The Great Scottish Vampire Panic
As a fact-collector, I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t live within listening distance of BBC Radio 4, which has to be the best radio station in the world. No matter when you turn it on, you’ll find yourself engrossed in something so esoteric or plain bonkers that you find yourself delaying whatever it is you’re doing to hear the whole story.
Here, my pal Barry Forshaw is among those discussing the Gorbals vampire panic of 1954, when hundreds of schoolchildren gathered at graveyards armed with knives and pointed sticks, looking for a vampire with iron teeth. The Iron Man was the local equivalent of the Boogey Man, a threat to hold over children, but the blame in this case was placed at the feet of EC Comics, whose ‘Tales From The Crypt’ series was fast becoming a scapegoat for the changing behaviour of children.
The wonderfully imaginative EC horror comics – the ‘E’ was for ‘Entertaining’ – were being attacked for damaging the development of children’s minds by Dr. Fredric Wertham, in one of America’s periodic piques about the moral disintegration of the nation’s youth. Wertham described comic books as ‘cheap, shoddy, anonymous. Children spend their good money for bad paper, bad English and…bad drawing’, but then he also thought that Wonder Woman’s independent streak made her a lesbian.
The moral panic not only reached Scotland (although no link was found between the comics and the kids’ assault on graveyards) – it was turned into, of all things, a musical in London called ‘The Buccaneer’, starring Kenneth Williams, and was recently revived and was charming. Moral panics are a fascinating source of material for writers, as normally sane people become gripped with hysteria that often starts from a single source. For example, the 1980s ‘Satanic Child Abuse’ panic can be traced back to one woman who misunderstood the facts.
For the full story of the panic and details of the broadcast, go here.