I was recently contacted by Sean Murphy from the Scottish newspaper, the Daily Record, regarding a "novel" theory about what the Loch Ness Monster may be. Was it giant eels or some new variant of the plesiosaur or something new to excite debate and discussion? Well, if you think whale penises can generate discussion, you have your answer. The article from the paper says:
Monday, 3 May 2021
It is back to giant eels as I went through my research material and found a few stories of interest. Now I myself do not think the Loch Ness Monster is a giant eel, but that doesn't mean that opinion is false and various theories regarding the beast will continue to be blogged for the benefit of discussion. Of course, if a thirty foot eel is found at the loch, I would have to accept that the monster has been found and some explanation for the non-eel type sightings will be required. That has not happened and so we now continue with some letters from the Fortean Times magazine dated July 2006 (No.212). The first letter is from well known Fortean researcher, Mike Dash:
Loch Ness Eels
I was very interested to read Jim Currie's letter (FT208:74) concerning rumours that apparently circulated in Glasgow shipyards during the 1960s of an underwater sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. According to Currie, a story went around that a car had careered off the road and into the loch and that when a diver was sent into the water to search for it, he found the vehicle perched on a ledge 80ft (24m) down and surfaced babbling about "giant eels, the size of a man's body, hundreds of them!" In one version of the account, Currie adds, the diver's hair went white and he was rendered insane by the experience.
This tale, which while undated seems to refer to an incident occurring in the latter half of the 20th century, is readily identifiable as a variant on a supposedly much older account first published in the first edition of Nicholas Witchell's The Loch Ness Story (1974) p.29. "There is an interesting story," Witchell writes, "of a diver, Duncan MacDonald, who was sent to examine a sunken ship off the Fort Augustus entrance to the Caledonian Canal in 1880. MacDonald was lowered into the water and shortly afterwards the men on the surface received frantic signals from him to be pulled up.
When he did surface it is said his face was like chalk and he was trembling violently. It was several days before he would talk about the incident, but eventually he described how he had been examining the keel of the ship when he saw a large animal lying on the shelf of rock on which the wreck was lodged. 'It was a very odd looking beast,' he said, `like a huge frog.' He refused to dive in the loch again."
The first point to make is that Witchell's account of the MacDonald sighting is unreferenced and no primary source has ever been found for it (see Ulrich Magin, "Waves Without Wind and a Floating Island: Historical Accounts of the Loch Ness Monster" in Fortean Studies 7 (2001) p.102). Thus, if Mr Currie's memory of dates is correct, his apparently later version, involving cars and eels, may actually predate the MacDonald story. The second is that neither account is at all likely to be true.
Aside from the obviously folkloric elements featured in both tales (hair turning white, refusal to dive again), numerous underwater surveys of Loch Ness, conducted with sonar and echo sounder apparatus, have failed to reveal the various subsurface features so often featured in popular accounts: underwater ledges, caves and even tunnels leading to the sea. Finally, as is fairly well known, underwater visibility at Loch Ness is negligible - of the order of a few feet once one ventures to any depth below the surface - thanks to the heavy concentration of silt particles washed into the loch from the surrounding hills. The reported observations of Duncan MacDonald and of Jim Currie's diver would simply not have been physically possible.
That letter from issue 208 of Fortean Times is short and reproduced below:
When I worked in the Clyde shipyards in the 1960s, a story went round about Loch Ness. It was said a car had careered off the road into the loch and a diver was sent to investigate the insurance claim. Apparently the car had landed on a kind of ledge only about 80ft (24m) down. When the diver broke surface after investigating, he was heard to be babbling about "giant eels, the size of a man's body, hundreds of them!" In one version of the tale, the diver's hair turned white, while in another he became a babbling wreck confined to a lunatic asylum. Has anyone else heard this story?
First off, Mike compares this underwater encounter with the better known story of Duncan MacDonald from 1880 described in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story". Though it is described as a "variant", the two tales are undoubtedly unconnected. It is correct to say Witchell's tale is unreferenced and it is my opinion, it was one of those stories related by locals to the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau team in their years at the loch during the 1960s and 1970s. The local was probably known to Witchell but requested anonymity.
