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Headshot of writer and producer Danny Robins

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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