Near the end of 2021, Danny Robins sat at a microphone in his shed and proclaimed his new podcast was going to be the “biggest investigation into the paranormal ever”. Amazingly, he turned out to be right. In the intervening year and a bit, Uncanny has attracted a global online community of inquisitive, engaged people with a shared interest in ghosts, UFOs, and all the strange things that go bump in the night.
Hundreds of them came together in real life at the UncannyCon in London, and more will gather at a series of live dates all over the UK later this year. Meanwhile in the digital space, Robins expanded his next spooky investigation into nine-part podcast The Witch Farm. On the West End stage, Robbins’ creepy play 2:22 A Ghost Story continues to play to packed houses. There’s even a television version of Uncanny being filmed for the BBC. Still often speaking from his shed, Robins is spearheading a multi-platform revolution in how we talk about things we cannot explain.
This week, fans’ entreaties have finally been answered – the Uncanny files are being reopened. The Big Issue caught up with Danny Robins just after the first episode of series two was released into our ears.
The Big Issue: It’s release day for the first episode of Uncanny’s second series – how are you feeling?
Danny Robins: It’s really nice to be back. There’s been such a clamour for more episodes. So it’s really nice to be able to deliver on that front and to basically stop people harassing me on Twitter.
I’ve lived with these stories for a while. The one coming out next week is one I think about almost every day, it keeps playing around in my thoughts. And so being able to share them and talk about them… it’s brilliant.
Give us a little taste of what we can expect in this series.
These are ordinary people with really extraordinary stories. And they are all stories – bar one – that you’ll never have heard of before, because they are stories that people are telling to me for the first time. In some cases, they’re stories that people haven’t even shared with their partner. They’re profound experiences and in pretty much every case, life-changing to some degree.
We have apparitions of ghostly monks. We have a really interesting and disturbing and quite poignant poltergeist case that takes place in a family home in Stratford-upon-Avon. We have a story of strange beasts, so we’re delving into the realms of cryptozoology for the first time. We are looking at one well-known case, which is the Rendlesham UFO incident, which took place in 1980, and is one of the most celebrated UFO incidents in the UK.
We are also returning to some of the cases from last series as well. There will be an update on Room 611, for instance. I love the fact that some of these stories have gone from being just somebody emailing me to almost a classic British ghost story. Room 611, or Luibeilt are up there with the Enfield Poltergeist now, in terms of the interest around them, and the richness of them.
I love the fact that the podcast has given a platform for these cases. We’ve got this kind of citizen journalism going on, that there are people coming forward and telling us their own experiences.
You started Uncanny by saying it was the biggest investigation into the paranormal ever, which was maybe slightly hyperbolic at the time… do you feel you’ve been proven right?
It was a bold statement that was potentially really hyperbolic, but was backed up by a hope that people would get on board. I love the fact that this thing that people have now called the ‘Uncanny Community’ has grown up. The idea of it being the biggest investigation ever: it kind of is true. There are thousands of people now around the world contributing to these cases, feeding in their data, their questions, their theories, their own experiences.
I feel like we’re all on this adventure together. We’ve all got the same skin in the game: we’re all fascinated by what happens after we die.
The Big Issue:You’ve had a couple of in-person Uncanny events now. What have you learned about the Uncanny Community?
Danny Robins: I think what I’ve learned is that there is no single type of person interested in this. It runs a really broad spectrum of age and background. I get whole families of people coming down. I get people turning up with their eight-year-old kids.
I think it’s a sign of the times. We’re living through a moment where certain things to do with our society – Covid and climate change and war, all these things that make us question our mortality – are making us think about the subject more. So I feel like it’s tapping into a need in the audience.
Later in the year Uncanny’s going on tour round the UK. What can people expect?
It gives us a chance to dive into lots of smaller cases that previously were not getting used in the series. There’s so many lovely, one-hit-wonder stories. A really weird thing that happens to somebody one day.
Also, we use humour in the show. That’s really important because this could be an incredibly serious and upsetting subject looked at in one way, that idea of death.
We are dealing with a thing where there’s a fairly seismic rift between two sides of our audience: you either believe that the dead can come back to life, or you fundamentally don’t. It doesn’t get much more divided than that. It feels like that’s more divided than Brexit, really! Being able to bond and talk in a fun and easy-going way is important, I think. Society is so divided. So creating a space where people can have incredibly divided views, and yet get on, is great. The live events are where we really see that in action.
I love the fact that throughout the course of an evening, you might change your mind. You might arrive Team Sceptic, and leave Team Believer or vice versa. I just love that. I think the most underrated thing in our world right now, is the ability to keep an open mind.
We’re attempting to make it feel like the podcast on screen. But having more time – we have hour long episodes – and having more budget allows us to do things that we can’t in the podcast. We can go out on location, we can go to the places where the case has happened. We can conduct experiments to try and explore some of the sceptic theories in the show.
Clearly, I’m telling a real story, but I’m employing lots of the techniques and devices of a horror movie. Any ghost story revolves around somebody who’s been really frightened telling you about their experience, and trying to make you feel frightened as well. Because the more frightened you feel, the more likely you are to believe that story. They need to convey to you that life-changing thing they felt.
Last time we spoke, you told us you want to believe. Since then, have you shifted at all towards either Team Sceptic or Team Believer?
I think as human beings, we always want to see evidence. So until the moment I actually witness that ghost myself, it will be very hard for me to say 100% I definitely believe ghosts exist. What I can say is that I don’t have answers for many, many, many, many, many things that I’m told. I listen to people tell these stories and I can’t come up with answers. And that unsettles me.
I wouldn’t be making this programme unless I felt that the mysteries at the heart of it were inexplicable and troubling and worthy of deep investigation. And I guess that’s the thing that makes me get up every day – the hope that ghosts might be real, and the belief in the witnesses. When I look into the whites of their eyes, I believe totally that they have experienced the thing that they are telling me.
So that’s about as close as I can come to saying, ‘I believe ghosts exist’. I believe that we don’t have an answer for these ghost stories. And that answer might be that ghosts exist.
Uncanny, hosted by award-winning writer and journalist Danny Robins is available on BBC Sounds and all good podcast platforms now.
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