Friday 21 October 2016

A Review of "History's Greatest Hoaxes" Documentary

This Thursday saw the latest instalment of the series "History's Greatest Hoaxes" broadcast on the UK "Yesterday" channel. This time the focus was on the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster, so it's time for another review and discussion about this program's particular take on the centuries old mystery.

Given the title of the series, it was perhaps no surprise that the cast was heavily weighted on the sceptical side as people such as Darren Naish, Dick Raynor, Adrian Shine and Joe Nickell were brought in to give their opinions on the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster. To add grist to the sceptical mill, we had a journalist, psychologist and comedian telling us why the Loch Ness Monster is not to be taken seriously.

On the opposite side was Steve Feltham and myself, making it seven to two against.

Firstly, however, the problem is defining the problem, which in turn drives the perception of those who believe Loch Ness hosts a large creature, yet to be discovered. Whenever the "monster" was conceptualised for viewers, it invariably presented some form of plesiosaur throwback. On this single shot scenario, those who believe in a large creature in Loch Ness were largely portrayed. 

No mention of giant eels, amphibians, exotic fish or other variants. Many theories about how sceptics explain the phenomenon were put forward. However, it seems there is only one "theory" on the other side. I did explain this to the film crew, but it did not survive the proverbial cutting floor.


On a personal aside, it was an interesting day at the loch with Bruce Burgess and his film crew.  Bruce was easy to get along with and had plenty of questions about the whole monster thing, and indeed has a general love for mysteries himself. I had brought one of my more sophisticated trap cameras along to demonstrate how monster hunting technology has progressed and automated.

He filmed me talking about the device and setting it up at a location near Inchnacardoch Bay. Actually, it was more a demo than real installation since the area was too exposed to tourists. In fact, finding a real location would have proved too risky for people carrying expensive filming equipment! Some sequences were refilmed and a conversation on the Loch Ness Monster was conducted in the car using an attached GoPro camera. Again, none of that conversation made it into the final edition.

The drive eventually made it to Temple Pier where I met up with Dick Raynor to go out on a cruise boat to discuss the loch and the creature. The conversation was certainly less heated than the ones we have on Internet forums. In fact, it could have done with being a bit more confrontational for TV!


Fortunately, the documentary did not dwell too much on the Surgeon's Photograph. It has had a good run in the panoply of TV documentaries and needs a rest. Most people in the Loch Ness arena accept it is a fake, including myself. 

Paleontologist Darren Naish led the way in attempting to explain away the various Loch Ness Monster photographs and eyewitness reports. He pretty much covered what he said in his recent book, "Hunting Monsters" which I reviewed here. Not wishing to repeat what I said in that article, his explanation of what various famous Nessie photos may or may not represent are opinions which cannot be proven and rather rely on the perceived advantage of being seen to be less incredible than the alternative of a "monster".

Aided by Dick Raynor, one example of this thinking was the 1951 Lachlan Stuart photograph of three humps. Dick commented that though the picture was claimed to have been taken about six in the morning, he said the sun was seen to the west over Urquhart Bay. If it was a morning shot, the sun would be behind Lachlan Stuart. The Stuart photo is the first one below, my test photo is the next one below.

The bright patch to the right of my photo may be the sun, but it is in fact just clouds reflecting the sun, which is out of sight to the left of my position. In other words, the "sun in the west" interpretation is at best, ambiguous. I speak more on that canard here. Whatever you think of this photograph, it should not hang on this. This is a typical example of how sceptics objectify subjective interpretations.

I can add here that I was also filmed going through various photographs and giving my own counter-opinions on them. Sadly, again, that portion did not make the final cut. If it had, viewers would have seen this strange looking head in the Hugh Gray photograph of 1933:

Steve Feltham attempted to cut through the scepticism with his view that one or more giant catfish were in the loch. Catfish are monsters of a sort, though they do not explain everything. I am not even sure they explain Steve's own sighting, since he says it was travelling at over twenty miles per hour!

Curiously, the program made no attempt to record anyone recounting their tale of seeing the creature. I think practically every documentary I have seen has spoken to some eyewitness; indeed, not even Steve's account was broadcast. Instead, we were told how such accounts were just waves, logs or birds seen through the "lens" of expectation.

