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  • Lord Orsam

Around the Sphere

It turns out that the Sphere Scam I discussed in Diary Defender Scams Exposed! (and further in History of Sphere) is even wider than I thought.

The Volume 6 Issue

According to Caroline Morris-Brown, we are expected to believe that Mike Barrett single-handedly discovered the source of the 'Oh costly intercourse of death' line in the diary (being a poem by Richard Crashaw) from a volume of the Sphere History of Literature that he found on the shelves of the Liverpool Central Library on 30 September 1994. Yet, amazingly, as she appears to accept, Mike already had a set of the Sphere History of Literature at home, except that the volume Mike supposedly found in the library, volume 2, she believes, alone out of all the volumes, was missing from the set. But, at some point, after having returned home, Mike noticed that volume 6 was entitled 'The Victorians' and, not bothering to check it was the correct volume, but thinking it must be because of the title, telephoned Shirley Harrison three days later and told her that he had found the quote in volume 6.

Hence, Ms Morris-Brown wrote in a post on 26 February 2024:

"Mike did tell Shirley over the phone that he'd found the diary quotation - in the library - in Sphere volume 6, which is The Victorians. It would have been an understandable mistake to make when he was back indoors, with the box of books still with Jenny, if he had actually found it in volume 2, as a result of recognising the books on the library shelf in front of him, because they were from the same set he had acquired back in 1989. "

Does she think we are all completely stupid?

In the first place, there is no good reason to think that volume 2 was missing from the set in Mike's possession and certainly no evidence to support such a theory. Mike's story was that he had received a set of the Sphere History of Literature direct from the publisher for a Hillsborough charity appeal. Not only does this appear to have been corroborated by Jenny Morrison (per Inside Story, p.145), and it is to be noted in this respect that Jenny told Shirley Harrison in December 1996 that she still had in her possession the Sphere volumes "minus the relevant one which Mike took", but enquiries with the publisher established that they did indeed send out sets of the Sphere History of Literature for charity appeals, something Mike couldn't possibly have known unless he'd had personal experience of it. Hence, Shirley Harrison wrote in a post which Caroline Morris-Brown herself uploaded to Casebook on 5 May 2001:

"Yes, I did contact Sphere who confirmed that they were sending out books for charity events but could not give me any details - not surprising really."

That being so, and Mike received the Sphere books from Sphere, why would volume 2 have been missing from the set provided by the publisher?

Caroline Morris-Brown's strange belief that one of the volumes was missing is based on a misunderstanding of what Mike had said in 1999 which was, itself, based on a mistake by Keith Skinner who wrongly thought that there were 12 volumes in the series when it turns out that there were only 8 existing volumes in the set published during the 1980s.

As to the issue of Mike supposedly telling Shirley that he had found the quote in volume 6 of the Sphere History of Literature, this is based on Keith's note of a call with Shirley Harrison on 3 October 1994, three days after Mike had made the discovery:

‘Mike seems to have found “Oh Costly Intercourse of Death” – quite by chance.

Is in the Sphere Companion To English Literature Vol 6 (MB thinks) – did not even make a note of it!’


The fact that Mike might have muddled up the volume numbers three days after the discovery isn't particularly surprising because he seemed to muddle up his facts all the time. But, in this case, it's not entirely clear that he did so. How do we know that it wasn't Shirley who muddled up the numbers when speaking to Keith Skinner? After all, she's never produced any manuscript note of her conversation with Mike. She may have been speaking from memory of what Mike had said to her. Then again, without seeing Keith Skinner's original manuscript note of his conversation with Shirley, how do we know it wasn't Keith himself who muddled up the numbers?

What is known is that Mike gave Shirley the full correct reference on 6 October 1994 to enable Shirley to give the correct details to Liverpool Central Library so that the library could fax through a copy of the page in volume 2 which contains the Crashaw quote.

Caroline Morris-Brown can't seem to get it out of her head that volume 6 was labelled 'The Victorians' so that, in her mind, this must be the explanation for Mike making a mistake but, while it's not impossible that this is what caused Mike to muddle the two volumes up in his mind (i.e. a simple mistake of memory), her theory doesn't really make much sense. Mike had obviously found the quote in the correct volume, so why would he then have felt the need to guess the volume number on the basis of the title? Her explanation that Mike came home from the library to find he was in possession of an otherwise complete set of the Sphere History of Literature which happened to be missing volume 2 and then decided to guess that the one he'd just seen at the library was volume 6 on the basis that it was labelled 'The Victorians' is beyond ridiculous.

