Friday 5 September 2014

Those Loch Ness Investigation Bureau Films

Some readers may have read my comments and others on the whereabouts and accessibility of the films taken by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau during the 1960s. Though no one is expecting any of these films to be game changers, they are nevertheless part of the tapestry of the eighty year long search for the Loch Ness Monster and a minor debate has arisen as to their current whereabouts.

For those who don't know, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau was an organisation set up in 1962 with the objective of solving the mystery of Loch Ness once and for all. Ten years later, they were disbanded having failed in that objective (though some disaffected and now sceptical members may have left believing the mystery was solved in more mundane terms).

Though various experiments were attempted in pursuit of the monster, the mainstay of investigation was the surface watches using 35mm cine cameras with telephoto lenses. These cameras were either mounted on fixed platforms or taken around the loch on vehicles.

During that time a group of films were shot with varying degrees of success. The only well known one is that taken by Dick Raynor in 1967, but there are others and Roy Mackal in his "The Monsters of Loch Ness" mentions another fourteen such films. However, I only recall ever seeing the LNIB's Raynor film in the public domain.

So do these films still exist? If so, what is their state and whereabouts? How do they compare to what people like Roy Mackal documented in his book "The Monsters of Loch Ness"? The one film that generated most interest on blog comments was an alleged filming of the Loch Ness Monster on land taken in June 1963. Though not likely to be of great value since it was taken at a range of nearly two miles, the interest of myself and other Nessie-philes was piqued. 

Deciding to take the initiative, regular reader, Peter, established email communications with Loch Ness researchers, Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor and Henry Bauer to find out more. His findings are reproduced verbatim below in italics.


I am going to partially “de-cloak” here (allusion to Star Trek), and talk about  more details concerning the LNIB and its film cans.

My name is Peter, and Roland is familiar with me.  I have been lurking on Roland’s webblog for some time, and I always enjoy his postings.  At times, I read the comments sections, but not often.

However, recently, Roland posted an article about land sightings at Loch Ness, and I also read the comments that followed.  This blog article, coupled with the subsequent commentaries, provided the impetus for me to do some more spadework on this topic.

This commentary provides a “map” as to what I have currently learned.  All errors in interpretation of what others have told me are entirely my own. 

I have had correspondence with Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor, as well as Henry Bauer.  All these men were courteous, cooperative, and informative in their responses.  So any brick-bats that I have seen in the comments section were not in evidence in my experiences.  I thank all of them for taking the time to engage in these telepresence “dialogues.”  I should add here that the alacrity with which I was able to obtain the information that I impart here is a product of the Internet Age, as attempting to do this in the “by international post” manner of times past might have taken months.

I should reiterate here that this commentary of my own should not be considered comprehensive, although I attempted to ask a good many questions.  For example, one question I recently asked Dick Raynor was if he could guess-timate the total number of film shoot sequences displayed in the 35mm film cans, and his response was “I do not currently have a useful opinion on that.”  I interpret that to mean that such statistical data is not yet in hand--but I am hopeful that Dick may eventually one day be able to provide this type of numerical data. 

My questions and interest have centered around the LNIB film cans, and the June 1963 event, where potentially a large creature came on shore and was filmed doing so.  Due to the fact that these men were exceptionally informational in their responses, I am going to quote and use data from their correspondences with me so that others can understand context.

Let’s begin with information from Adrian Shine.

When Adrian inherited the LNIB film cans from David James in 1976, it was already known that the film footage was problematic—Adrian described them as “less than spectacular.”  (These problems will be described further on here by Dick as to the quality of the footage.) Compounding that, all the film footage taken by LNIB volunteers was of the 35mm size, the exact counterpart that many feature dramatic films are shot in, as well as projected in theaters.  As Adrian told me, these 35 mm filmstocks “required nothing less than a cinema” for projection and viewing.  So Adrian was not able to see the contents until sometime in the early 1980s, when he was able to arrange a viewing session at the Eden Court theater in Inverness.  Adrian went on to state to me that “I concluded then, that none of the films contained useful research material.  It was also a fact that it seemed difficult to identify the individual sequences” as detailed by LNIB reports.  (Again, Dick’s inputs will provide some context as to why.)  Later on, Adrian passed on all the cans to Dick Raynor.

According to Adrian, Dick Raynor produced clips from all the sequences on hand by a high-resolution printing process.  Subsequently, due to a researcher request in the past, Adrian further had all the film footage digitized.  However, it is not clear to me--based on the information that Adrian kindly provided--whether current researchers can have access to this digitized film footage for independent research purposes if they make a request to do so.

