Gert, as you know, has an interest in fraudery/freudery, but today’s subject is unlike any of the others she’s covered. They ranged from fake explorers, fake musicians, fake interviewers, fake poets to a fake shaman, but it’s usually possible to understand why they did what they did. Robert Parkin Peters, as described in Adam Sisman’s The Professor & The Parson, was a serial liar about his status as a priest, his academic qualifications, his marital status, his age – well, everything, from the 1950’s to his death in 2005. He was repeatedly exposed and yet kept bouncing back, officiating at church services although defrocked, running his own theological college, delivering papers at scholarly conferences, and applying for, and sometimes winning, academic positions all over the world, with ever-multiplying lies about his qualifications. He never lasted long anywhere, either because his reputation caught up with him, or because of his habit of making advances to, and often marrying, young women, whether or not he was married at the time (there were 7, or possibly 8, wives). He served time for bigamy and fraud, and was deported five times from various countries. When you’d think he might have been lying low after yet another scandal, he was appearing on Mastermind claiming to be Director of Religious Studies at Lancaster University.
None of this was lucrative, and it attracted a lot of tabloid press attention. His lies were easily proved and he had to do many a moonlight flit (leaving big debts everywhere). He craved respect and admiration, and yet his name was mud. You can only think that he really did believe he had a great mind and deserved a high position, and none of his failures convinced him otherwise. Why didn’t he put all that energy into actually getting a qualification? Such was the Oxbridge cachet at the time that he could have got a job in the US or the Commonwealth and spent his life lording it over the colonials. It’s an amazing combination of delusion, cunning, gall, and sheer block-headed persistence. In the words of one of the many British Consuls who had to deal with him: ‘He was not altogether balanced.’
The Professor of the title is the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who had early on been sucked in by him and who kept voluminous files on his exploits from then on.
As a responsible academic, he was appalled by Peters’s success in outwitting the authorities; but as an individual who delighted in the comédie humaine, he could not help being amused by it. He took a malicious glee in the discomfiture of those whom Peters had fooled. (4)
What an irony it is then that years later Trevor-Roper was the victim of another conman when he validated the fake Hitler diaries. It was a scandal that effectively ended his career. Malicious glee, anyone?