Since my Naval days I have never been remotely interested in hypnotism as entertainment. I would go so far as to say that I disapprove of the practice. When my daughters were young and we were on holiday, on more than one occasion they and Sophie went to the theatre to see a hypnotist and, while I did not openly object, I refused to go with them. I did though warn them not to go on the stage as subjects.
At Leydene, there was a theatre where films were shown in the evenings and occasionally ENSA would put on a show. Sometimes the Entertainment’s Officer would call on talent within the camp and we would have an amateur show, although to use the word amateur is unfair as many of the men and women who performed had been professionals before joining up.
One such was a hypnotist. We had first come across him on the Isle of Man where he had performed there in a similar type of concert made up of Naval and RAF talent. I attended the show and found him very competent. It was the first time I had ever seen hypnotism demonstrated and somehow even at the show I had misgivings. I disliked the idea of needles being pushed into people without their knowledge or permission, and I was always suspicious of what effect the process would have on the brain long term, I have a thing about the amount of respect which should be attendant on the brain. The hypnotist was on another course running parallel with ours and therefore several weeks after we arrived at Leydene he turned up.
By the time he arrived I was an instructor, but did not teach his class, and as he was below the rank of Petty Officer our paths never crossed, so for some time the stories I heard of him were gossip, unsubstantiated. It was said that he held court each evening in his Nissan hut and using anyone who was there, including a resident of the hut, he would practice his skills to entertain those who packed the hut to the doors. Then the rumour became rife, which worried some of us on the staff,. It was purported that there was one man the hypnotist could put under at a distance of a hundred feet, just by clapping his hands.
Leydene had been a large country house before being taken over by the Admiralty and had a huge stable complex with stalls and a saddling area the size of any which could be seen at the best horse trainer’s yard. The area had been converted into small demonstration rooms. The hypnotist and his acolytes and the subject all arrived at the same time. My colleague and I were standing talking in the yard when we saw the hypnotist walking towards us with a group surrounding him, and in the distance was the man whom we had heard could be hypnotised at long range. As Arthur Askey of Radio, film and TV fame used to say, ‘Before our very eyes’, and so it was, the hypnotist clapped his hands, the man in the distance stopped and seemed to become trance-like, another clap and he was on his way as if nothing had happened. It was frightening.
Apparently we were not the only ones to have seen the demonstration. We heard that next day the two men, the hypnotist and his main subject left the camp. What happened to them was never divulged, but the Navy was no place for a man with those skills who used them for his own aggrandisement with such irresponsibility and inhumanity. I have been left with the conviction that hypnotism is never a plaything to be used just to amuse, amaze and titillate.