You’ve probably heard Britain’s knocked Transylvania off its perch as the go-to place for vampires. I first read about it in Rod McPhee’s Mirror article, “Vampire Britain: UK Could Be Home to More Blood-Sucking Nightfeeders Than Dracula’s Homeland” (September 16, 2014, 22:56). Regional papers emphasised their own locales at the expense of top-placers, Yorkshire and Lancashire. For instance, the Exeter Express and Echo article titled, “Paranormal Sightings Study Reveals Devon Is a Hotspot for Vampires” (September 18, 2014).
It was an intriguing story, so I began digging. One of my contacts forwarded me an email press release called “Batty Britain,” circulated by London-based PR company, Taylor Herring. The press release—almost identical to the UKTV Corporate Site article I tracked down and cited in the interview—discussed Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe’s report on paranormal sightings in conjunction with vampire TV series, The Strain, premiering in the UK on September 17. It also mentioned he was available for interview; an opportunity too good to miss.
I was given his email address and after brief correspondence, sent him my interview questions on September 25; his responses arrived on the 27th. Fanthorpe is well-known in paranormal circles, not just for his incredibly prolific output, but for presenting shows like Fortean TV (1997–1998). For this interview, I naturally focused on the vampire angle in Fanthorpe’s report, especially after combing through widespread—though mainly superficial—media coverage, which were clearly just riffs on the press release or derivatives thereof.
However, one notable exception was Sharon Hill’s Doubtful News article, “Vampire Sighting “Study” – Where’s the Data? (UPDATE: Nowhere)” (September 19, 2014), whose update states, “I received a short reply from Lionel saying a client requested a survey. That’s it. No references, no info.” That spurred me into seeking greater clarity from everyone’s favourite ghostbustin’ biker priest.
Anthony Hogg: You’ve had quite a prolific career—according to your website, you’ve written over 250 books, yet you’re best-known for your works on the paranormal, mysteries and arcana. What steered you into these subjects and what do you find so compelling about them?
Lionel Fanthorpe: I became interested in unsolved mysteries and paranormal phenomena as a boy at school where I read H.G.Wells, Poe, Stoker and various other mystery stories. It was this interest in paranormal fiction that started my interest in real world mysteries of every type. I think that the investigation of paranormal phenomena can sometimes lead to new discoveries when apparently unsolved mysteries are logically and objectively solved.
AH: You’re also an ordained Anglican priest. Would it be fair to suggest a connection between the two? As a Christian, myself, I’m aware that there’s a lot of, let’s say, hesitance, covering such subject matter—especially as it can be seen veering outside traditional theological confines which hold supernatural activity stemming from God or Satan. What’s your take on such views?
LF: I think that theological restrictions on investigating the paranormal are unnecessary. God gave us our sense of curiosity. He wants us to exercise it in order to find out more about the wonderful universe He has given us. As long as we are honest and objective it doesn’t matter whether we are examining chemicals in a laboratory or strange phenomena in an allegedly ‘haunted’ house.
AH: “The Strain Report”—referred to in UKTV Corporate Site’s news item, “Batty Britain – Island Home to Vampires, Ghosts and Werewolves According to New Study” (September 17, 2014)—which you were commissioned to write, “focuses on paranormal occurrences reported to the police and leading paranormal organisations in the UK over the last century.” Of 11,204 reports, 206 concerned vampires. That’s quite a high number for a being, I would say, most people don’t believe exists. Were you surprised by that result? Do you believe vampires exist?
LF: I am neither a believer nor disbeliever in any particular phenomenon. I try hard to be scientific, unbiased and objective. I believe in evidence, and in careful examination of it. Honest witnesses have reported phenomena that they think were — or might have been — vampires. Their reports need careful examination and analysis.
AH: I’m also interested in the metric you used to classify vampires. For instance, an example provided in UKTV Corporate Site’s news item mentions, “Bedale in Yorkshire has accounts of a strange, evil vampire-like figure that dissolves into a curious mist when approached.” What qualifiers did you use to distinguish vampire reports, from, say, reports of ghosts or other forms of supernatural phenomena?
LF: In categorising witnesses’ reports of phenomena which they thought might have been vampires, one criterion is the appearance of the entity as the witness described it. Another is the atmosphere which the witness said accompanied the apparition: aggression, hostility, threat, etc.
AH: That brings me to the data used to compile the report. Yorkshire and Lancashire are tied as the most vampire-haunted places in Britain, with 11 reports each. Why do you think these places rank higher than the others listed? What’s special about them? What makes them magnets for the supernatural?
LF: Certain areas and certain locations may be predisposed to acquiring what some researchers think may be ‘natural recordings’. If thought, and especially emotion, is a form of energy, the theory suggests that such energy can be recorded in a structure — or the geological strata below it — in much the same way as a video or DVD records things. When sensitive witnesses visit the area they can so to speak replay the recordings. It may also be possible that the ability to see and hear paranormal phenomena is like normal physical sight and hearing — which vary from person to person. Perhaps it’s in our DNA: clear sight; clear hearing; hyper-sensitive psychic perception… Perhaps there are more people in Yorkshire and Lancashire who have such abilities.
AH: I was quite impressed with your coverage of the Croglin Vampire case, in The World’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries (1997), the book you co-authored with your wife, Patricia. But I can’t help wondering whether the data collated for your report was investigated with the same level of thoroughness. For instance, it mentions “During the 1950s numerous witnesses in Glasgow (Lanarkshire) claimed that a vampire with iron teeth was lurking in the local cemetery.” I recognise this as the Gorbals Vampire case, which has been thoroughly debunked as a schoolboys’ tale that got out of hand. What steps did you take to verify sightings included in your report?
LF: Reports, of course, vary enormously in the likelihood (or otherwise) of their veracity. It is only possible to devote a reasonable amount of time to each case being studied. When there are widespread reports of strange phenomena, it may be reasonable to assume that someone saw something. The Croglin case took months to investigate. That length of time just isn’t possible everywhere! All that can be said is that a report was made regarding what witnesses claimed to have seen.
AH: Speaking of The Strain, UKTV Corporate Site’s news item quotes you saying, “One really interesting element of the research shows that our visions of vampires and ghosts are evolving over the times. For example recent sightings are less likely to be the cloaked figures of old Hollywood films and far more likely to be a modern interpretation like the type of creature shown in The Strain.” Considering the show’s vampires infect other people with parasitic “worms” that they inject into them with mouth-stingers, triggering epidemics—a characteristic more common to movies like Rabid (1977), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Fallen (1998) and Slither (2006), among others, than vampire history or folklore—is it possible that pop culture, more than reality, is responsible for this evolution? Can you mention any specific examples from your report that tallied with the vampires depicted on the show?
LF: Undoubtedly folklore and media play a significant role in all reports and supposed reports of the paranormal.
AH: UKTV Corporate Site’s news item also mentions the report “was specially commissioned to celebrate the premiere of director Guillermo del Toro’s hotly anticipated new vampire-horror TV series The Strain, where an ancient form of vampirism is unleashed on New York, set to launch on entertainment channel Watch, on September 17th.” Considering your former vocation as a journalist, were you a little wary of the request being something that might’ve been requested primarily to generate publicity for the show, rather than be taken seriously as legitimate report on paranormal activity in Britain? What do you hope the report will achieve?
LF: As a professional management consultant, researcher and statistician, when a client asks for a piece of work, I do my best to supply to it for the client.
AH: Will the full “Strain Report” be published, or be expanded into a book? After all, UKTV Corporate Site’s news item mentions, “In comparison to Transylvania, the home of Dracula, with only eight accounts of reported sightings over the last 100 years”. A vampire atlas, perhaps? And if you’ve collated 211 vampire reports in Britain, alone, it sounds like it could slot into the niche opened up by Paul Adams’ book, Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire (2014).
LF: No plans to do any further work on it.
AH: What’s your next major project? Are you currently working on a new book? It’s hard to keep up with everything you do! Not only does your website mention you work 18 hour days, seven day weeks and you “love every minute of it”, but you also juggle writing with acting, lecturing, attending conferences and conventions, the works.
LF: Hoping to do a book on the mysterious black dogs that are reported from many locations.
You can find a copy of Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe’s book, The World’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries (1997), on Amazon. If you’re interested in Lionel’s other books, check his website for more. If you haven’t heard of the Gorbals Vampire case I referred to, I highly recommend Stuart Nicolson’s BBC News article, “Child Vampire Hunters Sparked Comic Crackdown” (March 22, 2010, 00:21 GMT).
Though the Gorbals Vampire case was an obvious example of “legend tripping”, the paranormal aspect of vampirism is how the vampire originally seeped into public consciousness—press coverage of the famous Arnod Paole case is the reason why we have the word, “vampire”, in the first place. Here’s my take on the subject, from a paranormal perspective.