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Philip Hutchinson

(a professional actor and Equity member) who also sits on the Council of The Ghost Club, the oldest paranormal society in the world, founded by Charles Dickens in 1862 (www.ghostclub.org.uk). He is a paranormal investigator who has been involved in ghost hunts at many haunted buildings and has been acknowledged in several books on ghosts and local history, including as advisor to the late Andrew Green for his final book 'Unknown Ghosts Of The South-East'.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO STUDY THE PARANORMAL?

I have had a lifelong interest in ghosts but I can't give you an exact answer as to why. I loved SCOOBY-DOO as a kid and I guess that's about as rational as I can make it. I loved the dark side; blood and guts, monsters, vampires - possibly because I enjoyed the revulsion and fascination it gave other people. I certainly didn't 'see dead people'.

IN YOUR BOOK YOU TALK ABOUT THE KING'S HEAD PUB. DO YOU THINK THAT IT IS THE 'MOST HAUNTED' LOCAL LOCATION AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE THERE?

Well, at the time I was putting the book together I always said on my ghost tours that it was the top haunted site in my home town but I wouldn't say that is the case any longer. Not only has the paranormal activity gone into abeyance but I can think of two other sites in Guildford that I'd classify as more active these days. That's not to say the pub has nothing - it has apparitions, poltergeist activity, animal reactions and voices. Myself and a colleague from The Ghost Club did a piece for Japanese TV there in 2002 just to show them what happens on an investigation but, of course, it was all done in half an hour in the daylight in the cellar so nothing much occured. Later that year, The Ghost Club did a proper investigation at the site but it was disasterous. The lights were kept on by the staff - many of whom decided to hang around and see what we get up to whilst having none of the disciplines necessary to assist us. Other staff members were cleaning up, hanging around talking. It was not at all condusive to obtaining data and thus the evening was abandoned - with nothing having happened - at 3am. I've investigated loads of pubs and, with hindsight, I've concluded that nothing truly paranormal has happened to me at any of them. The only time that has occured has been when I've been in a pub during opening hours as a customer. In 2006 I, and a group of other people, saw a glass of Coke fly across an unoccupied table and a couple of metres across a back room in a London pub. On asking the staff if they were haunted, I got the reply "Has he thrown another half-full glass across the room?"

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE ACTIVITY AT THE GUILDFORD MUSEUM, AND HAS THE ACTIVITY CHANGED NOW THAT IT IS A POPULAR PLACE FOR GHOST ENTHUSIASTS TO VISIT?

I've not witnessed anything myself at the Museum, though I have been in the company of others when they have seen and heard things (it's happened twice on the ghost tour) and spoken to several staff members who have all heard noises and footsteps. I have no doubt they are all telling the truth and no doubt that what they've witnessed cannot be explained. The activity hasn't changed, though the frequent bouts of hearing a piano only occured over a prolonged period in 1990. In regards to 'ghost enthusiasts' frequenting the building, I have to say that nothing of the sort has occured. The museum gets frequent requests from so-called ghosthunters and they forward them all to me. I have no say in whether they are accepted or not but the museum itself never bothers to respond to them. I have had to e-mail several hopeful groups from home, in my own time, to tell them that the museum cannot entertain their request. I've never tried to ask myself, and I'm curious as to what the reply would be!

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER IS THE MOST AUTHENTIC HAUNTING THAT YOU HAVE BEEN TO?

That is a difficult one, because the only time I have seen a full-blown apparition which I know was genuine was at a site where a staff member has been caught faking a lot of things for his own amusement. I can assure you that what I saw was no fake. Besides that place, I have no doubt that the most haunted location I have personally been to, where things have happened whilst I was there, is Ham House just outside London. Smells, lights, raps, wheelchairs moving across rooms, footprints burning through varnish, control objects going walkabout in the space of minutes, artefacts in sealed cases shifting positions, blood-curdling screams...

YOU HAVE CALLED YOURSELF 'MOSTLY SKEPTICAL'. WHAT ADVANTAGE DO YOU SEE IN HAVING THIS KIND OF OUTLOOK?

Keeping a cool head when all around are losing theirs is very important! That doesn't mean I'm a brave soul - I am terrified of being in a dark haunted room by myself. I am just very cynical and the longer I am in this game, the less I believe. I have seen too much made of nothing, and things being faked by others (especially true of Ouija boards or graphic planchettes, which I have noticed at least one person pushing every time I've seen them used). However, these irritations only make the genuine (rare) article all the more convincing. It's extremely arrogant to enter a building where someone saw something ten years ago and expect to have a full fireworks display the very night you're there. People tend to get caught up in the heat of the moment and I often prefer to be an observer.

WHAT IMPACT DO YOU THINK THAT THE MEDIA (MOST HAUNTED, GHOST HUNTERS ETC) HAVE HAD ON THE GENERAL PUBLIC?

