a meeting of gauleiters who were understandably despondent.  One of them talking about having only a tank without fuel to guard a major town against thousands of Russian tanks.  Adolf speaks and they are aglow with enthusiasm back to defend their areas.  Like all truly impressive actors there is part of Adolf that is always acting and part of Adolf that is not acting at all.  He is a man who is always monitoring and adjusting himself.  Like all impressive actors he has the capacity to bemuse…  to cast a spell…  Adolf is always watching but most of all he is watching Adolf.

Jodl who worked with him closely for years said that he never  had a clue what he was really thinking…  This mysteriousness was part of his spell…

Adolf cultivated the man of mystery/ conjuror image.  He was quite aware of it.  Another of his fall-back persona was the “Great Man.”  He saw himself as a historically significant figure, and of course he was right,  he also saw himself as somebody who could comment on the world from a god-like detachment.  It must have been disconcerting for his colleagues when he said that Stalin was a truly great man  (one  hears him saying… like me… like me…) or that he admired the Jews for keeping their race intact… he said that if a two thousand  Jews went to Sweden pretty soon they would be running the place.

Adolf’s ability as an actor are never more clear than in his oratory.  Peoples lives were changed.  There is reason to think that his later speeches were more stylised…  that when he had learned the skill he could perform on demand.

There are many things I do not understand but one is that Adolf clearly was the most powerful orator in the history of the world.  And yet his staff dreaded an evening with Adolf when he would hold forth on his pet subjects.  Well if he was sensitive to an audience as he had to be for his oratory to work…  how come he didn’t realise that he was boring his guests to death?  My explanation is that when speaking he was self-intoxicated.  He was simply addicted to talking irrespective of whether anybody was interested.  When he met Mussolini who again was no shrinking violet he managed to talk for ninety minutes non-stop without the Duce being able to get a word in.

It goes without saying that Adolf was an assemblage of strangenesses… possibly dozens of conditions manifested themselves in an individual who learned to manage them.  There have been other charismatic nutters…  Charles Manson.  It may have been some tragic ill fortune that Adolf was born with  a collection of disorders that were sub-clinical and that through enormous self discipline especially after his army service enabled him to impersonate  characters as situations demanded.  There is a suspicion that great actors are only real when they’re acting.  The oddest thing about Adolf is that he had no reality outside of the roles he was playing.  The most common explanation… narcissism… only goes part of the way…   The absence of many normal characteristics may have enabled him to focus  on the pursuit of power in the same way that Newton is said to have had no close friends.  In strange ways Adolf was a non person.  No friends, no affection, no hobbies or interests except the pursuit of power so that he could become his own image.  Adolf created his image and then inhabited it became the puppet of his image.


So what kind of artist was Adolf?   He brought an artistic temperament to the  diplomacy, politics and war.  In doing this his judgement was exquisite.  Often he performed spectacular reversals.  In diplomacy and in war he brought a quality of imagination and innovation that upset expectations.  But if I had to say I would say that Adolf was an artist using the media of politics and war to create an operatic stage in which he could annihilate himself.


We are more forgiving of artists than we are of politicians.  This is because we are trained to believe that part of being an artist is a licensed madness and we don’t have to take an artist’s expressions as being important because they do not have lethal consequences in the real world.


I think that Adolf brought an artist’s consciousness to the world.  And Percy Bysshe Shelley when you said that the poet… lets say artist… was the unacknowledged legislator of the world…  well  Percy you were right.  But do you like what you see?  Do we want to be ruled by artists?  Think Salvador Dali…


In the end I cannot think of a word that  describes Adolf…  ” knob end ” might do until I think of one.




































































































Adolf’s guide to life was his understanding of evolution which he took to mean that there were not rules except the survival of the fittest.   This was supplemented by Nietzsche who had an ethic of rule by the Superman.  This does not do justice  to this explosive philosopher…  for my money the most fun philospher to read despite the danger of apoplexy.  A characteristic of Nietzsche which was shared by Adolf was his view of the warrior.  Bluntly  Nietzsche liked the image of the warrior.  And so did Adolf.  Nietzsche and Adolf also enjoyed portraying themselves as people who understood women.  “You go to woman.  Take your whip,” whispers an old lady in “Thus spoke Zarathusta. ” This is not to say that Nietzsche did not have  great courage… but warrior?  womaniser?  Really?

Adolf used to carry a dog whip around in his early days.

