Who is Leslie Flint?

In his heyday, which was before the war and some 25 years after it, Leslie Flint was one of Britain’s best-known Spiritualists. He possessed the rare distinction of being a direct voice medium. Flint used no trumpets or paraphernalia. Though sitting in total darkness, he did his work wide awake, not in a trance. Those who flocked to him could engage, if conditions were propitious, in fluent colloquial conversation with others, kith and kin, strangers and well known, all of them “passed over”, who manifested themselves in space, voice only, around Flint’s solid if unseen presence – “a little above my head and to one side of me”.

The mood was not at all solemn, still less frightening. Leslie Flint took his inexplicable gifts sensibly and objectively, sometimes lightheartedly. Especially when conversing with his “familiar”, a child who had been run down in a street accident in Camden Town back in the 1910s. This perky and impertinent boy would engage his master in Cockney chitchat and occasionally turn his sharp tongue on the guests sitting expectantly a dozen strong around the big Paddington drawing-room in the 1960s or when Flint’s health had permitted him to tour in earlier decades, packing the churches, halls and theaters in their hundreds and thousands all over Britain, the continent of Europe and America.

Born in Poverty

In looks, Flint resembled a first-generation union leader: he was short and square, wore double-breasted suits and heavy framed spectacles: Ernie Bevin’s brother, maybe. Only his silvery hair and a bass voice with an actor manager’s vibrato in it suggested a theatrical dimension. Like many such prodigies, he was born in poverty – a Salvation Army home in Hackney – and legitimized soon afterwards, only to “lose” both parents again when they went their separate ways: his mother to the West Ends bright lights, his father to the trenches of the Western Front , neither seen again. A grandmother reared him in St. Albans on broken biscuits and tuppence worth of jam and let the picture palace take care of his pre-school afternoons, so that from the start he was happier in the dark than in the light of day.

The dead became a normal part of his world early and enduringly. Aged eight, he saw the apparently solid figure of a deceased uncle in his granny’s kitchen and around the same time, grew aware that the voices whispering all around him at the cinema in that silent era hadn’t paid for their admission. He was by turns a cemetery gardener, and impromptu gravedigger, a semi professional dancer up to trophy hunting standard, a cinema usher and a barmen before he found his medium, so to speak, and founded a Spiritualist circle in Sydney Grove, Hendon with the aim of providing evidence of the continuity of life after physical death by the demonstration of his psychic gift.

From the time, in the mid-1930’s, Flint “took off” and was soon filling the biggest halls in London and answering mailbags of letters. He willingly submitted to numerous tests to disprove accusations of ventriloquism or other deceptions.

A Measured Quality

In one he held a measured quantity of coloured water in his mouth throughout a voluble seance. In another, a throat microphone registered no vibrations from his larynx while the voices continued in full spate. Later, he allowed anyone who like to do so to tape record his seances.

Leslie Flint being tested by The Society for Psychical Research during a seance.

The “famous” were no strangers to him: Rudolph Valentino often came sounding a bit like Charles Boyer, which was correct since he had been taught English by a French governess; others included Leslie Howard, Ivor Novello, Cosmo Lang [the late Archbishop of Canterbury] and Queen Victoria – an important calling-card for the invitation for Flint to take tea at Kensington Palace with the Queen’s daughter Princess Louise.

Unsurprisingly, Flint was a conscientious objector, and served in a non – combatant regiment for part of the Second World War and was assigned to the Bomb Disposal Unit. Later, he worked briefly in the coal-mines, though he much preferred the sedentary darkness of his psychic occupation. Celebrity voices with a show-business emphasis evoked understandable suspicion – compounded by Flint’s presidency of the Valentino Memorial Guild and the fact that his last London residence-a gloomy mansion off the Charles Addams drawing board in Westbourne Terrace road that had been the actor George Arliss’s one-time home-accomodated a private cinema for a dozen of so guests who this time, were not disturbed by spectral whisperings.

Spirit Voices

Yet the famous where vastly outnumbered by the spirit voices of anonymous, ordinary people speaking messages of hope, comfort or occasional clairvoyance to their friends and relatives. I attended several sittings. They were always held in pitch dark, Flint explaining that he extruded ectoplasm which formed the “etheric voice-box” for the dead to relay their words and any sudden intrusion of light would send it recoiling back to him, “like a kick in the midriff” potentially very dangerous. The company chatted in a desultory way until, very suddenly and dramatically the room grew cold; then on a good day for reception, Mickey came through, introducing the “speakers”. Though tolerantly sceptical, I had to concede that those which addressed me, claiming acquaintance with a recently deceased parent, answered test questions about childhood, family and pets with fluency and total accuracy. They did not seem to need to pause for breath.
By Alexander Walker of London’s Evening Standard Newspaper.

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