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Contacting the Dead
WA skeptics check out Doris Collins

The late Doris Collins, and her late contemporaries such as Doris Stokes, were British psychics who specialised in supposedly contacting the dead before large audiences. They used exactly the same tricks and deceptions that John Edwards and James van Praagh use today, see Cold Reading on this website under Weird Things meet Critical Thinking > Strange Powers. So when Collins visited Australia in 1984, starting with Perth, skeptics in the Eastern States asked WA Skeptics to do some advance snooping so they would be better prepared for her visit. So we took turns at attending her meetings armed with notebooks and concealed tape recorders. What follows is based on a tape recording made at a public meeting with Collins at the Perth Town Hall 15 November 1984, and on accounts in POST Newspapers, Dails News, and Midweek Times.

The tour organiser Joan King is speaking: "And I would just like to say at this time that there are a group of people calling themselves the Australian Skeptics, and it has been my experience to know that there are at least two or three of them in every audience throughout the country, and I dare say there are two or three here this evening. And I would just like to say to you people that we invite skepticism because it is healthy, we do not like the gullible, and it is very healthy to be skeptical." (Then an aside to the audience re seating). "But what I do object to, and people like myself and Doris object strongly, are people who are cynical about what we do, and try and destroy the credibility of people like Doris. She has done extremely wonderful work since she's been in Australia and the healing has been fantastic.

"And I don't think anyone who strives to serve and to do their best should be really placed in a position of being harassed by this self-appointed group of Skeptics. And so I say to you people [loud applause for 8 seconds], please try to have an open mind, try to be creating good with your time, try to think that there might be something beyond your own self importance. So with these words, ladies and gentlemen, and without any further ado, it gives me very great pleasure to welcome to you the Reverend Doris Collins [loud applause]. I might just add at this stage, because of certain, um, problems that we have encountered along the way, may I request that you refrain from using tape recorders please, as this has presented problems."

The audience was not told what these problems were, but as you read on they will become apparent. Later, Doris Collins attacked the Skeptics then $30,000 Challenge to Psychics, but without mentioning the amount: "I only wish that the Skeptics would do a little bit better than what they do. Why don't they spend that money on doing some good?" Then followed an account of some of Doris Collins's contributions to charity: £1000 to a local charity just before she left England, £500 to a local hospital, an unspecified amount to cancer research. "So what I do with my money is my business. And I wish they'd do more with their money instead of waving it about. It's no good to them you know, because I want to make it clear, to wave a cheque about doesn't mean you've got the money." Her reluctance to mention the $30,000 is understandable, since it overshadowed her own cited contributions.

Mrs Collins, an intimidatingly large woman, then marched grimly up and down the aisle declaring she could sense skeptics a mile away, and threatening an unspecified retribution if any were found. In the aisle almost at her feet was our tape recorder, hidden in an open shopping bag and grinding away, which for some reason her psychic gifts failed to detect. Later, a note-taking skeptic was discovered in the back row at another public meeting, with consequences described in the following newspaper reports. The first is from POST Newspapers 20 November 20 1984:

Doris confronts a skeptic
World-famous English spiritualist Doris Collins got involved in a head-on confrontation with a magician at the Leederville Town Hall last Friday night. Mrs Collins, who was giving "readings" to the big crowd, marched down the aisle and demanded that Mr Danny Varney stop taking notes of her performance. Mr Varney, a magician and press journalist, was reporting the meeting for the Australian Skeptics.

Many members of the Skeptics are magicians, who say that people claiming to have paranormal powers are using only simple magicians' tricks. Mr Varney said Mrs Collins had been giving members of the audience what magicians call cold readings. Mr Varney said that on Friday he had been taking notes for about an hour when Mrs Collins strode down and demanded to know what he was doing. I answered "You are the psychic, you tell me". Mr Varney said "She tried to grab the notes out of my hand, and said she was going to call the police. I invited her to call the police, telling her that I would make a complaint of assault against her". A man in the audience threatened to punch him in the face. Mr Varney said he would leave if Mrs Collins gave him his money back.

The confrontation is further described in a letter to the Daily News 12 November 1984, here combined with a similar letter by the same writer to the Midweek Times 28 November 1984:

Doris loses her cool
What a fiasco we were treated to at the Doris Collins "show" on November 18, not of clairvoyancy as we were promised, but of sheer bad temper and unladylike behaviour. Until then, I had a sympathetic view towards clairvoyancy. Though a lukewarm church-goer, I knew it was regarded so "wrong" -- but after Doris's unlady-like performance of bad manners and screaming at a young woman who dared mention the bible, I can only presume our Doris has much to hide. For the man [Danny Varney] who dared take notes, Doris screamed and performed, so our $7 was well spent. But I cringed at the change from her talk of love, comfort, and the kindness, of those "who love God", to the absolutely amazing display of lack of control.

Those of us who have been through the unexpected grief of a child committing suicide or the loss by any other means, tend to grope towards any promise of "something more". Sometimes we are slow at forgiving ourselves as parents. "What did we do wrong?" is our constant companion in grief. Some of us lukewarm churchgoers still hope that "we will meet again" -- somewhere. However, I was completely put-off by the antics of Doris Collins and her crew. She was overbearing and rude. She showed she could change from a charming lady (?) to the greatest screaming virago on earth when doubt was cast on her sincerity. In one evening I was disillusioned completely by clairvoyants. I now agree wholeheartedly with previous complainants. -- Just A Mum, South Perth.

Postscript
The antics did not stop in Perth. An editorial note to the Daily News letter says "Doris Collins, a British psychic, came to Australia on a tour reportedly suggested by the television show Sixty Minutes. She was reported in The Age (Melbourne) to have reacted strongly when skeptics questioned her talents in the Ringwood Cultural Centre recently. A reporter wrote: "Ms Collins's face screwed up with defensiveness and hatred of those who mistrusted her"

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