A Strange Hub: What Were UFOs, The Process Church, Roman Polanski, David Litvinoff, the Krays, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Savile, & Whitley Strieber Up To in 1968 London?

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In his follow-up work to the infamous Communion: A True Story (the book that fully introduced alien abduction into the mainstream), Whitley Strieber mentions a couple of names from his time living in London in 1968, one of whom is Martin Sharp. Strieber mentions that Sharp lived in The Pheasantry on King’s Road, a place Strieber frequented in 1968. Martin Sharp was an early innovator of the hippie-style poster/album art, and a highly influential artist. He was one of the co-founders of Oz, “a scandalous magazine and a major part of the ’60s underground scene” (the same scene Strieber’s films were supposedly part of). Oz was first published in 1963 in Sydney, Australia (Sharp was Australian), and in London from 1967 to 1973. Richard Neville, a “futurist,” was the editor, and Strieber’s other friend, Philippe Mora (who directed the film version of Communion), was a major contributor along with Germaine Greer. As well as contributing cartoons (as “Von Mora”) to the magazine, Mora made a short film called Passion Play, shot in The Pheasantry around 1967 or 1968, playing the Devil.

This seemingly trivial detail brings up another curious connection: Roman Polanski (who was living in London during this period, and married Sharon Tate there) shot Rosemary’s Baby (in New York) in 1967-8. In the film, Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan, was a “technical advisor” and allegedly played the Devil who impregnates Rosemary (this may be apocryphal, IMDB credits the role to an unknown actor, “Clay Tanner”). LaVey was tenuously connected to the Manson family via Susan Atkins (who was present at the murder of the pregnant Sharon Tate in August 1969), and Charles Manson lived two blocks from a branch of The Process Church on Haight-Ashbury in 1967. Manson, who studied Scientology in jail prior to creating his Family, allegedly stated that he and Robert Grimston (the co-founder of The Process) were “one and the same.” This brings us back again to Strieber, who in 1968 was getting intimate with the inner works of The Process. It’s also curious to note how closely Strieber’s path came to crossing that of William Sims Bainbridge: Bainbridge spent four years with The Process Church, from 1969-1973. Inspired by the experience, Bainbridge developed the notion of religious engineering and proposed the creation of a Galactic Religion via UFO cults.

The Pheasantry was a melting pot for many influential artists of the period: as well as Martin Sharp, Eric Clapton (who later did the music for Communion) lived there briefly, on the top floor with the Oz-ies, as did the famous rock n’ roll photographer Robert Whitaker. Oz magazine ran a piece on The Process Church in the May 1967 issue, with a cover by Sharp; at the end of the article there was some artwork that included a flying saucer. On the page before, there was a short fragmentary piece about UFOs. The piece ends with the words “What we need is religion rather than religions—the gods are only shorthand for the gods inside your head—and more contact with ourselves.” Fortean Times wrote a piece on Oz magazine which including this statement: “But were it not for the hippies’ interest in flying saucers, nurtured by John Michell [and Martin Sharp], it’s doubtful that the continuing interest in such subjects would be part of our cultural landscape in the 21st century.” Religious engineering indeed. Is it a curious fact that Strieber, a down-home boy from Texas, was so close to this nexus, almost twenty years before he wrote Communion?

Another significant figure who lived at The Pheasantry during this period was David Litvinoff, an adviser on the production of the cult movie Performance, shot in London in autumn of 1968 around the time Strieber was scattering his marbles across Europe. The film was made by Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell; Cammell was in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising as Osiris, along with Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil, who played Lucifer. Cammell was the son of Charles Richard Cammell, a close friend and biographer of Aleister Crowley, and in fact Cammell was Crowley’s godson. For his role in Performance as “Chas,” a violent organized-crime figure, actor James Fox was trained by Litvinoff, an associate of the notorious Kray brothers, and Fox spent time with the Krays. To top it all, the Krays, like the Finders, were reputed to have been involved with supplying children to pederasts via the notorious Jersey care home. Another high-profile entertainment industry player who has since been implicated in the Jersey home scandal and who has been discussed in the present work: Jimmy Savile. (Savile was interviewed for a 1969 issue of The Process magazine, the “Sex” issue. The piece was called “The Natural Life of Jimmy Savile.”) This places Savile in the same circle as the Krays, the Cammells, the Claptons, and The Process—the foxes in with the pheasants—during roughly the same period. And Whitley Strieber?

Strieber’s forgotten London odyssey now showcases not only strange occultists, UFO-heads, and leading entertainment industry players, but organized London criminals and pederasts. It places him, as a twenty-something “underground filmmaker” making a documentary on The Process Church, at the very heart of the scene in the years 1967-9. How did he get there? What did his involvement consist of? Was he out in the field with Norman and the other Gurdjieff-initiated hippies, dropping LSD and looking for UFOs; was he getting glimpses into the world of hard-core criminality via Cammell and Litvinoff? If not, why not? If he was too square for all that, how did he wind up hanging out with Sharp and Mora and Eric Clapton at the center of the London ‘60s scene? Most puzzling of all, why has this period of his life been all-but stricken from the record, and what does it have to do with his ties to the CIA and conspicuous gaps in memory?

This is an excerpt from “Passport to Manchuria: Whitley’s Baby & the Unholy Junction of 1968.”

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley