The Future of History

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Sneaky Leaks and Press Releases

Can anyone out there help me?

You see, I'm intrigued and somewhat mystified.  Let me take you back a bit.

Something rather odd happened around the start of November 2015.  I didn't know it, but I had just been written out of the Arrow Media/Channel 4 documentary, Shakespeare's Tomb.

In between a message being left on my phone by the director, explaining that she wanted to bring me up to date on the project, and an actual phone conversation with the director, in which she informed me that I was no longer involved with the documentary (or, rather, she didn't tell me - it was another three weeks before I found out), a story appeared out of the blue in the Telegraph.

The story - Could Shakespeare's skull have been found? Why church ruling means we may never know - seemed rather bizarre from the outset.  For a start, it appeared on the Telegraph website on a Sunday evening.  The reporter who wrote the piece generally writes on energy and climate change issues.  And the story was eight months old.

The Telegraph article sparked a rash of copycat pieces in the world's press, most of which took the slant that a rather potty rural vicar had been chasing up a bit of folklore but had been slapped down by the Chancellor of the Diocese, who dismissed the original story as "a piece of Gothic fiction".

There were some inaccuracies in the article: "The author of [How Shakespeare's Skull was Stolen and Found, published in 1879 and 1884] is not known but is thought may have [been] Rev C J Langston, vicar of Beoley from 1881 to 1889."

Langston identified himself as the "compiler" of How Shakespeare's Skull was Stolen in a letter he wrote from "Beoley Vicarage" to C.M. Ingleby on 2 January 1884.  In 1881, though, he was still Rector of Sevington in Kent.  By 1889, he had moved to the City of Bath.

The article quoted Rev Richard Clark, "Team Rector at Holy Trinity Redditch, overseeing the parish including Beoley", who seemed disappointed at the decision not to allow DNA testing of the mysterious skull in the crypt at Beoley to go ahead: "the problem for us now is that the failure to conduct a detailed investigation will result in a higher level of uniformed speculation".

Nobody at the time seemed to know how the Telegraph had got hold of this story.  The Chancellor's judgement on the matter had been delivered in March 2015.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, on a Sunday in November the story was presented to a table full of journalists, and a young energy/climate change reporter offered to cover it.

Flash forward, now, to 27 March 2016 - another Sunday.  Channel 4 broadcast the Shakespeare's Tomb documentary the previous evening.  With admirable speed and efficiency, the BBC News website published an article, Shakespeare's skull: New chapter in hunt for missing head.

Rev Richard Clark was quoted again (although diligent readers of this blog might have noticed the comment under my previous post, which indicates that the quotation was "a paraphrase" of what Rev Clark had actually said).  As were Kevin Colls, the archaeologist on the documentary project, Chris Laoutaris, of the University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute (based in Stratford-upon-Avon), and John Hogg, who has run the Stratford Town Walk with his wife Helen since 2002.

The article referenced the earlier report in the Telegraph: "Clergymen had previously applied to the Consistory Court to use DNA testing to discover the identity of the skull - but had the application thrown out, the Daily Telegraph reported in November 2015."

The last two people quoted - Rev Richard Clark and John Hogg - poured cold water over the whole thing, although we now know that Rev Clark did not, in fact, say "We've discovered that the story of the removal of his [Shakespeare's] skull and reburial at St Leonard's [Beoley] is rubbish", although that was what he was quoted as saying in the BBC piece.

Now, here's my problem.  I emailed Rebecca Wood, the BBC journalist (and weather person) who wrote up the article, asking if she could tell me who sent out the press release which quoted - and, indeed, misquoted - four individuals on the documentary screened the previous evening, but I've had no reply.

So what I'd like to know is this: who's been leaking stories to the press on Sundays?  Why, at the very time I was being dropped from the Channel 4 documentary, did a story magically appear in the Telegraph, scoffing at the very idea that we should be investigating the Beoley skull and quoting the words of Prof Stanley Wells (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) - "Gothic fiction" - as if that was the term coined by Charles Mynors, Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester.

Why did the BBC feel the need to remind readers of its website of that peculiar story which appeared in the Telegraph, and for which no one has been prepared to take the credit?

Why would Channel 4 issue a press release on a Sunday, just a few hours after Shakespeare's Tomb aired on the Saturday evening, giving the immediate responses of individuals all connected to Stratford-upon-Avon, including a tour guide they'd probably never heard of?  Or was it the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust who issued the press release, quoting the same Rev Richard Clark who was quoted in the leaked story to the Telegraph, in an attempt to bury the skull story once and for all.

If it was the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, wouldn't that suggest that someone at the SBT had come to see the documentary, and its questionable findings, not as Channel 4's, but as their own.  Someone, perhaps, who had already done their utmost to stop the investigation in its tracks when they gave evidence at the Consistory Court hearing?  Someone who doesn't want anyone to know that they've been steering the media throughout?

Somebody out there must know who leaked the story to the Telegraph on a Sunday in November and sent a press release to the BBC on a Sunday in March - in both instances, seeking to do maximum damage to the ongoing investigation into the Beoley skull and Rev C.J. Langston's accounts.

And if anyone does know who is responsible, could they please email me:

No comments:

Post a Comment