A couple of months back I discovered that ITV were going to air an adaptation of Neil Spring’s excellent book The Ghosthunters. Like most purveyors of the paranormal I couldn’t wait. I’m not an expert on the life and weird adventures of Harry Price, but any follower of the Fortean has heard about him and knows of his connection with Borley Rectory – The Most Haunted House in England (allegedly, and I would argue up for debate). I remember reading a book on the hauntings at Borley many years ago, by whom, I can’t remember, but it made an impression on the younger me.
I’d also read Neil Spring’s book and enjoyed it immensely and whilst I believe he based the book on the ‘real’ Harry Price and his life I think I’m right in saying there is also an element of fiction involved in his version of events (please correct me if I’m wrong). So, I was slightly concerned when the reviews of the ITV drama portrayed it as ‘complete rubbish’ and accused it of trying to make Harry out to be a charlatan and fraudulent medium. I couldn’t remember this being part of the story, but my memory isn’t brilliant, perhaps I was remembering things differently. I knew there was some contention as to the validity of the hauntings at Borley and whether or not he was responsible for faking some of the phenomena, I also knew he had debunked several mediums, including Rudi Schneider, a prominent medium of the time, among others and that there had been a ‘falling out’ with the Society for Psychical Research, but con-man, charlatan, faked seances??? As I say, I’m not an expert…
So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the ITV offering and was prepared to shout at the screen if need be. I’m not sure what other people have been watching, but all in all I quite enjoyed it and didn’t see the contentious Harry as fraud element that others saw. The biggest inconsistency for me was that Rafe Spall looks nothing like Harry, who had a lot less hair and a much stranger, but oddly mesmerising face. What ITV have done, with Mr Spring as consultant, is weave an entirely fictional tale, that, as far as I’m aware, bears no resemblance to any case that Harry Price ever worked on (again, please correct me if I’m wrong). And when you realise this it’s much easier to let go of the preconceived ideas and expectations and just enjoy the 2 hour long period drama for what it is – the traditional ghost story at Christmas that has been served up by TV and newspapers alike for the last 2 or 3 hundred years or more – please go and read some of those published in the nineteenth century press. M. R. James they are not!
OK, so back to ITV, the ghostly effects weren’t particularly spooky, but the whole thing is based on the fact that the ghost is a result of chemical poisoning used by the disgruntled husband to punish and get rid of the unfaithful wife. The mistake was to use Harry Price as the ghosthunter. Had ITV made their paranormal investigator an entirely fictional character, left out any hint of connection to Harry’s real life associates (Lucie Kay(e) alias Sarah Grey and Vernon Wall etc) no-one would have batted an eyelid.
I for one hope they continue it as a series, perhaps using some of Price’s documented investigations – Borley, of course, or perhaps Gef, The Talking Mongoose??