The National Lab. of Psychical Research & The University of London Council for Psychical Investigation


















'Psychical Research'  - A Transcript of the Talking Film made by Harry Price for the Movietone News in 1936

Currently there are two pieces of film footage which show Harry Price in action.  The first is a short cine film by Price's sometime collaborator C.E.M. Joad made on a trip to Germany in 1932 which culminates with the notorious Brocken Experiment showing Price reading the lines from the Bloksberg Tryst and trying unsuccessfully to transform a goat into a handsome young man.  A copy of this is kept at the University of London as part of the Harry Price Library.  The second is a 10 minute (1000 ft.) talking film which Price scripted for the Movietone News in 1936 showing him in the rooms of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation at 13 Roland Gardens, South Kensington.  Price gives a potted overview to scientific psychical research, shows some early books on the subject taken from his research library and describes the various pieces of apparatus and instrumentation which he used as part of his work.  There is also a demonstration of some trick devices used by fraudulent mediums in the séance room as well as look at some of the items contained in Joanna Southcott's "box" which Price opened in 1928.

Price mentions the film briefly in the closing pages of his autobiography Search for Truth, although he didn't consider it to be very successful as he felt it failed to "get the atmosphere of the séance-room into the story".  Now it is an interesting historical document which gives us our only exposure to the way Price really spoke (he has been described as a bit of a 'splutterer' when it came to public speaking) and also an idea of his mannerisms and his bearing.  Anyone who has read any of his books or writings will find the ten minutes in Price's company which this film gives fascinating. 

Both Psychical Research and the footage of the Brocken Experiment are available to view on the archive website of Movietone News.  The cost of acquiring a licence to have both films on this website are prohibitive to say the least, but you can enjoy Harry Price 'in the flesh' as it were by going to and doing the simple piece of registration to get access to their archive.  Once this is done, just do a search for 'harry price' and you will find both films to view.  Below is a transcription of Price's script for Psychical Research taken from the newsreel together with the covers of the two books which Price refers to during the film.  The clairvoyant Price mentions in the film was Josef Kraus ("Marion") and I have included a scan of a photograph taken from Bulletin III of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation which shows the sentry box apparatus Price describes, although this is not Price in the box!

Update 2 January 2009 - Since the original version of this page was created, Price's Movietone News film has now been added to the Youtube website.  I have linked to it below so now you can enjoy Price in sound and vision.

The Movietone News Theatre presents:-

An Exclusive Film Interview with Mr. Harry Price

Honorary Secretary, University of London Council for Psychical Research


[Price seated in the Research Library]

What is psychical research?  A popular opinion says that it means going to séances, holding hands in the dark, singing hymns and perhaps getting in touch with your dead relative.  But in this, popular opinion is only partly correct because it is confusing psychical research with spiritualism.  Psychical research is a science and it is rapidly becoming an exact science.  It's object is to ascertain, by exact experimental methods, how far the alleged phenomena of the séance room can be brought into line with normality.

These phenomena which are produced by people who claim abnormal powers and who call themselves 'mediums', can be divided into physical and mental.  The mental include clairvoyance, psychometry, the 'direct voice' which spirits are supposed to produce at séances and similar manifestations.  The physical phenomena include telekinesis or the abnormal movement of objects without physical contact, the poltergeist phenomena you read about in connection with haunted houses, and similar manifestations. 

Title page of Of Ghosts and spirites walking by nyght by Ludwig (Lewes) Lavater, London, 1572 - First Edition.

There is an idea that the study of alleged abnormal phenomena is quite modern, but that is not the case.  People have been interested in psychic phenomena from the very earliest times and even the literature of the subject is very old.  In our research library of some 12,000 volumes, we have books going back right to the sixteenth century.  I'll show you one of them.

For instance, there is one here written by Lewes Lavater called Of Ghost and Spirits Walking by Night and this must be the very first book printed in English which deals with survival as we know it today.  I'll show you another one.  Here is one written by Oliver Goldsmith and deals with the famous Cock Lane Ghost.  The extraordinary part of this book is that it describes a séance in a girl's bedroom exactly as if it might have been written yesterday. 