Additionally, Adrian informed me that all LNIB paper reports containing sightings that were collected have been freely available for over a decade at the following URL link:

Adrian further disclosed that individual sighting records are currently being prepared for exhibition at the Loch Ness Center as well, even though there are some issues currently about permissions and addresses of eyewitnesses (that are in the process of being resolved).  And Adrian suggested I get into contact with Dick Raynor.

Dick has been very helpful in responding to the voluminous set of questions that I have had.  The bulk of the information about the LNIB films comes from him.

Based on what Dick has told me, the conclusion that I have personally reached about the LNIB effort is that it was an amateur enterprise, and that it lacked much scientific and technical coordination.  It seems that there was no master catalogue produced of film shoot sequences, neither was there any film can tracking, nor does it seem that there was any effort to provide some simplified technical cinematography training to the volunteers in regards to shooting film.  These apparent shortcomings are borne out by Dick Raynor’s responses to my inquiries.  However, despite the fact of these hobbles, Dick has been engaged in  excellent work, which is currently on-going as he gets time.

Dick provided the following illuminations.

a)—The film cans in Dick’s custody were not catalogued at all:  “There is really no rhyme or reason to the reels and cans, I’m afraid.”  That is, there was no tracking/identification data on them. “They are a collection of slightly rusty tins of varying sizes with no original labels, some containing positive film, and others containing negative material, usually wrapped in preservative tissue.”  He has seen the 35 mm filmstocks projected “a few times.”  All the 35mm films are black-and-white.

b)—He also has seen some 16mm versions of some of the 35mm film stock sequences, which he believes may have been among those shown at some LNIB Xmas parties (and other functions such as volunteer recruitments) in London.  He further told me that “From memory, some of the items on the 16mm film reel [that he has seen] are not in the 35mm material in hand.”  He further adds that it was difficult to see [recognize?] anything on the 16mm films at all “with the exception of Tim Dinsdale’s film and my own [which was taken in 1967].  Of course, I have studied frames from these films using modern digital software, which is far superior to what we had 20 years ago.” 

But there may be other 16mm film cans out there, and Dick would like to be able to learn what is contained as content on those, and maybe even get a chance to view them.  As do I, because I would like to find out if the June 1963 potential “creature on the shore” sequence exists currently, and if so, what this clip actually depicts.  (Subsequently, Dick suggested I get into contact with Henry Bauer for more insights about LNIB films.)  There is also a possibility that the June 1963 potential “creature on the shore” event may only be extant on 35mm film stock, but the whereabouts of this particular film footage sequence is currently unknown.

c)—“With few exceptions,” according to Dick, the films were shot by people who had never used a motion picture camera before.  “The quality is mostly very poor, with soft focus and incorrect exposure being common, leading to a lack of contrast.”  (Contrast helps with seeing detail, as well as with resolving things.)  Indeed, Dick has told me that none of the material he has viewed up to this point has been “meaningful”—that is, shows a large creature unknown to science in the Loch.  Many of the sequences show wakes on the Loch (that Dick feels are products of wind phenomena and boats), as well as bird activity on the Loch’s surface.

d)—One of Dick’s on-going projects is the attempt to “match up” LNIB film sequences with the paper records.  (Only a few sequences have been successfully matched to the reports, according to Adrian.)  Dick is attempting to do this matching up by identifying the background shown in the film shoot sequences, and then hopefully, the camera location.  I consider Dick’s effort near-Sisyphusian, and everyone should take their hats off to him for attempting to pursue this. 

e)—Both Adrian and Dick confirm that there are indeed filmed LNIB 35mm sequences shot that are no longer extant among the existing 35mm filmstock that Dick has.  This includes the June 1963 event that potentially shows a creature coming onto the shore.  According to Dick, he has seen a 1963 vintage film clip, but it does not show anything like the forementioned described event.  As Dick told me, “The two week period of the 1963 expedition was lucky enough to have several sightings.”  He is also currently working on attempting to identify other filmed event sequences that are not among the 35mm film cans he has in hand. 

Based on Adrian and Dick’s commentaries, it seems doubtful that the LNIB ever captured anything of significance dealing with the Loch Ness creature on cine film—that is, the 35mm cine film shoot clips currently in hand. 