Wagner…  Wagner was a  musician and a crook.  This is  difficult for us  geography teacher types . It may be that Wagner saw himself as an artist as a kind of Superman entitled to ignore morality.   In dealing with Adolf people like me suffer from the “geography teacher problem.”  Basically we are well-meaning, rational, kindly in a feeble kind of way… we haven’t got the cognitive equipment to understand Adolf…  or Wagner… or Dali.  We expect consistency so that people are good or bad and find it hard to comprehend that bad people can be extraordinarily gifted

Adolf does refer often to “fate” and to “providence” and to the “Gods of War.”  He did not have a sense of anything that existed independently of himself and by extension Germany.  He had an intense sense of the weaknesses, limitations, sensitivities and incoherence of others.  His exploitation of a sense of guilt over the terms of Versailles was masterly but did not extend to his own treatment of defeated nations.  Alongside and imcompatable with his darwinian vision of life as an endless struggle played out in an indifferent universe Adolf had an infantile system of ethics where his own person was sacred.  When he survived the bombing he ordered the strictest measures against the conspirators on the basis that they had sought to interfere with providence.  The  craziness of this formula borders on the comic. Alongside a granite indifference to the fate of others Adolf nursed a consuming regard for the fate of Adolf.

Adolf’s late proposal to try enemy pilots as “war criminals” is consonant with this: war crimes are what “they” do.  One paradox of Adolf… one reason we can regard him as hopefully a singularity… is that his clairvoyant sense of the inner core of other people and nations  combined with  indifference to those people.



Lets get this straight… we don’t know.  But not knowing is a kind of clue that there is something hidden.  First there is the gay theory.  At least one of Adolf’s war companions thought he was gay… and disappeared into a concentration camp… probably more of them did.  The SA who were instrumental in Adolf’s early career was led by an open gay.  The Nazi’s later prosecution of gays may have been an attempt to distance themselves.  Throughout his life from the Homeless Men’s Hostel to the bunker Adolf’s preferred company was that of men.  There is the odd case of Hitler’s.  They were close companions and Adolf gave him a state funeral when he died and was inconsolable for weeks.

Although we think of sexuality mostly in terms of gay or straight another dimension is dominance and submissiveness. Amongst Ian Brady’s possessions were photographs of Myra Hindleys freshly beaten bottom.  Brady was an admirer of Hitler and also a visitor to gay pubs.  Is it possible that Brady intuited the sexual dimension of Nazism?  The Brady Hindley case also shows the nature of the sadist/masochist relationship.  Who is controlling who?  Wasn’t Myra really the stronger character and in allowing Brady to beat and manipulate her Myra was really expressing dominance.  And wasn’t Brady’s realisation of this the real reason that they finally fell out.

But enough.  My point is that there is dominance submissiveness which can transcend gay straight relationships.  For example a man could enjoy dominating both men and women.  Also the sadist may not be a defined identity.  Many sadists also enjoy being submissive.  One reason is that the sadist identifies with the aggressor so when being submissive the sadists imagines he is the one being dominant.  In general a person who tends to masochism is more manipulative than a sadist because he needs to set up situations.  In other words masochism requires a better understanding of other people.  And  a masochist may well enjoy playing a dominant role and identifying with the victim.   The whole game is about power.  Something about which Adolf knew a great deal.

Well is there evidence?  First of all there is Geli Rubal, Adolf’s half niece, who lived with him for over a year in Munich.  She committed suicide.  I make it that six of the women associated with Adolf committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide.  Faced with the sobering fact that his beloved preferred to be dead than to be with him Hitler contemplated suicide.  Geli became part of his cult of the dead and her room was left as it was.  It is said that Geli’s complaint about her uncle was that he was controlling.  If we take it that attractive young women don’t commit suicide except for a reason…

More directly Renate Muller an actress claimed that Adolf knelt at her feet and made her kick him.  She died aged 31, her death is disputed, suicide, epilepsy or the Gestapo?

To me the strongest evidence that Adolf was  orientated towards dominance submission is in his words.  There is a litany of slave/ master situations.  Adolf intended the non-master race subjects in Eastern Europe to become dead, to make room, or slaves.   And there is Adolf’s warning that in the event of defeats German women will become “barrack whores.”  Isn’t Adolf relishing this a tad too much…  And there is Mein Kampf which apart from providing evidence of Adolf’s profound strangeness is an almost comic display of sexual neuroticism.  There is so much: try this: ” If physcial beauty were not today forced into the background by our foppish fashions the seduction of hundreds of thousands of girls by bow-legged Jewish bastards would not be possible.  Systematically these black parasites of the nation defile our inexperienced young blonde girls etc etc…”  Can we detect a certain amount of lip licking.  Those innocent blonde girls… oh for gods sake is there no privacy in this Men’s Hostel…


The infinitely reproduced images in the Streicher Press of blonde maidens being seduced by Jewish men helped boost the circulation.  One assumes that not all readers were all conscientiously informing themselves about miscegenation.

