Hell Hounds and Night Hags – Ashley Thorpe on Radio 4

Carrion Film writer / director Ashley Thorpe has been interviewed by Ann Widdecombe for her BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Hell Hounds and Night Hags’. The programme is an examination of Dartmoor legends; their origin, their influence and their continued fascination.

“No disrespect to you Sir, but the dangers of the moor are plentiful. We may have civilised the outskirts of the moor, but for all our wants, for all our faith, it’s still a wilderness out there Sir….if all the unclaimed bodies, scattered in their shallow graves rose from the moor, the dead would outnumber the living. The earth out there is alive with their stories.” – The Demon Huntsman

The BBC 4 team contacted a number of experts and witnesses from across the region and our very own Ashley Thorpe was chosen to recount the myth of the ‘Hairy Hands’, having been terrified by the grisly tale as a child and subsequently inspired to make the animated film in its honour. The interview was recorded whilst traversing the famed haunted road  between Postbridge and ‘The Two Bridges’ (the ‘B3212’ or ‘Carter’s road’ as it was once known) to lend the broadcast an air of eerie authenticity. ‘Hell Hounds and Night Hags’ is scheduled for broadcast on Radio 4 at 4pm, Monday 9th July.

Ashley Thorpe: “It was wonderful to be asked by them (BBC 4). The production team seemed very familiar with our work and our commitment to celebrate the regions mythology. I hope this sort of programming is the first of many as there’s a wealth of material. In fact after recording I was discussing with the producer how it’s about time that someone take another stab at something like ‘Westcountry Tales’… According to Ann they had – previous to my recording – interviewed someone who claimed to have been attacked by the Hands, so I’m looking forward to hearing the programme as much as everyone else! It’s a story that’s always been close to my heart having been terrified by it as a wee nipper so it was especially fun for the BBC team to interview my Dad (Robert Thorpe)  due to him actually ‘playing’ the hands. I bet when he was sat there roasting under the lights covered in latex and sugar puffs he didn’t think he’d end up on the ‘Beeb beeb ceeb’ …”

Since the early twentieth century, drivers and cyclists have reported suffering unusual accidents whilst travelling the stretch of road (the B3212) between Postbridge and Two Bridges. In many cases, the victims reported that their vehicle had swerved violently off the side of the road, as if something had taken hold of the wheels and wrenched it out of their control.

Ann Widdecombe – ‘Hell Hounds and Night Hags’

In most instances, the victims ran into a verge and survived. Their experiences remained a local curiosity, until June 1921, when Dr. E.H. Helby, the medical officer for Dartmoor Prison was actually killed when he lost control of his motorcycle and sidecar. His two daughters survived. Shortly after Dr Helby’s death, there was another incident in which a coach driver lost control, injuring several passengers who were thrown out of their seats. Then, on August 26 1921, an army Captain reported that a pair of invisible hands had taken hold of him and forced his motorcycle off the road. After such a bout of such bizarre ‘attacks’ it didn’t take long before the story was picked up by the London newspapers and the story became a nationwide sensation.

Though horror cinema has had its share of disembodied creeping hands (Amicus studios ‘Doctor Terrors house of Horrors’, ‘The Beast with five fingers‘ and Oliver Stone’s ‘The Hand‘  are but two notables) the actual story of ‘The Hairy Hands‘, and its core myth (often linked to a mining explosion or a local murder on the particular stretch of road) has hitherto largely been ignored outside the region that spawned it.

The Hairy Hands‘ was the first Carrion Film animation to focus on a specific Dartmoor myth and was created in association with the UK Film Council, South West Screen and the Exeter Phoenix. The short film stars Edward Berry and features voiceovers from Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince and BBC Devon DJ Jo Loosemore. Subsequent forays into the regions legends have resulted in ‘The Demon Huntsman’ for Glass Eye Pixs ‘Tales From Beyond the Pale’ and an assortment of ghostly stories for mooted portmanteau Hell Tor.