Celebrity Scares

Jenny Randles. Beyond Explanation: The Paranormal Experiences of Famous People. Robert Hale, 1985.

In her preface, Randles gives a plug for ASSAP, and one might hope for a reasonable study of anomalous experiences, what actually is presented is a string of undocumented, scrappy anecdotes which read as though they were clipped from the pages of National Enquirer, Psychic News and the tabloid press, mixed with speculation which is unacceptable, not so much because it is pseudoscientific, (though it is), but because it is ill thought out and poorly expressed.

No doubt there are genuinely puzzling experiences amongst those recounted here, but they are difficult to separate from the after dinner stories, inventions of publicity agents, sensation seeking journalists, and hack paperback writers: a fact which Randles appears to appreciate by the last page.

She seriously weakens her case by seeking to subsume all kinds of coincidence, intuition, innate and acquired skill and rational inference to psi or poorly-understood 'species fields'. Her quoting of unsubstantiated rumours, for example the alleged 19th century Prime Minister who hanged himself in a house in Wales. Which Prime Minister? did Randles spend even ten minutes trying to check it out? In fact no British Prime minster has ever committed suicide.

There are exaggerated versions of genuine stories (the Pete B's highway ghost with the wrong legend and a completely false 'collision', for the real details see Owen's Science and the Spook, or Barden's Mysterious Worlds). She also shows credulous acceptance of nonsense such as the 'curse' of Tutankhamen’s tomb (better be careful here, Randles warns us, one or two people who have dismissed it have paid for their comments with an early death), the non-existent Cheshire prophet Robert Nixon (invented as Hanoverian propaganda at the time of the 1715 uprising), and Nostradamus.

Far from making life easier for people who have had unusual experiences, this kind of 'Coronation Street star's psychic gerbil' type of production only increases scepticism. As a contribution to psychic research it is worthless; as a good read it is seriously marred by Randles' clumsy style, intrusive use of barbarous neologisms (which she seems so proud of as to take a page to list them) and confused speculation. The overall impression IS of speed, carelessness, and 'thinking on the hoof'.

Randles is now lecting amazing precognitions. I submit one of my own: it will take Randles some time to live down her speculation that the Loch Ness Monster is a nightmare in the 'life-field' or collective unconscious of the worlds fish [p.67] --Peter Rogerson, Magonia 21, December 1985.

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