Adolf has an obsession with syphilis and prostitution:

“No, anyone who wants to attack prostitution must first of all help to eliminate its spiritual basis. He must clear away the filth of the moral plague of big-city ‘ civilization ‘ and he must do this ruthlessly and without wavering in the face of all the shouting and screaming that will naturally be let loose. If we do not lift the youth out of the morass of their present-day environment, they will drown in it. Anyone who refuses to see these things supports them, and thereby makes himself an accomplice in the slow prostitution of our future which, whether we like it or not, lies in the coming generation. This cleansing of our culture must be extended to nearly all fields. Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral political, and cultural idea. Public life must be freed from the stifling perfume of our modern eroticism, just as it must be freed from all unmanly, prudish hypocrisy. In all these things the goal and the road must be determined by concern for the preservation of the health of our people in body and soul. The right of personal freedom recedes before the duty to preserve the race.”  Whew!

The passages about syphilis are the clearest evidence that even in his early days Adolf was more than a touch bonkers and that he regarded sexuality with a prurient seething interest.  His droning   about infection and purity and decay…  are they metaphors by which he tries to locate all that’s feared and loathed in himself in  “the other.”

There is something mirthful  about Adolf’s recipe for dealing with syphilis.  Boys should: “after his days work he should steel and harden his young body.”

The strange flavour  of Adolf’s sexuality is inherent in Adolf’s outlook on the world.  One point he says of the “conquests” in Europe: “I had to rape them rather than seduce them.”

Probably hardly anyone read Mein Kampf even though it sold 5 million copies.  One wishes Germans had read it.   A reading confirms that Adolf was an exceeding rum coot.

Early Adolf was much adored by women and it was through women that he was introduced to society.  His awkwardness and uneasiness might have added to his attractiveness.  His complex deep neediness translated into a kind of  intensity and his famous eyes could  transport  into another realm.   Adolf always had this strange quality… something like say Lawrence Olivier had… that even when you despise him you are also watching keenly…  even people who loathed him were anxious to please.

So what happened with all this adoration.  Adolf fully appreciated the allure of his single status and his oratorical performances have a sexual quality.  Enormous arousal and then release of tension in himself and his audience followed by exhaustion and stupor.  Maybe he was thinking of those blond girls being ravished by hump-backed Jews.  Adolf’s adoration by audiences and his enactment of sexual intercourse as part of his performance may have substituted for actual relationships.


As far as we know Adolf had eight close relationships in his life.  My mate… I will not give his name because he is currently the Archbishop of Canterbury (sorry I made that up….) had eight close relationships in his first week at university and he had maybe a millionth of Adolf’s opportunities.  Probably Adolf wasn’t much interested in relationships with other people.  After all who else could Adolf desire when Adolf had Adolf?  One feels  a suspicion that Eva Braun was there to reassure observers of Adolf’s “normality” in the masculine barracks atmosphere that always seemed his milieu from the Men’s Hostel to the bunker.  For more thoughts about Adolf’s sexuality please read my last sentence.

There is no politician… no historical character… about whom we know less, particularly in the field of sexuality.  The lingering suspicion that something is being concealed.  And that could only be because there is something to conceal.

































































Adolf had two fixed ideas: one was that the Jews were bad and the other was that Germany needed to expand to the East.  The British Empire was the model for the Eastern Empire and Adolf frequently referred to his admiration for Britain, his basic plan was that German and Britain should amicably enjoy Empires.  Adolf’s view that the British Empire was  a facade to rob others is accurate.  The British Empire was exploitative, ethnically based and it shortened more lives than Hitler and Stalin put together by a considerable margin.  Adolf, but I hope I have made it clear that Adolf is never to be believed, claimed that he allowed the British withdrawal at Dunkirk in order to allow an agreement (he uses the term “sporting” as far as I know uniquely) and it is true that he longed for an alliance with Britain.

Adolf was familiar with death.  Surviving for four years on the front line… unlike Churchill… he had seen almost all of his  companions die.  On a single day he was the only runner in his regiment to survive. This was a first-hand demonstration of a Darwinian struggle for life that always fails.  Adolf saw individuals as  essentially meaningless and utterly expandable in the service of greater entities such as nations or races.  Curiously and contradicting this belief was the idea of the later Hitler that he was chosen by Providence and Destiny.  Hitler accepted that he was totally vulnerable and on the other hand he was the only person who could take Germany to its fate.  Adolf wasn’t above hinting that he had intimate conversations with the Creator.


Death was an abiding part of Adolf’s mental furniture.  When combined with his operatic capacity for large-scale ceremonies  funerals and celebrations of martyrs were the most awe inspiring spectacles of the Nazi era.  Often taking place at night and lit by torches the ceremony around the martyrs at Nuremberg…  We are tempted to over-state this as if fascination (fascination has the same root as Fascism)  with Death were an exclusively Nazi phenomena… but for example Christianity?   More likely Death is an activating factor uniting the massed ranks by fear and celebration.  Adolf’s pictures of his niece Geli Rubal who committed suicide and his keeping her room exactly as it was point to a preoccupation with Death.  An advantage to Dead People is that they don’t argue… in other words there are no messy realities to upset idealisations.  Adolf often talked about death and suicide and madness… there are times when he was like a mass-homicidal Hamlet of the banal.  The Nazi preoccupation with death… possibly a revitalisation of a Christian tradition… took on pagan forms.  Himmle gave officers a dagger with a skull motif which belonged not to the officer but the SS and which were collected after the officer’s death.


