Frauds/freuds 8: the ‘Very Reverend’ Robert Parkin Peters


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?

7 thoughts on “Frauds/freuds 8: the ‘Very Reverend’ Robert Parkin Peters

  1. For some, the ability to lie and fools others is the biggest thrill. You might be interested in The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal. I thought it was excellent.

  2. I think you must be right in suggesting that Robert Parkin Peters suffered from extraordinary delusions of grandeur. John le Carre is also good on the subject of conmen. I believe his father was one.

  3. There is something fascinating about fraudsters and fakers and those who seem compelled to live a life not their own. Most of us probably engage in a bit of self-mythologizing but others seem to take it to another level. And not always for financial gain.

    I recently uncovered a situation of a once quite prominent London activist who invented a whole back story about her origins. And then – lo and behold – I further discovered that decades before, she had been arrested for fraud and served time. The newspaper accounts of her trial were thick with astonishing details. All of which sank into oblivion as she rose to activist prominence.

    And I love the story of Ern Malley. it inspired me to invent my own outback poet.

    Just recently a former work colleague told me of her father who had written a fictional biography of Horatio Alger that for decades was cited as a factual account.

    1. As you can see we love frauds. We have legendary liars in our own family, which perhaps gave us a taste for them. And we very much prefer these baroque fraudsters to the modern-day blight of PR makeovers!

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