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Why I was interested in mediums and my investigations in Blackpool


Joining the RAF and investigating mediums in Blackpool
Richard Gregory Scientist
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The war started when I was at school. I was 16 when the war started and I was very sort of patriotic and I wanted to be a bit of a national hero and all that sort of stuff, you see. So I volunteered for the RAF as a fighter pilot and I really wanted to be a fighter pilot and, in fact, I joined the RAFVR when I was at school, I had a little silver badge on and you strutted around, you know, you learned how to march and all sorts of things and there were various courses. I took an engine to pieces and did all sorts of things like that and learned about, to some extent, about flying and aircraft and so on in the RAFVR when I was at school still. Then when I was, I think, 16 or possibly 17, I forget now, 17, it must have been, I was actually in the RAF. I was suddenly in it and I claimed I wanted to be a fighter pilot but I wasn’t because I’d had an ear operation. I’d had a mastoid operation on this ear and apparently if you get violent pressure changes, you know, zinging up and down fighting in an aircraft, you can have problems so you were not allowed to be a fighter pilot if you’d had a mastoid operation. They didn’t tell me that until I was actually in or I could have stayed at school, see what I mean? So I’d left school, stuck in the RAF without having gone to the sixth form. I missed the sixth form because of this. Oh, I did six months farming and stuff as well, by the way, and, you know, filling up sandbags and teaching old ladies how to put out incendiary fires with Stuart pumps and things, I did all that sort of stuff.

So I was actually 18 when I was actually called up, so I had about a year messing around doing all these things. Well, then, there I was, so I did an intelligence test, which I did reasonably well at, and so I did radar. I went at Cranwell, number one signal school, which is absolutely a great place. I adored Cranwell. It’s the sort of college in the RAF, you know, and it was wonderful. I learned about radar and I learned about radio and communication and stuff like that and I really enjoyed that. It was great. A very civilised place, I mean we acted plays and we had music society, the whole bit, it was very, very nice actually.

Then I got a posting to the Gold Coast and an amazing thing happened. The telegram had a mistake on it. We lived in a road called Courtland Avenue in Mill Hill, which is near my father’s observatory, and the telegram had Portland Avenue on it so I didn’t get it, so by the time I went to Blackpool, which was the place where we did our square bashing and, you know, all the rest of it, I was a week late and I was posted as a deserter. Absolutely. I was more or less handcuffed, I think I was handcuffed actually, the whole bit. Then I explained what had happened and fortunately I had the telegram so I could prove what happened, well, in half an hour it was all sorted out, you see. But anyway everybody else had tropical kit and pith helmets and stuff for the Gold Coast and, of course, I didn’t so I had this extraordinary, I think it was about over a month actually, in Blackpool with nothing to do and I investigated psychical research. I used to go to the mediums and see whether I could see how they faked it, you know. I had an absolutely glorious, I think it was six weeks, doing my own private investigations and I would, because I was in uniform, you see, I was fairly anonymous but they latched on to me very quickly. They knew I was a bit sort of different in that way, I suppose because I kept going back and I used to find out quite a lot about how they tricked people, and we used to play about with, is it called a Planchette Board where you’ve got these letters around and all that sort of stuff? I got terribly interested in all that. I never believed it but my father, I think, did believe it, you see. Although he was a physicist, he was at Cambridge as a physics student and then at Cavendish, and then an astronomer, he actually had a strong sense of the occult and he really believed that spooky things happen in the universe, very much so.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008