Why East Grinstead?

Nick Hilton
Aug 11, 2020 · 3 min read
The high street in East Grinstead

This is the concluding episode of The Town That Didn’t Stare and I’m quite exhausted — so forgive me if this blog post is perfunctory!

I wanted to find a way of wrapping things up and not just opening up more threads to this story. So I basically stole the approach of a 1994 Channel 4 documentary about the town, also titled “Why East Grinstead?”. This episode opens with an interview with that film’s director Ian Sellar, and basically spins off from the fact that their answers were very inconclusive (more like non-existent). So can I provide a better answer?

Throughout the process of making this show, I had asked almost every interviewee to evaluate the hypothesis that this ‘town that didn’t stare’ label, applied to East Grinstead after the Guinea Pig Club, had somehow caused the cult clustering down the line. I wanted to see what people made of that suggestion, but time after time people gave responses like “maybe” or “sounds reasonable” or “probably not a major factor”. No one was willing to give me the goodies of either vehemently agreeing or disagreeing with the idea.

So I basically had to take my own stance, which is that it’s largely self-mythologising. It’s the answer to the question that paints the town in the best light, but I don’t find it particularly compelling.

So I decided to provide two possible solutions, which sort of work in tandem. The first was to look, via Opus Dei (one of the religious organisations I hadn’t given much coverage to) at the acquisitions of properties in the area during the 1950s and 60s, and whether the Kennedys’ talks with Harold Macmillan at the Birchgrove estate in Sussex could’ve contributed. Essentially that’s strand one: it’s a quirk of the real estate market.

The second strand was more theoretical. It’s about bias and the brain and the impact the internet is having on us. For that, I spoke to the neuroscientist Itiel Dror (links to papers below) about his research into the biases the allow our brains to seek patterns and meaning, rather than just taking the world at face value and applying logic.

In the end, I don’t have an answer either. But I think it’s a question that we choose to ask, and the asking of it is, in a way, a very circular explanation. The more we talk about East Grinstead, the more we say how strange it is, the weirder it feels. We’ve made an active choice to turn East Grinstead into the town it is today.

Here are some relevant links if you want to do some extra reading:

You can watch the episode “Why East Grinstead?” above

A history of Opus Dei in Britain

More info on the decline of the English country house (Wiki)

Tim Bale on Harold Macmillan’s legacy

Itiel Dror’s basics of cognitive biases (and the fallacies that surround them)

Itiel Dror expanding on the idea of bias snowball

More important than anything: please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts, and if you like it (even a little bit) please leave a glowing review (more glowing that you feel, preferably) with that provider. I want people to be able to find the show and that requires a bit of help from you. And if you want to chat about anything, show related or not, email me to nick@podotpods.com or hit me up on Twitter.

The Town That Knew Too Much

A Podcast About Britain Secret Spies

The Town That Knew Too Much

The Town That Knew Too Much is a documentary podcast about how a nice little town in the British countryside became one of the most important spying centres in the world

Nick Hilton

Written by

Writer. Podcast entrepreneur. London. Interested in politics and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.

The Town That Knew Too Much

The Town That Knew Too Much is a documentary podcast about how a nice little town in the British countryside became one of the most important spying centres in the world