Monday, 1 December 2008

What Became Of The Wampyr?

“A pyre was built in the centre of the large garden … We looked, but saw none of its awful contents before everything was consumed. At last it was hidden from our view ― its dark pestilence swallowed in the bright flames which leaped skyward while all beneath crackled and hissed. Several hours later all that remained was a great scorch-mark on the ground … We stood staring at the charred spot, not daring to believe it was finally over. I took a handful of grey dust from the blackened earth and scattered it to the four winds.” (The Highgate Vampire, Gothic Press, 1991, pages 144-145)

Scenes captured on panchromatic film by a 35mm camera at the time, alas, would not see the light of day in a definitive depiction of the same events for a film dramatisation by the production company whose directorate included the talented Aimee Stephenson. Seán Manchester's episcopal duties, plus Aimee’s tragic death, dampened any desire to resurrect this ambitious project, despite overtures being made by others. Eventually Seán Manchester came to the decision not to be interviewed about the Highgate case. The nightmare wherein the door between us and another world was almost ripped off its hinges is now a distant memory that, for him at least, must be laid to rest. "Next to the hunger to confront such a thing, there is no stronger hunger than to forget," he once wrote.

Seán Manchester initially wrote his book due to so many people contacting him to ask what really happened. Letters ran into hundreds, and this accumulated following the commission from Peter Underwood and his publisher, Leslie Frewin Books, to give an account of events up to and including the failed exorcism of August 1970. Seán Manchester thought this might stem the flow, but the case itself was not yet solved, and reports of unsavoury incidents continued to filter into the columns of local newspapers. Hence the complete and unexpurgated account first published in 1985. A more intimate account was given in a special edition published by Gothic Press in 1991 where the rear fly on the dust jacket states: “[The author] recognises the immense public interest in the Highgate Vampire case which is why he has written the present volume as a final comment on what, in his own words, is ‘hopefully the last frenzied flutterings of a force so dight with fearful fascination that even legend could not contain it’.” It was not Seán Manchester's intention to try and convince anyone of the existence of the supernatural; yet still he receives messages asking him to do precisely that. Nor was it his wish to stimulate undue interest in these matters; though he accepts this has been an unintentional by-product. By writing a comprehensive recounting of those events surrounding the mystery, Seán Manchester merely sought to provide a record of his unearthly experience for those who wanted to read about it.

In the wake of his book, and personal appearances where he discussed its contents, parasitical elements were not slow to engage in shameless exploitation of his work, while others decided to become what can only be described as fans. Sometimes self-styled fans became almost vampiric themselves. When denied their demands, they would behave badly, turning bitter and resentful. Thankfully such incidents have been few and far between. The majority of enthusiastic readers of Seán Manchester's work have shown immense sympathy and encouragement as reflected by the popularity of any forum where it is discussed.

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