My view about Adolf’s career is that an unprecedented was followed by a spectacular and rapid deterioration of his faculties.  What would be amusing… if it were not for the suffering, is that the deterioration was accelerated by his achievement of unquestioned power.  At his sharpest Adolf thrived on opposition.  All his brilliant coups and his sharpest military victories were achieved in the face of opposition.  Before the invasion of Czechoslovakia officers in the army planned to kidnap and kill him.  He browbeat the German High Command to promote the plan for the invasion of France that he favoured.  The boldness and flair of the German military was stunning.  An impregnable strong point in Belgium was subdued when German Paratroopers landed on top of it.  The  victory of the German Army… it’s reputation for fed the morale of the German People and the Army.  It has to be said that the German Army and the German People displayed reluctance to go to war… but became enthusiastic after a series of inexpensive victories.

The tide turned decisively at Stalingrad although there were indications that the  resistance of the Soviet Army had  disrupted German Military plans.  For the Soviet Army it was like  learning to box by sparring with Mike Tyson.  The defeat was the overshadowing of the German Military Reputation and from there on it was a long tedious but brilliantly managed retreat by the German Army.  Economic advisors had already warned that defeat was inevitable.  The German Economy was geared to rapid production of war material for rapid campaigns which would pause between campaigns.  More critically essential war materials… steel, magnesium and above oil were only available through trade or in precariously loyal territories. The frivolity of Adolf speaks of blind spots in his often keen understanding of foreign policy.  The invasion of Russia besides contradicting his own strictures against a two-front war has the flavour of a conqueror who has run out of things to do.  Is it entirely a coincidence that he launched the invasion on the same date as Napoleon?  When Germany declared war on the United States…( yes that’s right)… it was not under any treaty obligation.  One pictures Hitler and Goebbels looking at their maps…  “What major global power are we not at war with yet?”

It is difficult not to conclude that there was a suicidal intent.  “Let’s go out in a blaze.”


Adolf often talked of suicide.  His beloved Geli Rubal had committed suicide which may have hinted to him the limitations of his personal charms.  Eva Braun was another and one story is that he put up with her to avoid another suicide.  Delay is  the appropriate word.  I make the number of women involved with Adolf who committed suicide at six.   Considering the early death of his mother and the death of his Driver Julius Schreck… so close that Adolf was inconsolable and ordered a state funeral (something odd there?) it is clear that death was very often on Adolf’s mind and the operatic  manner of his death and the care taken to avoid human remains seems to be an attempt to create mythology.

But did Adolf actually chose to carry on the war as a means of grandiose suicide.  My guess would be that he did although I think Adolf’s mind was highly compartmentalised so that he could be exude confidence in victory to a gauleiter and the next moment be talking about his suicide plans.  Consistency was not a notable feature of Adolf’s character.


The latter part of the war was marked by a very steep decline in Adolf’s faculties.  The final Adolf could barely walk down a corridor, he lived underground, he was notably spitty in conversation, given to incoherent rages, he could not see well, had bad breath, was flatulents…   He was maintained by amphetamines and hocus pocus medicine.  He shook sometimes uncontrollably.  He never seems to have taken any excercise in his later years.  He had been diagnosed with a heart problem which would have killed him whatever happened.  People who saw him were shocked by his premature ageing.  And yet he retained something of his capacity to intimidate and control.  Partly he was living off the capital of the past and partly he was difficult to remove from within the structure because he was the only thing holding it together.

The man who in his early days was the only politician who could charge to attend his meetings bored his guests to death as they listened to his endless dreary monologues.  His guests were bitterly resentful of people who copped out of these marathons.  How could Adolf who was acutely sensitive to his listeners in his heydey be unaware of his narcolepsy inducing repetitive effect?  I think the answer is that Adolf was self intoxicated by his own rhetoric and also that he was actually addicted to speaking… he couldn’t shut up… he couldn’t listen.

The late Adolf was unable to defend the people against huge bombing raids day and night which kept the population sleepless and frequently homeless or dead.  His generals… well aware of the difficulties of telling the truth… presented a version of events that pleased him.  In the end they gave up telling the truth at all.

If he cared to look, and he didn’t, as German cities became rubble, Adolf could see a representation of his own incapacity.  But he didn’t.  Instead he became increasingly radical, shrill, lacking in self-control, in denial of reality.  He did not visit bombed cities or wounded soldiers.  It is said that his train once passed a train carrying wounded soldiers and a weary-looking Adolf pulled down the blind.


