Radio 4 is a UK national radio station operated by the BBC. It broadcasts news, current affairs, drama, comedy, documentaries discussion programmes – and more.
In 1987 (shortly after Hubbard’s death) Radio 4 transmitted, “Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L Ron Hubbard” in the UK. This was a biography of Hubbard, informed by interviews with many of prominent individuals involved in Dianetics and Scientology.
This radio programme is Seriously Flawed. It tries to be fair and balanced, but frequently loses perspective and often sounds like an apologist text written by the Church itself. To be fair to the programme makers, at this time Hubbard’s life was terra incognita.
However, it is worth listening to for the interviews with early practitioners of Dianetics and Scientology – and shows how times have changed.
1987 – The Scientology Dark Ages
In 1987, there was no reliable information about Hubbard’s life. The people whom made “Ruthless Adventure” had a serious problem. They had to rely completely on the accounts of recent defectors, and the Church itself.
Unfortunately, the defectors still tended to view Hubbard as a ‘great man’ – and the journalists, bending over backwards to be fair, perhaps allowed the defectors fervent belief to influence their presentation of Hubbard.
Gerry Armstrong Changes Everything
The first reliable information about Hubbard’s life did not emerge until after “Ruthless Adventure” was completed. Its source was one Gerry Armstrong – who was actually interviewed for the programme.
Armstrong had been a Scientologist tasked with preparing an archive of material for Hubbard’s official biography. As his work progressed he found himself unable to ignore the inconsistencies between Hubbard’s account of his life and the picture revealed by the personal papers and official documents he was organising.
He gradually discovered that Hubbard had lied extensively – for example about his farcical war record.
Armstrong lost faith, and left the Church. He speaks about this in his interview – but does not mention that he had copied substantial portions of the archive and leaked them to journalists.
These documents were used to describe the reality of Hubbard’s life, in detail, in books such as “Bare Faced Messiah” and “A Piece of Blue Sky” (1990 | 2013). Later, Hubbard’s black magic activities, which he worked so hard to suppress, would be revealed in books like “Strange Angel” and “Sex and Rockets“.
Back in 1987, and unknown to the BBC, the Church of Scientology was worried that Armstrong’s documents would come to light, and had already prepared various means of neutralising them.
L Ron Hubbard – Secret Agent (?)
For example, in order to deal with the problem of Hubbard’s war record, they employed one Fletcher Prouty, to present to the BBC what was to become the ‘party line’. The Church of Scientology claims, to this day, that Hubbard’s official service record was falsified to provide cover for his intelligence activities.
In civilian life, Prouty was a eccentric conspiracy theorist. However, his extensive past military career gave him sufficient credibility for the journalists to admit this theory as a possibility.
Another of the interviewees was Marjorie Cameron, the woman who participated in the strange “Babylon Working” rituals performed by pioneer rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons and L Ron Hubbard.
The author of “Wormwood Star, The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron” reveals the origin of Prouty’s cover story – which the journalists in 1987 should have been aware of.
Back in 1969, the British Sunday Times ran an expose on Hubbard’s participation with Jack in The Babylon Working and cited Aleister Crowley as a catalytic influence on Hubbard’s teachings. To counter this claim, Hubbard issued a cover story in which he painted himself as a cloak-and dagger intelligence agent, sent in to the Fleming mansion on South Orange Grove, to rescue his future wife Betty from the evil clutches of Jack Parsons’ black magic ring. This dubious scenario played hard and fast with the facts, yet in the subsequent radio broadcast Cameron, surprisingly, gave credence to this line, musing how Hubbard, “may have been an agent – as he claims.”
Yes, the “radio programme” mentioned is “Ruthless Adventure”, and Cameron is interviewed in it.
Although it did not present the Church in a positive light, “Ruthless Adventure” represents a publicity coup for the Church of Scientology. It is telling that they only managed to make it less bad than it might have been. They would never be able to achieve this degree of control of the media again.
Soon, Armstrong’s leaked documents, and the books based upon them, would demolish Hubbard’s claims about his accomplishments. Later, the Internet would make it easy to access information about the Church – if the journalists who made “Ruthless Adventure” had been online, they would never have overlooked the Sunday Times article.
If you have ever wondered how the Church of Scientology has got away with its deceptive practices for so long, this programme provides part of the answer. When Ruthless Adventure was made, there were very few reliable sources of information, which were very difficult to access. This made it easy for the Church of Scientology to operate in secrecy, cover its tracks and muddy the waters.
Gerry Armstrong’s revelations were a crippling blow to the organisation, and the freedom of information enabled by the Internet is finishing them off. If a programme like “Ruthless Adventure” was commissioned today, the BBC would not make the same mistakes.