Nothing but bad, bad news. I have utter scorn, disdain and disgust for every one of these programmes. They are fake, set up to fool the public by total fraud. The public think that is what ghosthunting is and that is what we do. If they do not believe it, then they think that we are all as barking mad as the people on such shows. Either way we lose. We have had a huge turnover of people in this game who join it to go screaming around cellars in the dark and quickly leave when they realise the reality is nothing like that. I am also hugely angered by the charlatans who charge gullible members of the public small fortunes to stay in haunted buildings overnight with supposed trance mediums and giving masterclasses in the use of equipment. It's a lie and it has done a huge disservice to the Real McCoy.

ON THE SUBJECT OF THE MEDIA, DO YOU FEEL THAT TECHNIQUES LIKE INVESTIGATING IN TOTAL DARKNESS ARE HELPFUL OR SOMETHING THAT JUST LOOKS CREEPY ON TELEVISION?

My answer is totally subjective but I prefer dark investigations for no other reason than it centres the senses. You have no distractions. Yeah, it looks creepy on television and I'm sure they exploit that as much as possible. Of course, in dark investigations you have the issue of probably not seeing any apparition. However, as such phenomena is extremely rare and seeing lights is more common I feel that 'you pays yer money and you takes yer choice', as some say in England.

DO YOU EVER WORK WITH PSYCHICS? WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THEIR ABILITIES AND CREDIBILITY?

Again, a subjective view, but I have no time for psychics. I have never come across what I would call a genuine one in my life. This view annoys them greatly. Most of the psychics I've met are just people with huge ego problems who go mad on investigations to get attention. At best, I do believe in ESP and that some psychics have that gift.

WHEN YOU ARE INVESTIGATING A LOCATION DO YOU FIND THAT HISTORICAL RESEARCH IS HELPFUL IN FINDING POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS FOR THE REPORTED HAUNTINGS?

Obviously. Architectural and geographic/geologic reports can explain natural occurances and proven source material (not legend) can explain the presence of hauntings. That said, I do take issue with the assurances that any ghost seen in period clothing is always the most famous person connected to the building. Also, some people tend to be autosuggestive and make unwitting false claims based on what they've read. This is why, in The Ghost Club, we tend to withold information to members present on investigations until the evening is concluded.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE THEORY OF THE 'ORB' AND THE FOLLOWING THAT IT HAS STARTED?

In March 2000, we captured a series of orbs on an early digital camera at an investigation at a Jacobean mansion in London. After that, the orb phenomenon exploded. At the same time, people started buying digital cameras. Curious. The fact is this : I have seen hundreds of orb photographs now and not a single one is paranormal. You will never see orbs on a photo taken without a flash, and nearly all orb images are taken on compact digital cameras where the lens is close to the flash. They are dust particles, water droplets and insects. This has been proven in experiments and to anyone who says 'no they're not' I just have to say, with total confidence, they are wrong. The answer is clear and people are sticking their heads in the sand trying to make something out of nothing. Photographs of ghosts do exist but these ain't them!

DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS PLANNED?

I did have a second book come out after HAUNTED GUILDFORD on Guildford history, primarily photographic. I am currently co-authoring my third book which will be published in October 2007 but the subject matter is currently closely under wraps. All I can say at this stage is that it is non-fiction and concerning another famous mystery.

WHEN DO YOU OFFER YOUR GHOST TOUR OF GUILDFORD TOUR AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS?

The Ghost Tour Of Guildford was founded in 2001 and I run it every Friday night from March to November in Guildford, Surrey (30 miles southwest of London) at 8pm as well as private bookings. There are no particular 'highlights' as such - I don't have people jumping out on the group - but I would say the most exciting parts for the groups are when I am recounting hauntings that have happened in recent years, especially when it is a story I was told first hand.

AS A MEMBER OF THE GHOST CLUB YOU HAVE A GREAT VIEW OF THE FIELD OF GHOST RESEARCH. WHAT ACTIVITIES OR EXPERIENCES HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO HAVE WITH THE CLUB?

We are the oldest paranormal group in the world, founded in 1862. Our members have included Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Price and Maurice Grosse. We are, we believe, the only group that has feet in both camps of traditional ghost stories and scientific research. This makes us admired by many and reviled by a few. We welcome all views and membership is only refused to those we deem unsuitable for usually fairly obvious reasons. The club organises investigations at some of the most famous haunted buildings in the country (often locations denied to every other group) as well as holding social gatherings in the summer and Christmas, sometimes with an organised weekend at a haunted town, and with a full programme of monthly speakers in the field. As Events Officer of The Ghost Club for over half a decade now, it is my job to obtain these speakers. I've also been on TV quite a few times as a result of my membership and position.

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO SOMEONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN BECOMING A PARANORMAL RESEARCHER?

Don't believe the hype.

WARNING:
                Radio... it's just not right