Uncanny (TV Show) Review – Episode 1 “Miss Howard”
Watched Uncanny episode 1. What a fantastic case! I hope if you have not seen it yet you will go and watch it, and warning here that there are major spoilers below. Also if you are happy to be entertained and spooked and not critique things move on — obviously it is my job to analyse ghost cases, so I don’t have that possibility or I might.
What follows will make no sense if you have not watched it (BBC2 so should be on iPlayer) yet. Go watch it first – it really is worth it. If it all pans out then it is technically a veridical haunting and that is like finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn. The first term means the case involved information being given that could not have been known to the witness – the second term haunting in the technical sense is a case where the same apparition is seen by independent witnesses separated in time.
Now I’m known to be a major critic of the theory that neurotoxic mould inhalation causes hallucinations; fortunately there is no need for me to rehash the absence of supporting medical evidence as the witnesses to “Miss Howard” were either side of the renovations. And even if all concerned were tripping their proverbial off on psilocybin they would hardly hallucinate the same thing?
Now nobody as far as I know thinks the Phillip Experiment had anything to do with suggestion; Owen thought it proved PK, psychokinesis and followed Kenneth Bacheldor’s idea that psi impedance or inhibition could be overcome by attributing the psychic effect to an external agency. I’ve conducted a lot of experiments in that direction (even via Freeform larp) and could have suggested an equally simple but much more effective test than Danny’s creative writing glass séance. Sadly nobody ever asks me anything!
So has Danny struck gold, no platinum? Maybe! I can suggest explanations and how to test them. If these simple things can be done Danny has found an all time great case.
- First up how can the two sets of witnesses almost a decade apart have seen the same thing? Well there is one major possibility we should rule out – it is surprisingly easy to induce false memories in people, especially false memories of childhood. So all we need is a single witness who can state Kate told them about Miss Howard before she discovered the blog in 2010. It’s not that I disbelieve her, I absolutely do but we need some record. An email, a forum post, a letter, a datable conversation. Given this experience has affected her deeply for so much of her life, this seems likely to prove simple. She told a few friends then stopped talking about it. Did she tell anyone in her childhood? Her parents? We need independent verification.
2. When did each family move in to the house? The experiences were about a decade apart? Dates would be useful. The biggest issue is that Miss Howard died 8 years before the first witnesses moved in – was she remembered in the village? Did kids at the Primary School tell stories about her? Was there something about her that made her memorable? Did post addressed to Miss Howard still arrive? Eight years make it seem unlikely, but where did both families reside before they moved in? I don’t think any of the witnesses were old enough to remember Miss Howard, but might be worth talking to others who grew up in the village. The reason I wonder if the story of “Miss Howard” came first is that all witnesses knew the name – it seems more likely from a seeding story than anything else? Knowing which schools the girls attended would be very useful?
EDIT: the 2008 blog post makes clear the Foster Thorn’s moved in a year after the death of Mrs Howard, and knew about her.
3. Kate was able to identify Nora H as the ghost from a photo. Were the other witnesses not? Obviously now the shown has been screened its too late. However were the witnesses asked to independently describe the apparition to a police artist? I thought there were discrepancies in the descriptions?
4. The best bit was the discovery that 65 and 95 were the same address. The problem is we have the researchers word for it, and having been a TV researcher I know what a dubious bunch we are. Becky and I both immediately suggested a renumbering, but the 1960s is quite late and thirty houses a major change. (Imagine the postal chaos!). If there was a ring road or similar built that demolished a lot of houses many streets shortened I know: normally though numbers are retained or added to a street, not subtracted. Fortunately I was able to independently verify this (see below).
EDIT: the renumbering appears to have happened during the first witnesses time at at the house.
5. Why did we not see the 2010 blog? The mother was the source of the piece – and if the mother experienced the hauntings as well as the daughter, she may well have asked around and quickly established that a Miss Howard resided in the house. She might have then named the ghost, and the name then been transmitted by local gossip, until unconsciously learned by Kate?
EDIT: The June 2008 blog post shows us that the percipients were extremely young at the time of their experiences, so I place more faith in the mother’s post than her daughters recollections now. Interestingly the dog was said to react, and footsteps were heard – though of course they could have been carried from number 67?
I must say I found it absolutely fascinating. I absolutely think the case should be properly written up for the journal. Interestingly the apparitions act according to the manner they should according to Becky’s PhD. I love the fact the TV show kept to the podcast format and am genuinely fascinated!
After the show I stayed up for three hours. I was quickly able to verify most of the stuff from the show – while not adequately masking the address is an ethical disaster, it meant it was entirely possible to verify most of what was presented as history. It took me two minutes to find the house but ten minutes to find William French and Miss Norah Howard. The Howard family were a big deal in early 20th century Melbourn, one of the four major families from what I can make out. Jubal owned the bakery and Norah worked there and there is a great deal and all the photos used of the Howards in this book. I was also able to find a report on the Will of Miss Howard. The facts are as presented, and she was a pretty wealthy lady – that’s about £325,000 in modern money.
The apparitional descriptions did not really give an age, but implied a Victorian or Edwardian spook. This puzzled me, as the house was probably not that old. The houses were built sometime I believe in the in the late 20s or early 30s – they look like buildings of that era I associate with ribbon development. The house was maybe 50 years old at the time of the first sightings, which is neither here not there, but argues against the mould nonsense.
The house number change was exactly as presented; well almost it apparently occurred in the early 1980s, which would be after the first witnesses according to one site I found, but I suspect that is an error and the show is correct. I will verify this later. I checked no.67. That house was lived in by the Baker family since WW2 and Miss Ellis and Miss Hughes before.
I have found a more significant problem: the inhabitant of the house was for most of its history Hilda Thompson (1935 to 1957). In 1957 it was bought by William E French (who clearly did not die in the war) and in 1960 in moved Norah French with him. So they may have been cohabiting there from 1957 but she only lived in the house at most for the last six years of her life. Or did she? I checked and there was an earlier house on the site of No. 65 – and it looks like it was home to Jonah Howard, who I seem to recall had a withered arm and was a shoemaker? It is entirely conceivable that his sister did indeed live with him in this previous house.
I only had three hours last night to do a lot of research though admittedly I did it all from my bed: given a day in Cambridgeshire I’m sure I could find a great deal more. It is a bit frustrating that apparently it took the BBC researchers a great deal of effort to do what seems fairly simple to me – and one of my real frustrations is that despite fifteen years as a TV Researcher, being a historian and also as it happens a parapsychologist at least by the definition used by the show, no one who makes decent paranormal TV is ever willing to pay me to research for them, preferring to do it in house. If I’d had the chance to help plan this I honestly feel I could have taken a really good case and made it a truly great one.
Oh and for Bold Street Timeslips see Dr Ann Winsper obviously! https://youtu.be/qNfvraEoebE?si=dDbeTEToGsfPqD3Z She is the absolute authority on the area, and I’m going to ignore that whole angle and most of what the experts said, and just address the evidential value of the case. I’m not finished yet though!
tldr; Brilliant TV, Danny Robins is a real gem. The show was designed to tell the story effectively; from an evidential viewpoint its not as strong as I hoped, but it is still a good case.