A short history of Lobster

By Robin Ramsay

See also: Lobster (magazine) at Wikipedia.

Updated June 2022

The first issue of Lobster appeared in 1983. It was written by Stephen Dorril and myself. We met through the late Harry Irwin, who lived in Northern Ireland and was what Americans call a book scout: he bought and sold rare books. But he was also in touch with people in the US who were JFK assassination buffs – and no, I don’t mind the word buff; I’m a buff – and got JFK books for us. Steve lived 70 miles from me but we began corresponding and talking on the phone. Eventually we met and decided to make a magazine. We had both self-published little pamphlets: Steve on the fascists in his home town, Huddersfield, and me on the application of parapolitics to Britain (‘parapolitics’ being a concept I had picked up from Peter Dale Scott). And I was then helping to publish a local radical magazine. So I had learned elementary text production which, in those days, meant typewriters, glue, scalpels, setsquares, T-squares and pasting-up boards prior to the finished proof being sent for off-set litho printing. At the time I was unemployed and Steve had a job, so we agreed that I would do the editing and production work and he would pay the bills. We assumed it would lose money. In the event, it never did except around issue 9, when we were bailed out by two donations, one from the British novelist G. F. Newman, the other from the late Ace R. Hayes, who ran the Portland Free Press in Oregon.

But on my side the real origins of Lobster go further back. In 1977 the last surviving British ‘underground’ magazine, International Times (IT), published as a cartoon strip ‘The Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File’, written by Stephanie Caruana (based on a much longer work by Bruce Roberts). It was the first conspiracy theory I had ever read and I was very struck by it. So I went into Hull University library and began checking its central claims. They were all either false or uncheckable. I wrote an essay pointing this out, which IT published. In the process of this bit of research I wandered into fields about which I then knew little: American history, the Kennedy assassination, nuclear strategic theory, the history of the cold war and what was then just beginning to be called parapolitics. And I was fascinated. I spent much of the next five years in that library educating myself in these areas. (The name Lobster, incidentally, was chosen by Steve Dorril. I didn’t like it but couldn’t come up with a better one.)

So off we went. I prepared and got 150 A5 copies printed of the first issue. Some ended up in the Alternative Bookshop in Covent Garden. Among its customers was Anthony Frewin, who bought a copy and then rang me up. He said later he was surprised: he thought he was the only person in Britain interested in this stuff. Frewin was working for the late Stanley Kubrick, had access to a free phone, and we began talking a lot. He has written about the Kennedy assassination for Lobster.

And gradually Lobster got bigger. By issue 7 I was printing 500 copies and taking subscriber copies to my local post-office in a wheelbarrow. Material from other people began to trickle in. Jonathan Marshall was the first notable figure to trust his copy with this ramshackle outfit in the UK.

I had internalised academic standards of evidence and how to present it while at university and Peter Dale Scott’s writing showed me how that looked in parapolitics. When Scott came to Britain I recorded an interview with him. A more interesting afternoon I have never had. The transcript of this appeared in  Lobster 7.

The first major event in the magazine’s life began with Steve Dorril’s contact with former British Army Captain Fred Holroyd. Steve had been writing about the scandal surrounding the abuse of boys at the Kincora children’s home in Northern Ireland. Somehow copies of his articles reached Captain Holroyd who contacted him. Holroyd had been in military intelligence in Northern Ireland, where he had become a victim of the internecine politics of the period. Holroyd was in touch with Colin Wallace, who had been a British Army psy-ops officer in Ireland. Wallace had also fallen foul of internal politics, had been framed for manslaughter, and was serving six years in prison. Steve met Fred and Colin and we received some of Wallace’s writings about his time in Ireland.

These documents were almost unintelligible initially: a blizzard of new organisations, names and events. We headed for our respective university libraries to try and make sense of this material and discovered that, with Wallace’s narratives as guides, a large chunk of previously inexplicable British history became intelligible. Wallace’s revelations illuminated the hysteria on the British right in the 1970s about the threat from the left and the belief of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson that there was a disinformation campaign against him and his government. He was right: the hysteria and the campaign were largely the work of serving or former intelligence officers. We had been handed a really big story.

But as it happened, another piece Steve had written in Lobster about the Profumo scandal of 1962/3, was seen by Anthony Summers who was planning to write about said scandal. And in the midst of our trying to understand Wallace’s documents, Steve was offered the chance to co-author a book with Summers – at that time the highest paid non-fiction writer in the UK. So Steve went off to do Profumo, and I took over the correspondence with Fred Holroyd and Colin Wallace. A few months later I wrote the first attempt to explain Wallace’s claims in Lobster 11, ‘Wilson, MI5 and the rise of Thatcher’. This was 50 A4 pages, with an introduction by my MP, the late Kevin McNamara. He was a Catholic of Irish extraction, had knowledge of events in Northern Ireland and was thus not astonished by Wallace’s claims. We called a press conference in London, put out a press release headed ‘The British Watergate’, spread some copies of Lobster 11 around the newsdesks of London and waited for the major media to pick up the lead we had developed. But nothing happened. (That we expected them to read 50 pages shows how little we then understood about journalists.) It was not until several months later that the major media began ringing, asking me to explain this complex story. They had been prompted to do so by the revelation that a forthcoming book from a former MI5 officer, Peter Wright, referred to that agency’s activities against Prime Minister Harold Wilson – echoing what Colin Wallace was been saying.

