Friday, 31 August 2012

Nessie and The Silly Season

The BBC News website carried an article recently about the "Silly Season" or that period of time between July and September when news is slow and the media generally turn to stories about Nessie, UFOs and other "odd" stories. The reason for the slow news is due to things such as Parliament being in recess and the football season being over.

David Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University has been studying such news items in an attempt to classify the Silly Season and its origins in mermaid and sea serpents reports from the 19th century. Needless to say, the Loch Ness Monster is high up on the list of items and Mr. Clarke himself is quoted as saying:

"I'd like to go back and see when the first sightings of the Loch Ness Monster took place, it could well have happened during the silly season"

Indeed, would there be a Loch Ness Monster without the Silly Season? Well, I can help him to some extent. Did the first reports of Nessie happen during that season? The answer is "Yes" and "No" for the first reported sighting was reported in May 1933 but the sighting which escalated the monster to the public view was the Spicer land sighting in August 1933. One story in season and one out of season, take your pick as to which was more important. But it takes more than one monster report to sustain a phenomenon and it is generally agreed from statistical studies that most reported sightings are during this season.

But is this a cause or an effect? In other words, is the monster seen at all times of year, but the ones during the Silly Season get more publicity? Or do more people view the loch during the Summer and hence that is the main explanation for this peak? It would be easier to assume the summer peak is down to more viewers, the Silly Season and other factors. Whether the creature itself surfaces more during the Summer is not a trivial question and requires further studies beyond the scope of this article.

To that end, I have no problem believing the Silly Season has its part to play in the Loch Ness Monster story, but it would be naive to suggest it is the sole progenitor of the phenomenon. If it was just a matter of producing a story for news starved journalists then that would be it, but as Loch Ness researchers know, sightings of the monster ebb and flow and occasionally disappear from view for years. Is this because Nessie is no longer regarded as Silly Season material or because people are not reporting what they see or because Nessie herself is not surfacing as much?

The period of rising tensions and finally war between 1937-1945 may be one example of Nessie not being regarded as Silly Season material, but the more likely reason was the fact that the Silly Season itself disappeared as war does not take time off during the summer months.

The austerity years of 1946-1954 (when rationing effectively ceased) may have been seen as prime years for Silly Season reporting to entertain the recovering British public, but again not much in the way of Nessie stories. Was this a collective decision by newspaper editors or more to do with the British public preferring the sunny, cheering beaches of England for their holidays rather than the cold north of Loch Ness?

Again, a study of the Silly Season requires other social factors and as a result turns it into a rather complicated subject. To me, the Loch Ness Monster needs the press to stimulate interest and produce the next generation of inquirers. What would have happened if the BBC did not televise Tim Dinsdale's film in 1960 to a prime time audience? Would we ever have heard of the subsequent group of monster hunters and their organisations? Would I be writing this article?

So the media reporters are important, but to my mind they need Loch Ness observers reporting what they saw, and those observers need a large and mysterious creature to observe. Could the Silly Season on its own sustain the Loch Ness phenomenon without the need for a monster? Perhaps for a year or two, but for nigh on eighty years? This blogger doubts that.


  1. hello GB,
    David Clarke fron Sheffield Hallam University is best regarded as a debunker rather than a Skeptic.
    Would a colony of about Forty or Fifty animals in Loch Ness have enough Genetic diversity to avoid problems of inbreeding.

    1. That depends on various factors. Longevity, sexual maturity age, parthenogenesis, genetic complexity of the animal, instability of the environment to test lack of diversity, ...

    2. Around the year of 1940, 5 Wallabies escaped from a local zoo in the Peak District area of the UK. By 1975 the colony numbered around 60, all from the original 5 escapees in the early 40's. There are also other areas, Kent for example, where wallabies are surviving in surprising numbers. It just goes to prove that nature can find a way when pushed to the limits. One could say that in order for a species to survive, this kind of phenomenon should be expected occasionally.