MJ ‘Simo’ Simpson talks to Robert Rankin at Robert’s home outside Brighton on 9th September 1995 for SFX
M What is the appeal to you of all things Fortean?
R It’s all my father’s fault. When I was a kid he used to take us on holiday but he’d only take us on holiday to places that had good museums because he was obsessed by museums and old churches. So everywhere we travelled around the country, we went to museums. And he used to say ‘The most interesting stuff’s downstairs, lad. Get downstairs. Get the curator to take us downstairs.’ So he used to take us downstairs. Downstairs would be all the stuff that they wouldn’t show: things like shrunken heads and the animals with eight legs and all that stuff. So it would be ‘Oh, the lad would like to see the shrunken heads’ because my dad wanted to see them, so we’d get to see the shrunken heads and all this other stuff. So it started off with him. He would give me things. He gave me this whale’s tooth over here. When we were at infant’s school, everybody had to say what their father did for a living, so I told the teacher what my father did for a living. On open day, she said ‘Mr Rankin, could you come to the school and give a talk?’ My dad was a carpenter, and he said ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Well, you’re the only whaler we’ve ever had!’ He’d told me about whaling, and I’d told the teacher. Being my father, he came up and he gave a talk at the school about whaling! And I was a real hero. So it was his interest, so al I this collection started off with him. The tall stories and the whole thing, he’s to blame.
M Is it true about having a signed Aleister Crowley book which was thrown out?
R Yes, that’s right. My dad met him in a pub in Richmond in the Second World War. Crowley was only there for a very short time, but my old man thought he was the greatest poet of the age, Crowley. He met him and he talked to him a couple of times, and Crowley signed two privately printed books to my dad, whose name was Robert Rankin. And of course, when my dad told me about this, when I was talking about him – this is back in the ‘60s – he said ‘I’ve got those books somewhere.’ And my mum said ‘No, you haven’t.’ He said ‘Why not?’, ‘I burned them!’ She had burned them because my mum was a fundamentalist Christian and she didn’t like Mr Crowley. They were written to Robert Rankin! I would have had them today!
M Even unsigned they’re worth a fortune.
R I don’t know that anybody would have thought that then. Not in the ‘50s. He had yet to be famous, the ‘60s made him famous. My father heard of him when he was ‘the wickedest man in the world’ – that was back in the ‘20s! Then this guy had vanished off the face of the Earth. He was out of England, here, there and everywhere. He was a dying man.
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