At this point we can also include the stories of Robert Badger (link), James Honeyman (link) and an unnamed diver (link). So you can see we have a growing line of such stories. Now as to folkloric elements, if Robert Badger in 1971 said he would never dive in the loch again, that would be understandable, not folkloric. We can quite readily assume it for any other diver after such an event. What is not clear is whether they vowed never to dive in Loch Ness again or anywhere at all.
The reference to hair whitening is indeed not true in the sense of happening overnight. However, extreme stress could trigger an autoimmune response which renders further hair growth a lighter colour, but that is speculation as such a condition has not even been recorded in Death Row. The only defense is that it is a figure of speech and not to be taken literally.
The two points about the nature of the loch itself take a rather binary view of the situation. The Duncan MacDonald account actually says "the rock ledge" and not "the shelf of rock". A rock ledge can mean several things. In the case of the loch, the land underwater can gently incline before one reaches a precipice which takes us over the edge into the deeper parts of the loch. Or it could simply be a ledge with a small drop and nothing more. It is my opinion that when ledges are spoken of in these reports, we are talking about these initial shallows and it is no surprise that boats end up there.
The other point about poor visibility underwater is taken, but in both cases discussed, the distance between diver and animal is not given, so how do we know it is a problem? Robert Badger states the creature he saw was about 15 to 20 feet away from him. The answer here is depth, once you get to a certain depth at say about seventy feet, then all light is lost. I would suggest these divers were at lower depths and/or the creature was as close as Robert Badger's incident. So visibility, though poor, is not a blocker.
However, Mr. Currie's diver's comments about hundreds of eels does not sound literally true if visibility is out to twenty feet, unless he had a good flashlight or he employed a metaphor to signify a lot of eels. One final thought I would add is that Jim Currie reminds me of the apocryphal James Currie, who was an alleged banker from the 1930s, who held a sensational film of the monster, but held it back until the public took it more seriously (link). Does that suggest this person's name is not real and is taking us for a ride? With that we move onto the second letter by James Kitwood:
Jim Currie makes reference to a story about a giant eel seen in Loch Ness. He asks if anybody else has heard a similar story. It is said that during the construction of the hydroelectric plant at Foyers on the shore of Loch Ness, a lorry that had been dumping soil into the loch reversed too far and slid into the water. During the salvage operation. divers came up in a hurry and refused to go back as they had seen huge. hairy eels. In a related story about the Foyers power station, there was a rumour of giant eels that had been trapped against the metal grilles on the entrance to the water intake pipes. (Ness Information Service Newsletter 84, Oct 1987) In 1998 I wrote to Scottish Hydro Electric and received a letter from a man who had worked there since its commission in 1975. He said that the story about the lorry was unsubstantiated and the issue of large eels getting into the water-cooling system was a physical impossibility.
He did, however, relate a story he heard as a child about a diver who was lowered into Loch Lomond. When he resurfaced not only was he badly shaken, but his hair had turned grey. It seems this story is not unique to Loch Ness. Another Loch Ness eel story that may yet be possible to verify concerns a minesweeper travelling through the loch at the end of World War I. Apparently, the crew thought it would be a good idea to try and blow up the creature. They released a depth charge and after the explosion the bodies of two eels floated to the surface. One was 11ft (3.4m) long and one was 9ft (2.7m) long- but this was just the tail end of it! (Ness Information Service Newsletter 116, April 1993)
Calverley, West Yorkshire
Friday, 16 April 2021
As the day of the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh approaches, it would not be out of place to mention in the various and numerous articles and documentaries, that he had an interest in the mysteries of life.
In listening to the various tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh, I learnt he had amassed a total of over ten thousand books in his library at Buckingham Palace. These would have covered a vast array of subjects to satiate his inquiring mind. Naval, historical, equine, theological and others filled the shelves and apparently also his keen interest in UFOs after one allegedly landed on the estate of his uncle, Lord Mountbatten (see link).
That interest looked to have persisted as we are told that only in 2019, he was reading a book on the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident in Suffolk. Apparently he amassed a sizable number of books on that subject. But what about the other mystery swimming in the depths of Loch Ness? How many books did he possess on that subject? I suspect more than a handful.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it would seem he was well connected enough on the subject through his association with Sir Peter Scott (both below). Their shared love of ornithology and conservation work led to a lasting friendship. Scott's work with the Loch Ness Monster is well known. In fact. in the same year that he was inviting Prince Philip to be the first President of the World Wildlife Fund, he was also setting up another organisation, the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau.
