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 Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Week commencing Monday February 9, 2004


The young Dr Cannon
A mystery tale of elusive espionage

The shadows of a spy are as visible as the mists of time, and there was no one more mysteriously linked with that dark art than His Excellency Sir Dr Alexander Cannon. Inside Out investigates.

His Excellency Sir Dr Alexander Cannon is not a name that immediately leaps off the pages of a Le Carre novel - but his is a story of intrigue.

The Isle of Man, during World War Two, was considered a safe haven and it was there that the doctor elevated himself to the ranks of high society.

Although he qualified as a doctor at Leeds University, he never practiced. Instead, his mundane lifestyle was transformed as he became hypnotherapist to the elite.

His titles of "His Excellency" and "Sir" were bogus, but his fortune became very real.

Spy Cannon
Literally, an incredible man

His story was equally as bizarre. From the regular magic shows to his claim of being able to read Hitler's mind, it was althogether something that MI5 considered sinister.

Amongst other unusual practices, Dr Cannon would manipulate his patients with recordings of his hypnotic voice telling them they really were feeling better.

Perfect practice

He qualified as a medical practitioner in 1928. It was during these early years in practice he wrote books about levitation and the occult drawing patients to his lavish Harley Street clinic.

He thought his adopted title of "His Excellency" gave him a certain kudos and by the late 1930s, his London clinic had become very lucrative.

Despite the façade of his rather unusual public repertoire - coffin tricks and the hypnosis of chickens, Dr Cannon faced allegations of being a Nazi sympathiser.

Ballamoor Castle
Strange practices on the Isle of Man at Ballamoor Castle

When war was declared, the Isle of Man was a safe refuge. So it was here that the doctor moved his practice. But it was immediately adjoining an RAF base.

The move to the island immediately brought with it further suspicions.

One of his military patients, Admiral Davies, was involved in planning naval manoeuvres in the Atlantic. Others were peppered throughout the ranks of the RAF.

Royal connections

An elderly psychiatrist - Dr Doris Odlum was sent to the island by MI5 to investigate the situation. She was alarmed by what she found.

But all she did find was simply rumour and suspicion.

After a police search uncovered no firm evidence of espionage, Dr Cannon's peculiar treatments were allowed to continue in outbuildings behind Cannon's castle.

Duke of York
Was the Duke of York one of Dr Cannon's patients?

Inside Out has found that although his patients in the military may have been above suspicion, the MI5 file reveals yet another concerning point - Cannon's friendship with Capt George Drummond.

Drummond was a Nazi sympathiser.

He had been removed from Northampton and interned on the Isle of Man in a palacial mansion. He not only had entertained the Duke of York there, before he was king - but also members of a pro-Nazi organisation, of which Drummond was president.

But that didn't bother Dr Cannon. He dined out on Drummond's royal connections.

Eventually, the suspicions about Dr Cannon became so great that the RAF forced him out of his home.

Coded messages had been intercepted on Dr Cannon's tapped phone, and MI5 thought this was the first "real evidence" against him. So, the RAF wanted him out.

Investigations also focussed on his two assistants to his theatrical practices - Rhonda de Rhonda and Joyce de Rhonda.

Espionage buried

MI5 discovered they were in fact Eleanor and Joyce Robson from Sunderland, having changed their names by deed poll.

But the reasons why Cannon had teased the security services went with him to his grave.

Dr Cannon's grave
High-profile campaigns have highlighted access issues

The coded messages turned out to be meaningless.

The island's police force worked out that Cannon simply craved attention - something that MI5 concluded long after.

When the war ended, Cannon satisfied his attention craving with his live magic shows. Curiously enough, part of his show was titled "Journey to beyond the grave".

Given the people he had dealt with, Dr Cannon could certainly have imparted a wealth of interesting tales, but his alleged dabbling with espionage will never be proven.

See also ...

Inside Out: Yorkshire & Lincolnshire
More great stories

BBC: Crime Fighters: Intelligence
BBC: MI5 in World War Two

On the rest of the web
Isle of Man Government
Dr Alexander Cannon - A Biographical Sketch
MI5 - The Security Service

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