It is deeply disconcerting this but here goes…

Percy Bysshe Shelley said that the poet was the unacknowledged legislator of mankind.  If we extend the word “poet” to include artist we have a clue to the character of Adolf.

Adolf regarded himself  as an artist.  It is customary to disparage Adolf as an artist but I think he was a pretty good architectural artist and some of his early sketches show vitality and even wit.  Adolf made no claims for his efforts but they were executed at speed for money.

Adolf’s antagonism to his father is one key to much of his life.  His father was a hard-working bureaucrat, steeped in an inter-racial monarchical Austrian Empire.  His father had risen in the ranks of the civil service.  Adolf relished the rage his father flew into when Adolf announced that he was going to be an artist.  Adolf’s ideological positions were the opposite of his father’s.   In other respects…   his liking for young female relatives… near incestuous…  he took after his father.

The stylistic impact of the Nazi Party is undeniable.  The swastika…  Adolf didn’t discover it but immediately realised its potential and later convinced himself that it was his creation… was a PR coup.  The impact of the rallies was another triumph and were micro-managed by Adolf.  I once saw film of a carnival in Jamaica where the participants dressed in SS uniforms.  This had no political significance the participants were impressed by the style.

Adolf repeatedly talked about his vocation as an artist and often expressed his wish to retire and pursue art.  His criticism of Himmler… that he would never be a suitable leader because he was “not artistic.”  One can think an infinity of  reasons why Himmler was an unsuitable leader… his inartistic nature would be far down the line.

One factor which probably protected the earlier Adolf from the pain of his early descent from respectable middle class to unemployed tramp was his ability to lose himself in contemplation.  His retreat with Speer to study architectural models for Germania was an escape from the defeats and betrayals.  Adolf fancied himself as an architect and was not above claiming that he had sacrificed becoming Germany’s chief architect to lead Germany.

Music played a key part in holding the Nazi leadership together.  This alleged sensitivity may have been a narcotic which protected them… and Adolf in particular… from reflection.

Adolf claimed he read a book every day.  Most of the evidence is missing.  He does seem to have had a capacity to take what reinforced his ideas from a wide variety of sources.  In the section of his library that still remains there were a surprising number of volumes about religion and a well worn book about magic.

Linked with this artistic conception and the suicidal tendencies of Adolf is the operatic quality of his life… the self-mythologising…  which accelerated towards the end.  It is difficult not to see in leading Nazis a kind of excitement as their country was destroyed by allied bombing as if the dissolution of all boundaries released a nihilistic glee.

Key to an artistic understanding of the world is the power of the image.  In later years images seem to replace reality.  Adolf spent time studying maps which were no longer representative of reality.

With an artist such as Wagner a good deal of eccentricity or bad behaviour is allowed… indeed it is an accepted  part of the artistic character.

So Percy Bysshe Shelley look  your dream has come true.  You have an artist who is the acknowledged legislator of mankind.  How do you like it?







Sherlock Holmes and the Spiritualists: Blackpool, Conan Doyle and Houdini

This is off topic.

Doyle and Houdini two intriguing giants, it involves Blackpool, there is a crime  and an epic row  erupts between Doyle and Houdini .    And finally: Spiritualism…  Blackpool has always had a religious and especially alternative religous aspect… With these excuses off we go…



Emmanuel Swedenborg claimed direct communication with God.  The philosopher Kant thought he was bonkers but interesting.  In the US two children started table rapping and so on.   The American Civil War left people bereaved and longing for communication with their lost loved ones.  Mediums contacted the dead.

Abraham Lincoln tried to communicate with his dead son  William (typhoid) through a medium.


Blackpool has always been liminal.  At the end of land strange beliefs flourish.   Blackpool had a Swedenborgian Church and one of the few specifically built Spiritualist Churches in Albert Road.  The holiday atmosphere of Blackpool included clairvoyants and forturne tellers,  the astrological signs at Bispham Parish Church, the long survival of witchcraft and fairy stories, the boggarts and holy wells, pre-christian traditions all add up to a spookiness.   Your Rochdale mill-worker did not believe in fairies but he kind of knew the stories and on a moonlit night…


The end of the 19th Century saw a  growth in unorthodox religion… Satanism, Spiritualism, Paganism.  Instead of prayers late Victorians would have a seance or  summon up Satan.  The onetime Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was a dedicated table rapper.  Mediums were in demand.  Our own Winston Churchill appears in the outfit of the Ancient Order of Druids.  A physicist Oliver Lodge founded the Society for Psychic Research to examine evidence. William Butler Yeats and Alesteir Crowley attended sessions at the Golden Dawn.  Madame Blavatsky had many followers.  In Russia the country was half run by Rasputin… a mystic.