It was unlikely that he would invite the Prince to patronise such an organisation in the same manner, especially after the embarrassing episode the year before of Scott using his Royal connections to persuade the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to be amongst the first viewers of Tim Dinsdale's film and to discuss the creature being dubbed "Elizabethia Nessiae" in her honour (further details here).
However, it is fairly certain that Sir Peter Scott kept the Duke abreast of developments at the loch, especially when they tended to sit together at WWF board meetings. One suspects, though, that prudence kept him from recording any such private conversations. A better source is from David Clarke's book, "Britain's X-traordinary Files". In it he mentions how another of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau's founders, David James, got involved.
We learn that James had a conversation with Prince Philip regarding his plans for the Bureau at the loch and how to fund it after their second expedition there. I'll wager Peter Scott brought the two together. The Prince's reply was that he contact Solly Zuckerman, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defense. The lending of sonar equipment and expertise was discussed, but the MoD did not think it prudent to be seen using military resources in the pursuit of a monster. David also point out on his blog another instance where the Duke was involved:
Indeed when sightings began again after the war, the suggested calling in the Royal Navy to solve the mystery.
It seems this suggestion did not get very far either. The Duke of Edinburgh evidently had a love of mysteries, but we are left with the unanswered question which he is no longer here to answer - what did he think the Monster was? I suspect that answer would have depended what year you asked him.
Perhaps his last answer would have been "a load of bloody nonsense" which seemed a phrase attributed to him. But then again, I would like to think he visited this blog and other like minded ones at least once or twice ....
Rest In Peace, Prince Philip. A reading taken from his funeral, Ecclesiasticus 43:23-25
The author can be contacted at email@example.com
Saturday, 10 April 2021
It is time for another audio interview with yours truly. I was invited for a chat by Corbin Maxey recently, who is an animal expert and biologist who will normally be found talking about animals that have been recognised by science.
Since he had already done a podcast on the Bigfoot, it was time for the Loch Ness Monster and that was where I came in. We had a good conversation and some questions old and new were discussed and answered. Whether you agree with the answers is another thing.
The link to the podcast can be found here,
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 6 April 2021
Back on the 17th October 1933, The Scotsman published an account of some sightings of the new phenomenon of the Loch Ness Monster. The story had been running for about five months previously up in the Highland newspapers, but the Scotsman's increasing coverage from that point raised its profile throughout the nation. So it was on the 23rd October that a selection of letters from readers with their varying opinions were published which we shall now have a look at. First we have a letter from Captain Munro.
All the accounts that I have seen point to this "monster" being a large grey seal. Seals have been known to make long trips inland, generally over frozen ground. A seal may have ascended the Ness during a spate, and gone overland when he came to rapids. It might also be a large sea otter, or a pair of them. Whatever it is, it is no new animal to the zoologist, and it is certainly not a fish. Seals are often caught by drift-net fishermen on the West Coast, and a drifter might have had one on board and dumped it in the loch as a jest and to get rid of a troublesome shipmate. If a seal, when he has dived he would come up again some distance off, and also the same with an otter; but in either case, probably only the nose and eyes would be above the water. It is strange that no stalker with his glass has sighted this "stranger." Whatever it is, it should not be interfered with or killed.
I am &c - OLD STRATHERRICK
I am &c - T. J.
I am &c - A CONSTANT READER
Sunday, 28 March 2021
It is time to look over some recent debate on this photograph and perhaps some new information that leads to the true location of the picture. It is the most iconic photograph that purports to be of the Loch Ness Monster and it just about features in every documentary or major article devoted to the monster. Since 1994 and the publication of "Nessie: The Surgeon's Photo Exposed" by Alistair Boyd and Dave Martin, it concluded that the photo was a hoax perpetrated by big game hunter. Duke Wetherell, his family and associates in revenge for how the Daily Mail handled his expedition.
