1944 - 1996

 "It is with great sadness that we have to tell our readers of the death of Roger Sandell. Roger died on January 20th, 1996, at Roehampton Hospital in London, after an unsuccessful operation for cancer. He was 51. Besides the tremendous personal loss which all of us at Magonia feel, and I am sure all who knew him will share, there is a great loss to everyone who studies the subjects we cover in Magonia."

John Rimmer:

Roger's primary interest was history, and his deep knowledge and understanding of the past illuminated everything he said, wrote and believed. His interest in forteana and ufology started through his historical research into accounts of Spring-Heel Jack and the turn of the century airship scares. He looked at these not as isolated 'phenomena' to be picked over by believers and debunkers, but placed them firmly into their historical and social context of popular fears of crime or invasion, and of the manipulation of those fears by media or politicians. He brought this keen historical understanding to his examination of more contemporary issues, most notably in his analysis of the contemporary Satanic panic. He could see the historical perspective the connections with the sixteenth century witch-hunts and link it to contemporary social issues the growth of religious fundamentalism in America, or the perceived growth of an 'underclass' in Britain.

Before going into hospital, he was about to start work on a study of the links between political extremism in the USA, the militia movement, and the increasingly paranoid, conspiracy-oriented world of the fringes of the UFO community. It is hard to see who now, in Britain at least, is qualified to undertake this work. It was his interest in being able to construct a rational view of history which, I think, led to his deep interest in the Kennedy assassination. Here he was able to pick his way through the dense jungle of conspiracy theorising and present a sane and plausible view not just of the event itself, but of the world in which such an event could occur.

Anyone who ever met Roger was impressed and fascinated by the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his photographic memory. He would illustrate a point with a quotation from a book he had read years before, which you could guarantee was word perfect. For relaxation he would compile and conduct quizzes in pubs around Richmond, which provided an educative as well as a convivial evening. Roger was by profession a teacher.

Although I knew little of his working life, he seemed to be able to combine the best of so-called progressive and traditional teaching methods, mainly I think because he refused to acknowledge such labels, and simply managed to communicate his own love of learning to the children in his care. There are other aspects of Roger's life I had little to do with; his informed interest in the cinema and his political activities. Some of his political views I agreed with, others I strongly disagreed with, yet any argument with him, however intense, was always conducted rationally and with good humour on his part at least!

I have known Roger now for over twenty years. From occasional meetings when one or the other of us would be visiting London, to becoming regular collaborators in the production of MUFOB and Magonia, to a friendship which has inspired me in everything I have been able to do as editor of this magazine.

Lest all this makes Roger sound too serious a character, I remember also his humour and humanity. Our friendship grew in the conviviality of pubs; Magonia, notoriously, is edited across pints of real ale. No matter what the topic, at some stage we would end up swapping jokes and laughing uproariously at the comedy inherent in the phenomena we discussed. I also have memories of Saturday afternoon walks with Roger and John Harney, around obscure parts of London or neighbouring towns, visiting pubs, looking at historical sites and buildings, and above all talking, talking, talking, and always learning something from Roger's lightly borne erudition.

We will miss him greatly.

Michael Goss:

Roger Sandell once told me that New York is the world's leading city for Shouting Men. Now, this isn't exactly the kind of datum you get from regular sources of information like the United States Tourist Board. It's not even mentioned in less orthodox sources that pride themselves in cataloguing the idiosyncratic and the manic; you won't find anything about Shouting Men in the literature of Forteana, nor, I fancy, in the literature of anything else. But Roger knew about them described them as wonderful, semi-supernatural seeming characters, disturbed and disturbing, frightful but comic. Perpetually, unappeasably furious, their sole purpose in life comes down to stalking our streets while shouting wildly and loudly at or about anything and nothing. And, as I said, Roger believed that numerically and percentage-wise, New York owned a larger population of Shouting Men than any city in the Western hemisphere.

Roger (whom I never once saw angry, let alone wildly-shouting angry) spoke enthusiastically of these metropolitan clown terrorists as an inadequately recognised phenomenon. He wasn't especially interested in what they were shouting about or why; instead, with a connoisseur's sense for the moment when the terrible and anomalous becomes the ridiculous, he enjoyed the idea of individuals propelled through the urban landscape by some awesome impulse to express themselves in bellowing uncontrollably and unfathomably. And loudly of course.

