From the moment Leslie Flint encountered his first apparition at the age of 7, that of his recently deceased uncle, the spirit world was never far away. Born in Hackney in 1911, from childhood, Flint believed he had been blessed with the extraordinary ability to communicate with the dead. In 1928, he held his first séance, but Flint’s method was rather unusual. As he would later claim in his 1971 autobiography Voices In The Dark, ‘I have a rare gift known as the independent direct voice. I do not speak in trance, I need no trumpets or other paraphernalia. The voices of the dead speak directly to their friends or relatives and are located in a space a little above my head and slightly to one side of me.’
Working as a cinema usher, Flint became a great admirer of Rudolph Valentino, who died in 1926, and the actor became one of many notable figures who would talk to Flint from the spirit realm. During the Second World War, Flint was a conscientious objector and continued to perform séances for those eager to hear from their lost loved ones. In 1955, Flint founded his own spiritualist association called the Temple of Light, which enabled him to conduct public séances on a larger scale. Flint attracted vast audiences and his reputation as one of the country’s most prominent mediums grew. For these sessions, Flint accepted no payment other than a few cups of tea and the odd biscuit.
Flint’s most frequent supernatural visitor and guide was the spirit of a young boy named Mickey, who told him that he was a newspaper seller who had been knocked over and killed in an accident in Camden Town in around 1910. Mickey spoke with a wisdom that belied his tender years, but at the same time, could often be cheeky and mischievous.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Flint’s communications was the fact that numerous celebrated figures chose him as a medium through which to tell the world about their experiences and impressions of the afterlife. For instance, Flint ostensibly channeled the voices of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Elizabeth Fry and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. In 1957, the poet Rupert Brooke seemingly contacted him in order to reveal how he had come to terms with his own passing and his feelings about the First World War. Aided by Betty Greene and George Woods, Flint recorded many of these spiritual exchanges.
Above: Oscar Wilde speaks (1962)
However, Flint spent a lifetime fighting sceptics. Some who heard the alleged spirit voices produced at Flint’s séances pointed out they sounded nothing like the purported speaker had done when they were alive. Melvin Harris, a psychic researcher, wrote ‘I have to conclude that his spirits are awfully mixed up. His Valentino speaks with a stage French accent – shades of Charles Boyer – while his George Bernard Shaw sounds like an irascible English colonel, with no trace of his precise and memorable soft Irish brogue.’
Similarly, William V. Rauscher and Allen Spraggett, authors of The Spiritual Frontier, a 1975 book detailing psychic phenomena, described their disappointment after attending a 1970 séance held by Flint as they considered all the voices that materialised to sound uncannily like Flint’s own. It was also variously suggested that Flint used tape recordings and ventriloquism. Flint refuted these theories, arguing that ‘Sometimes those who speak from beyond the grave achieve only a whisper, hoarse and strain, at other times they speak clearly and fluently in voices recognizably their own during life.’
Despite the accusations made against him, no-one was able to conclusively prove that Flint was a fraud. Flint was routinely tested by The Society for Psychical Research and made to perform bound and gagged and even with a mouth full of coloured water. Occasionally, a microphone would be attached to his throat to register any vibrations. Yet the voices could still be heard. Finally, The Society for Psychical Research stated that they were a result of ‘auditory hallucinations’ which were ‘brought on by hypnosis.’
On the 16th April 1994 Flint joined the spirits whom he supposed had shown him the true nature and meaning of human existence as he remarked, ‘I know I have learnt more about life and people and human problems and emotions by sitting in the dark than I could possibly have learnt in any other way, and those who have taught me the most are people who, dead to this world, are living in the next.’
Above: Leslie Flint discusses religion, spiritualism and mediumship (1987)
Voices in the Dark – Leslie Flint (1971)
The Spiritual Frontier – William V. Rauscher and Allen Spraggett (1975)