Professor Archie Roy, ‘Glasgow’s ghostbuster’, passed away at the age of 88 on the 27th of December 2012. Primarily an astronomer, this popular and respected man also made significant contributions to the field of the paranormal and psychical research. In an interview with freelance journalist Michael E. Tymn to promote his last book, Archie recalled how he came into the paranormal, “I lost my way in the old [Glasgow] University library and found shelves of books on spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘what is this rubbish doing in a university library?’ But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognise some of the authors such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor William Crookes and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career.”
Archie Edmiston Roy was born on 24 June 1924 in Yoker, Glasgow. A three-year spell in hospital with Tuberculosis as a teenager saw him change his initial plan to become an architect. Watching the night sky through the hospital window from his bed sparked an interest in astronomy, leading him to read as much as he could on the topic. He became an undergraduate at Glasgow University in 1941, graduating with a BSc in 1950 and again with a doctorate in 1954.
At first, Archie taught science at Shawlands Academy, in the Southside of the city, but continued research in the University’s astronomy department during the summer. In 1958, he was confined to bed in hospital with a slipped disc in his back, when he heard that the University was about to advertise a lecturing vacancy in astronomy. He was invited to apply, and the rather sore Archie got himself out of bed and up to Gilmorehill, the main University campus, for an interview. Suffice to say he got it, on the 1st of April, to which he attached some significance!
Archie’s career at the University was a successful one; he became a Senior Lecturer of astronomy in 1966, Reader in 1973 and Professor of the department in the late 1970s. By 1962, he was one of the best in the field of aerodynamics. In 1964, he took a Sabbatical to the United States, where he worked trajectories for the Lunar Orbital program. When he returned in 1965, Archie strolled into the William Hill bookmakers to place a £10 bet (£159 in current terms) on a manned Lunar landing before 1970, with odds of 120 -1. He collected his winnings in July 1969, keeping the payout slip pinned to his office blackboard with the legend “Go and do thou likewise” chalked below.
Another of Archie’s fields of expertise was archaeoastronomy and he was the first person to discover the first examples of elliptical stone rings in the UK on Machrie Moor, the Isle of Arran in Scotland. Aubrey Burl later excavated these. Prof Alexander Thom, a renowned expert in archaeoastronomy, also acknowledged Archie for this achievement. In 1978, Archie successfully recommended a former student, Duncan Lunan, as Manager of the Glasgow Parks Astronomy Project, which resulted in the construction of the Sighthill Stone Circle in 1979. The first astronomically aligned stone circle built in Britain for millennia, it was dedicated to Archie, along with Prof Thom, his son Dr Archie Thom and Euan Mackie, all pioneers in archaeoastronomy. At the time of Archie Roy’s death, the circle was and remains under the threat of demolition by Glasgow City Council, though a strong campaign is underway to save it.
It was whilst still a student Archie became interested in the paranormal, having come across those books in the furthest reaches of the old Glasgow University Library. In 1973, Archie joined the Society for Psychical Research in London. The 1970s saw him become involved in a poltergeist case to rival that of Enfield with his friend the Rev. Max Magee, Chaplain at Strathclyde University. Between 1974 and 1975, a family in Maxwell Park, Pollokshields, Glasgow, had been disturbed by violent poltergeist activity that left them terrified. By time Archie got involved, the case had been rumbling on for six months, and had a wide range of witnesses, ranging from local politicians, doctors, electricians and the police. Archie noted that the police officer in charge of the case said to him, “You know, I had to take some of my men off of that case. They were turning in reports like ‘The bed was proceeding in a northerly direction.’”
Archie and Rev. Magee’s role in the case was mainly to support the family. The focus of the activity was the family’s slightly rebellious 14-year-old son. Add to that, the family also had difficulty with the residents living in the flat below. The family had attempted to flee the activity in their home by staying with a relative, but found it followed them. Archie and Rev. Magee stayed over at the family’s home in an effort to assuage their fears. It came to an end after three events; the death of the old man living below with whom the family had difficulties, a cleansing by Rev Magee and the 14 year old going to live with his grandparents for a short period. Guy Lyon Playfair noted in his book This House Is Haunted, that the investigators got an idea of how to proceed with the Enfield Poltergeist case after attending a talk on poltergeists given by Archie.
A lot of Archie’s involvement in the paranormal was investigating haunted locations, usually as a result of people looking for help with a haunting. He stated that he acted as ‘a paranormal plumber’ in a lot of cases, trying to find a resolution to the activity as well as investigate it. In some instances, the cause of the activity was not paranormal at all, but structural issues in the property, or sadly, mental health problems. Still, he dealt with various types of phenomena, ranging from poltergeist activity, apparitions and a mixture of the two. On investigations, Archie would turn up his hearing aid trying to pick up signals from spirits. As well as this, he also conducted controlled experiments on psychical activity.
In the 1990s, Archie sat in on one of the Scole Experiment sessions, investigating cross communication. He was too busy at the time to have a larger role, but had quite an interesting experience, when one of the spirits in communication began having a complex debate about astronomy with him, regarding calculating the orbit of satellites and planets. He said that it dawned on him only a handful of people would have had the expertise to discuss astronomy at that level. He hadn’t mentioned the fact that he was one of the country’s leading astronomers!
In 1987, Archie established the Scottish Society of Psychical Research (SSPR) at Glasgow University, and was its founding President. The group continues today as a charitable organisation carrying out research, investigations and regularly meets at the University. According to Duncan Lunan, Archie was a touch shy about his involvement in establishing the SSPR. Archie was also central in the establishment of an introductory night class on Psychical Research at Glasgow University’s Dept for Adult and Continuing Education several years ago. The 8 – 10 week course runs every year, and partly taught by Archie until a few years ago.
Archie was an important member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London (set up in 1882 and separate from its Scottish cousin). He was SPR President from 1993 to 1995, and then on the General Council. He was a frequent contributor to the Society’s publications and events. The SPR awarded Archie the Myers Memorial Medal in 2004 for outstanding contribution to psychical research. Archie regarded Frederic Myers, one of the SPR founders, as the most talented and greatest pioneer in psychical research.
As well as his involvement in astronomy and the paranormal, Archie was also a prolific author, writing thirty books, including several astronomy textbooks, some of which are the standards, supernatural thrillers and paranormal books. The latter include A Sense of Something Strange (1990), Archives of the Mind (1996) and The Eager Dead (2008), the latter looking at cross communication. He was also a member of a number of organisations as well as the SPR and SSPR including The International Astronomy Union, the Brain Research Association and was a fellow in the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Interplanetary Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
In 1989, Archie partially retired and became Emeritus Professor of Astronomy. Glasgow University marked his time there with a one-day event called A Lad O Pairts, which consisted of talks in all the fields Archie was involved in. The final talk, given that evening, took in an attendance of 800, filling up three lecture halls. Archie rued the idea of sitting back and putting his feet up in retirement. His research in the paranormal made him believe that people need to keep developing until they died, so he kept active fairly close to his death.
When asked what he did, Archie responded that he was a teacher. He had an asteroid named after him, 5806Archieroy.
He leaves behind his wife, Frances, and three sons, David, Archie and Ian.