The Highgate Cemetery “ghost” pictured in March 1970.
David Farrant was about to meet his arch-nemesis in whose shadow he would always dissolve despite every effort to cultivate a notoriety which Seán Manchester believes is undeserved (though not everyone would agree with that appraisal) because Farrant is little more than an attention-seeker trying to compensate for deep-rooted inadequacies.
Following six months in the company of Anthony Hill in 1968, Mary Farrant returned to her husband only to depart soon afterwards to take up residence with her parents in Southampton two days after giving birth to her second son in August 1969. She eventually filed for a divorce. Hill returned to his wife at their ground floor flat in Archway Road. The bizarre twist to this episode is that Farrant, now having been made homeless following his eviction from his flat just up the road from Hill, sought refuge in Anthony Hill’s coal bunker, one of several in a communal cellar. Partial to alcohol, Farrant would later be arrested and held on remand at Brixton Prison for shenanigans not entirely unrelated to his drinking. He was found by police to be in possession of a cross and a stake in Highgate Cemetery close to midnight on 17 August 1970.A handful of months before the arrest, Farrant wrote to his local newspaper, at the behest of Hill, falsely alleging to have seen a ghostly figure some nights as he “walked home past the gates of Highgate Cemetery.”
Thus he became one of a number of people Seán Manchester interviewed. Due to his arrest and accompanying claims he was also interviewed by newspaper journalists and appeared briefly on a television programme along with various other witnesses in March 1970.Seán Manchester immediately noticed an obvious flaw in Farrant’s overture to his local newspaper. It is fairly obvious that to “walk home” from any of the pubs Farrant frequented in Highgate Village and pass by the cemetery gates in Swains Lane was a physical impossibility. A map of the area confirms his cellar lodgings in Archway Road to be located in the opposite direction. Farrant, of course, was not the least bit serious when he wrote his letter of 6 February 1970 to the Hampstead & Highgate Express
. It was a hoax. The exercise was nothing more than an attention-seeking prank. To that end it succeeded. These facts would years later be confirmed by the contents of an envelope pressed into the hand of Seán Manchester by Anthony Hill. The envelope contained a cassette tape whereon the voices of Hill and Farrant could be heard conspiring to concoct a counterfeit ghost story for local newspapers. Hill now wanted closure and here, finally, was the evidence in the form secretly recorded conversations made at the time.It would appear that Farrant had discussed faking another news story with Hill who certainly showed some interest, but only up to a point. It was decided between them that they invent a story about the escape and recapture of Farrant’s macaw, Oliver
, now in the care of someone else due to Farrant’s bunker residence being unsuitable. This was hardly original. Goldie
the eagle had escaped from London Zoo in 1965, only to be later recaptured. This became a major news story at the time. Farrant believed he had found a bandwagon on which he could catch a ride. Meanwhile, Hill, unimpressed with the Oliver
story, jokingly suggested a fake suicide attempt from Archway Bridge with a no less fraudulent “rescue.” This, too, was unoriginal because a piece about the actor and comedian Peter Sellers dissuading a depressed person (about to jump off Archway Bridge) from committing suicide had also made the news headlines. While Farrant was thinking about how best to go about manufacturing one or possibly both stories, he happened to hear rumours of an alleged vampire in Highgate Cemetery on his visits to the Prince of Wales
and various other pubs in the vicinity.The escaped bird and fake suicide attempt stories were immediately ditched. Farrant, helped initially by Hill, now decided to exploit the five-year-old word-of-mouth tales that had been circulating of a vampiric spectre in Swains Lane by writing a spurious letter to the editor of the Hampstead & Highgate Express
in early 1970, ending with the frank admission: “I have no knowledge in this field and I would be interested to hear if any other readers have seen anything of this nature.”
Readers of the newspaper were quickly ready to confirm plenty of sightings, but it was apparent from the audio cassette transcribed covertly in December 1969 by Hill that Farrant plotted to use his friend Nava Grunberg’s address in Hampstead Lane along with a certain Kenneth Frewin’s council flat address on North Hill to write bogus letters using pseudonyms about sightings of a ghost. These fake letters are easily spotted with hindsight, and one of Farrant’s collaborators – someone who did not use a nom de plume
– is instantly identifiable as Frewin.
The Highgate phenomenon was nevertheless a story about to snowball. This had the unfortunate side effect of dragging Seán Manchester into the forefront of something he had hitherto decided to keep a lid on. Hence Manchester felt it incumbent upon himself to make some sort of statement in view of all the press speculation created by Farrant and others. Thus, on 27 February 1970, following batches of readers’ letters, Seán Manchester appeared on the front page of the Hampstead & Highgate Express to summarise the findings of the British Occult Society, an organisation which investigated paranormal and occult activity. It did not make easy reading for a lot of people; especially as some of his comments were embellished by the newspaper. Two weeks later, he featured on Thames Television’s Today programme for the same purpose.
Farrant (photographed by Anthony Hill), Highgate Cemetery, 1970.
