My song today is ‘Misty’. This song is a jazz standard that was written in 1954 by pianist Erroll Garner. It became the signature song of Johnny Mathis and appeared on his 1959 album ‘Heavenly’ and reaching Number 12 on the U.S Pop Single’ chart later that year. Country and pop singer, Ray Stevens had a Number 14 hit with his version of ‘Misty’ in 1975 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’. This version reached Number two in the United Kingdom. The song has been recorded many times, including versions by Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, and most recently, by alternative rock band ‘Qui’.
I recall first hearing this song when I saw the film, ‘Play Misty For Me’ starring Clint Eastwood. This was a low budget film that proved to be a box-office success. I saw this film around four years after its 1971 release. I found this film to be too close for comfort in part of its storyline to make it easy watching, especially when the film theme is about a fixated woman who pursues the man she wants to be with.
The year was 1975 and I had been married for seven years and had trained and been working as a Probation Officer in Huddersfield for four years. In spite of being one of the newer Probation Officers to Huddersfield, the six-month ‘Relaxation Training and Assertion Training Group Programmes’ I had begun operating three years earlier were receiving remarkable results in which the press got hold of and widely publicised around other press and media in West Yorkshire. The programmes operated two hours weekly and lasted twenty-four weeks in total. The groups were always oversubscribed and would always have between twenty and thirty members in them. My credentials to instruct relaxation training satisfied Probation management to give me free rein in my group content (I had practised Relaxation myself since the age of twelve years).
I insisted from the start that I wanted to work with mixed membership groups. Group membership was made up of both sexes with an 18-year-old minimum age bar. I also insisted that I wanted to research my ongoing work, and therefore I wanted group membership to compose of members who had criminal records, and members who had never committed an offence in their life, and members who already worked in some social work/ psychological/ professional capacity and who wanted to develop and improve their Relaxation Training skills. Each week, members (who would only be known by their first name unless they chose otherwise) would sit alongside and interact with one another not knowing which co-members of the group had criminal records, no criminal records, or were professional workers. This composition type of group enabled me to compare the behavioural differences and contrast the overall progress which took place over the six-month course. Only I knew the precise status of each group member, and believe me, if one didn’t know, with a few exceptions, one would not always be able to tell an arsonist from a psychologist.
Without going into too much detail, the response pattern types of my group members would cover the three response pattern types within all behavioural range. The professional workers in the group would in the main behave ‘appropriately assertive’ in their responses; the violent group members would predominantly display the ‘aggressive’ response pattern, and the most reserved group members who wouldn’t say boo to a goose would predominantly display the ‘non-assertive’ group response. With my group composition containing all three response types that go to make up an individual’s collective response pattern, my research would become easier to evaluate and more relevant to developing greater effective working methods.
There were many clear observations and findings in the first six groups that I ran between 1971-1975, which I will not dwell on here, only to say, that my initial feedback and research was to lead me towards developing an effective process of working with violent people that I called, ‘Anger Management’. This method was freely spread around other workers in England, and within a further two years following its inception in the Huddersfield Probation Office by myself, ‘Anger Management’ had mushroomed in practice around the English-speaking world. Ever since 1977, onwards, the method I founded and pioneered has helped countless violent people manage their aggressive behaviour.
Despite making a global advance in a viable working method that I pioneered, the local press (forever on the lookout for a story with the more personal angle to hook onto) was more interested in one main consequence of my earlier ‘Relaxation and Assertion Training Groups’. One of the group members in my first group was a man who had been wheelchair-bound for over six years with what was then known as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ or colloquially referred to as the ‘Yuppy Flu’. Some doctors believed that this was a viral infection, some believed that it existed in the minds of people stricken with it. Many psychiatrists considered the condition to be a mental illness and some psychologists regarded it as being brought on by psychological stress while other schools of psychological thought believed it to be psychosomatic (brought on by one’s own thought process).
Being a behaviourist, I was less concerned with the causation of this severely debilitating and energy-draining condition and was more concerned with improving or ridding the person of it. There was no doubt that whatever its roots, there was nothing imaginary about its real damaging effects on the person experiencing it. Some people with the condition remained housebound for years; some took to their sick beds with debilitating physical symptoms that interrupted their daily lives and adversely affected their family relationships. All of the people with the condition reported that they had lost all energy and 40 percent said that they were no longer able to walk and were now wheelchair-bound permanently.
Traditional worker approaches to dealing with the condition at the time were gentle exercise and lots of rest. The methods I used were relaxation and self-hypnosis, in conjunction with strenuous exercise (the very opposite to the conventional approach advocated by other professionals).
After my first group programme, by the end of it, the man who had occupied his wheelchair for six years was confident enough to abandon it. He had successfully been able to negotiate the strenuous exercise regime I had set him. A month or so later, he must have reported his ‘miraculous progress’ to the ‘Huddersfield Examiner’. Before long I was inundated with people who had suffered from the condition for between three and seven years, and who wanted to undergo membership of my six-month group programme. The press and television love ‘miraculous cures’ despite me telling all and sundry that my behaviourist programme of work in my ‘Relaxation and Assertion Training Course’ accomplished the significant change in their condition, and that it was ‘method practised’ and not ‘miracle experienced’ that was responsible for their significant improvement, along with the client’s hard ‘homework’ undertaken individually, as guided by myself.
However, when faced with the obvious, the media always look for the weird and the wonderful. Having overcome my own inability to walk for three years as a child after damaging my spine after a wagon ran over me, and being told by the medics that I would never walk again, and nevertheless walking again, had already built the image of me that fitted the story the press wanted to print. Over my first six programmes of work, another six wheelchaired members with the condition abandoned their wheelchairs forever! The press loved the story which told of ‘the lame helping the lame to walk again’.
Back to the song, ‘Misty’ and the film it featured in. After a surfeit of press and media publicity of radio and television, one young female in my group in her mid-twenties developed a fixation with me. She was an attractive married woman who had been reared in Children’s Homes all her life, and without me knowing it at the time, she was a fantasist. After she had attended a few group sessions, she waited outside after the group had finished and ‘sexually button-holed/ propositioned me’. While being naturally flattered, I knew that I did not want the situation to go where she wanted it to.
After a second unsolicited approach by her a few weeks later, I terminated her group membership, foolishly thinking that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. Then, she started stalking me (this was long before ‘stalking’ was a term the public was acquainted with). She wrote me letters addressed to the Probation Office professing her love for me and saying that we should marry and be happy forevermore. She even spoke about the babies that she wanted with me. This was highly embarrassing as my secretary used to open all my mail and file it inappropriate order to be dealt with.
After she contacted my senior describing a relationship of her fantasy between us, I decided that enough was enough and to contact a solicitor to write a ‘warning off’ letter to her. I am glad to say that was the end of the matter.
The story plot of the film ‘Play Misty for me’ in which my song today was the signature tune, reminds me of my experience of being stalked. In the film, the popular radio show host Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) dates a woman who becomes an obsessive fan, and who telephones the host of the show repeatedly on air to request he play the song ‘Misty’. Garver soon discovers extricating himself from the woman will be no easy feat as she becomes increasingly psychotic.
Love and peace Bill xxx