12 March 2018


I first met Peter Rogerson in April 1970 when I was invited, at his suggestion, to speak at a meeting of the DIGAP UFO Group, which was based in Manchester. A few months before then he had written to the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB) which John Harney and I were publishing from Liverpool. His letter was full of what were for more conventional ufologists of the era, wild and probably dangerous ideas, suggesting a link between UFOs and psychic phenomena.
One of the stumbling blocks to this idea being developed rationally was, he claimed, the large proportion of ufologists who were believers in Spiritualism and occultism, a claim which was vigorously disputed by various ufological luminaries in subsequent issues of MUFOB.

His letter went on to list a whole range of anomalous phenomena and cases which he felt could have some relevance to the UFO phenomenon. Were hauntings, for instance, “highly localised flap areas”; what could folk-tales and legends tell us about the way in which people interpreted strange events; did 'Men in Black' stories fit into a wider conspiracy culture; why did strange events concentrate in particular places at particular times? Practically the whole of psychosocial ufology was there in embryo in that one letter.

At the DIGAP meeting I met Peter, then a nineteen year old student at Manchester Poly, studying librarianship, my own profession. I soon realised that he had arranged my invitation to shake up the DIGAP old timers, some of whom were certainly the Spiritualists and occultists he was referring to in his letter. My talk emphasised the subjective aspects of the UFO phenomenon, downplaying both the ETH and the more exotic occult theories. I was listened to, as I so often was, in polite silence.

During the talk I had touched briefly on the subject of Men in Black (MIB) suggesting that this was largely an American phenomenon, although one or two cases had been reported in Britain. One audience member was keen to tell me of a case quite near to home, where a UFO magazine editor had been threatened by the MIB and forced to close down his journal. Who, we were keen to learn, was this unfortunate ufologist? 

“It was someone called John Harney”. As MUFOB/Magonia is still around after fifty years, I can only say: Worst. MIB. Ever!

From then on Peter became a regular contributor to MUFOB, largely through the post, but enlivened by occasional meetings of the team in Liverpool or Manchester. His first major article for the magazine looked at ufology as part of what he termed 'apocalyptophilia'. Here he first broached a topic which coloured much of his writing: the return of superstition and irrationality challenging the Enlightenment legacy which by the 1960s we thought was unchallengeable.

Writing of the progress of science as “the development of rational civilisation, offering protection against the dark” - here perhaps prefiguring Sagan's 'candle in the dark' analogy – he feared that perhaps the light was in danger: “the horrors long hidden in forgotten recesses of the mind surge out, obliterating reasonable critical facilities...” He concluded “society is almost ready for the reappearance of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General”. A prophecy that came only too true a decade later when the Satanic Panic swept through society, and is still relevant today when the forces of unreason seem as strong as ever, and now even seem to be infiltrating the establishment and the academy.

This might make Peter out to be a pessimistic personality, but this is far from the case. For most of the time I knew Peter, our friendship was conducted through legendarily long phone calls, which although we often discussed serious matters, were always enlivened with humour and, to be honest, sometimes downright silliness!

Peter gradually took on the role of senior book reviewer for Magonia, reviewing new titles as he added them to his ever-growing library, and here we can see most clearly the range and depth of his interests. Anything from complex academic compilations of sociological essays, always with their statutory references to Derrida, to rollicking paperback accounts of crashed UFOs, alien abductions and haunted hotels, would receive an informed, fair, but sometimes acerbic review.

Peter was never a part of the UFO and Fortean conference circuit, although he did attend some, and spoke at a few. His work was done via the library and archive rather than by chasing anomalies in the wild with camera, geiger-counter and tape-recorder. This led some people to describe him as an 'armchair ufologist' which was true, and is a title I am proud to own to as well. But once the field researchers come home, tired, wet and bedraggled, someone has to go over their data and see if it all fits together.

Peter's work as a local history librarian also led him into the study of folklore, particularly the lore and legends of his native Lancashire, and this of course fed directly into his study of the social and historical origins of many anomalous phenomena. He developed an understanding of the way in which human experiences, which remain constant over centuries, are interpreted differently for each new generation. One of his other interests was radical and working-class history, and even here the social, religious and political background to ordinary people's lives could express themselves in ways which now seem mysterious to us: the strange lights of the Welsh religious revival; the visions in the sky from the time of the Civil War; the invasion scares that produced phantom airships; the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation of society that allowed the legend of Spring Heeled Jack to come to life.

Peter will leave two legacies, apart from the memories he leaves to all who knew him. One is his massive collection of books and magazines. Perhaps, after Hilary Evans's library it was the largest collection of UFO and Fortean material in Britain in private hands. Peter had been working with Clas Svahn and the Archive for the Unexplained (AFU) in Norrköping, Sweden, to transfer his collection to their safekeeping where it will be available to serious researchers. This has been a massive undertaking, and for several years now Clas and his team have been carrying thousands of items across to Sweden on their annual visits to Britain. Elsewhere on this blog there is an amazing picture of dozens of boxes, full of Fortean treasure, lined up outside Peter's house, ready to be taken away to AFU.

The other is the legacy of his thought and writing, expressed on the pages and web-pages of MUFOB and Magonia. I will do what I can to ensure that these are preserved and promoted.

There is one other act for which I shall always be grateful to Peter. He introduced me to Roger Sandell, another great pillar of Magonia, whose writings, like Peter's, opened up the subjects that we study. Like Peter, he died far too young. For a tiny magazine, produced on a kitchen-table, which never had a print circulation of more than a couple of hundred, Magonia has had a huge influence in the ufological and Fortean worlds, and it is in great measure due to the work of these two people, whom I am so glad to have known as colleagues and friends. -- John Rimmer

Peter Rogerson; librarian and archivist, ufologist, book-collector.
Born Urmston, Lancashire, 1 July 1951; died Manchester, 6 March 2018, aged 67.

1 comment:

Phil said...

A fitting tribute. Like Roger, he'll be hard to replace.