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DR DENYS TUCKER – THE MAVERICK SCIENTIST WHO SAW THE LOCH NESS MONSTER

Posted on: April 22, 2015

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… and I should add paid a high price for it. Recently the story of Dr Denys Tucker has been appearing in British newspapers because of new information released under the Freedom Of Information Act. His story is interesting because it was thought to be his sighting of the Loch Ness Monster in 1959 which cost him his career as a successful marine zoologist.

To all outward appearances Dr Tucker would seem to have been the archetypal old school scientist. All pipe-smoking and tweed jackets, and with a touch of colourful eccentricity about him. He had been a pilot during World War 2, and in 1949 joined the Natural History Museum where he rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming their youngest Chief Scientist at the age of 39. He was regarded as a brilliant man, but possibly one who was ill-suited to the unimaginative rigid confines of the civil service.

Things were to change in 1959, when Dr Tucker took a trip to Scotland, where he claimed he saw Nessie, which he referred to as “an unnamed animal”. He wrote to the ‘New Scientist’ that “I, a professional marine zoologist, did see a large hump travelling across flat calm water on 22 March 1959 … I am quite satisfied that we have in Loch Ness one of the most exciting and important problems in British zoology today”.

This was pretty strong stuff. A top respected scientist stating unequivocally that the Loch Ness Monster was FACT! The British public loved it. Tucker’s colleagues and superiors were somewhat less enthralled. By nailing his colours so firmly to the mast, and stating in the ‘New Scientist’ that he had seen the Monster in a professional capacity, it was all too much. There were also rumours that Dr Tucker was getting too much to deal with generally. He enjoyed speculating on the sex lives of his colleagues, and was reputed to have once waved a pistol at a superior.

Dr Tucker was supposed to have led a team of 30 graduates and undergraduates from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities to the Loch in June 1960, for a month-long investigation to assess the capability of the Loch to support a colony of large animals. The investigation went ahead (successfully), but without Dr Tucker, who was sacked from the Museum early in the month.

A 7-year legal battle ensued as Dr Tucker tried to get reinstated. Questions were raised about his dismissal in the House of Commons (you can read the Hansard transcript from 1961 on Google), and he even tried to sue the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was one of the trustees of the Museum. The Government made a determined effort to stop senior figures appearing in the witness box, and although Dr Tucker’s case did make it to the Court of Appeal, it was thrown out. Recently released papers reveal that the civil service feared that if Dr Tucker won his case, they would “never again be able to fire a civil servant, except possibly for sedition or larceny”.

Paul Harrison, author of ‘The Encyclopedia of the Loch Ness Monster’, wrote that he has seen memorandums in the files of the British Museum of Natural History, which instruct staff not to comment publicly on the Monster, or face disciplinary proceedings.

Dr Tucker never held an academic post again, he spent the rest of his life living quietly, writing reviews and papers. He eventually moved to France, where he died in 2009 at the age of 89.

Whilst reading up on his story, I came across a lively debate on an Internet forum (when are they ever not lively?). A skeptic asserted that Tucker was fired for being an unstable character, at which it was pointed out that a chronically unstable character would not have risen to his position in the first place. This is a tricky one. Scientists often are very colourful characters, and plenty of eccentric, flamboyant ones have risen to positions of power and influence. Whatever the truth of the matter, I found myself in agreement with a more sympathetic poster, who said that something about Loch Ness may have changed Dr Tucker. This is quite likely. It is that kind of place after all.

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