Most have accepted that theory but others have not and scrutinized the hoax story suspecting it is a hoax itself. I must admit, having read the book, that I side with its evidence and reasoning, but I always keep an eye open for any thinking on the matter. So, well known cryptozoologist, Karl Shuker, recently posted his thoughts on why the Boyd-Martin hoax theory should be treated with suspicion. His article is here.
He has various things to say in his long article, but there are some main points which are worthy of discussion here. The first is his objection that there is no evidence that the submarine toy used to mount the plastic wood monster neck was ever used. No photos of it, written notes of the time or pieces of the contrivance. I agree with him, there is absolutely nothing of that kind to back up what Wetherell's stepson, Christian Spurling, said about his monster model. You basically either accept it or reject it.
That the components for such a hoax were available at the time is not disputed or perhaps even the engineering to make such an item float in the water (though Karl is not totally convinced of that without a demonstration). I myself do not doubt that the model would float, I am not so sure they could make it submerge with that long neck attached, but I am also not sure it had to. In this case, I am quite happy to accept such a model could be constructed and accomplish its task, unless someone can provide evidence to the contrary.
Karl also has doubts about how the model would look in a photo at Loch Ness and thinks the item looks further out than is suggested in the hoax account, perhaps too far to wade out. That is a difficult thing to establish without knowing where the actual location was. Robert Wilson's statement that it was somewhere near the Altsigh Burn is nigh on impossible to prove. However, Boyd and Martin conducted their own experiment with their own model which established that a similar photograph with similar foreground and background could be done from only a few metres from shore.
That may sound like deep water, but you can walk out on level ground in the water for such a distance before the ground begins to worryingly recede from you at the loch. The original uncropped Surgeon's Photograph and the Alastair Boyd experiment are shown below (original first) and you can see the similarities. There is one caveat to these, Boyd said he had to crop his picture to match the original one.
Since he thinks Wilson's accomplice, Maurice Chambers, transferred from a Leica 50mm film to a quarter plate, he thinks this involved cropping as well. Though why he says the top was cropped and not the bottom is not made clear. Apart from that, I do not think the way the Wilson picture presents itself poses any issues. The only quibble is how different the two cameras sixty years apart were, which could present different results for the same view.
But let us move on the main contentious issue of divergent testimonies. There are at least three people testifying that the photograph was faked. The first was Ian Wetherell, son of Marmaduke, who confessed to his participation in an article written by Sunday Telegraph columnist Philip Purser on 7th December 1975. He said he went up with his father and Maurice Chambers to stage the shoot. Ian himself took the pictures and Chambers took the pictures to be developed. However, the article was largely ignored and lost in the noise of the anticipation of the Rines underwater pictures.
The second is the star witness and step-brother of Ian, Christian Spurling who was interviewed by David Martin in 1991 and subsequently by Alistair Boyd. Some of the interviews were recorded but, to my knowledge, have not been made publicly available in any form. Spurling died shortly after in 1993. He said he did not go to the loch and manufactured his hybrid monster-submarine for the Wetherells at his home in Twickenham, London.
The third witness was a Major Norman Egginton, a colleague of Robert Wilson, who wrote to Nicholas Witchell in 1970 claiming that Wilson had boasted of his involvement in the hoax. This letter constituted quite an amazing coincidence as Witchell had merely written to a bookshop seeking some Loch Ness Monster titles. One of the bookshop directors was Egginton who opened up to Witchell how Wilson had confessed all in 1940 to him and two others. Why Witchell ignored this letter in his subsequent book on the monster is not clear, did he doubt Egginton or was this an inconvenient story?
Now the problem is that these three witnesses do not deliver testimonies that are in complete harmony with what is known and this forms a major basis for objections to the hoax theory.
- Wetherell and Spurling disagree on the material for the neck. Ian said rubber tubing while Spurling said plastic wood.
- Both of them agree that the photo is a model but Egginton claims Wilson said it was a monster cut out superimposed on an empty photo of the loch.
- Ian Wetherell says Chambers handled the development of the pictures while Robert Wilson (the "surgeon") himself said he took the plates to a chemist in Inverness.
- Ian Wetherell claimed they shot the model moving to create a V-wake but the photo evidently shows a stationary object.
- Ian Wetherell stated the model neck was a few inches high while Spurling said it was a foot high.