But modern research proceeds on vastly different lines than what it did in the sixteenth century.  We now require a fully equipped laboratory, which I'll show you.

[Price in the Chemical & Physical Laboratory]

If a man comes to us and claims he can produce abnormal phenomena, then we test him by instrumental means.  We have a number of special instruments for this purpose including a dictaphone, a cinematic projector and cameras, X-ray apparatus, infra-red, ultra-violet and many others such as microscopes etc.

Now here are some very ingenious slates which I have taken out of our museum of such objects.  Now these slates are very ingenious.  Here you see a pair of simple slates - but not quite so simple, and when I tell you I gave £8 for them, you will know that there is a reason for the cost.  A touch of a spring and you'll notice that they are covered with writing and drawing of an alleged spirit. 

Here is another exhibit from our museum.  Apparently it is a well-made mahogany box which I will proceed to lock.  Now that for all intents and purposes is locked fast.  But, by touching a screw here, one can open the box whether it is locked or not.  This is the kind of thing that some fraudulent mediums use, though not of course under any scientific control. 

Title page of The Mystery Revealed... by Oliver Goldsmith, London, 1742.

I will now show you the very ingenious mechanism of this box in detail.  You will see that the staple has been forced in the lock.  Of course the staple has come from the lid.  When I close the box again and replace this pin, you'll notice that the box is again locked.  I will now unlock it and of course the staple is back in the lid again.  Although it would defy anyone to find where the mechanism was hidden.

We get some extraordinary investigations to do, but I think the most extraordinary was the opening of Joanna Southcott's famous "box".  This box was opened at the Church House, Westminster in 1927 and a wave of excitement passed through the audience when I cut the steel bands.  The box contained the most extraordinary collection of objects.  Here is a wire puzzle - a very ancient puzzle; Joanna Southcott's night-cap - very curious; a dice box, for what Joanna wanted a dice box I can't say; a lottery ticket number 382 for 1814 - I'm afraid it didn't win anything; a horse pistol; an ancient purse full of really very valuable coins - this is a most interesting exhibit; a book - several books as a matter of fact; and a piece of paper printed on the Thames, February the third, 1814. 

Well, I have shown you the very curious contents of that box, but I am afraid that there is nothing in it which Joanna Southcott said would save the nation in a time of emergency.

[Price standing back in the Research Library]

Well you have seen our laboratory and we are now back in the library, which is also our séance room where all our tests are held.  I will now show you our latest piece of apparatus.  Here is a box like a sentry box, which was made to test an alleged clairvoyant, or thought-reader.  This man stated he could find objects in a room, so we had our suspicions that he found these objects by watching the audience or by getting indicia from the movements of the audience.  So we had this box made so that we could cover up portions of a persons' anatomy, a part at a time.   For instance that is panel number one.  We found that our theory was correct, because when the person who knew where the object was, was entirely hidden in this box, the clairvoyant failed - he could not find the hidden object.

Sentry box apparatus used in the "Marion" experiments (Reproduced from Bulletin III of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation).

Now here is a totally different piece of apparatus.  If a man comes to us and says he can make objects move without physical contact, we try this table on him.  This table is in two portions - it is really a cage within a cage, and the centre portion rises - we hope it would rise by psychic power, but unfortunately we have never got it to rise by those means yet.  But this is a fraud-proof table.  Inside the table are various musical toys like a toy piano and the pan pipes, etc.  The eight panels in this table can only be moved by opening this flap and putting one's hand down into the table.  Therefore, if we get any of these musical toys being worked upon while we are sitting around the table, and the table - the flap - is closed, then we know the noises have been caused, or rather the movements have been caused by abnormal means, and we proceed further with our investigation.

So you see, that psychical research means a good deal of knowledge about many things.  But we are progressing.  Not only are we progressing, but orthodox science is taking a very keen interest in the subject, and already many universities in various parts of the world, for instance at Leiden, Holland; Duke University in America; John Hopkins University in America, and more recently a group connected with the University of London has been formed, and it is hoped that some information will be derived from our experiments.

In conclusion, I do earnestly hope and trust that any of you who come across cases of hauntings, poltergeists, unusual happenings of any sort, will communicate with me, care of the Movietone News.



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