In one of Al Koran’s publicity flyers it is claimed: ‘So great are these powers that Koran was invited to discuss and demonstrate them on Television’s famous programme, Panorama.’ He does not say how that turned out and perhaps with good reason.
But Gus Southall, writing in his A Watching Brief column (The Budget, Feb 1958) did give a very interesting account of what happened. Panorama is one of the BBC’s longest current affairs series. In 1958 it was presented by Richard Dimbleby, the father of David Dimbleby the presenter who later, in 1973, introduced Uri Geller to the world on his own BBC TV show. Richard Dimbleby became one of the BBC’s most noted presenters. He was not unacquainted with the magic world, having played host to other magic acts on TV and been a guest and speaker at The Magic Circle Banquet in 1954. This particular edition of Panorama seems to have been a serious investigation into the nature of Extra Sensory Perception. The person chosen to demonstrate this power was none other than Al Koran. I’ll let Gus Southall continue the story as he switches on his TV to join the show partway through the broadcast.
We switched on in time to witness Al undergoing an ordeal. (and we mean ordeal) which turned out to be a challenge by a Mr. X to test Al’s powers of E.S.P. We can only surmise that Al had been inveigled into this or that something went wrong.
Both participants, seated at tables, were divided by a curtain. A pack of cards provided by the B.B.C. was introduced and it was stated that these had been in the possession of Richard Dimbleby most of the day. Under these stringent conditions Mr. X at Al’s request shuffled the pack and dealt five cards face up on the table and selected one of the cards. To put it briefly this procedure was complete three times without a definite success from Al.
Then followed a test with a blackboard divided into four parts. Again at Al’s request Mr. X filled these with four designs chosen by Al. Two of those were decided upon by Mr. X and numbered. Al then correctly named the first one but failed on the second one. Throughout the tests Al received no help whatsoever from Mr. X who ignored all of Al’s probing statements. This became clear at the finish when Mr X was revealed as a Mr. West of the Psychical Research Society. Richard Dimbleby volunteered the fact that at a rehearsal in the afternoon Al had been correct twice in three attempts with similar tests. On being asked if he would submit to further tests in the future, Al readily agreed.
We hope not as there is so little to be gained and so much to lose.
Donald. J. West was the Research Officer of the Society for Psychical Research. He was a professional criminologist and the author of several books on parapsychology. In 1963 he became the society’s President . He had been interested in E.S.P. experiments since at least 1946 and had written papers on the telepathy and the mediumship of Helen Duncan. Incidentally in one of Koran’s pieces of publicity (Register Republic flyer 1971) he claimed to the be son of Helen Duncan.
West had also conducted experiments in Card Guessing with only chance results, something that went against the grain of his contemporaries who at that time placed a great deal of hope that card guessing experiments would lead to proof of ESP. Donald West was assisted in that work by Denys Parsons who would later, in the 1970s, join the New Scientist panel to investigate the Geller phenomena. West was a serious researcher who was sceptical of demonstrations of ESP. West's thorough attitude put him in a good position to test Al Koran.
It is fascinating to speculate how Koran planned to achieve his effects given the conditions he would face along with the possibility of a very public failure. It’s hard to make an assessment on the card guessing test but as regards the blackboard experiment maybe a glance at Part Two of Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism would provide a clue, especially Part Three of that volume. Interestingly, it was published the same year as the broadcast.