The Black Abbot

Nick Hilton
Aug 25 · 3 min read
The graveyard in Prestbury

When I first conceived of The Town That Knew Too Much, I thought that it would be a true-crime adjacent series looking at the mirroring cases of Geoffrey Prime and Gareth Williams.

I hadn’t heard of Prime until 2020, whereas the Williams case had always been rather closer to me. He died in 2010 on Alderney Street in Pimlico, which was just round the corner from where I had just moved with my mother. And I mean round the corner: one right turn and one left turn, about 3 minutes of walking.

It was a sensational story and obviously front page news for weeks as the investigation unfolded. And the resolution, which was very open (not unlike the Roberto Calvi case discussed in the fifth episode of the podcast) meant that people kept coming up with conspiracy theories or new solutions to the puzzle of the case. It’s a story that has kept rumbling on for more than a decade now, and we still don’t have answers.

In the end, when I came to put this show together, the Williams case was relegated to a sub-plot in this episode, which is more broadly about death and the dead. This is really because I came to accept that I couldn’t do the story (or, more importantly, the man) credit in this show. I think that any good podcast about the Gareth Williams case (and I gather that there is one in the works) needs to have the involvement of his family. It needs to be a search for answers. And I knew that I wouldn’t be able to provide solutions, and didn’t have the access or energy to gather the intimacy required to make this a true portrait of the man. But I still feel like it’s a valuable story in bridging the broadest themes about life around GCHQ (a tangled web of spies and handlers) and the personal lives of its employees.

This episode starts with a discussion about the ghosts of Prestbury (the sub-Cheltenham village where Williams lived for many years) which, if you’ve listened to The Town That Didn’t Stare, you’ll know is a subject I enjoy. I’m not personally interested in the paranormal, but I am interested in how it informs our conversations about grief and mortality. So Prestbury and its ghosts became the way into a conversation about the departed, which would end with Gareth Williams.

Along the way, this episode digresses to discuss the madness of King George (which is fascinating and possibly deserved a whole episode of its own) and, straying further from what people might normally enjoy, a discuss about the weird music in The Tailor of Gloucester which is a sort of nuts BBC animation of the Beatrix Potter story (see below).

Anyhow, this is the penultimate episode of The Town That Knew Too Much. Next week’s episode is all about Edward Snowden and the NSA/GCHQ leaks. I hope that you might take a minute, after this episode, to leave a 5-star (preferably!) rating and review on Apple. I’m trying to nudge the show up the charts and into people’s ear-holes as it reaches its climax. And if you want to discuss the show with me or anything else, drop me an email to nick[@] and I’ll get back to you!

Contributors to this episode: Ian Jelf, Philip Ingram, Catherine Curzon, Colin Towns, Iggy Ostanin.

The Town That Knew Too Much

A Podcast About Britain Secret Spies