Late in 1995 I interviewed Uri Geller for the Reading University student newspaper, Spark. The interview was published in February 1996.
For most of the interview, Mr Geller was charming and polite. However, towards the end of the interview, he became unhappy by my questions about his record of litigation. This culminated in the two of us wrestling to take control of my dictaphone. The tape narrowly escaped being wiped in the process.
This article won the ‘Impact Award’ at the Guardian/NUS Student Media Awards on 26th October 1996. The Guardian published an extract of the article on 29th October 1996, along with a review by Peter Preston.
“Uri Geller” in The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, ABC-CLIO (2002)
Uri Geller is the Israeli metal bender and psychic illusionist who became a sensation in the early 1970s. Geller has convinced many people, including several scientists who have tested his abilities, that he possesses genuine psychic powers. Skeptics point out that skilled conjurors can replicate all of Geller’s feats using trickery and that nonpsychic explanations must be eliminated before one assumes that the laws of nature have been broken.
Uri Geller is chiefly known for being able to bend or break small metallic objects such as spoons. His reputation also rests on his ability to read the contents of sealed envelopes (which usually contain drawings allegedly prepared out of his sight) and restarting watches that appear to have stopped working. Geller maintains that he has never used trickery to achieve his effects. However, conjurors have produced similar feats using sleight-of-hand and misdirection techniques. In addition, some observers claim to have caught Geller in the act of bending cutlery with his hands (see Emery 1987). Continue Reading
The first of a two-part 1994 interview with a former British executioner
In 1964 the last two men in Britain were hanged for murder. The following year, parliament voted to abolish capital punishment, with overwhelming public support. The most famous public hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, had already retired having executed more prisoners than any other British executioner. The passage of time has since seen the demise of every executioner and their assistants (Pierrepoint died in 1992). By 1994 Syd Dernley was the only former hangman alive in the UK.
In 1949, Syd Dernley was appointed as an assistant executioner, of which there were several employed by the Home Office. He continued to work as a welder at the local colliery, taking time off for the executions when they were offered to him. Over the next four years he assisted in the hanging of over 20 men. There were many other reprieves that he would otherwise have helped to despatch. Syd was removed from the list around 1954, but was never given an official reason.
In subsequent years Syd has retained an active interest in capital punishment and has amassed a sizeable collection of souvenirs. In 1984 he began work on his autobiography with a radio broadcaster, David Newman. Published in 1989, the book generated a great deal of interest in Syd.
Syd Dernley lives in Mansfield, a coal-mining town on the edge of Sherwood Forest. Syd lives in a small bungalow with his wife, Joyce, and is the treasurer of his local Conservative Club. I was greeted at the gate by the man I recognised from the book, but distinctly older looking than his 74 years would suggest.
Almost as soon as I step into his house, Syd scuttles off to find his ‘goodies’. When he returns he is carrying a battered brown leather case: “It’s been to all the executions I did,” he says.
Inside the case is a white linen hood, slightly smaller than a pillow case, a legstrap and armstrap, plus his pièce de résistance – a replica noose made specially for Syd (he had to sell his previous – genuine – noose, which he now regrets). Continue Reading
The second of a two-part 1994 interview with a former British executioner
More than thirty years after the abolition of capital punishment in Britain, the clamour for its reintroduction seems to have abated. The cherished goal of the hanging and flogging lobby remains unfulfilled.
In the summer of 1994 I interviewed Britain’s last surviving executioner, Syd Dernley. During the course of the interview, I asked Syd about some of the moral issues surrounding capital punishment. If I expected well-argued and challenging responses to my questions, I was to be disappointed.
What makes someone become a hangman? In his autobiography, The Hangman’s Tale, Syd writes:
“It was not that I wanted to kill people, but it was the story of travel and adventure, of seeing notorious criminals and meeting famous detectives.”
I asked him why he had not simply joined the police force.
“At that particular time, I owned a .22 rifle with a silencer – legally – and a .22 pistol with a silencer, and we only lived 6 miles away from Sherwood Forest, and I liked pheasants and partridges…” he says, with an impish grin.
Syd obviously enjoys a good thrill-kill. I asked him whether he could have stomached other forms of execution – decapitation for example?
“Well, I’ve become immune to the sight of a hanging man, so it’d be an experience!” he exclaims.
Syd thinks about this prospect for a moment, then laughs “chopping bloody ‘eads off! I could certainly do it. My conscience, if I’ve got one, would be still. I was a very good hand with a striking hammer when I worked at the colliery… off with his nut!” Continue Reading
The British dependency of Tristan da Cunha is 1320 miles from its nearest inhabited neighbour. This article describes what life is like on this remote volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. My thanks to the former administrator of the island, Philip Johnson, for sharing his experiences.
When Rhodesia became the last African state to achieve independence from Britain in 1980, transforming itself into Zimbabwe in the process, the final curtain came down on the British Empire. But although the empire had breathed its last gasp, a curious ragbag of isolated regions remained under British jurisdiction.
Britain’s former colonies – now referred to as ‘dependencies’ – comprise just a handful of islands across the globe. These include Pitcairn Island in the Pacific Ocean, the British Indian Ocean Territory, various islands in the Caribbean, the Falkland Islands, and the St. Helena group in the Atlantic Ocean. Continue Reading