“Ruthless Adventure” – How Scientology Played the British Broadcasting Corporation

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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.

1987 | Ruthless Adventure: The Lives of L Ron Hubbard
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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 gerry_armstrongabout 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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

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6 thoughts on ““Ruthless Adventure” – How Scientology Played the British Broadcasting Corporation

  1. From Reconnection Magazine 27, page 7:
    ATACK TALKS
    RUTHLESS ADVENTURE
    On August 11th, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a forty-minute biography of Ron Hubbard. I spent a great deal of time helping presenter Margaret Percy with documents and contacts, and I was very disappointed with ‘Ruthless Adventure – the Lives of L. Ron Hubbard’. So much so that I wrote to the Radio Times, where my letter was printed.

    Margaret submitted to the propaganda tactics of the CofS. She came to believe that Hubbard was an important figure in the US Intelligence community. She based this idea on an anecdote related by Hubbard to Navy officer Thomas Moulton in 1943; a few documents which she thought were forged; an interview with the CofS’s expert Fletcher Prouty; and a supposed Navy document which the CofS have refused to put into the public domain, which does not exist in the Navy records. She did not study the entire Navy record; nor have any analysis done of the hundred or more documents in it which bear Hubbard’s signature.

    I had no idea that Margaret had changed her mind until the night before the programme went out, when she phoned and apologised. By then it was too late. If I had been given chance I could have demonstrated the impossibility of her hypothesis. After the programme, the producer admitted that they had glossed over Hubbard’s involvement with Magick. I also learned to my horror that among his friends was an old-time B-1 agent. Enough said.

    • Thanks for this – if you have a scan of the original article in “Reconnection”or the letter to the “Radio Times” I would love to add them to the post.

      “Ruthless Adventure” was certainly not BBC Journalism’s finest hour. As I say in the post, it’s remarkable that, although the Church of Scientology managed to persuade the programme-maker to accept the risible idea that Hubbard may have been an intelligence operative, the actual programme still makes it clear that he was a shady character.

      Perhaps they glossed over the ‘Magick’ because it was just too bizarre to be taken seriously at that time. It has often struck me that Scientology is so outrageous that people who are hearing about it for the first time will often assume that you are a anti-Scientology zealot who is making things up because ‘it can’t be that bad’. Hubbard himself said something to the effect that Scientology’s greatest weapon was that it was unbelievable.

      These were early days for Scientology exposes. ‘Religious’ matters were handled with kid gloves in this period and the BBC was also possibly concerned with more with appearing to be ‘balanced’ than with seeking the truth.

      Still, the programme is interesting for some of the interviews and the quite skilled way that Hubbard’s farcical Naval career was successfully misrepresented. This degree of subtlety is completely absent from the crude attacks mounted against documentary-makers today – witness the smear sites created by Scientology to attack Alex Gibney when he made “Going Clear” and the ongoing attacks upon Louis Theroux for “My Scientology Movie”, before it has even been released’.

      PS – for clarity’s sake, I should probably point out the “Atack” referred to above is Jon Atack, Author of the essential history of the Church of Scientology “A Piece of Blue Sky” now available in a new edition (expanded) edition.

      • Re: Hubbard himself said something to the effect that Scientology’s greatest weapon was that it was unbelievable.

        The actual quote is: “Incredulity of our data and validity. This is our finest asset and gives us more protection than any other single asset. If certain parties thought we were real we would have infinitely more trouble. There’s actual terror in the breast of a guilty person at the thought of OT, and without a public incredulity we never would have gotten as far as we have. And now its too late to be stopped. This protection was accidental but it serves us very well indeed. Remember that next time the ignorant scoff.” – HCOB 29th of July, 1963

        I don’t have a scan of that, but it is quoted in the 1965 Board of Inquiry into Scientology:
        http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Library/Shelf/anderson/ar02.html
        Someone made it into a quote-card: http://i.imgur.com/qp158P8.jpg

      • I’ve searched in vain for B-1. From context, I’m assuming the friend was claiming to be a member of a wartime clandestine organisation (in which case it’s strange that would supply information and a journalist would admit that they did).

        Am I close?

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