New beliefs were in the air.  Relativity, electromagnetism, quantum all supported the idea that the solid world was governed by unseen  forces.  In upper-class circles successful mediums had a field day.  T S Eliot captures the mood:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards.


!897 Garnett, Kansas.  The Opera House.  A clairvoyant is in contact with a recently deceased mother.  She complains that her son spends more time gallivanting with his secretary than putting flowers on her grave.  A local businessman walks out.  And then the atmosphere changes.  The clairvoyant announces that he will contact a beautiful young woman, Sadie Timmins who has been found murdered.  The murderer is unknown.  He will through his assistant Bessie contact the victim and solve the murder.he victim of an unsolved murder.    And then  assistant voiced the spirit Sadie.     She is abut to name the killer…   It  is unbearable.  And then Bessie  fainted…download


The man is Houdini and his assistant Bessie is his wife.

When Bessie and Houdini turned up at the town prior to the show they went to the cemetery and chatted.  The local murder was very present in peoples’ memories.  From there  on it was not hard for a skilled artist create enormous tension.  The audience had  no idea of the prior knowledge and the whole thing was deeply impressive.  Many stage mediums used similar techniques… one had an assistant hide in a lavatory cubicle and make notes about what people were talking about.

In later years Houdini became famous as an escapologist…  the most impressive stage magician ever.  He had qualities: intelligence, self-confidence, determination, physical toughness  and courage, a brilliant flair for self-promotion.  Many people believed that he had supernatural powers.

CONAN DOYLE AND SHERLOCK HOLMESquote-i-never-guess-it-is-a-capital-mistake-to-theorize-before-one-has-data-insensibly-one-begins-to-arthur-conan-doyle-282585

A quote from Conan Doyle… making a claim that is extravagantly untrue.

Conan Doyle a genial cheerful doctor created Sherlock Holmes.  I cannot think of any figure in literature who exists independently of his creator as distinctly as Sherlock Holmes.  One  explanation is that Conan Doyle used parts of his own experience  that he wished to discard or deny:  moodiness, pessimism, addiction.  Sherlock was Conan Doyle’s anti-self.  Conan Doyle had Lancashire connections… he went to school at Stonyhurst… it has the largest collection of Catholic relics in the world although I doubt the curator will show you the collection of dessicated priest’s heads.  A visit to Stonyhurst puts you in mind of Baskerville Hall.   Tolkien went there too.

Sherlock Holmes was a sensation.  He made Conan Doyle rich.  Doyle came to resent Holmes.  He  preferred his more literary works about Brigadier Gerard. Doyle was more romantic than his hyper-rational creation.  So Doyle killed him off… both Sherlock Holmes and his antagonist Professor Moriarty were killed at the Reichbach Falls.


Who killed Sherlock Homes?  Moriarty or Doyle.


And then…  Doyle needed the money.   He was a very generous man and had a constant need for money.  So he brought back Sherlock to fill a financial need.  This made Sherlock even more charismatic … he was now god-like… resurrected from the dead.  Like Moriarty Doyle had tried and failed to destroy Holmes.

When  Holmes reappeared , in disguise, he has a book about tree worship… this must refer to the Golden Bough with its mythology of sacrificed kings being killed and re-arising… like Holmes.   Doyle couldn’t even kill his own creation who had an annoying life of his own.  A dummy  takes on a life of his own…  who is the ventriloquist and who the dummy?



One  reason for Conan Doyle’s distaste for Holmes  was that Conan Doyle was increasingly taken up with Spiritualism.  His son Kingsley had died in the influenza epidemic at the end of the war.

Doyle fell for spiritualism and paranormal beliefs in a big way.

The Cottingley Fairies were dreamed up by two young girls possibly bored.  They cut up pictures of fairies and photographed them using one of their father’s cameras.  To us the results are ludicrous but to Conan Doyle they were evidence.




The SPR treated  the Cottingley Fairies with  caution.  But Conan based a whole wing of his belief system on their real existence.  Conan Doyle published a book called The Coming of the Fairies.  It is difficult not to squirm.   It is also easy to see why Conan Doyle rejected the Sherlock Holmes approach…   it is not hard to imagine what Sherlock would have made of the Cottingley Fairies.

Interestingly the one of the girls admitted the fraud in later life but she also believed in fairies and said that one of the photos… the vaguest… was genuine.


The Coming of the Fairies.

Doyle also championed spirit photography.

Doyle was inspired by a Boston couple Dr and Margery Crandon.  Unlike many Mediums money was not their motive… they were a wealthy couple.  Some of the effects were dramatic.  As their career unravelled it turned out that they used stage magic at least on some occasions.  Margery was  sexually voracious and exhibitionistic, they were borderline loopy.  Or actually not much borderline.