Now let us get onto the general subject of contradictions between witness testimonies as this is not an unfamiliar subject to myself and other researchers on the subject of the Loch Ness Monster. By way of example, a recent case I looked at from September 1933 concerned multiple eyewitnesses to a large creature seen in the loch. That article is here and once read you will note that despite looking at the same object, the eyewitnesses drew and described a creature that was not quite the same.
Does this mean their accounts are not to be regarded as honest and trustworthy? Of course not, and one will find these degrees of inconsistency throughout the literature where imperfect humans are involved. This leads us into the issue of how to handle parallel stories as one should not just receive them all as acceptable just because people make mistakes. Some people do not make mistakes - they tell lies.
To my mind, there are different levels of inconsistency that exist. The first is a person's testimony which is at variance with empirical facts. For example, they may state that it was a fine, sunny day on the date in question whereas the weather report states it rained all day or they stated a person they met later was named John Smith where in fact it was Reginald Perrin.
The second instance is where a person's testimony is at variance with themselves in what the person recounts at another time. The other accounts may not be related entirely to the first account, but may contain elements which pose a contradiction to the other. For example, the person may state they were at a certain place at a certain time, but in another text they state they were somewhere else.
Finally, there are the testimonies of multiple people which are at variance with each other in the whole or the part. The multiple testimonies of Wetherell, Spurling and Egginton being the prime example here and we also mentioned the group who saw the monster in 1933.
Now in my estimation, when assessing claimed events, these three levels are ranked in importance. So the first level poses more problems for a story than the second. Likewise, the second poses more problems for it than the third. I say that because it is more likely for separate minds to produce disharmony than one mind and if a story does not line up with reality, there is little hope for it (unless in our example, the witness got the dates wrong).
So, it is really down to one's tolerance levels as regards inconsistencies. I tolerate the inconsistencies in group accounts because we are not perfect recording machines, but if the inconsistencies become too great, a judgement call has to be made. When that call is made is different for all of us depending on our levels of reasoning, prejudice and how much data is at one's disposal.
So what about Wetherell, Spurling and Egginton? In the case of rubber tubing and plastic wood, we assume Spurling is right as he used the material and Wetherell never asked him and guessed it was rubber when he inspected the submarine at the loch.
Egginton has Wilson stating it was a photographic overlay which makes one wonder how much Wilson was in on the details of the creation of the photo as his role was to hand in the final negatives to the chemist in Inverness and repeat the story given to him? There is a degree of compartmentalization amongst the participants in this story.
The discrepancy between Chambers developing the pictures or Wilson may be explained by Chambers (said to be a keen amateur photographer) developing the originals, checking they were up to the job and rephotographing them for development by Wilson in Inverness. Here we have two distinct but separate developments processes.
The V-wake versus stationary object is on the face of it not resolvable. Either Wetherell made it up or he had an imperfect recall of events 41 years on and the same goes for the few versus twelve inches for the neck. Spurling must be more likely correct as he made it and Wetherell is again making it up or not recalling properly. Make up your own mind on these and weigh the pros against the cons.
However, there is no reason why someone (like Karl Shuker) should not stick to these objections as a basis for doubting the story behind the hoax. As Karl says, this may not preclude any hoax, but it would preclude this particular hoax story concerning a toy submarine and a moulded head-neck.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the main reason for me why it is true is because three or more people have come forward claiming either direct participation in the hoax or hearing a confession to the deed. Despite the problems with points of testimony, this counts more for me than the finer details. If one person came forward and claimed they did it, I would be dubious about it. If they came forward, not claiming participation, but heard a confession, I would be even more dubious. But these three are separated in time and space. Egginton did not appear to know Wetherell or Spurling and Wetherell had died some years before Boyd and Martin met Spurling, so no chance of collusion or preparation.
That is the way I see it and that leaves us with the issue of the second photograph which is raised in objections to the hoax story. This is not a contradiction per se as no witness mentions it. To be frank, this doesn't surprise me as it never entered the public view until Constance Whyte published it in 1957, and even then, I am not sure it ever appeared in the newspapers.
