Dispatches: Beyond Belief (partially lost episode of Channel 4 TV documentary series; 1992)
On the evening of February 19th, 1992, the long-running and well-respected Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches in the UK featured a special episode about Satanic ritual abuse. Presented by journalist Andrew Boyd, the show promised to present, for the first time, unequivocal evidence of Satanic abuse and ritual murder having been carried out in Britain. British police had long suspected that rings of Satanic murders were operating in the UK, but no evidence had ever been found, despite several police operations. The show featured the testimony of an alleged survivor of Satanic abuse, 'Jennifer', and had been trailed heavily with reports in the broadsheet newspapers in the days leading up to broadcast. In particular, the show was able to shockingly broadcast clips of a tape that the British police had seized a decade earlier which, the program makers claimed, was a home-video recording of a Satanic ritual killing. Over a hundred people called a helpline number advertised after the show ended.
Far from being a Satanic snuff movie, the video was quickly determined after the broadcast to have been a performance art video called First Transmission by the influential art band Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY), an offshoot of a group of musicians and performers including Genesis P. Orridge's Throbbing Gristle and Psychick TV. Most shockingly of all, First Transmission had itself been funded by Channel 4.
The show was denounced in the media over the following days and weeks as a grotesque lapse of journalistic integrity. The program stands as a particular testament to a moment in British social, cultural, and criminal history at the height of the so-called 'Satanic Panic' that swept the USA as well as the UK in the 1980s. There is extensive interdisciplinary literature on the program and its associated impacts and phenomena, from historians, art historians, criminologists, psychologists, and others. The overwhelming majority of commentary on Beyond Belief is critical of the program, but a tranche of work still maintains, without evidence, that the phenomenon of systematic Satanic abuse it claims to depict is real, even if the footage was not.
A transcript of the broadcast has been shared online and there is considerable information about the program to be found. The show itself, though, has never been repeated and has never been made available online in full. The show has also proven difficult to access by professional researchers in archive holdings at Channel 4, or the production company, Looktwice.
In November 2020, YouTube user 'RileyELFuk' made a 37-minute version of the show available on their channel which runs to the final credits. About 8 minutes of the 45-minute broadcast time (10:30 pm - 11:15 pm) are thus still missing. Comparing this upload with the transcript suggests that much of this time would have been taken up by advertisements before the show started, as only one page of the transcript, featuring the program's introduction, is clipped from the film.
First Transmission itself has been made available online several times. The blog Dangerous Minds discussed it in 2015, and 13th Floor included screenshots in 2017. Both these link to a deleted YouTube upload.
- Danielle Kirby, 'Transgressive Representations: Satanic Ritual Abuse, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and First Transmission', Literature & Aesthetics 21/2 (December 2011, 134-149)
- Rainer Kurz and Wilfrid Wong, 'CHANNEL 4 DISPATCHES PROGRAM 'BEYOND BELIEF' ON SATANIST RITUAL ABUSE (SRA) IN THE UK -SCRIPT REVIEW, FOLLOW-UP AND PSYCHIATRY IMPLICATIONS' [Conference Paper], EPA Congress, Warsaw, 2019.
- Sara Scott, 'Beyond belief: Beyond help? Report on a helpline advertised after the transmission of a channel 4 film on ritual abuse', Child Abuse Review 2/4 (December 1993, 243-250).
- Olave Snelling & Sara Scott, 'Report on the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on Satanic Ritual Abuse, 19 February 1992, and a helpline after the transmission of the program'. In Sinason (Ed): Treating survivors of satanist abuse. London: Routledge, 1994.