James Thurber advised us not to look backward in anger nor forward in fear, but around us with awareness. Roger Sandell was aware in the true Thurberite manner. Dealing frequently as he did with the paranoid images of conspiracy theorists; Civilization imperilled by Night's black agents; by the new Satanists; covert governmental desperadoes and terminate-and-cover-up merchants he refused to be angry or fearful. He laughed at these dark visions. Like the American humorist, he was conscious that if the world is governed at all, it is by something possessed of a surreal, ironic, yet humanly-accessible sense of humour. He knew that humour and common-sense together will make Night's black agents go away.

What we discuss in Magonia, be it called ufology, Forteana, folklore or anything else, is undoubtedly serious business. Most of us who write on these things present them (and ourselves) as serious business. we are apt to be wary of humour lest it betrays us into the power of professional debunkers and other agents of dismissiveness (who, by the way, are apprehensive of utilising humour for the same reason). It's easy to suppress the humorousness of what we are writing about for fear of making it seem trivial and risible thereby sacrificing our claim to be serious, responsible students of a serious subject Roger had little patience with any of that. I can't think of too many ufologists/Forteana/folklorists who have taken their subject more seriously than he and yet, when occasion demanded, have taken it less seriously.' Roger used humour his inbuilt sense of the ridiculous to show how often the cryptoconspiratorial ravers were missing the point of the very joke they themselves were telling. He demonstrated that humour, intelligence and the sense of being in a world none the less normal for being at times strange and crazy, are the keys to what we write about.

Re-read his 'Still Seeking Satan' essay in Magonia 51, in which he returns again to the subject of ritual abuse allegations on which he wrote better and more perceptively than anyone. It is a serious piece of work on a serious subject. It has the confident grasp of contemporary writings and historical analogues, the balance and hints of amused exasperation that typify the Sandell style. But you'll also be impressed by its recourse to. popular, unoccult and transient culture materials, as when the author conjoins La Fontaine and La Vey with Rab C. Nesbitt and Harry Enfield; you will notice too, how adroitly it exposes credulity and monomania by quoting the guilty party's own words.

I have an enduring memory of Roger entertaining the Magonia 20th Anniversary Conference some years ago by the same sort of effect, arousing curative laughter by reading aloud in his sonorous, deliberate voice from Walter Bowart's cryptoconspiratorial classic Operation Mind Control. You saw the ludicrousness of what was being claimed at once; it hardly needed the speaker's wry comments to underline just how ludicrous those claims were. To pull off something like that, you need more than an omnivorous reading habit (which Roger. certainly possessed). You need a well-developed eye for the comedic and a grasp on realities without which nobody can hope to comprehend things that pose as being beyond reality

More especially you need an affection for what you are exposing as fallible and risible. For it was very evident that, regardless of the damage he was doing to Bowart et al's credibility, Roger loved books like Operation Mind Control. For him, they belonged to an exciting world of modern myths; they expressed a hirsute valuable emotion through their excesses, just as the Shouting Men expressed theirs through incoherent cries. He also loved bumptious, encyclopedic pedantry in books like A. S. E. Ackermann's Popular Fallacies Exposed and Corrected, wherein the writer expends 900+ pages on what he believes are heinous errors (and which most of us would see as quite trivial ones) as if the sanity and moral fabric of modem life depended on it. Roger could respect the erudite effort that went into books of this sort.

He could admire the incurable fact-collector as well, even when that sage displayed no understanding of why (s)he was collecting facts. Unsurprisingly, Roger was a lover of random pieces of knowledge, though not for their contribution to mental hygiene. He treasured the way they could set the imagination racing. I think most who knew him can recall times when he would lean forward, eyes gleaming, to share with us some wild datum that excited him. Nearly always it excited us as well. But then Roger was a simply marvellous anecdotalist. Knowledge, they say, is Power; to him it was more like Fun. There are comedians who can respond with a joke to match whatever subject the audience throws at them. Roger Sandell was much the same when it came to UFO /Fortean/ folkloric matters. And while I never experienced any of the pub quiz evenings over which he presided, I bet his questions were several cuts above the usual "who recorded the original version of 'Twist and Shout'?" variety.

Sombre thought, but unavoidable: many of us who have been associated with magazines like Magonia and Fortean Times over the past twenty-or-so years are at an age when obituary notices no longer seem irrelevant or sentimental. It's sad that Roger should be getting his notice so early; sad to think that we've lost one of the best, most energetic writers in the Magonian field so early and along with that a perennially-entertaining friend. I hope wherever he's gone has a good library and a good pub that stocks unusual ales just up the road from it. And listen, whoever's in charge over there: if you need someone to start up a regular quiz-night, look no further than the fellow who has just joined you.