Now the thing to point out about Loch Ness is that the prevailing wind is from the south west as low pressure fronts from the Atlantic come in rotating anti-clockwise and air currents are forced through the funnel of the Great Glen complex. As the waves that are pushed north east by these winds travel up the loch, the waves weaken as they bend into the two shores along the loch until they roll onto the shore in a parallel fashion. I believe the waves we see coming in from the left in the photo are those weakening waves.
What has this to do with the Wilson monster debate? If Robert Wilson was near Invermoriston on the northern shore as he said, the photo would have the south on its right and the north on its left. Therefore, the prevailing south westerly wind would be coming in on the right and so would the waves they are pushing along. The main reason that they would be coming in from the left is because the photo was taken from the opposite shore where the south is to the left.
Of course, that cannot be presented as a cast iron argument. Perhaps there was some unusual wave generation going on due to boats or a rarer weather front coming in from the east. Perhaps one could even argue the photo is inadvertently reversed. I would deem it unlikely it was boats as Ian Wetherell and his co-conspirators would have sought a place where there was no one else around. However, on the balance of probabilities, the normal prevailing wind is causing those waves.
Now let me move onto the second observation. If the hilltops on the opposite shore had been visible, there would have been a good chance of establishing the general vicinity of the picture. Unfortunately, the hilltops are cropped out and it would be no surprise that this was the intention of Maurice Chambers. But there is a feature present that may offer help. It is the white line on the upper left of the photo above.
It doesn't look like a stream or the main road which would be largely flat along that stretch, so what is it? With this in mind, I began to search through old photos and postcards for a feature that would match this. I searched both sides of the loch in this case and the best feature I came upon is best shown in this postcard from the 1950s (click on the image to enlarge it). Notice the line heading up at angle on the opposite shore on the right of the postcard. This was taken from a vantage point high up near the village of Foyers which is to the left and out of sight in the postcard. The land feature on the near side of the loch is the spit of land surrounding the estuary of the River Foyers. The old aluminium works is beyond the bottom left near the shore.
This would imply the photo was taken from the shore nearest to Foyers, somewhere near where its river empties into the loch. As to what the feature on the opposite side is, it may be a logging road or something similar, but that is secondary to the fact it is there and a good match for the Wilson photo feature. Now, I could be wrong and someone may come up with some other feature on an old photo, but let us carry this a bit further. A modern satellite picture shows the feature on the left (marked A) starting at the loch and rising into the hills.
Which leads me to the third and final observation. Ian Wetherell was quoted in the 1975 Mandrake article as saying:
We found an inlet where the tiny ripples would look like full size waves out on the loch.
If we draw a line across the loch from the track to Foyers where this feature would be to the left of the field of view, we do actually come to an inlet marked at B, one I have visited on many an occasion at the end of Foyers beach. Could this be the very location where the Surgeon's Photograph was taken those long years ago?
The proposed location obviously fits the prevailing waves theory I presented and it kind of fits in with what we know of the Wetherell expedition. When Marmaduke Wetherell was commissioned by the Daily Mail in December 1933, he started along the south shore going from Dores down to Fort Augustus, so he knew it was a quieter part of the loch and offered better spots to stage a later hoax with less likelihood of interference. In fact, Wetherell's infamous hippo tracks were made on a beach somewhere south of Foyers. Let us just say he was familiar with the area.
When the Wetherells headed to the loch with their toy monster weeks later, they sought that inlet to create the impression of a larger object. How that subplot panned out is not clear. There may be some others inlets around the Foyers river, but the further north you go, the closer you get to the busy aluminium works and the power station (though I suspect this happened on a Sunday). The fact that a water bailiff turned up (Alex Campbell?) suggests it was indeed near the river where anglers are more likely to fish and perhaps closer to April than January as the fishing season ramps up.
All speculation, of course, but food for thought. Eighty seven years on, I camp by the River Foyers once or twice a year and walk along that stretch of beach to its very south end, watching the loch, enjoying the views, contemplating various things. Could it be that yards away, the minuscule remains of a toy submarine with a plastic wood neck now lie amongst the rocks and pebbles, beyond detection but still causing a controversy which echoes down the decades even unto this day?
