Behindology: the study of hard political realities obscured by layers of
hype and spin. Britain's leading professor on the subject, irascible Scot
Robin Ramsay, publishes conspiracy theory magazine Lobster from his front
room in Hull. Reading it, says Graeme Bowman, may just change your view of
the world ...
The Sunday Herald, 17 August 2003
WHO whacked JFK? What happened to Dodi and Di in Paris? Did Blair and
Campbell tell us all porkies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and
how many American troops are based overseas in foreign states?
If these questions give you sleepless nights, speak to Robin Ramsay, editor,
publisher and chief writer behind Lobster, the world's most authoritative
conspiracy theory magazine. You probably won't have heard of it - Lobster
only surfaces twice a year and it's not available in WH Smith's next to
Loaded or Maxim. It doesn't carry advertising or pictures, and it's kept
afloat by a small but dedicated band of subscribers.
Movie director, subscriber and occasional Lobster contributor, Alex Cox, is
a big fan of Ramsay: "Robin is the only journalist writing and publishing
articles about the deeply dodgy Atlantic Alliance. The reason we are in such
a mess today - the reason we went to war for American oil companies - is
this alliance, and Robin is the lone investigator digging at the roots of
it. His work, published in Lobster, will, in later years, be regarded as of
vital importance in understanding these things."
Quite an endorsement, and Lobster's certainly a conspiracy theory magazine
with a difference. While other publications might try to kid you that the
Windsors are a race of super-intelligent space lizards (if only they were
that interesting), or that Hitler ended up running ice-cream parlours in
Buenos Aires, the Lobster credo is facts, figures and verification. Every
unpalatable truth featured in the mag is backed up with references, so if
you think Lobster's leading you up the garden path, you can examine the
original sources and draw your own conclusions. It's this standard of
authentication that differentiates Lobster from the competition and explains
why it's still going strong 20 years after it first saw the light of day in
a Hull back bedroom.
So what sort of terrain does the armour-plated crustacean cover? Recent
issues have examined the impact of naval sonar devices on whales (it kills
them), an alternative take on Watergate (it all started with hookers),
election-rigging in the UK (remarkably easy to do), an analysis of al-Qaeda'
s PR campaign (amazingly effective), and possible CIA involvement in
attempts to sink a boatload of buses in the Thames in 1964. It's an eclectic
brew which reflects its editor's passions and interests, so if you want to
know more about Lobster, you need to understand Ramsay. It's a life story
which takes us into an almost vanished world of bohemian beatniks, free jazz
freak-outs and spontaneous art happenings. There's even a small but hugely
influential role for the poet laureate of suburban despair, Philip Larkin.
THE Lobster story begins in Edinburgh in 1948 when Ramsay was born, the
eldest child of a food chemist father and housewife mother. Both parents
were Communist Party members until the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956,
so Ramsay grew up in a bookish, lefty atmosphere which encouraged a sort of
instinctive hostility to the society we live in.
Music was his first big love and an early interest in the violin and trumpet
led to a precocious appetite for avant-garde jazz. Like many other post-war
dissidents, it was Radio Luxembourg which pointed the way to an exciting new
world beyond the cosy confines of the BBC.
"In the late fifties you had the BBC Light Programme or the Home Service,
and then there was this decadent stuff swimming through the ether from Radio
Luxembourg or the Voice of America and it seemed exciting and hip," Ramsay
recalls. "I'd lie in bed with this little transistor listening to jazz. The
signal was appalling but that just made it all the more exciting."
In pre-Beatles Britain, jazz meant beatniks, beatniks meant bohemia and
bohemia meant non-conformity. Ramsay's cultural antennae started quivering
on the Mound, Edinburgh's equivalent to Speakers' Corner in the Sixties.
"I used to hang out in the school holidays with a bunch of beatniks I met on
the Mound. You'd get guys from Protestant Action, brilliant Glaswegian
socialists and every now and then, one of these Edinburgh beatniks would
stand up and start effing and blinding just to wind up the cop who was
taking notes. By the time I was 17, my heroes were guys with hair down their
backs, and the whole work ethic just passed me by," he says.
But 1967 was a landmark year for Western pop and also the year in which
Stirling University opened its doors for the first time. Ramsay was part of
the pioneering intake but it wasn't a happy experience.
"I lasted one term. I had a completely hideous time and the problem was all
inside my head," says Ramsay. "There were 120 of us stuck on this beautiful
campus in Stirlingshire but when you're 18 or 19, visual beauty is not what
you're after, so I dropped out at the end of my first term, took my grant
and headed off to London to become a jazz musician."
The London jazz odyssey turned out to be nine months in a bedsit with no one
to talk to and a part-time job in Marks and Sparks, so, in late '68, the
self-styled Albert Ayler in a kilt high-tailed it back to Edinburgh to
immerse himself in the capital's thriving counter culture.
"I organised Edinburgh's first rock concert in the park, helped set up an
arts lab, worked with Lindsay Kemp's Mime Troupe, and played jazz in the
Free Association Quartet."
However, it was one of these counter-culture ventures which prompted a sharp
exit from shortbread city. "I was running a rock club for an Edinburgh
gangster and it was losing a lot of money. I made the mistake of slagging
him off one night and his henchmen overheard. The rumour started going round
that they wanted to re-arrange my kneecaps, so I packed my trumpet, a book
and a bag of clothes and headed off to see my sister in Stoke-on-Trent."