Conan Doyle’s first wife had died after a long illness.  He had been an attentive and devoted husband.  He then married his secretary Jean who as luck would have it turned out to be a medium and an automatic writer.  Automatic writing is where the medium is taken over by a spirit and scribbles all kinds of stuff at a furious rate, in case you are thinking this is bonkers, it is, but William Blake and Coleridge both claimed that their work was dictated in this way.    A slight diversion here.  W B  Yeats proposed to his lifelong love Maud Gonne and when she turned him down he proposed to her daughter and she turned him down and then he proposed to Georgie… George as she was always called.  Presumably if Georgie hadn’t accepted he would have gone on proposing to people…

Yeats was 25 years older the relationship was a bit tricky at first until… as luck would have it… it turned out that George was a medium and automatic writer.  The spirit who dictated the automatic writing gave specific advice about diet, sexual difficulties…  As it happens this  coincided with George’s wishes.  And indeed so it was with Conan Doyle and Jean.  Yeats and Conan Doyle do not seem to have had a moment of doubt about the reality of their spouses’ mediumship and Yeats published a whole booklet called a Vision in which he appears to believe that the automatic writing conveys a whole psychology as complex and  reliable as Freud’s.  Based on some writing that his wife did while she was in a trance…

At this second if you are like me you might be asking…  were all our ancestors loopy?  I think the answer is yes…  at least partly.    When our current concerns and obsessions are examined in future years a lot of what we hold sacred will be seen as daft (and futile)  as  the Victorian obsession with preventing boys masturbating.

The problem is that we don’t know which bits.

Doyle when he spoke about spiritualism came across as good-humoured, bluff, amusing…  rather like a retired colonel … He was exceptionally winning and inspired confidence.  Spiritualism could not have a more convincing advocate.


Both Conan Doyle and Houdini had outstanding careers.  Houdini shaped his career much more consciously.  There is a German crime story in which Houdini and Sherlock Holmes meet up.  And inevitably Conan Doyle and Houdini… two of the most celebrated people of their times met one another.   Conan Doyle in many ways had a golden life.  His father was an artist who sadly declined into alcoholism and dementia but Conan qualified as a doctor and shortly took up writing with great financial success.  He had a sunny, energetic radiant personality.  At the same time he seemed to embody English Common Sense.  He was a gifted sportsman.  He had a chivalrous attitude: for example he tended to believe that women and children could not lie.

Houdini’s father was a rabbi.  Houdini experienced anti-Semitism.  His background was impoverished and his success much more down to a conscious mastery of skills.  He was brilliant and also well aware of the dark side of life.  He had been a fake medium himself.  He never seems to have given up on the idea of survival of death and the possibility of communicating with the dead.  He was much more capable of dissembling than Conan Doyle.  A decisive feature of his life was the death of his beloved mother.  He visited mediums after her death and although he said he never saw anything he could not easily reproduce throughout his life he never lost belief in the possibility.  At the end of his life he was filled with gloomy foreboding as if he forsaw his death.  And  many Spiritualists did  predict his death with relish and enthusiasm.


At first Conan Doyle and Houdini got on well.  Conan Doyle always complained that he never understood Houdini .   Houdini  could put on a persona to suit the circumstances.  In addition Houdini, despite appearances, was  insecure and the friendship of Conan Doyle, who in many ways was a representative of the Establishment, was something he treasured.   Now Houdini would have instantly seen through  Conan Doyle’s evidence of spiritualism but he may well have kept his mouth shut because he realised to speak his mind would be to lose Conan Doyle’s friendship.  In this respect Houdini looked on Conan Doyle as child-like and obsessive.Houdini MFB Press (dragged) copy

Houdini and Doyle

Once Houdini asked Doyle to go into the garden and write down a phrase and put it in a box.  Doyle wrote down a phrase in Hebrew from the bible.  When he came back Houdini wrote the phrase on a piece of paper.  Doyle credited Houdini with extra-sensory powers.  How did Houdini do it?  I haven’t got the foggiest idea.

Over time their differences became more pointed.  One cause of dispute was when the journal Scientific American offered a stupendous reward for anybody who could offer evidence of psychic communication.  No claimant was able to claim the reward because Houdini was an expert at all forms of magic and also because his technique of separating  the medium from  access to the materials disrupted the process.  The effects attributed to spirits only happened when the medium was in contact with the materials.

One great source of disagreement was ectoplasm.  Mediums claimed that this was a non-material substance  that could be photographed or seen in seances.  Doyle believed in it.  Houdini said it was a conjuring trick using traditional conjuring materials such as silk.  I will not disconcert you by discussing where Houdini claimed Mrs Crandon concealed her ectoplasm or his claim that her husband had facilitated this by a surgical intervention but Houdini’s antagonism to what he saw as fraud was sometimes pathological.



