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  • Lord Orsam

History of Sphere

Updated: Feb 28

Following my blog post Diary Defender Scams Exposed! which dealt, in part, with The Sphere Scam, I've been doing some further research into the Sphere History of Literature.

By way of background, it will be recalled that Mike Barrett told Keith Skinner at the Cloak & Dagger event in April 1999 that he was sent nine volumes of the Sphere History of Literature, not twelve as Keith Skinner claimed. I said in my blog post that there were only ever ten volumes, and that Mike is likely to have received them all. From my additional research, I now think that, as at 1989, when Mike would have received the volumes for a Hillsborough charity appeal, there were only eight volumes of the Sphere History of Literature in existence.

By way of reminder of the issue, Caroline Morris-Brown claimed that Mike had told Keith Skinner that three of the volumes were "missing". He certainly never said this at the Cloak & Dagger event [correction: he did mumble the words "three missing" while Keith Skinner was talking, something I didn't pick up when I transcribed the interview] but Morris-Brown appears to have assumed that Keith Skinner was right when he said that there were 12 volumes of the Sphere History of Literature, so that when Mike corrected him and said that there were only 9 volumes he was, in some way, admitting that he never received three of the volumes or that those three volumes were missing.

Attempting to work out how many volumes actually existed in the series is complicated by the fact that there were three separate series' of the History of Literature: the first series published by Sphere during the 1970s, a second (slightly different) series published during the 1980s and a third series published by Penguin (called the Penguin History of Literature).

This is the first Sphere series from the 1970s (taken from inside Volume 10, published in 1975):

Now compare this to the titles in the edition published in the 1980s (taken from Volume 2, published in 1987):

It can be seen that the titles are the same, apart from Volumes 4 and 5 which are both different, and that volume 7 in the first series from the 1970s was edited by Bernard Bergonzi, whereas during the 1980s it was edited by Martin Dodsworth.

Now check out the explanatory notes which appeared beneath the above list in the 1987 edition:

As at 1987, therefore, volumes 5 and 7 had not yet been published from the 1980s series and were due to be published in 1988.

However, as far as I can tell, although revised volumes of 3, 6, 9 and 10 were republished as planned in 1987, volumes 5 and 7 were never published in the series during the 1980s. They were only ever published in the Penguin series in the 1990s, with both 5 and 7 being published for the first time by Penguin in 1994 (and the publishing information inside the two books shows that this was indeed the first time both had ever been published).

This means that Mike could not have received more than the existing 8 volumes in 1989.

According to an old Casebook post on 23 December 2001, Peter Wood, having listened to one of the interview tapes of Mike Barrett by Alan Gray (one of those which is now totally inaudible to us) said:

"They are back onto the Crashaw quote now and Mike is retelling about contacting Sphere in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, he said something about "...two volumes of books, volumes 1 to 7..". "

So Mike seems to have believed that he received Volumes 1 to 7 but, if these were part of the series from the 1980s, he couldn't have received volumes 5 and 7. Further, while volume 7 was published in 1970 as part of the Sphere series, it looks like volume 5 wasn't ever published, either during the 1970s or 1980s in the Sphere series, so that it wasn't physically possible for Mike to have received a complete set of volumes 1 to 7 even if the two series were mixed.

I suspect that Mike received all eight volumes but that, due to the fact that volumes 5 and 7 were absent, because they didn't exist, this caused confusion in his mind as to how many he had been given. If Mike did, as he appears to have thought in 1994, receive only seven volumes out of what he would no doubt have believed should be ten, perhaps he did think that three volumes were missing but he certainly didn't say this at the Cloak & Dagger event in April 1999.

If Mike received eight volumes, he had a complete set. If he received seven there would have been one missing but it would be somewhat extraordinary if this was volume 2, which was the volume containing the Crashaw quote. There is no reason to think that he didn't have this volume.

That Mike received a set of the Sphere History of Literature in 1989 for the Hillsborough appeal is one of the few things that the diary researches managed to corroborate. As stated on page 145 of Inside Story, 'Harrison phoned Barrett's friend Jenny Morrison, who corroborated his story.'

The key points I made in my Diary Defender Scams Exposed! blog post remain exactly the same, namely: (1) Keith Skinner was wrong in saying that there were 12 volumes of the Sphere series, (2) Caroline Morris-Brown was wrong to say that Mike told Keith Skinner at the meeting in April 1999 that 3 volumes were "missing" (in quotes) [that is now corrected as above but see the update below] and (3) that Mike is likely to have received a complete set of the series from the publisher but that he misremembered the number, only that his mistake was in saying 9 instead of 8 as opposed to 9 instead of 10.

LORD ORSAM 26 February 2024

UPDATE: 28 February 2024

While, as I've stated in the correction above, Mike did appear to say in 1999 that three volumes out of twelve from the Sphere series were missing, Caroline Morris-Brown's reaction to being told that there were only ten volumes in the series is surprising to say the least. She keeps making the point that a couple of her 1970s Sphere paperbacks list 12 volumes. Yes, they do. In 1970 it was anticipated that there would be twelve volumes in the future, so that this is what we find in those early editions (of vols 1, 2, 6 and 7, which were not published in sequence):

But the books listed here as volumes 10 and 12 were never published within the Sphere series in any form. There never was a volume called Commonwealth Literature nor one called A Dictionary of English Literature. By 1973, the list had changed to the one I've already reproduced in the main body of the text above showing only ten volumes but repeat here:

What was said in 1970 to be Volume 11, The English Language, ended up by 1973 becoming volume 10. So what purpose is served by Caroline Morris-Brown telling us that in a few of the volumes published in 1970 there were 12 (future) volumes listed?

