Friday, September 02, 2011

Scientology in Wales

During the 1960s Scientology, which was founded by L Ron Hubbard in 1953, started to permeate the Welsh public consciousness. A widespread moral panic about the ‘religion’ was already in full swing. A report by the Australian government in 1965 concluded: “Scientology is evil, its techniques evil, its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially, and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.” In 1968 the British government banned foreign Scientologists from coming to the UK to study or work. Retrospectively, whatever your opinions on Scientology, this all seems a tad extreme.

Scientology made its first proper foray into Wales (that I'm aware of) in 1968 with a lecture tour that took in Newport, Cardiff, Porthcawl and Swansea. Lectures were conducted by an Australian Scientologist called Peter Gilham who was a former chartered accountant. These lectures were well attended by a curious Welsh public. 400 people turned up at Newport's Little Theatre; 200 packed out a function room at the Park Hotel, Cardiff. At the Cardiff event newspaper reporters were apparently expelled from the room and questions from the floor banned. Scientology literature was on sale, though purchasers of the material were asked to provide their names and home addresses. E-meters were also available for £50. Organisers hoped that at the conclusion of each lecture study groups would be set up by new converts.

It’s difficult to assess what long term impact, if any, these lectures had in Wales. Steve Andrews (AKA The Bard of Ely) was a leading Scientologist in Cardiff from 1986 – 1990. He was responsible for handing out flyers, sending off letters and hosting introductory meetings. He even had his own E-meter. He is pictured above in a wonderful, homemade, bright yellow Dianetics boilersuit – on one leg/arm it says Dianetics and on the other L Ron Hubbard. In his excellent article - Bard of Ely’s Scientology Years - he writes honestly and in an even-handed way about his conversion to Scientology, the Welsh Scientology scene (and beyond), and his gradual disillusionment with the movement at large. It’s a fascinating story and one of the most insightful articles on Scientology that I have read.

*Steve Andrews now lives in Tenerife and is the author of Herbs of the Northern Shaman. I’d like to thank Steve for his kind permission to use the above photograph in which he is pictured alongside Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.