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The Gorbals Vampire

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Alan Braidwood Alan Braidwood | 14:36 UK time, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

David Stenhouse, Senior Radio Producer based in Edinburgh, phoned to let us know about a new programme which is broadcast on Radio 4 on 30 March and on Radio Scotland April 12. The documentary is based on a real event which took place at the Southern Necropolis in the Gorbals area of Glasgow.

Photograph of the Southern Necropolis, the Gorbals, Glasgow

The graveyard has 250,000 graves and was opened in 1840. The necropolis is also know as the Gorbals 'City Of The Dead' and David tells when in history his story takes place - and why.

The Gorbals Vampire

Vampires today are pale skinned, melancholy young men who make teenage girls swoon. But more than half a century before Twilight or the Vampire Diaries, hundreds of children thronged into a Glasgow Cemetery armed with sticks and knives to hunt "a Vampire with Iron Teeth" which they blamed for "killing and eating two wee boys."

That's the extraordinary story at the heart of my new documentary The Gorbals Vampire which recreates the night in 1954 when hundreds of children turned Vampire hunters in a case which became a worldwide sensation.

The story begins in September 1954 when a Glasgow Policeman, PC Alex Deeprose, was called to respond to reports that the Southern Necropolis on the Caledonia Road was overflowing with children from local primary schools. He went expecting to deal with a couple of teenage vandals, but when he arrived he discovered an incredible scene. The cemetary was teeming with children who were swarming in and out of the gravestones, egging each other on to go deeper into the graveyard. Some were armed with knives and stakes. The policeman's attempts to move the children on failed, and the crowd only went home when it started to rain.

So far so odd, but what happened next was even more extraordinary. The local papers got hold of the story and it soon went international. The finger of blame was pointed first at local cinemas which had been showing horror films, then at the American horror comics that were flooding into the West Coast of Scotland, lurid colourful comics with titles like Tales from the Crypt and the Vault of Horrors.

Before long Britain was in the grip of a full blown panic, which led all the way to the House of Commons...

Tracking down the Vampire hunters who had frightened the policeman more than half a century ago proved just as hard as you might expect. I called reminiscence groups in the Gorbals, phoned local historians , and enlisted the help of the BBC Scotland Press office to get stories placed in the local paper. For a few weeks my phone sat ominously silent. Then Ronnie Sanderson left me a message. "I was there. I was in the graveyard when I was eight years old," he said. "I've been telling my wife about the vampire for years and she's never believed me. Now she has to."

So on a cold Friday morning last month, when the trees were white with frost and the Southern Necropolis looked like the set of a Hammer Horror Film, presenter Louise Welsh and I met Ronnie, local artist Tam Smith and retired academic Sandy Hobbs to talk about the Vampire that had terrified the Gorbals all those years ago. The story made the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end

Before then, our arts correspondent Pauline Mclean made a scary piece for Reporting Scotland and Stuart Nicholson wrote this piece for BBC Scotland's online news.

Even before the programme has been broadcast, the tale of the Gorbals Vampire has been picked up by newspapers around the world.

Rather like the tale of the original Gorbals Vampire Hunters in 1954. Spooky!

David Stenhouse

The Gorbals Vampire is on BBC Radio Scotland on 12 April at 1130.

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