31 July 2011


HILARY EVANS. 1929 - 2011

I can’t remember exactly when I first met Hilary Evans, I imagine it was at a BUFORA event. I do know that it was sometime in the 1970s that I received a cheque from him for a subscription to what was then MUFOB magazine. I was intrigued that it was a company cheque from something called ‘Saturday Ventures’ which gave the impression of someone working hard through the week, who on Saturdays would have all sorts of intriguing and exciting projects to occupy themselves. Which was actually pretty close to the truth.
I soon found out that Hilary was a writer, so working in a library at the time (pre-Amazon, etc.) I looked in the bibliographies to see what books I could find. There was a remarkable range: The Party That Lasted a Hundred Days, about the Victorian social ‘season’ as well as other books on Victorian social history; Beyond the Gaslight, a book about science in fiction, co-written with his brother; books on picture research and using illustrations in print; The Man Who Drew the Drunkard’s Daughter, a biography of the artist and satirist George Cruikshank; and a book called The Oldest Profession, whose subject is fairly obvious.

He was also author, I discovered of two novels: The Land of Lost Control, about an expatriate community in the Levant, drawing on some of his experiences in the Palestine Police in the 1940s, and A World Fit for Grimsby, a satire on the ‘Shakespeare industry’. In a way, I was disappointed to find out that he was not actually the author of several books on ribbon weaving and decoration, and making Christmas gifts; this was a quite different - and female - Hilary Evans!

Hilary was key to the establishment of ASSAP in 1981, and the person behind the series of ‘Evidence For…’ books. As commissioning editor, he asked me to write the title on ‘Alien Abductions’ and was a great help and mentor to a first-time book author. Ufology was only one part of his interests, and he was also active for many years in the Society for Psychic Research, encouraging them to broaden their interests to cover a wider range of contemporary phenomena. The idea of an SPR study day on UFOs would have been unthinkable before Hilary - in conjunction with Manfred Cassirer - organised one.

And that is the reason why Hilary is so important in the fields that we look at here in Magonia and elsewhere: his outlook was broad and rounded, he could see the links between nineteenth century materialisations in the sĂ©ance-room and the ambiguous ‘physical evidence’ of twenty-first century UFO encounters. The two books which I think are most essential to understanding Hilary’s views on the interlinking of paranormal and psychic phenomena are Visions, Apparitions, Alien Visitors (1984) and Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians (1987). The very titles give you an idea of the breadth and inclusiveness of his thinking.

In these books he developed the idea of the ufological, psychic or paranormal experience being the manifestation of the percipient's own internal psychodrama, this manifestation being in part a result of their own psychological condition, and the sociological background which underlies the individual’s understanding of what they feel is happening to them. He made it clear that what we were studying was the percipient’s experience and memory - totally real to the person involved - and that the human being was central to the phenomenon. We might use all the technical instruments we could get our hands on to record physical effects, but this was worthless if we did not understand the individual, their background and their story.

In the early 1980s a number of British ufologists were stumbling towards some sort of theory to encompass these ideas, and Hilary helped us to coalesce our thoughts into what became known as the ‘psychosocial’ hypothesis. One of the main ways in which he helped us towards this understanding was by organizing a series of four annual Anglo-French conferences held on alternate sides of the channel, from 1981 to 1984. It was on the inaugural meeting in Boulogne that I first heard - from, I think Thierry Pinvidic - the actual phrase ‘psychosocial hypothesis’. At this time, thanks to writers and researchers such as Thierry, Bertrand MĂ©heust, and Claude MaugĂ©, French ufology offered a more progressive viewpoint than the British or American varieties. It was in a great deal due to Hilary’s connections with French ufologists, and his familiarity with the French literature, that he was able to alert British ufologists to the progress that was being made across the Channel.

Anyone who was doing any serious work in the fields of ufology, psychical research, or any strange and controversial phenomena would find Hilary a generous contributor of material and ideas. He also had a skill for introducing people with quite different viewpoints to each other and somehow ensuring a constructive conversation followed. I recall a very pleasant afternoon over a glass or three of rosé in the delightfully unkempt garden of his house, in convivial and I think fairly constructive conversation with Tim Good, a ufologist with whom I disagree on almost everything. And of course he contributed numerous articles, letters and reviews to Magonia, each one adding something to the broader picture.

On a number of occasions Hilary afforded me the privilege of exploring the files of the picture library which he had established with his wife Mary. I say ’exploring’ - barely scratching the surface would be a better description. Even thirty years ago, before it moved to its present premises in a converted school it contained over a million illustrations, at that stage largely representing the social life of the nineteenth century. I was generously allowed to use some of these illustrations for Magonia magazine and for projects in my day job as a librarian.

Over the years, as the Mary Evans Picture Library developed it acquired a series of photo collections of national and international importance, including the Harry Price Collection, documenting sĂ©ances and paranormal activities. 

But just as much a treasure trove as the library was Hilary and Mary’s house, a large Victorian villa in Lewisham, south-east London, which bore a blue plaque as a former residence of the Victorian self-help guru, Samuel Smiles. All four floors were filled with books, and any bit of wall that was not covered with bookshelves would be adorned with fascinating items of framed Victoriana. Hilary’s office was a delightful eyrie tucked away in the gables of the roof, filled with galley proofs, typescripts of work in progress, and of course more and more books.

Hilary introduced me to people and ideas that have had a profound influence on how I think, not just about questions of the ‘paranormal’ or ‘ufology’, but about life in general. He is one of the few people who have actually changed the way I think about the world. It’s a dreadful old clichĂ©, but it is true of Hilary Evans to describe him as ‘a scholar and a gentleman’. But now he is gone, and there is no-one with both the depth of knowledge and the width of experience in the fields that we study. 

However, something of him will always live on, in the Mary Evans Picture Library of course, and in the huge collection of books and other material that Clas Svahn and AFU have saved for their wonderful archive in Sweden. 

Over the last ten years Clas and his colleagues have been collecting, storing and cataloguing Hilary’s huge library, and, as his health declined and it became difficult for him to read or write, arranging for the bulk of his collection to be moved for safekeeping to the AFU archive. At their visit last year they arranged for over five tons of books, magazines and other material to be moved to what is now a specially dedicated ‘Hilary Evans Room’ at their headquarters. His lifetime’s collection is now safe, and available to researchers, so that even after his death Hilary offers help and inspiration to us.

We all at Magonia consider ourselves very fortunate to have known and to have learned so much from him and to have enjoyed his support, encouragement and friendship 
  • John Rimmer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have found a writer who has a broad interest in many subjects is the best for writing about UFO's, ghost and other off the mainstream subjects. They don't get locked into a mindset, like many scholars and scientist do, and are more open to different explanations for what is out there: besides their own pet idea. You will be missed Hillary.