I truly don't know. These people like to speak in riddles. She accepts that Mike received a set of volumes from Sphere in 1989 for a charity appeal. So did Sphere send him a set from the 1970s?

That is an interesting question because, if that were the case, Mike might well have seen from the list in one of the books that there were supposed to be 12 volumes and, if he only received 9 (because volume 5 wasn't published until 1994, and volumes 10 and 12 were never published) he might well have thought, quite reasonably and understandably, that there were three missing volumes. Indeed, he would have been correct. There were three missing volumes. Those three that were never published. So nine volumes was, in fact, the full set during the 1970s.

It's curious that Mike told Keith that he received nine volumes and that three volumes were missing, something which, if he was referring to the original Sphere series from the 1970s was 100% correct.

Now, one question to which I don't believe we know the answer is what was the publication date of the book (volume 2) that Alan Gray gave Keith Skinner? Was it a hardback published in the 1970s? Did Sphere send out an old set of out-of-date books for the charity appeal in 1989? Or was in a hardback published in the 1980s?

Then we have a really strange question from Caroline Morris-Brown on Casebook:

"If Sphere Books did send Mike a complete set of eight titles in 1989, there is still the mystery of why he didn't hand volume 2 over to Alan Gray months sooner, or at least lodge it with his solicitor, and why it was in the condition it was."

So she seems to accept here that there were only eight volumes in the Sphere series from the 1980s, thus proving that if Mike said he received nine volumes there couldn't possibly have been three missing and, in the process, completely negating her own point about Mike admitting to missing volumes in his set. But as for her question, where is the mystery? Mike only mentioned the discovery of the quote for the first time on 30 September 1994. The first specific mention of volume 2 by him occurred at some point on or after 3 October. We know for a fact that Mike mentioned volume 2 to his solicitors on 13 October 1994. We don't actually know when he lodged the book with his solicitors but, if it was in October 1994, he could hardly have lodged it 'months sooner' bearing in mind that he only worked out where the quote came from on 30 September 1994. If the question is: why he didn't work out that he'd taken the quote from that particular book earlier? Well that's another question entirely but could easily be answered by the fact that he'd forgotten where it came from.

It also seems to be the case that Mike only became interested in digging out evidence to support his claim to have forged the diary in September 1994. Prior to this, after the initial excitement of his June 1994 confession, which is the earliest he could possibly have wanted to reveal any information about his forgery to which he hadn't previously admitted, he didn't seem too bothered, or at least there isn't any evidence that he cared about proving anything to anyone during July and August, during a period when, as I understand it, he was recovering (in hospital for a while) from an alcohol related illness.

As for why the book was in the condition it was, it should not be forgotten that she is talking about the condition of the book as at August 2004 when Keith Skinner saw it for the first time. Or, in other words, some 15 years after Mike would have received it (presumably new) from Sphere. The condition of books can deteriorate over a period of 15 years, especially without a dust cover. But we do need to know the publication date of the book in Keith Skinner's possession if we are to be able to even begin to consider this question because it's currently unclear to me if it was a volume from the 1970s or the 1980s.

We also have this:

'If Mike could have seen ten hardback volumes in the library in September 1994, but only had the eight that were published by 1989, might that have led to his assumption about "missing" volumes?'

I think she is confused. There never were ten hardback volumes of the Sphere History of Literature. There were nine volumes of the book in the 1970s and eight volumes in the 1980s. By the 1990s, the series became the Penguin History of Literature. Mike didn't, in any case, need to see any volumes in the library to know that there were supposed to be ten volumes in the 1980s series because this would have been stated inside the existing eight volumes. But, if he ever opened one of the four volumes published in 1970s, he would have seen that there were twelve volumes listed within the Sphere series (as the intended total) and this might have led him to think that he had been given a set by the publisher which was incomplete and had some missing volumes.

Finally, despite it being her own idiosyncratic theory that, despite having received a set of Sphere books from Sphere, Mike didn't possess volume 2, it's not, she tells us, for her to prove this theory. Oh no, it's for others to disprove it. Hence:

"It's not up to me to prove that Mike didn't own a volume 2 prior to December 1994. It's up to Palmer to prove he owned one prior to 1992 and used it to introduce Crashaw to the diary via his word processor."

That is not, of course, how it works. If she has a theory which she wants to promote, she needs to prove it. And it is her theory that we are discussing. Her sole basis for saying that Mike didn't have volume 2 is that he told Keith Skinner in 1999 that he only had nine volumes. But we now know that this was the correct number for the 1970s series and one too many for the 1980s series. In neither case could he possibly have had any volumes missing!

As for proof that he owned volume 2, she knows very well that Shirley Harrison told Keith Skinner on 5 December 1996 that:

"Jenny still has Sphere volumes minus the relevant one which Mike took when he left + £70!"

This could only have come direct from Jenny. No way would Mike himself have told Shirley that he took £70 from Jenny. She knows this but plays dumb. That is surely all the proof that is needed.

Ultimately, that's not even the key point. Palmer doesn't need to prove that Mike owned volume 2. The key point is that Mike owned a set of Sphere books in the History of Literature series, and the extremely rare 'Oh costly intercourse' quote could be found in one of the Sphere books in that exact same series. It's too much to ask us to accept this as a bizarre coincidence, especially bearing in mind Mike's attempt to acquire a genuine Victorian diary with blank pages in March 1992.


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