Peter Rogerson:

Life proceeds by serendipity. In the autumn of 1971 I decided to get in touch with Carl Grove, then a leading light on the sensible wing of BUFORA and the author of a catalogue of 1909 airship cases. Having mentioned my interest in the 1905 Welsh Revival, he suggested I contacted a correspondent of his, Roger Sandell. This I was eager to do, as I had been greatly impressed by his articles in FSR on Springheel Jack, and thus began the correspondence which began our 24 year friendship.

From the start, what I found impressive about Roger was his vast range of knowledge, and what became clearer over the years, his prodigious memory. His letters covered a wide range of historical UFO cases, the nature of the UFO experience, the parallels from history, folklore, literature and film, and by no means least his abiding interest in the fringes of politics and all the wilder shores of belief. Many of these letters were of article-length and form a fascinating record of the early seventies.

In one of these letters, Roger described how he had become involved in the subject: "I have generally been interested in the mysterious since as a child I was a follower of a TV programme called Explain This in which dramatised versions of famous mysteries were presented and possible solutions were discussed ... My interest in UFOs was aroused by the writings of Michel and Keyhoe when I was at school, but I became disillusioned with the low standard of much UFO literature and my interest remained dormant until I discovered Vallee's two books during the 1967 flap. I started to read Flying Saucer Review, and the articles on 1897 encouraged me to embark on historical research."

Roger had written in his first letter: "we seem to be thinking along the same lines", and I rapidly arranged for copies of MUFOB to be sent to him, and I began to persuade him to write for the Bulletin. His first piece was a review of Lethbridge's Legend of the Sons of Man in late spring, 1972. This marked the beginning of Roger's study of the 'ancient astronaut' hypothesis on which he wrote his first full-length MUFOB article in 1973 which set the tone for his future contributions: concentrating on one topic at a time, meticulously researched. For this particular piece, feeling that he didn't have enough background information, he embarked on an adult education course on archaeology and ancient history.

I met Roger for the first time in August 1972 and he initiated me to the tour of paranormal and related bookshops in London which was to set the pattern for future meetings. On 31 May 1973 the first great meeting between Roger and John Rimmer took place, the highlight of which was a visit to the Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden, where the patrons were photographed by a man who was rumoured to be a member of the Special Branch. It was natural that when John Rimmer, and later John Harney, moved to London they would start meeting regularly, and the new MUFOB and its successor Magonia was born.

Times change, and the telephone replaced the letter. Roger's calls were as informative as his letters, often commenting on the contents of the daily and Sunday papers. Our phone conversations dropped off in the mid-eighties, then became more regular again updates on the Satanism panic, commentaries on the paranoia of the times, or on our shared interest in the Kennedy assassination (about which he was vastly more knowledgeable than me), or alternative histories, or fringe politics.

Roger's life was infused with a central moral purpose, that of a world in which all people would have bread and peace, justice and freedom, and all essential human dignity. Unlike some of his generation Roger did not abandon the ideals of his youth even if they had become deeply unfashionable. But there was no way in which his restless and enquiring mind could have been constrained by any party line or dogma. It was typical of his moral integrity that he resigned a secure teaching post on a matter of principle and returned to supply teaching.

With his major work on the Satanism scare, Roger was emerging more and more as a key figure, being quoted in academic journals, reprinted in The Skeptic, developing a wide range of contacts, and taking the debate to a wider forum.

The editorial team of Magonia had always seemed like a permanent fixture, surely they would all go on into cantankerous old age, haunting conferences, like Eric Dingwall. Sadly, this is not to be. Of course, there could never be a good time for our friend to be taken from us, but I can't help thinking this was the worst: as the world seems to be heading to ever greater millennial lunacy, Roger's reason, knowledge and common-sense are needed all the more. I really cannot imagine the run-up to the millennium without Roger commenting on it.

In one of his early MUFOB editorials John Harney said "we are sensible". Roger was a beacon of sense in a mad world, and we are poorer with his passing. One of his interests was Sherlock Holmes, and we must look to the words of Holmes in ;The Empty House;: "work is the best antidote to sorrow." Roger's work goes on, Magonia lives, la lutta continua!

Read Roger's articles in MUFOB and Magonia here:

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