Weird Musical History #11
Doris Stokes was Britain’s foremost medium in the eighties. She was a regular on television, had a series of autobiographical books and toured the world selling out theatres with her displays of mediumship. She was spiritual advisor to the stars – John Inman, Freddie Starr and members of the cast of Coronation Street. Mrs Stokes claimed she had contacted Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Tommy Cooper and Diana Dors from beyond the grave.[i]
Which brings me to her strange album, Welcome to My World… in all its pinkness (pictured at the top). The LP has excerpts from three consecutive nights in which she communicated with the spirit world in the Dominion Theatre in London, interspersed with specially recorded music by guitar legend Bert Weedon. I’ve listened to it so you don’t have to…
The record begins with Doris being welcomed to the stage and in her chatty grandmotherly way she tells the audience that tonight she is going to prove that there is life after death…
But first she tells a couple of gags:
Two psychics meet in a supermarket. One says to the other, ‘You’re alright, love, but how am I?’
A man went to a medium and said he was very fond of sport and wanted the medium to inquire if they played cricket in the afterlife. The medium said she would find out during her next séance. The man returned the next day eager for the answer to his question. The medium said ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is they do play cricket in the afterlife.’
‘And what’s the bad news?’ the man asked.
‘You’re team captain on Tuesday.’
Then the demonstration begins. Sometimes, she reminds me of Frankie Howerd in the way she interacts with the spirits she claims to hear: ‘Did she? Oooo now, I can’t say that….’
Doris throws out a lot of correct names given to her by the spirits – too many to be coincidence. Some are very specific – Chalky White and Smudger Clarke are spirits she names as friends of an audience member. In a prosaic moment she correctly tells one woman that she has just bought a new cooker and saved £135.
Stokes produces names of departed loved ones, addresses, seemingly meaningful messages and details of audience members lives. In the interviews that are interspersed with the theatre performance, her fans are convinced that the only way Doris could have known these things was through communication with the spirit world.
The Other Side
Side two continues with the demonstration but is much less successful. She vainly (and it seems to me rather desperately) calls out names of spirits to see if anyone in the audience will claim them: David… Dennis… Dean… Paul…Paula…Pauline…Peter?
Compared to side 1, the first few minutes of side 2 seem rather embarrassing and it’s odd why she would include them on the record.
However, along come the silky strings of Bert Weedon – if you’re a guitarist of a certain age you may be familiar with his deceptively titled teach yourself guitar book, Play in a Day. He was a fan of Doris and so contributed some music for her album.
As Bert twangs ‘Welcome to my World’ accompanied by an accordion, Doris intones over the music, ‘Hello my loves, I’m Doris Stokes and I want to say to you welcome to my world for my world is full of hope and love…’
Between more pleasant noodling by Bert, Doris tells an interviewer of her life. She had lost four children and suffered cancer. She had been paralysed with stress for two years and the medication she was prescribed turned her into a zombie. Fortunately, her spirit guide told her to flush her drugs down the toilet and trust in God and the spirits, which she did and she was cured.
As if the record couldn’t get any more maudlin, Doris ends by reciting a poem about one of her spirit children backed by Bert Weedon’s sobbing strings:
In a baby castle just beyond my eye
My baby plays with angel toys that money cannot buy…
How to talk to the dead…
There are two ways to communicate with the dead: cold reading and hot reading.
Cold reading is when you throw out names, dates, illnesses, numbers or whatever until you get a hit. ‘Is there a John in the room… Johnny… Or is it Jonathon… Wait, it’s Jane… Jean… Jeannie… The spirits tell me there’s a birthday coming up in your family…. Or it’s an anniversary….It was a sudden passing, wasn’t it…..’ Just keep throwing stuff out, you’ll get a hit eventually. People remember the occasional hit and forget the misses.
However, although Doris did do some pretty unimpressive cold reading in her performances and on her album, her preferred method was hot reading. This means finding out information about the client before a sitting.
Doris would get many letters and phone calls from people who had lost a loved one. She would contact them and offer them comfort and at the same time pick up nuggets of information. The bereaved person would then get free tickets through the post to one of her shows and be seated in the front rows – Doris always booked out the first few rows to herself.
When the demonstration began, Doris would call out the name of people she knew would be in the audience as if these names had been given to her by the spirits. She would then impressively repeat the names, numbers, and other details she had already picked up from her previous communication. If we were going to be uncharitable, Stokes exploited bereaved people grieving for their parents, spouses or children and cynically planted them in her audience.[ii]
Magician Paul Daniels called her a phoney and made her a £10000 bet that she couldn’t convince him of her powers.[iii] The secretary of the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain defended her reputation against the accusations of fraud. He said that she was not clever enough to carry out such deceptions.[iv] I think she was.
Doris Stokes died in 1987. But her odd collaboration with Bert Weedon lives on…
[i] Daphne Oxland ‘Wiedersehen, Pat, by Doris’, Nottingham Evening Post 25 November 1985, p.8; Paul Callan ‘Doris Stokes: Trick or Truth’, Daily Mirror 15 June 1987, p.9
[ii] See Ian Wilson, The After Death Experience, (London: Corgi, 1987), pp.83-93
[iii] ‘She was a phoney’, Daily Mirror 16 June 1987, pp.14-15
[iv] John Preston, ‘Troubled Time in the Spirit World’, Western Daily Press 13 October 1987, p.13
2 thoughts on “Doris Stokes – Welcome to my World”
Interesting. I watched Psychic Sally (Sally Morgan) in Halifax a few years ago, (who I called Psychic Soozy in my blog) and she came out with some of the most ridiculous comments I have ever heard.
Not sure about mediums. They can’t prove it and we can’t disprove it. Though I am very interested in ‘physical’ mediums who claim to be able to make spirits appear.
I know what you mean about physical mediums – it’s a same they seem to have gone out of fashion. Perhaps there’s a world shortage of ectoplasm!