The Gorbals Vampire
Writer Louise Welsh investigates how a comic book vampire brought horror to Glasgow in 1954, with lasting effects. From 2010.
In September 1954 hundreds of Glasgow schoolchildren crowded into a Gorbals graveyard to hunt for a Vampire with Iron Teeth. Novelist Louise Welsh discovers how the "Gorbals Vampire" led to a change in Britain's censorship laws.
In 1954 in Glasgow's Southern Necropolis cemetery hundreds of local children, ranging in ages from 4 to 14, were discovered by police 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 they believed had kidnapped and eaten two local boys.
The local press got hold of the story of what became known as the 'Gorbals Vampire' and it soon went national. The 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.
Produced by David Stenhouse.
First broadcast on Radio 4 in 2010.