The Battersea Poltergeist – interview with Danny Robins

It all started with a mysterious key, but the truth behind the Battersea Poltergeist had never been unlocked. Until now. 

The Battersea Poltergeist is a Radio 4 podcast, written and presented by Danny Robins, that mixes documentary and drama while delving into one the most unusual and long-running poltergeist hauntings ever reported.

The first two episodes will be released on BBC Sounds on Thursday.

THE POLTERGEIST PODCASTER: Robins is a seasoned surveyor of the spooky, having already presented podcast series Haunted

Robins said: “It’s an intriguing study of a spectral bully who essentially arrives one day and takes up residence and doesn’t leave for 12 years.

“It’s a chilling and unsettling tale that feels more sceptic-proof than a lot of other cases.”

The story explores the seemingly paranormal events that took place at 63 Wyecliffe Road in Battersea from 1956 to 1968.

It follows the Hitchings family, in particular 15-year-old Shirley who one night discovered a key on her bed that no family member had ever seen and no lock matched.

From that point onwards strange happenings followed Shirley, from flying objects to unexplainable noises to written communications from what seemed to be a poltergeist.

The family, and soon masses of press, wracked their heads trying to explain the phenomena and uncover the identity of the ghost who became known as Donald.

Ghost hunter Harold Chibbet, played by Toby Jones in the podcast, was hired to explore the case.

MUSIC OF MISERY? Mercury prize-nominated Nadine Shah and Ben Hillier worked on the theme, with Shah tweeting: “I’m fascinated and terrified in equal measure of ghosts. But I love making music and especially the miserable kind.”

The series mixes storytelling and drama featuring big names such as His Dark Materials’ Dafne Keen with interviews and research, including conversations with the now 80-year-old Shirley herself.

Shirley, who has since moved to the South Coast, remembers the events well and describes them as robbing her teenage years. 

Robins said: “She’s phenomenal, really. It’s quite brave for her to relive it all now.

“It’s a kind of taboo thing, that idea of saying that you believe in ghosts. Sometimes I feel it’s as binary as Brexit.”

POLTERGEIST PRINCE: Shirley also wrote a book with James Clark published in 2013

Despite recording most of the finished material during lockdown, Robins also managed to visit Wyecliffe Road where the house was knocked down during the late 1960s. 

What was once a hub of seemingly paranormal activity and clamouring press was now unassuming and quiet.

He said: “Battersea is now full of swanky gastropubs and artisan Coffee Roasters, but this is kind of still a quiet anonymous road.

“Working on the podcast in the last year was strange and in a way it felt like there were definite parallels between the lockdown now and what happened to Shirley back then. 

“She spent a lot of time cooped up in that house, feeling too self-conscious and too intimidated to leave.”

HAUNTING OR HOAX? The complexity of the story, which goes as far as Donald sending out Christmas cards, enthrals both believers and sceptics

The series will operate in a similar way to a true-crime podcast, with listeners encouraged to become sleuths and contribute their own theories and questions that will hopefully be explored in later episodes.

Usually a sceptic, Robins claimed this case was different to any he had encountered before.

He added: “On my last podcast series Haunted, I was able to reach some sort of conclusive answers, and that made me feel less scared of the idea of ghosts. 

“But as I’ve dived into the deep water of this case, I find myself less able to reach those easy conclusions.

“Fear is this fascinating primeval thing. It’s intensely powerful.”

And indeed the line at the end of the promo video warns listeners to ‘never underestimate the power of fear’.

The Battersea Poltergeist is a Radio 4 podcast produced by Bafflegab Productions, available on BBC Sounds from 21 January.

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12 February 2021 10:29 pm

Really enjoying this, baffling though, so far no explanation for it, quite scary!

Elaine Starkadder
Elaine Starkadder
30 January 2021 7:57 pm

When I was a teenager, in the early 1970’s, there were some rather odd things happening in our house in east London. Items (mainly my clothing, but not exclusively) would disappear – and then turn up in unlikely places. It would usually happen when I was late and in a hurry to go out. I remember one occasion – I was late (as usual!) and rushing to get ready to go out. I’d laid my clothes out on my bed, ready to quickly dress. I put some new tights (still in the package) right next to me on the bed. I reached for my tights – and they were gone. I recall feeling really irritable and fed-up with it all as this sort of thing kept happening (several times a day, over several years). I didn’t actually see my tights move and never did see any of the disappearing items move. After a search, the tights turned up in my mothers linen cupboard – in another room (and I was late again – and rather cross!) This is just an example of dozens – maybe hundreds – of similar incidents that we experienced in that house. I have absolutely no idea what was going on or what was causing the problem. I did have a feeling – nothing more than a feeling – that someone or something unseen was enjoying my irritation and anger (but that was possibly just me being silly!) Other things I experienced around the same time is that I’d sometimes wake in the night, choking, and find that my bed sheet had been stuffed hard into my mouth so that I couldn’t breath. I hope there is a logical explanation.

27 January 2021 12:53 pm

I lived alone in a cottage in West Sussex built in the late 1800s. I could hear children laughing and playing at night when I was in bed. It sounded as though they were above me. I had no neighbours. I always felt the cottage was a happy place so I wasn’t frightened. There was an old coach house not far away and a single lady who lived there told me she felt a presence at certain times of the day. I did some research and found out that there had been a gallows on the land prior to my cottage being built. I cannot say I heard any tortured souls just laughter and thumping sounds.

24 January 2021 10:42 pm

Having lived in a house that we shared with a presence who we called Gregory, i understand some of the things that the family went through. I was lucky that ours was not frightning, you know they were watching, yes i believed more tgan one due to things that happened. I looked into the history after things started to happen. Cant wait fir next podcast.

Frances Gasparotto
Frances Gasparotto
23 January 2021 4:51 am

I cannot begin to understand the terror this poor family went through especially all those years! It goes to show that there is a lot more out there than we realise!

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