Guy Lyon Playfair

By Alan Murdie

It is with great regret and sorrow we record the death of psychical researcher Guy Lyon Playfair who died in London early on 8th April 2018, at the age of 83.

Born in Quetta India, the son of Major General Ian Playfair and novelist Jocelyn Playfair he was educated in England and studied modern languages at Cambridge. After National Service as a translator with the RAF in Iraq, he pursued a career in journalism and working for Life magazine. In the early 1960s he moved to Rio de Janeiro where he worked for the next 10 years as a freelance journalist for a number of international business magazines, The Economist, Time, The Guardian and Associated Press. He also served for four years with the press corps of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

It was during his time in Brazil. in the late 1960s, that he became interested in paranormal, following direct experience with a psychic healer. Initially, sceptical he was satisfied from first-hand observations that psi phenomena existed in the country and began studying the subject in depth. In 1973 he investigated a poltergeist outbreak in a private apartment in Sao Paolo where he succeeded in capturing unexplained rapping sounds on tape. He joined the British Society for Psychical Research the same year and was also became a member of the Ghost Club. On his return to Britain in 1974 he wrote the first of a series of best-selling books on psychic topics. He also translated into English a large number of original texts on psychic experiences from Latin America previously available only Spanish and Portuguese.

In 1977 together with Maurice Grosse he investigated the famous Enfield poltergeist outbreak in North London. He spent 180 days and nights with the troubled family over a two-year period between September 5th 1977 and June 1978, including 25 all-night vigils. Over 140 hours of tape recordings were obtained, resulting in transcripts running to over 500 pages (a substantial number of recordings have still to be transcribed). Additionally, there were at least 30 other witnesses to strange incidents. Re-investigated in 1981-82 by a special committee assembled by the Society for Psychical Research, the Enfield Poltergeist Investigation Committee (EPIC) re-examined the witnesses and collected evidence, later issuing 194-page report reaching the conclusion that paranormal incidents had indeed occurred in the house.

Many details of the case were included in his best-selling book This House is Haunted (1980) which sold 98,000 copies and was reprinted in 2012. Asked if sceptics who criticised the case at a distance had ever attempted to examine the material upon which it was based, Guy Playfair confirmed that in more 35 years none ever had taken the opportunity to do so. He also drew attention to much positive evidence from the case which still has yet to be published. The Enfield case remains the best documented poltergeist disturbance on record.

As well as investigating other cases of poltergeists and hauntings he also conducted experiments with mediums and investigated claims of psychokinesis and metal-bending. He was happy to work with experienced conjurors and members of the Magic Circle to try and explain effects in normal ways but found many could not be replicated, leaving them open to a psychic explanation. He was also particularly interested in cases of telepathy between identical twins, publishing the book Telepathy: Twin Connection in 1999 and in cases of meaningful coincidences. Continuing to be active in psychical research until a few weeks before his final illness he would have appreciated the coincidence that he died the same morning as the BBC broadcast an edition of the Radio 4 programme The Re-Union dedicated to the Enfield case.

Alan Murdie is literary executor to the Guy Playfair estate.