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Last on

Sun 31 Oct 2010 13:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 30 March 2010

Glasgow's Southern Necropolis is an eerie place at the best of times but when two local policemen answered a call there in September 1954 they encountered a bizarre sight. Hundreds of local children, ranging in ages from 4 to 14, were crammed inside, roaming between the crypts. They were armed with sharpened sticks, knives stolen from home and stakes. They said they were hunting down "A Vampire with Iron Teeth" that had kidnapped and eaten two local boys.
The policemen dispersed the crowd, but they came back at sundown the next night and the next. The local press got hold of the story and it soon went national. There were no missing boys in Glasgow at that time, and press and politicians cast around for an explanation. They soon found one in the wave of American Horror comics with names like "Astounding Stories" and "Tales from the Crypt" which had recently flooded into the West of Scotland. Academics pointed out that none of the comics featured a vampire with iron teeth, though there was a monster with iron teeth in the bible (Daniel 7.7) and in a poem taught in local schools. Their voices were drowned out in a full-blown moral panic about the effect that terrifying comics were having on children. Soon the case of the "Gorbals Vampire" was international news.
The British Press raged against the "terrifying, corrupt," comics and after a heated debate in the House of Commons where the case of Gorbals Vampire was cited, Britain passed the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 which, for the first time, specifically banned the sale of magazines and comics portraying "incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature" to minors.
Writer Louise Welsh explores how the Gorbals Vampire helped bring the censorship of comic books onto the statute books.

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