Oddly, this theory is applied even to witnesses who claim to have seen the creature from a distance of twenty yards! Surely witnesses cannot be that stupid or blind? I covered this strained theory in this article in regard to the view that angler John McLean mistook his claimed 20 foot creature for a 3 foot cormorant at sixty feet! Really?

Perhaps most irritating was the psychologist who pontificated about how the monster believers were desperate for some form of monster wish fulfilment and attention seeking. It's a pity that she seemed to predicate her opinion on a form of monster that many Nessie advocates do not believe in themselves! It doesn't seem to occur to these shrinks that people may actually think there is something to these eyewitness accounts and images that sceptical explanations are found wanting in.

The journalist who went on about commercial interests and priming up for the tourist season was naive and cynical while the comedian offered ... comic relief.

Was I disappointed in the documentary? Not really as it was a program designed to form part of a series dedicated to hoaxes and so would take on a sceptical approach. However, anyone wishing to get a balanced view of the debate would be sadly disappointed.

Perhaps one day, someone will be bold enough to produce a documentary which is neutral or even dares to flip the bias in favour of the other side. Perhaps I should do that myself with the help of others as producers are too much in the thrall of the sceptics!

I believe you may be able to watch the episode online here. Registration required and may no be available worldwide.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday 20 October 2016

Loch Ness Monster Documentary on UK TV Tonight

Just a heads up that a new documentary on Nessie is being broadcast tonight at 7PM GMT by the UK "Yesterday" channel as part of their "History's Greatest Hoaxes" series. More details can be had here.

It looks like the Surgeon's Photograph will again feature in this latest line of Loch Ness Monster documentaries!

Wednesday 19 October 2016

So many Books, So little Time ...

Three books on the Loch Ness Monster published in the space of two months. I don't know if that is a record, but that is close on one thousand pages to get through. No need to rush through them, I like to savour a good Nessie book.

You will have noticed the odd one out at the right. It is an oldie but a goodie entitled "Loch Ness and its Monster" by J. A. Carruth. It went through various reprints, of which I have most of them. The edition I had just purchased was the third one of 1950. The first edition came out in 1938, making it the sixth book to be published on the monster. By 1971, it had gone through nine editions.

Carruth was a priest and monk at Fort Augustus Abbey and, like various brothers at the abbey, took a keen interest in the monster that had turned up on their shoreline. His photograph is shown below. The output of his particular interest was this booklet that sold at the Abbey bookshop and no doubt elsewhere.

The booklet itself is not remarkable by the standards of the literature as its aim was to be an introductory text aimed at the tourist market. In fact, the Abbey monks had previously attempted this with the publication of a similar booklet, "The Mysterious Monster of Loch Ness" in 1934. Being a booklet of about 23 pages, it covers the facts about the loch and argues that the creature is a native of the loch, quoting the well known story of St. Columba and goes through some eye witness accounts.

We learn a bit more about Fr. Carruth when David Cooke interviewed him for his 1969 book, "The Great Monster Hunt". At the time, Carruth was the Abbey tour guide, but took time out to speak to Cooke. He spoke of his thirty plus years by the loch studying the phenomenon and talking to many people who claimed to have seen it.

Actually, when you read Cooke's conversation with Carruth, it is almost verbatim lifted from Carruth's booklet; which makes me think Cooke just quoted it or Carruth knew his booklet very well indeed! 

However, Carruth expanded on his own sighting in 1962. It was an early morning sighting from the Abbey and was the classic upturned boat shape moving away from him. It was black and bigger than any boat he had seen in the loch. He said his sighting "really wasn't very much" but I am sure plenty of us would settle for such an experience! (note that Carruth's brother, Edmund, was also a monk at the Abbey and had a couple of sightings to his name)

Carruth was also a good friend of Tim Dinsdale, who met him at the Abbey on his very first visit to Loch Ness in 1960. In fact, arch-sceptic, Ronald Binns, plunges deep into Loch Speculation, by suggesting that Dinsdale meeting such "hierophants" as Carruth only heightened his expectation of seeing "monsters".

Carruth was one of the enduring characters of the Loch Ness Monster who is present from its beginnings in 1933 right through to its peak decades in the 1960s and 70s. The Abbey is closed now and its monks dispersed. Monster hunters and sceptics come and go, but the Monster itself will outlast them all.

The author can be contacted at