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FATHER KNOX’S RULES—AND HOAX

FATHER RONALD KNOX was an English theologian with fascinating credentials: an Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism, a famed Sherlockian, and a perpetrator of a hoax that predated Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds Martian invasion.

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, 1888–1957, English theologian, chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1912–1917; chaplain of the University of Oxford, 1926–1939; radio broadcaster, Sherlockian. Father Knox died of cancer at age 69.

 C of E Heritage, Then a Split. Ronald’s grandfather was the Reverend George Knox; his father was Edmund Knox, Bishop of Manchester from 1903 to 1921; both of these men were Church of England prelates. Ronald proved to be a brilliant classicist while studying at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He was then a fellow at Trinity College, Oxford. Upon C of E ordination in 1912, he became chaplain at Trinity.

The Coat of Arms of Trinity College, Oxford, established in 1555.

During World War I, Knox served in British Intelligence. In 1917, he resigned as Anglican chaplain and converted to Roman Catholicism. This prompted his father, the Bishop of Manchester, to cut the younger Knox out of his will.

Knox was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1918. By 1926, he was appointed the Roman Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford, a position he held until 1939.

The Coat of Arms of the University of Oxford; the university’s first existence in some form was as early as 1096.

The Knox Detective Rules. During this time, Father Knox wrote and spoke about Christianity; he also began writing detective fiction. 

In time, the latter interest evolved into Knox’s Ten Rules for Detective Fiction, as described in Wikipedia:  

1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (Note: This is a reference to common use of heavily stereotyped Asian characters in detective fiction of the time. See SimanaitisSays for a brief Fu Manchu appearance.)

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective himself must not commit the crime.

8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.

9. The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

These make an interesting comparison with S.S. Van Dine’s 20 Rules, as presented here at SimanaitisSays.

The Knox Radio Hoax. In January 1926, on one of his regular BBC Radio programs, Father Knox simulated a live report of revolution sweeping across London. “Broadcasting the Barricades” faux reports included a musical presentation from the Savoy Hotel being blasted by mortars, a government minister being lynched, and destruction of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Image from PlanetSlade.com.

The Knox hoax came on a snowy weekend, which delayed delivery of newspapers and exacerbated public reaction. The Daily Mirrior, January 18, 1926, reported, “Hundreds of people rang up amazed newspaper offices, asking for details and saying they had heard it from the BBC. In the West of England, rumours were still going around yesterday morning and anxious enquiries were made of police as to the truth of the report.” See PlanetSlade.com for more details of the mayhem created.

Wikipedia cites a 2005 BBC retrospective of the incident that suggested “In an interview for the book This is Orson Welles, Welles himself said that the broadcast gave him the idea for ‘The War of the Worlds.’

It’s a philosophical matter whether Father Knox’s Hoax broke his own Rule No. 7. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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