Sunday 21 March 2010

A piece of the history of the Loch Ness monster hunt

I found this excellent article about Frank Searle:

What lies beneath

Published Date: 04 September 2005 By LIESE SPENCER

MONSTER-HUNTERS are an endangered species at Loch Ness these days, but back in the 1970s its shores bristled with schoolchildren, hippies, students and renegade scientists all hoping to catch a glimpse of the world's last living dinosaur. Among them, though, one hunter in particular stood out. Frank Searle first appeared at the loch in 1969. No one knew where he came from - or where he went when he disappeared 14 years later - but in between, he became almost as famous as the creature itself.

From the start, Searle was different from the rest. While they lived in casual communes, sharing food and ideas at the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, Frank set up camp on the other side of the loch, alone. While they scuba-dived and kept a 24-hour surface watch, to no avail, Frank quickly put together an album of Nessie shots from his look-out in the woods. Monster-hunters who had spent hours vainly raking the waters with cameras and sonar could only look on in frustration as his grainy images of slender-necked, hump-backed beasties were splashed across the press. Who was he? He was born in London's East End and had lost a leg in the army. That was all anybody knew. Like the loch, Searle did not give up his secrets easily. This wasn't to say that he was a loner, or disliked attention. If you were interested in the monster and took his work seriously, he would have a lot of time for you. In the makeshift information centre he built, he would spend hours talking to curious schoolchildren. But there was a darker side to Searle too. If anyone doubted the veracity of his research or the authenticity of his photographs, he would fly into a violent rage. As time went on, Searle's pictures weren't all that began to attract attention. He regularly advertised for 'Girl Fridays' to help him with his work. Lieve Peten, a Belgian student, was 24 when she moved into his caravan. Frank was in his 50s. With a regular supply of young women to keep him company, clear water to bathe in, fresh salmon for supper and a growing reputation as a Nessie expert, it was a nice life beside the loch, and Searle continued camping there even in winter - when most hunters went home and temperatures fell to -17¼C. But when a rival exhibition centre opened and the publication of his second book was axed amid accusations of slander (the first had been pulled because of plagiarism), his world began to crumble.

A vocal sceptic of Searle's photographs, scientist Adrian Shine, had been described by the author as "the most accomplished liar ever to have trod the shores of Loch Ness". Soon after he had successfully petitioned the publishers to withdraw the book, Shine and his research team were the victims of a botched petrol-bombing as they slept on the beach. Searle told the police he had been painting his caravan at the time. A few days later, he disappeared. The caravan he had lived in for so long was kicked into the water - a taste of what would happen to his reputation in subsequent years. Although a version of Searle resurfaced in the 1996 film Loch Ness, played by Keith Allen, the man himself was never seen or heard of again. He simply vanished.

When producer-director Andrew Tullis first began to research Searle's story for Channel 4, nobody would talk about him. "What Frank did was buried by the people who stayed at the loch," he says, "because they didn't like his methods. They didn't think he had helped their cause one bit." Intrigued, the director decided to make a film "not about the Loch Ness Monster or the monster-hunters, as such, but about this man who came into their midst and mucked things up". With black-and-white snapshots and flickering, colour-saturated cine-film, his documentary is an elegiac evocation of the monster rush of the 1970s. Grinning students with heavy haircuts zip themselves into wetsuits. Schoolkids in flares lie in the grass, scrutinising the water through binoculars. It's all a great adventure.

Thanks to its extraordinary depth, the 23-mile-long loch holds more fresh water than all the lakes and rivers in England and Wales combined. "I personally don't believe that there is a prehistoric sea-serpent in there," says Tullis, "but I think that if you do believe in it then it does exist. It kind of works like that." The monster is an excuse for science geeks to invent new toys and try them out. It's a licence to dream, drop out, live in a commune, or idle away a summer or two in a place of outstanding beauty. Preparing for another dawn dive, those 1970s monster-hunters look like they're having the time of their lives. Although he, too, looks happy in his photos, Searle sticks out among the long-haired hippies with their fledgling beards. With his short-back-and-sides and Clark Gable moustache, he's a figure from another generation: a great white hunter, an adventurer. Rather than sharing the excitement of the chase, though, Searle's caddish grin suggests that he wants to bag some renown for himself. Patched together from dinosaur postcard cut-outs and photos of logs, Searle's fakes won him that, for a while. But by claiming the monster as his own, he upset the delicate imaginative ecosystem of Loch Ness. No longer could people project what they wanted on to the watery black hole. Worse, if they questioned what Searle saw there, he would threaten to kill them. There's no denying that the man was regarded as a bit of a loon - especially in later years, when he also began photographing UFOs over the loch. But it's a mistake to dismiss him entirely. As well as attracting huge interest in the area and an influx of tourists, his evocative hoaxes, with their blurry humps curving out of the water, have forever shaped our image of Nessie. The workmanship may have been poor, but the imagination behind them was not. "He stood by his photographs," says Tullis. "Even though he had faked them, he was utterly convinced they were genuine." And if he didn't fit in with the hippies living on the loch in the monster-hunting heyday of the 1970s, Searle wasn't entirely without their innocence and optimism. He told one schoolgirl he met that he had 'professional monster hunter' as his occupation in his passport. Any such official documentation proved hard to find for Tullis. "Nothing he ever reported about himself has been validated," sighs the director. "And he didn't appear to have any relations. Lieve, the Belgian Girl Friday, did ask him once if he had any children, and he said he had, out of wedlock, and had named them all David. But I don't know where these children might be, if they do exist." As well as bringing Nessie to life in the popular imagination, Searle created his own powerful personal myth. Incredibly, the director did eventually trace him, but many of his secrets will never be revealed. Searle died earlier this year - a frail old man, alone in a Lancashire bedsit. However, his legacy is a lasting one, and Nessie's public profile owes more to this charismatic monster hunter than anyone else

Source: Scotland On Sunday :

The sentence saying that his caravan was kicked into the water tells you a lot about the attitude to Frank. It is the reason I always kept to myself and rarely mixed with the other so called "Monster Hunters" . Despite what they all say about him Frank brought a lot of people and publicity to the area which helped publicise their efforts as well as his own. I think now Frank is dead they should stop assassinating him and leave him in peace. the story is well documented, every one knows what he was like , there is no need to continue a campaign against a dead man. Accept him for what he was , a product of the times who was part of the scene at the Loch and who brought something to the Loch in his own way.