The other problem with the theory is something Caroline Morris rarely mentions, namely that it was Martine Rooney, Paul Feldman's assistant, who Mike telephoned on 30 September 1994 with news of his discovery, not Shirley Harrison. According to Rooney, Mike told her that he had the book containing the quotation in front of him while they spoke (Inside Story. p. 143). Not only that, he correctly told her that the diary was wrong because 'Oh costly' was actually 'O costly'. Ms Morris-Brown herself accepts that Mike did have the Sphere book in front of him at the time in order to see that the wording of the quote in the diary was wrong. How does that fit in with her theory?

The one time that she did mention this conversation, she claimed that Mike must have been speaking on a public payphone in the library with the book in front of him. But how many public libraries in England have or have ever had payphones in their reading rooms? None, I would suggest. No libraries would ever encourage noisy telephone calls in areas where their books are situated. At best, there might have been one in a lobby of the building in which the library was situated but if Mike used such a payphone it means he must have already checked out the book. In which case, not only would there have been a paper trail, but he would surely have taken it home with him, so wouldn't have needed to guess the volume number (or, if he did, he simply didn't have it in front of him while speaking on the telephone in the same way as could have happened with any volume he owned). Further, Caroline Morris-Brown visited the library in 2004 but she has never reported any public telephone in the entire building even though she must surely have looked for one.

It's not actually entirely clear when Mike spoke to Shirley Harrison about the book, although, on 11 October 1994, Shirley told Keith that she had spoken to Mike on 3 October 1994, the day she reported to him what Mike had said. Curiously, according to Caroline Morris-Brown, three days earlier, on 30 September 1994, the very day that Mike had reported his discovery to Martine Rooney, Shirley sent a handwritten letter to Keith Skinner in which she told him:

'I am hotfoot on the “intercourse” quote. Will report.’

Incredibly, no one seems to know to this day what Harrison meant by this, even though she is still alive and could be asked at any time.

Furthermore, Shirley Harrison appears to have been in no doubt that she was given the correct reference by Mike. In the only account she has ever publicly provided about her conversation with Mike (Jack the Ripper: The American Connection (2003), p. 267), she quotes him as having told her:

'You will find it in the Sphere History of English Literature, volume 2. It is by Richard Crashaw.'

But. if she is wrong about this, and Mike said volume 6, speaking from memory three days after the discovery, not having the book in front of him, as it was when he was speaking to Rooney (or so he said), this could explain why he got the volume number wrong. After all, I don't suppose Mike spent every single day in October carrying the book with him at all times when walking around his house. So when he spoke to Shirley on the telephone it might simply have been in another room. What is so difficult about that?

Or perhaps Shirley misheard him.

Or perhaps Keith misheard Shirley.

What happened to the book?

On 10 August 2004, Keith Skinner handed over £100 to Alan Gray for what has been described as a 'dog eared' hardback copy of volume 2 of the Sphere History of Literature (as pictured below).

Gray told him that this was the copy that Mike had given him outside his solicitor's office almost ten years earlier, on 6 December 1994. But how do we know that this is true?

How do we know that Gray wasn't scamming Keith? After all, he only needed to find a copy of the book in a second hand bookshop, which he could have picked up very cheaply, and then sold it to Keith for a huge profit, pretending it was Mike Barrett's copy.

The reason I am somewhat suspicious is because Gray had handed over his copy of the Sphere book to Melvin Harris about two years earlier. Thus, Harris posted on Casebook (via Peter Birchwood) on 16 February 2002:

"As for the Sphere book, it was given to Gray by Mike. Gray has now given it to me."

Melvin Harris died on 1 January 2004. How did it get from Harris or his widow back to Alan Gray so that it could be sold to Keith Skinner in August 2004?

I'm not saying it's impossible, only that what we might call the chain of custody is somewhat compromised. We only seem to have Gray's word that the copy he handed over the Keith in August 2004 was the same copy he had been given by Mike in December 1994 and that he had subsequently passed over into the possession of Melvin Harris.