I produced Lobsters 12, 13 and 14 without any input from Steve, while working virtually full-time on the Wallace-MI5-Wilson plots story: researching it; talking to Wallace and Fred Holroyd; writing about it for a large number of left publications; briefly working for a Channel Four News journalist called Robert Parker who was trying to get bits of it onto television; and endlessly explaining it to journalists who didn’t have time to do the research.

Eventually Steve and I wrote a book about the campaigns against Harold Wilson, Smear: Wilson and the Secret State. (Writing this is the reason Lobsters 20, 21 and 22 were rather thin.) After which Steve began writing another book and I continued producing Lobster.

And more people sent me material. Peter Dale Scott sent me a couple of essays and one of his former students, Dr. Jeffrey Bale, gave me some of his research on the Italian far right and the ‘strategy of tension’ there in the 1970s. (In those days, before scanners and computers were affordable, I had to retype the copy and doing one of Bale’s wonderful, minutely documented pieces contributed to a nasty dose of RSI in both wrists.) Dr Scott Newton began writing for Lobster and David Teacher gave me some of his first research on the Pinay Circle.

In 1989 we published the Who’s Who of the British Secret State – a couple of thousand short biographies of British spooks, some of them still serving. This had been compiled by Steve, and, in publishing it, we breached the Official Secrets Act in a big way. But apart from being denounced in the House of Commons by a Conservative MP – who was among those listed – nothing happened. Evidently the British state had learned the lesson that prosecution merely makes those prosecuted the subject of media attention.

The mind control thread which ran in the magazine through the 1990s began when the late Harlan Girard came to see me. He told me a strange tale about being talked to constantly by the CIA who, he said, were doing so by using microwaves. I knew nothing about microwaves (had done no science since leaving school) but had read enough about the CIA and MK-Ultra to find Girard’s story unlikely but not a priori absurd. If anyone was going to research microwaves as a means of controlling humans it would be the Agency. And Girard had a suitcase full of scientific documents about microwaves. So I began doing bits and pieces about it. I concluded thus in one such piece in issue 22:

‘If it may be safely assumed that most of the people who report hearing voices are mentally ill, in my view it is no longer safe to assume that this is true of all such reports. Therein lies the difficulty.’

The mind control subject introduced me to Armen Victorian. In issue 23 I published his ‘U.S Army Intelligence mind control experimentation’ – the first of many essays from him. I visited him at home once. He had a garage at the foot of his garden that was stacked to the ceiling with Freedom of Information request material. He had filed thousands of requests, in all manner of areas.

By this time Steve Dorril was pursuing a book-writing career and his contributions to Lobster became rarer and rarer and finally ceased. So I took his name off the magazine. To my surprise he started his own magazine called . . . Lobster; and then renamed it The Original Dorril Lobster (though I never saw the renamed version). Since Lobster had always been edited, produced and distributed by me, this second name seemed an odd choice. To the relief of a handful of academic librarians who found two magazines called Lobster difficult to catalogue, ‘Dorril’s Lobster’ stopped after five issues and he concentrated on his book-writing and later academic career.

And new contributors appeared: Dr Larry O’Hara; Alex Cox (another Kennedy assassination buff); Andrew Rosthorn; John Newsinger; Tom Easton; the late Corinne Souza (who wrote about SIS which had employed her Iraqi father); Simon Matthews; John Burnes and Dr T P Wilkinson, to name the most prolific. Regular early contributors were Jane Affleck and Terry Hanstock. Affleck began reporting on what was then the new world wide web. More recently Garrick Alder and Nick Must began contributing regularly; and if the recent issues of Lobster have fewer literals (typos) than the first 65 or so, this is largely thanks to their copy-editing.

Between Lobsters 27 and 28 I bought a second-hand AppleMac and learned elementary computer type-setting, which made text production infinitely easier. Years later Ian Tresman rang out of the blue and offered to build a website for Lobster, for no payment. Originally the site was just a shop window, but after a couple of years I decided to abandon the hard copy version altogether. (Physically producing, getting printed and distributing over 1000 magazines was a serious burden.) Ian Tresman, Jane Affleck and I converted all the back issues into digital form. This was an incredible chore, done at speed – which is why there are literals, mostly stray hyphens – in the first 57 digital issues. Alas, we just didn’t take the time to proofread our texts carefully enough. Nonetheless after 26 years of existence Lobster 58 went on-line, free. This was possible because a very small fee was charged for access to the earlier copies; and the trickle of such fees paid for the site and Ian Tresman’s time as its manager.

And here are, with a new website created by Ian Tresman, 40 years after that first A5 hard copy.

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