A year there produced a first wife ("the landlord didn't like us living
together so we thought, 'sod it, let's get married'"), a brief career as a
life-drawing model, and a re-location to Hull to acquire the degree he'd
abandoned in 1967. By 1974, the newly graduated deep green environmentalist
was desperate to leave Britain and only New Zealand's bizarre immigration
policies, claims Ramsay, confined him to these shores.
"At the time, they were only taking orthopaedic bootmakers and lighthouse
keepers, and as I didn't have the necessary qualifications, I had to stay at
home," he says.
Mid-Seventies Britain was a miserable place, characterised by economic
decline, industrial unrest and hyperinflation. Showaddywaddy and The Wombles
dominated the charts and the smell of fascism (and Thatcherism) polluted the
air. Trapped in a traumatic emotional triangle, Ramsay wasn't having much
fun either. However, this era of unmitigated gloom produced his Eureka!
moment, occurring in the unlikely environs of Hull University library.
"This conspiracy theory document on the Gemstone Files (files which
contained information on the Kennedy assassination) surfaced in Hull and
everybody was going 'Wow, far out!' and I went 'Wow, far out, I'll go to the
library and see if it's true'," he reports. "So I went back to Hull
University library and visited floors I'd never been on as a student. I went
to the American history floor and found all 26 volumes of the Warren
Commission Report which Philip Larkin must have ordered while he was
librarian. Nobody had ever taken it out, but I started reading it and went
'Aha! Now I know what I should be doing with my life!' So I spent the next
seven years in Hull University library, reading books, signing on and
With hindsight, Ramsay believes that his mid-20s fascination for conspiracy
theory was linked to his teenage perception of his parents' marriage. "The
origins of my interest in dissenting knowledge probably lie in my
relationship with my father," he says. "When I stumbled across conspiracy
theories, I felt comfortable straightaway because they were all about
competing versions of reality. When I look back on my parents' marriage,
they pretended to be happy but they weren't, so my interest in world
politics mirrored what I'd sensed as an adolescent. My father and mother
detested each other, but stayed together for the children's sake, and that's
probably why I got interested in all this under-the-counter stuff."
Finding personal catharsis by investigating the Kennedy murder, the final
link in Lobster's evolutionary chain was forged in 1982 when Ramsay met
fellow Kennedy assassination enthusiast Stephen Dorrell and they decided to
start publishing a magazine which explored all the topics which fascinated
them. Lobster made its first appearance in September 1983 as a 24-page A5
magazine, with an initial print run of 150. Its early credibility received a
big boost in 1987 when Peter Wright's Spycatcher was published and confirmed
that elements within British Intelligence had been trying to destabilise the
Wilson government in the Seventies.
Lobster had been banging on about this for months, but it was only when a
crusty old spook confirmed the accuracy of these allegations that Lobster's
claims were taken seriously. This investigative breakthrough led to a
short-term career working on Channel 4 news items and an unsuccessful
attempt to influence the left wing of the Labour Party. However, since 1988
Ramsay's been back in Hull, publishing Lobster as a one-man band, writing
books and nipping at the heels of the high and mighty. Moving in with
long-term partner Sally in 1988 led to a joint career as a magazine
publisher and house-husband, balancing domestic duties with efforts to
expose the murky machinations of the Anglo-American secret state.
Producing Lobster is Ramsay's main raison d'être, but he's realistic about
its ability to promote major change. "Lobster is a futile remnant of an
ancient notion of trying to educate people to behave rationally in politics,
so it's a complete waste of time," he insists. "I try to achieve an
error-free magazine, but I haven't managed it yet. I have no ambition to
profoundly change the world - I publish Lobster because I enjoy it, and the
fact that it seems futile, objectively, doesn't mean that its not worth
As he surveys the world through the prism of war-torn Iraq and escalating
tensions between Islam and the West, Ramsay's take on the world is
frighteningly pessimistic but articulated in his trademark trenchant tones.
"The Americans now plan to control the entire non-EU world so that they can
continue to extract raw materials and consume at their present rate. A lot
of skinny brown, black and yellow people are going to die to enable a lot of
fat Americans to stay fat. This new American empire will not be sustainable
for long, but its creation and collapse will be bloody and terrible," he
"For historical reasons, and because the UK is the world's second largest
overseas investor, Britain is committed to supporting the US - we're still
the Yanks' unsinkable aircraft carrier. This means that a lot of unpleasant
things will have to be endured. At one level, people in villages on the
North Yorkshire Moors near the American listening base at Fylingdales will
have to endure rising cancer rates which are caused by its signals.
"At another, British armed forces will be involved in 'peacekeeping' duties
around the world, trying to re-assemble Humpty Dumpty after the Americans
have blown him to smithereens. And at another, British diplomats will have
to provide support for America's increasingly ludicrous rationales for its
imperial expansion. It's a degrading job being the school bully's best
No one ever could accuse Lobster of being an easy read. Monitoring the
machinations of the shadowy masters of the world is a demanding business,
which requires a lot of time and effort. Reading Lobster could best be
compared to a vigorous burst of arduous mental exercise - you might not
enjoy it much at the time but you'll feel better for it afterwards.
And with so much mush and pap dominating the airwaves, Lobster is a welcome
antidote to the tidal waves of hype, spin and bullshit emanating from
Westminster and the White House. America currently has more than 200,000
troops stationed in 144 countries and territories.
You can check out Lobster at www.lobster-magazine.co.uk