31 January 2014


Angus Dinsdale The Man Who Filmed Nessie: Tim Dinsdale and the Enigma of Loch Ness. Hancock House, 2013

After some considerable delay, this affectionate biography of his father by Angus Dinsdale has become available in the UK. Tim Dinsdale (1924-1987) packed a surprising amount of adventure in his sadly foreshortened life. He was born to Western parents in China in a period of great chaos. 
At the age of 10 going on 11 he was among a group of children on board the ship Tungchow seized hostage by pirates, and wrote a piece about it for a local newspaper. He then was returned to England and public school.

While his mother and her children came back to England in 1940, his father stayed on in Hong Kong, where he was captured by the Japanese, finally released to Australia in 1945, only to die on the voyage home. Meanwhile Tim joined the RAF and was sent to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). After the war, in the early years of his marriage the family moved to Canada, where for a time they stayed in a decidedly spooky house. A return to England to continue his career in the aeronautics industry followed.

More than enough adventure, you might think, for more than one book, yet one gets the impression here that Tim’s life only really began when in March 1959, he read an article on the Loch Ness Monster in Everybody’s magazine and became hooked. I think we can take that almost literally, for Nessie was to take over his life, to the point that he welcomed being made redundant from the aerospace industry and becoming an insurance agent so he could spend more time Nessie hunting, later giving up that job so he could devote his whole time to the beast.

Perhaps this would have faded, had not Tim taken a cine film of what he believed to be the LNM on April 23 1960. The film shows something making a wake in the water, and it doesn’t exactly look like the film of a 14 ft. fishing boat taken later that morning for comparison. You can see the films HERE.

To me the Nessie film looks like an anonymous blob that could be anything, and interpretations vary. A study at the time by the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre claimed that it showed an “animate object”. Later critical evaluations have claimed that it was indeed a boat. See for example HERE. Other claim just the opposite (see for example Henry Bauer’s article) even that they show a flipper. As with all of these things you pays your money and takes your choice, or if you are as cynical as me, you assume computer enhancement can prove absolutely anything you want it to, usually that you are right and the other fellow is wrong.

This film generated interest in Nessie which went on for about 20 years, reaching another high water mark with the famous Rines flipper photograph in 1975, from then on it seems to be downhill all the way. The decisive evidence never came and the sceptical position that Nessie is lots of different things looks more plausible as time goes on. That does not mean, contrary to what Angus Dinsdale hints, that witnesses are dishonest, merely that perception often entails seeing what we expect to see, ordinary misperception from which no-one is immune. Of course some people are hoaxers and jokers, and I get the impression that Tim Dinsdale could not quite grasp that a) not everyone was as upright and honest as he and b) not everyone took the monster as seriously as he did. His belief in the charletanesque “Doc” Shields points in that direction.

A loving biography by a son is perhaps not the most insightful view into someone’s life, and we don’t ever really get to grips with my the LNM became such an obsession with Tim Dinsdale, nor is it plausible for his family to really contemplate that their loved one spent and probably shortened his life in pursuit of a chimera.

There are therefore no startling revelations in this book, and, to be honest, as regards the beast, little that wasn’t already in Tim Dinsdale’s own books. 
  • Peter Rogerson.

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