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Sunday, 14 March 2021
It was on Sunday the 21st August, 1938 that the BBC broadcast to radio listeners a report on their trip up north to investigate the Loch Ness Monster. It was a 25 minute slot just after 10pm entitled "Fact or Fiction? The Loch Ness Monster" and the Radio Times described it thus:
FACT OR FICTION?
The Loch Ness Monster
A Feature Programme from Edinburgh about Scotland's world-famous monster, supposed to be living in Loch Ness, Inverness-shire. With an historical survey of such monsters in the district, traditional speculations on that existence, and accounts from eye-witnesses, recorded by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit. From material supplied by Lieut.Commander R. T. Gould. An epilogue by E. G. Boulanger, director of the Aquarium of the London Zoo.
Produced by John Pudney
The tradition of a monster - giant serpent or giant lizard - inhabiting the fathomless waters of Loch Ness is at least twelve hundred years old. According to St. Adamnan, who died in 704, St. Columba saw it while on his way to convert the King of the Picts. It has been seen many times since. In 1871 a Mr. Duncan Mackenzie saw a dark, humped creature swimming very fast with an undulating motion. It was seen again in 1903 and reappeared in July, 1930, since when it has been seen (or is alleged to have been seen) a number of times by numerous witnesses, some of whom will come to the microphone this evening. Pictures of some of the witnesses whose voices you will heat will be found on page 9. At the end of the programme E. G. Boulanger will reply with a statement of the case against the monster's existence.
The year of 1938 was a year on a downward slope for events at Loch Ness. The co-mingling of hype and reality four years before as people of various shades and intentions thronged at the loch was over. The world was becoming more distracted about another great war with Germany. Indeed, the tension concerning Adolf Hitler's claims over the German speaking region of Czechoslovakia was heightening over the weeks surrounding this BBC programme.
I don't know if the BBC were there in the monster fever year of 1934, but better late than never. A promotional page was also printed showing some of the main characters for this production. The picture below that shows their recording van parked up beside the loch ready to interview and record the various testimonies from eyewitnesses.
Now I was previously opining how I would love to have heard this 82 year old radio programme from long ago when I got an email from a fellow enthusiast, Michael Delos. He pointed out that the BBC news website had published excerpts from that programme back in September 2019! Happy days, so I went over to the webpage which you can find here and listen to as well. The length is only about a tenth that of the original but it can help us with the eyewitness accounts. There is also credit due to another cryptid fan, Gary MacEwan, who sent me the scans of the Radio Times article. Teamwork.
So let us look at some of the eyewitnesses who were spoken to. The first was a Miss Janet Fraser who saw the creature from the Halfway House tearoom some five years before. You can see here below facing up to a ponderous looking microphone. Readers may recall her name as a subject of a recent article on this blog entitled "The Long Necks of 22nd September 1933" which you can find here. The available radio excerpt mentions this account but the Radio Times also alludes to a sighting she had two years later and to that we will go as we reproduce the account from the Scotsman newspaper of the 24th June 1935 in which she and over a dozen of customers at the Halfway House tearoom had another long necked sighting. The more witnesses, the better I would say.
Another interviewee was Dom Basil Wedge of the Fort Augustus Abbey (below), who we are told saw it with his school pupils during a Natural History class, which seems eminently appropriate as they witnessed one of nature's most talked about mysteries. The actual contents of his account proved somewhat elusive. Constance Whyte, in her 1957 book. "More Than a Legend" merely mentions him in passing saying that his account does not add to the evidence already set out in her book.
I do not see his account anywhere else, though I am sure it will be in some unspecified Highland newspaper of the time and so we rely on the audio excerpt in which he describes seeing three humps in a line moving north westerly at a great speed. Up next was Duncan MacDonald, who was the proprietor of the garage beside the Invermoriston Pier. We are told that he had seen the beast on no fewer than five occasions. Now we could not find all five of these accounts in our clippings archive, but we did find two of them, both taken again from the Scotsman newspaper. The first is from the 10th May 1934 edition and the other from the 1st March 1938 which are shown below.
The first account is the standard single hump appearance which forms the main class of eyewitness accounts, in this case twenty feet long by four foot high and probably observed from the clearing at Inchnacardoch Bay. I say a standard sighting, but what would we give just to be privileged enough to be witnesses to a "standard" sighting! The second account from four years later is a bit mind boggling when he estimates another back sighting to be about ninety feet in length!