Did Gray sell Mike's copy to Harris in 2002 and then sell another copy to Keith Skinner in 2004?

To the extent that Harris (or his widow) did return his copy of the book to Gray for him to give to Keith, why could that not be the same book received by Mike from Sphere in 1989 shorn of its dust jacket? We've been given vague descriptions of the book being 'dog eared' and 'well thumbed' with some pencilled notes in it, as if by a student, but where is the evidence of this? Why have we never been shown any images of those pencilled notes? If Keith received the book in 2002, that would have been 13 years after Mike had received it from Sphere, during which time he might well have lent it to Jenny Morrison's son for studying purposes. So why could it not have become dog eared in that very long period? I've never understood the argument that the only way the book could have developed a used appearance is if it had passed through a second hand book shop. After all, whether it came direct from Sphere in 1989 or was purchased from a book shop in 1989, that book would have been pretty much brand new in 1989, having been published in 1986. I've never understood why it couldn't have become aged in Mike's possession (passing through owners Harris and Gray and also handled by Jenny's son, if not others) so that it looked second hand in 2002. No one has ever been able to explain why that couldn't have happened.

I mean, just look at the logic of this argument as posted by Caroline Morris-Brown on Casebook on 24 August 2017:

"another problem is that the Sphere book in question would have been brand new in 1989, not out-of-print and certainly not used, according to Robert Smith. But when Mike finally handed over the volume he claimed to have had 'all along', and diary researchers eventually obtained it, it was obviously a used copy, with the early pages [not related to Crashaw] well-thumbed."

But, as I've said, if this was the Sphere hardback published in 1986 it would have been virtually brand new in 1989 whoever subsequently owned it, especially if it sat in the book shop for a few years before being sold. Those three years since publication wouldn't have made any practical difference to the condition of the book. So how is it a problem to say that the Sphere book in question (i.e. the one obtained by Mike from Sphere) would have been brand new in 1989 when that must have been true of the copy Keith bought from Alan Gray, assuming it was from the set published in the 1980s.

From the photograph of the spine provided, I'm pretty sure that the book in Keith's possession is the one published in 1986. If, however, it was published in 1970, this might explain why it looked so old in 2002. It would also mean that when Mike told Keith Skinner in 1999 that he received nine volumes of the Sphere series he might have been spot on because volume 7 of that series wasn't published, meaning that it only contained 9 volumes. Alternatively, on the basis that Mike's volume 2 was published in 1986, perhaps Sphere provided him with eight volumes from the 1980 (vols1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9 & 10) and supplemented this with the volume 7 published in the 1970s. If that was the case, Mike would have seen from inside volume 7 that there were supposed to be 12 volumes, which would again mean that in his mind he had received 9 volumes out of 12, just as he told Keith Skinner in 1999.

In any case, I can well envisage a scenario whereby Mike was annoyed that he'd lost his copy of volume 2 and, having managed to track down the reference in the library, decided to obtain a replacement from a second hand bookshop which he would then pretend to have owned all along. It's just the type of stupid thing one can see him doing. It doesn't mean that he didn't locate the source of the phrase in the first place nor does it negate the importance of him clearly having owned a set of the Sphere books since 1989. Those two facts are the only important facts relating to this issue and we should not allow diary defenders to distract us from them by peripheral issues which they love to focus on.

Does it matter if Mike didn't have volume 2 in his possession in September 1994?

I have always thought that it was entirely possible that Mike received volume 2 of the Sphere series from Sphere in 1989, saw the Crashaw quote and remembered it in 1992, but, by 1994, when he actually wanted to prove to people that he wrote the diary (something that, until this time, had probably never occurred to him might be something he wanted to do), he might well have (a) forgotten in which book he had seen that bloody quote and (b) mislaid, discarded or lent out his copy of that book. I can well imagine both these things. Many times have I wanted to find something in a book I thought I owned only to find either that I'd wrongly recalled which book it was and/or it was something I'd seen in a book I didn't actually possess, or something like that. Why could this not have happened to Mike?