Farrant also made an appearance on the same programme along with several youngsters who allegedly witnessed a vampiric spectre at Highgate Cemetery. The televised report was about an alleged vampire and not a ghost even though the term “ghostly figure” was used once by Sandra Harris who, interviewing Farrant, asked: “Did you get any feelings from it? Did you feel that it was evil?” Farrant replied: “Yes, I did feel that it was evil because the last time I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time.” Sandra Harris asked: “What do you mean by that?” Farrant answered: “Well, I mean it certainly wasn’t human.”
This was his entire contribution to the Today report on the Highgate Vampire. Like the letter to his local newspaper, Farrant employed his true nomenclature. He was captioned “David Farrant” – his real name – and made no claim to any association with (or indeed membership of) the British Occult Society. Needless to say, David Farrant (sometimes known as “Allan Farrow”) was not a member, associate or participant in the activities of the British Occult Society, which existed purely for the purpose of studying supernatural phenomena and testing occult claims. It did not countenance nor engage in witchcraft, magical ceremonies or occult rituals.
The following year found Farrant fraudulently claiming membership. The claim was immediately refuted in the media by the British Occult Society. Before long Farrant was absurdly claiming to be both “president and founder” of the British Occult Society. Disclaimers followed press reports whenever he was so described, invariably with the editor adding the prefix “self-styled.” In 1983, weary of being exposed in the press as an interloping charlatan who had hijacked the name of an extant organisation along with the title of its current president, Farrant altered the name of his non-existent “society” to the “British Psychic and Occult Society.” Nobody was fooled.
Farrant had spoken in the media about his “thousands of followers” (Hornsey Journal, 23 November 1979), and even went so far as to proffer the notion of a number as high as twenty thousand members (Finchley Press, 22 February 1980). In the same report the following appeared:
“On Monday, Seán Manchester, president of the British Occult Society, disclaimed any connection between Mr Farrant and the society. Questioning Mr Farrant’s claim to have 20,000 ‘followers,’ … Mr Manchester believes that Mr Farrant’s activities – including the libel action [which Farrant lost] – have been publicity-seeking.”
This was Seán Manchester’s assessment in early 1970 when he first made Farrant’s acquaintance while interviewing witnesses to the increasingly reported Highgate Vampire. It was the conclusion of virtually everyone.
The eminent researcher Peter Underwood commented in a book published five years after Farrant had launched himself from obscurity to infamy:
“Publicity of a dubious kind has surrounded the activities of a person or persons named Farrant and his – or their – association with Highgate Cemetery. … Mr Allan Farrant was caught climbing over the wall of Highgate Cemetery carrying a wooden cross and a sharpened piece of wood. … According to the Daily Mail Allan Farrant saw ‘an apparition’ eight feet tall in the cemetery that ‘just floated along the ground’ when he was on watch one morning waiting ‘for the vampire to rise.’ He believed that there had been a vampire in Highgate Cemetery for about ten years. … Less than a month later a Mr David Farrant was guiding Barry Simmons of the London Evening News on a night-tour of Highgate Cemetery armed with a cross and wooden stake which he carried under his arm in a paper carrier bag. In fact the whole project seems to have been a somewhat dismal and depressing effect – even the cross, created from two pieces of wood, was tied together with a shoelace.”
Press photographs of David Farrant brandishing his cross and stake.
Incredibly, in a home-produced, stapled pamphlet, somewhat unimaginatively titled Beyond the Highgate Vampire, self-published a quarter of a century later, Farrant strongly denied ever engaging in vampire hunting with a cross and stake. He merely wanted to measure out a circle, he rather unconvincingly claimed, with the wooden stake and a piece of string. He protested that he had never in his life claimed to believe in the existence of vampires, much less hunt them. He protested too much.
Pictures of Farrant clutching his “vampire hunting” tools had been appearing in the British press since 1970. A nine inch tall photograph of him, holding a cross in one hand and a stake in the other, appeared on the front page of the Hornsey Journal, 28 June 1974, beneath a banner headline stating: “The Graveyard Ghoul Awaits His Fate.” The picture’s caption: “Farrant on a ‘vampire hunt’ in Highgate Cemetery.” The report begins:
“Wicked witch David Farrant, tall, pale and dressed all in black, saw his weird world crumble about him this week. Farrant, aged 28, the ghoulish, self-styled High Priest of the British Occult Society [sic], was found guilty by an Old Bailey jury of damaging a memorial to the dead at Highgate Cemetery and interfering with buried remains. … Mr Richard du Cann prosecuting, accused Farrant of ‘terrible’ crimes and at one stage described him as a ‘wicked witch.’ … One of the witnesses for the prosecution was Journal reporter Roger Simpson. Farrant had given him a photograph of a corpse in a partly-opened coffin. Because of the nature of the picture, the paper decided not to publish it, and it was handed to the police.”
This was the beginning of the end of Farrant’s phoney occult career and fraudulent claims regarding the British Occult Society. His only known “member” and also his “right-hand man” in many of his black magic publicity stunts eagerly reported in the British newspapers was John Russell Pope, a deranged diabolist who merits closer scrutinty when exploring the truth about David Farrant.
 The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook by Seán Manchester (Gothic Press, 1997, p58).
 The Vampire’s Bedside Companion by Peter Underwood (Leslie Frewin, 1975, p77-79).