The absolute crisis in the relationship between the Doyles and Houdini came about when Lady Doyle conducted a seance and contacted Houdini’s mother.  Houdini’s feelings can be imagined.  First of all he was insulted by the idea that he could be fooled by an amateur.  Second the message was in English and full of Christian symbolism where Houdini’s mother was a pious Jew and spoke Yiddish and finally there may have been a slight uncertainty on Houdini’s part.  Had Lady Doyle really contacted his beloved mother?  He had tried to contact his mother through mediums and failed.

Houdini was an expert  at concealing his feelings so the Doyles did not realise that Houdini was horrified.  My guess is that Lady Doyle  believed that she was a medium (maybe she was?) and saw her role as bringing comfort.  But as Marx would observe (I think) don’t our beliefs often  coincide with our interests?

Any road up the foundations were laid for a feud in which the bitterness was often concealed in protestations of admiration.

It is hard not to believe that Conan Doyle had gone quietly crackers (away with the fairies comes to mind)  on the subject of spiritualism but he was a brilliant stage performer and effectively an evangelist for spiritualism.  Taking the opposite view Houdini performed a a show discrediting spiritualism by demonstrating the tricks of mediums.  Fist fights and street violence took place.  It is said that mediums and psychics including Lady Doyle longed for his destruction.

They had their way: He was destroyed.   An athletic student asked if he could hit him.  Houdini agreed, this was one of his acts and he would brace himself by tightening his stomach muscles.  The student hit him before he had done this.    This eventually caused his death.  Interestingly for conspiracy theorists we know nothing else about the student who hit him except that he became a vicar and drank himself to death.  Houdini reappeared as a spirit to Jean Doyle the medium and acknowledged that Doyle had been right all along.  Lenin also contacted her.


Doyle asserted the truth of spiritualism.   Houdini gave lectures demonstrating how mediums faked  performances.   And both came to Blackpool.  Sadly for my story Houdini did not come in his anti-spiritualist mode but he did have an encounter that involves crime.


Houdini visited Blackpool early in his career.   On June 12 1905 he  went to  the Police Station (where St John’s Market is).  The Chief Constable and various councillors and ex-mayors witnessed him escape from his cell and through another locked door in seven minutes and wrote a letter on Blackpool Police Stationery.

This was widely reported in the Blackpool and local papers and cannot have harmed his appearance at the Hippodrome during that  week.  Intriguing to think what went on behind the scenes to get the councillors and mayors and Chief Constable to endorse Houdini.  (He may have been locked in the cell which still exists under the fish-stall).

Even though Houdini was a superstar and was massively wealthy  he still cadged drinks at a Blackpool pub.   Well actually it didn’t.  This is what happened: On Saturday George William Green was charged with “unlawfully and knowingly attempting to obtain by false pretenses the sum of four shillings.  ”  On the previous Friday  morning  George went into the Adelphi Hotel on Church Street.  He approached Joseph William Rome and showed him a printed card saying that he was Houdini.  He asked if Joseph would lend him 4 shillings and he would pay him back 50 shillings.    Mr Rome wisely refused.  William went on to ask another customer to lend him a shilling.  William said: “I was drunk.  I do not know what I have been doing lately.”

Houdini appeared in the witness box.

The previous day, Friday, about 1.00 pm  a person from Fleetwood had turned up and claimed that Houdini owed him money after a drinking session.. Houdini contacted the Police and William was arrested about 3.15 that afternoon.   William Green was sentenced to 28 days hard labour which seems harsh when he had never been proved to have gained anything by his deception.  But then Houdini and the Chief Constable…


Conan Doyle lectured  in the Pavilion at the Winter Gardens on Tuesday 20  January 1920 on Death  and Hereafter.

He defended spirit photography:  “They were either cold-blooded deliberate frauds or else the thing was true. ”  Houdini would agree with that.

Doyle described the world of the after-life which is depressingly similar to this life.  So similar that many dead people do not realise they are dead until a denizen explains to them.

His message was optimistic.  The dead are so happy that they would not wish to return.

Doyle believed that this was a first stage and later the spirit moved on.  The next world is much more congenial.  “No mother who has lost a baby need ever grieve.”  Doyle acknowledged the existence of fraud.

He says he has discussed family matters with his deceased brother and his deceased son.  When asked about death they said: It was an extraordinarily pleasant process.

He discussed the attitude of the Church which was often hostile.   He said that Spiritualism is not a religion but an aid to all religions.  Doyle  urged his audience to seek personal experience: “Test it”.

Among the audience were the Mayor, councillors and vicars.  A vote of thanks was seconded by Mr J Armitage President of the Blackpool Spiritual Church which kind of undermines Doyle’s point that spiritualism is not a religion.

He gave an interview to Allan Clarke the author of Windmill Land.  Allan Clarke had lost a son and became  inclined to Spiritualism.

Doyle and Houdini had both suffered great bereavements and it may be that the success of spiritualism  owed something to the sense of loss that followed the War.