However, not everyone shares this viewpoint.  According to Henry Bauer, he feels that there were three occasions where there were “possible filmed contacts” by LNIB personnel regarding creatures unknown to science in the Loch.  He specifically mentions the June 1963 “creature on the shore” event as one of these possible contacts.

Indeed, the story does not end here.  Henry has demonstrated willingness to aid in the effort to possibly locate potential locations of where other LNIB 16 mm film cans reside, and I thank him for that.  And if these efforts subsequently bear fruit, I will provide further updates as they become available.

If anyone has further information on LNIB film cans or film shoot sequences, whether 35mm or 16mm, please post your comments.

So, there you have it. I thank Peter for his efforts and to Adrian, Dick and Henry for their cooperation. Where does this leave us? Firstly, it is good that the films that are available have been digitised and enhanced. It sounds like some of them may end up being displayed at the Loch Ness Centre at Drumnadrochit where Adrian is curator. But how may those who live further afield view these facets of the Loch Ness story? Given that the items are now digitised, the next step to streaming them online is not rocket science. It is also a matter of interest as to what conclusions the researcher who received the digitised films came to. What did he or she find out about these films?

I also had a quibble about Adrian's comment that all LNIB sighting reports were available online. I understand that there are hundreds of such reports of varying clarity and description gathering dust in boxes. I suspect it is the best ones that made it into the LNIB public reports. Loch Ness researcher, Tony Harmsworth, informs us that about a thousand reports were collected by the Bureau (although not a few were of a dubious nature).

Sadly, the alleged land sighting film appears to have been lost and we may never know what this film allegedly showed, But the others are there, enhanced and digitised. Will they ever see the light of day or will they forever remain under wraps and beyond the gaze of thousands of Loch Ness Monster fans?



Tuesday 2 September 2014

Follow Up to Sceptics, Steamships and Nessie

Having published my first thoughts on steamships and Nessie, it was no surprise that the critique came under attack. In the main, I was told I was underestimating the numbers and was told how steamship commerce actually went from strength to strength. As we say in Glasgow, Mibbes aye, Mibbes naw.

Unfortunately, the need for quantitative analysis was beginning to shrink back into the qualitative as the anecdotal began to muddy the waters. Thankfully, help was at hand to bring us back into the realm of integers.

My original number for yearly passengers was 15,500 based on Len Paterson's "From Sea to Sea", a history of Scottish canals. I took this as the average over forty years and proceeded thusly. However, the graph above from the same book adds more information. It states the number of ship passages per annum through the Caledonian canal between 1825 and 1910.

Now applying a simple assumption we can make a year by year estimate of passenger numbers. That assumption is that passengers numbers are proportional to ship numbers. So, if ship passages go up 10%, we assume passenger numbers go up 10%.

Of course, this won't exactly follow in real life. The canal hosted "tracking" boats and "passage" boats. The first was goods oriented and the second was passenger oriented. The passengers numbers may be overestimated if a greater proportion of the ships transport commodities rather than people. Conversely, numbers may be underestimated if more pleasure cruises than expected ply their way up and down the canal.

Now we see a rise in ship numbers and one may assume that the objection to my initial analysis was correct. But wait, the numbers peak in 1870 and then drops into a horizontal range that is not much more than my original working number. We weren't told about that in the objections. I would suggest this drop was down to the great depression of the 1870s.

In fact, that major economic event was enough on its own to guarantee that the argument for high numbers of tourists was not going to happen. When the economy goes south, what goes first? You got it, discretionary spending such as holidays. Or at best, you pick a cheaper way of doing it. Since going up the Caledonian canal took three boats and three days, it was a no-brainer to find a quicker route by rail which did not consume so many precious days and income.

It is also interesting to note the sub graph for internal passages through the canal. They started a slide before 1860 from which they never recovered. The author speculates that this was due to people moving over to alternative forms of transport such as the railways. This also would divert more potential witnesses away from the loch.

Nevertheless, it is new numbers and so using the 15,500 passengers of 1863 as a baseline, the other numbers were estimated by proportion. In this way, a new total number of passengers for the last 40 years of the 19th century was estimated at 741,000. This compares to my original 40 year estimate of 620,000 or a 20% increase.

Using my estimate of one monster sighting for every 30,769 modern tourists gives us an estimated 24 sightings over 40 years. My original estimate was 20 sightings and so we go from 0.5 sightings per year to 0.6 per year. Clearly, this makes little difference to my original conclusions and again I suggest this argument against the Loch Ness Monster is less than convincing.