How frustrating it must have been for Mike in September 1994 to have known that he saw that Crashaw quote in a book but he just couldn't find that book anywhere and had forgotten the book's title. Perhaps he had a few remaining Sphere volumes and, having searched those, visited the Liverpool Central Library where he managed to locate volume 2. After all, it's fair to say that he did give a number of accounts in which he said he found the book in a library. In particular, Shirley Harrison told Keith Skinner on 11 October 1994 that Mike was very upset about her recently published paperback and, being ‘determined to do something serious about this’, told her he had spent a week in the library trying to find the quote. This, incidentally, totally contradicts Harrison's later claim in her book that she had instructed Mike to find the quote in the library. If what he told her in October 1994 was true, it was something he did on his own accord. Mike also appears to have told his solicitors that he found the phrase "in library".

But did the Liverpool Central Library have the book on its shelves in 1994?

Caroline Morris-Brown seems to be in no doubt that it did because there were three copies on the shelf when she and Keith Skinner visited in 2002-2004. But she doesn't seem to appreciate that time works in a linear fashion so that the fact that they were there in 2002 and 2004 doesn't necessarily mean they were there in 1994. According to Shirley Harrison:

"On March 22 1998 I wrote to Janet Graham at the Liverpool Library "in the pursuit of exact information" to double check the existence of the Sphere books in the library. I was told that all the volumes were in fact there - not on the shelves but in their repository upstairs."

She added that:

"I telephoned Janet Graham today and she has just returned my call - with the volume containing the Crashaw lines in her hand."

So, in March 1998,it would seem that the book wasn't on the open shelves or at least that Janet Graham wasn't able to locate a copy on the open shelves.

There's no doubt that Liverpool Central Library managed to find volume 2 on 6 October 1994 in order to make a copy of the relevant page which was faxed through to Shirley Harrison. But they could have found that volume in the repository and returned it once copied. After all, Janet Graham appears to have told Shirley Harrison in 1998 that the volumes of the Sphere books were not on the shelves, but in the repository.

Keith Skinner spoke to Janet Graham on 27 February 2002 to try and clear the matter up, but what she said only seemed to deal with inaccurate information Melvin Harris had been given by library staff to the effect that the library didn't possess volume 2 of the Sphere series at all. This was obviously wrong and Graham said she was embarrassed that library staff had failed to do a precise bibliographical check but she didn't deal with whether any of the volumes were on the shelves in 1994 or 1998. What she told Keith was:

"I have now ascertained there are 4 copies at the Central Reference Library - three of which the public have immediate access to in the International Collection, whilst the fourth is "stacked" in a repository, (to which the public have no access), which serves the Humanities Section. Members of the public wishing to look at the copy in Humanities can, of course, call it up."

It's not entirely clear from this whether the three copies in the International Collection (which were the copies seen and photographed by Keith Skinner in 2002) were on the open shelves in 1994 and 1998, in which case the information provided by Janet Graham to Shirley in 1998 was inaccurate, or if those copies had only been put there after all the enquiries that had been made about it from researchers.

Nevertheless, it's not impossible that the librarian had been confused in 1998 and had only checked the Humanities section for which the copy was in the repository. If that's the case, Mike might have found volume 2 on the open shelves but I don't believe for one second that he wasn't looking for something he hadn't seen before.

After all, we are told in 'Inside Story' that, after Mike spoke to Feldman's assistant on 30 September 1994, saying that he had found the quote (but hadn't revealed the title of the book), Feldman sent his researcher Carol Emmas to Liverpool Central Library but she, along with Anne Graham, couldn't locate the quote in any of the available books on the open shelves (and they presumably asked the librarian for help).

To me, though, the question of whether volume 2 was or was not available in Liverpool Central Library is a side issue, especially as one can see that Mike might easily have found the quote in the library having first seen and remembered it from one of the books he had been sent by Sphere in 1989. The key issue is whether Mike did, in fact, receive a set of the Sphere History of Literature in 1989. As to that, there doesn't seem to be any dispute from Caroline Morris-Brown or the other authors of 'Inside Story'. That being so, one does have to ask oneself whether it is possible to accept the coincidence of Mike Barrett, the only person in the world who has claimed to have written the obviously forged diary, being not only the first person to find the quote in volume 2 of the Sphere series but also being someone who had the relatively rare Sphere series at home since 1989, whether complete or not.

Once you place this entire issue within the context of Mike seeking a Victorian diary with blank pages in March 1992, it's only possible to arrive at one solution as to what was going on here.

LORD ORSAM 7 March 2024

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