Doctor who dabbled in the occult

Dr Alexander Cannon (Manx National Heritage)

Dr Alexander Cannon (Manx National Heritage)

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A new book, The King’s Psychic, tells the remarkable story about a wealthy doctor who lived at Ballamoar Castle near Ballaugh. He dabbled in the occult and had secretly treated King Edward VIII in the build up to the king’s eventual abdication. Here the author Sean Stowell describes the doctor’s role in those historic events, and how he then went on to influence some in Britain’s High Command in World War Two after he moved to the Isle of Man.


Not unexpectedly given the prevalence of gossip about him, both my grandmothers separately picked up fascinating gossip about Dr Alexander Cannon, the ‘psychic’ doctor who played a secret role in the 1936 abdication.

But the gossip was not about his royal connections.

Both my grandmas lived in the Isle of Man in the 1940s and 1950s, and so too did Dr Cannon.

My paternal grandmother ran a chip shop in Douglas and was born not far from Ballamoar. My maternal grandmother moved here from England after the war and picked up stories about the same man. She was a dedicated bridge player in the island’s sizeable gin circuit of ex-colonels and their wives who had been involved in the war.

The gossip was that occultist Dr Cannon had two ‘glamorous’ assistants who were young sisters ‘brain-washed’ by this much older, dominant doctor who had overpowered them with his hypnotic gaze. His wealthy women patients who came to the Isle of Man Clinic for Nervous Disorders were vulnerable too to his wandering hands, so the gossip went.

Moreover, the ex-colonels on the gin circuit reckoned this fully qualified doctor was up to all sorts of weird paranormal stuff during the war.

Dr Cannon was the talk of the town on the island back then, just as he had been amongst the cocktail set in 1930s London high society, but no one in the island knew the real story about Cannon’s secret life before he left London. He had run a clinic for confidence building, treating nervous and even sexual disorders, on Harley Street, just yards from the clinic of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who worked with George VI on his stammer.

He moved to Ballamoar Castle in the Isle of Man at the start of the war in 1939. His rich and famous followers, including some top brass of the military, were only too happy to make the journey all the way over to the island, not an inconsiderable journey in those days.

Decades later I was introduced via a totally different route to the world of Dr Cannon, namely through MI5 documents, official archives, history books and some very elderly people. They helped me piece together this Yorkshireman’s role in the 1936 abdication.

Dr Cannon was said to be a ‘master of black magic in England’ enjoying a powerful hold over the psychologically-ailing King Edward who suffered from drink and confidence problems.

Most people still believe the official story of the abdication: that Edward gave up the throne for the love of Mrs Simpson. But the documents and recordings I have seen and listened to not only reveal an Establishment plot to oust Edward (the key plotter was Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Cosmo Lang), but also reveal how the fascist far-right tried to subvert that plot which had Dr Cannon playing a central role.

Tape recordings transcribed in ‘The King’s Psychic’ describe how Edward’s fascist Blackshirt supporters claimed to have tried to expose Dr Cannon. They wanted to protect the only monarch they believed would ‘tackle the march of communism’.

After the abdication in December 1936, Dr Cannon did not disappear into the sunset – quite the opposite.

He moved to the island and continued practising his lucrative mystic brand of medicine and extended his sphere of influence to include many top rank military chiefs.

From the RAF base next to his clinic at Ballamoar Castle in the north of the island, he regularly flew to London. He was acting as an unofficial and ‘psychic guru’ to his believers, some of them based at Admiralty. He engineered bizarre experiments in telepathy which, incredibly, caught the attention of the highest ranks.

One such attempt to develop telepathic powers in a patient involved arranging a love affair between an aristocratic Special Operations Executive commander and Cannon’s beautiful young psychic assistant, Joyce de Rhonda. Match-maker Cannon believed communicating by telepathy would be far easier if the subjects were in love. They did fall in love – passionately so.

The Special Operations commander Sir Geoffrey Congreve tried to deploy his new telepathic ‘skill’ during a raid on a Nazi base in Norway. An Enigma code machine discovered during the mission was brought back to England to help break German codes. Rather ridiculously, Dr Cannon claimed the glory and the commander was called to celebrate the find at Downing Street.

But was Cannon a Nazi spy? MI5 agents spied on him and were alarmed he got secrets out of military patients under hypnosis.

MI5 officers on the island were so worried, they despatched a reputable psychiatrist to infiltrate Dr Cannon’s clinic to assess what he was up to. Her conclusions were damning – but she decided someone was protecting him from on high within Whitehall. Was his protection something to do with Cannon’s close friend and client Captain George Drummond? He was banker and friend of the royal family who had been exiled to the Isle of Man because of his strong support for Adolf Hitler. Or could his protection have arisen from his top secret work which would have embarrassed the government had it been exposed?

It’s sad that neither of my grandmothers got to know the real story about Dr Cannon. There are quite a number of people still alive on the Isle of Man who laughed at Dr Cannon’s boasts about contact with the royals and Churchill. My book shows how many of Dr Cannon’s boasts were in fact true.

The King’s Psychic, ISBN number 9780957295193, published by Great Northern Books, £9.99

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