The parallel account from the Inverness Courier does not state this size but rather states its length as "very, very long". Now we may laugh, as Mr. MacDonald suggests, after all, this implies a creature over one hundred feet long if we include the submerged parts. Some, because of this, may further suggest he merely saw a large windrow or wind slick which can appear darker than the surrounding waters. However, windrows do not submerge, move around and turn ninety degrees to present their broadside.
Is (or was) there a monster of such huge proportions in Loch Ness? No other account comes close to stating such a length. There was an account from June 1950 by a C.E. Dunton who described two thirty foot coils separated by up to thirty feet giving us ninety feet, but we can take these to be two creatures. Was Donald MacDonald's creature actually two creatures or did he just overestimate by a factor of two to three times?
This is where we enter the world of statistical outliers. By that I mean descriptions of the monster which are unique to just one or two cases or are contradictory to the general corpus of sightings. So, this ninety foot description is unique to the corpus of accounts, but it is not contradictory to them. We can have statistical outliers that can be both unique and contradictory or one of them. For example, a hypothetical account which describes the beast as displaying a forked tongue like a snake would be unique but not contrary as no one else has given an account which could contradict it.
However, if someone described a creature which had only two fore-flippers and no rear flippers would not only be unique but contrary to the general eyewitness accounts suggesting four limbs. A claim of a ninety foot creature does not disallow smaller creatures of thirty to forty feet and the converse would be true. But, no one else has ever described such a huge creature which begs the question how it managed to evade the sight of everyone else for the last hundred years?
This suggests Mr. MacDonald got this estimate wrong and we should not add the likelihood of a hundred foot creature to our theoretical frameworks for the creature. Nevertheless, what is merely being said is that the tail should not wag the dog, so to speak. If further analysis suggests he may be right, it should not be shot down in an uncritical manner.
We then move onto a younger eyewitness by the name of Patrick MacDonald who is shown below being interviewed by John Pudney. We are told by the Radio Times that he only saw the monster for a few seconds, but like Mr. Wedge, I cannot find the lad's account anywhere, though it may yet languish in a remote newspaper article somewhere. However, he is on the audio excerpt and it turns out he is the son of Donald MacDonald and he saw the creature as it were looking like "an island" in the water before submerging.
Finally, in terms of eyewitnesses, we have no such problem with John MacLean and his twenty yard sighting from June 1938, which is well covered in the literature. But we have already covered the revealing picture below in this previous article, so we will not dwell further on it except to say he is also on our radio excerpt from the BBC website and it would have been recorded only weeks after his sighting.You can see John being interview by the BBC journalist, John Pudney, below.
In the BBC website audio excerpts you can hear him talking about his involvement:
I knew it was a good story, something quite out of the ordinary. I puzzled my brains on only one point. In what word could I refer to the creature? At last, monster suggested itself and that is how I introduced the "Loch Ness Monster" to the newspaper world.
Now how does this figure in the history of Alex Campbell? I have not heard all the 1938 programme and add that as a caveat, but it is to be noted that Alex Campbell is not mentioned as an eyewitness, which suggests he was still sticking to the script that his neck and hump sighting of September 1933 was only cormorants to keep his monster-averse employers happy their important Loch Ness water bailiff was not off his rocker. However, this account shows that he was content to be revealed as the journalist who reported on these matters.
When was the earliest date we know he felt safe to admit he had seen the monster? One date is suggested by the Time Magazine dated October 8th, 1951. It reported on a recent TV programme also made by the BBC which styled the question of the monster's existence as a courtroom drama in which various witnesses were called before a judge. One of those witnesses was Alex Campbell who declared "I have seen it myself". What account that was I cannot tell.
Constance Whyte recounts in her book six years later that Campbell admitted to six sightings but there is an anomaly in the same book as his first sighting is recounted anonymously, presumably at his request. So perhaps even then he was not as open and transparent as he may have wished to be.
So the BBC went to Loch Ness in 1938. They recorded eyewitnesses for their descendants to hear a lifetime later and I wonder what they would have made of that. Like that generation, the monsters seen are likely dead now. We seek their descendants also.
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