The professor and the parson A story of desire, deceit, and defrocking

Adam Sisman

Book - 2020

"One day in November 1958, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a curious letter. It was an appeal for help, written on behalf of a student at Magdalen College, with the unlikely claim that he was being persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford. Curiosity piqued, Trevor-Roper agreed to a meeting. It was to be his first encounter with Robert Parkin Peters: plagiarist, bigamist, fraudulent priest, and imposter extraordinaire. The Professor and the Parson traces the strange career of of Britain's most eccentric criminals. Motivated not by money but by a desire for prestige, Peters lied, stole, and cheated his way to academic positions and religious posts from Cambridge to New York, Singapore, and South Africa. Frequently deported, and even more frequently discovered, his trail of destruction included seven marriages (three of which were bigamous), an investigation by the FBI, and a disastrous appearance on Mastermind. Based on Trevor-Roper's own detailed "file on Peters," The Professor and the Parson is a witty and charming account of eccentricity, extraordinary narcissism, and a life as wild and unlikely as any in fiction"--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 364.163/Sisman Checked In
True crime stories
Berkeley, California : Counterpoint Press [2020]
Item Description
First published in Great Britain in 2019 by Profile Books Ltd.
Physical Description
231 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Includes index.
Main Author
Adam Sisman (author)
Review by Booklist Review

In 1958, well-known British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a strange letter from a man named Robert Parkin Peters claiming that he was being harassed by the Bishop of Oxford. This unlikely scenario caught Trevor-Roper's attention and he became one of the many people duped by Peters. After realizing his error in judgment, he began compiling a trail of Peters' past and present only to find a bizarre story of a narcissistic conman. Sisman gives readers a chronological romp through Peters' continual attempts to pass himself off as a student of the church, a preacher, a teacher, and even a principal of two religious schools, all in the name of notoriety. While Peters is definitely a character, he is also a bigamist, a misogynist, and a sexual harasser (at the very least) and yet Sisman passes these off as more of his trickster ways instead of recognizing them as the predatory behaviors they are. This lack of synthesis is unfortunate, but the story of Trevor-Roper and Peters is an entertaining case of truth being stranger than fiction.--Kathy Sexton Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This gripping account of a recalcitrant 20th-century con man from National Book Critics Circle Award winner--Sisman (Boswell's Presumptuous Task) proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The man born Robert Parkins in England in 1918, who mostly went by Robert Peters, first forged references to get a teaching post in Canada in 1948. In 1958, British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who became notorious in the 1970s for being taken in by the fake Hitler diaries, met Peters in Oxford while the latter was a grad student at the university. After Peters asked for his help countering persecution by the bishop of Oxford, Trevor-Roper discovered that Peters's claim was a fantasy and began digging deeper. The historian's interest in the scam artist continued for the rest of his life, and Sisman details Peters's persistent--and successful--attempts to pass himself off as variously an academic, cleric, and school principal. Sisman wisely relegates speculation about what motivated Peters to a brief concluding section, offering appropriate caveats about why Peters sought status via deceit "when it might have been easier to pursue an honest career." Fans of the film Catch Me If You Can will be entertained. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Feb.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

An astonishing story of decades of deception by a slithery English academic and cleric.It was during his research for his 2010 biography of noted English scholar Hugh Trevor-Roper that Sisman (John le Carr, 2015, etc.) came across a dossier that Trevor-Roper had assembled on Robert Parkin Peters (born in 1918 as Robert Michael Parkins), who, from young manhood on, tried (and sometimes succeededthough never for very long) to establish himself as an academic scholar and theologian. He had in fact been ordained, and he had obtained some degrees, but never the weighty ones he claimed at various times to have earned. He also married multiple times (at least seven), was imprisoned for bigamy and deported from the United States and Canada, made moves on about every woman who wandered into his orbit, and was exposed as a fraud in newspapers. Somehow, however, he slid along, moving from position to position. He lied, plagiarized, stole, and fled his debts, jumping from country to country. In the era before Google, it sometimes took employers a long time to learn the truth about him and fire himor defrock him and otherwise attempt to clip his wings, which always grew back very quickly. Peters was a small, nondescript manthe photographs show him looking a little like Mister Peepersbut he was utterly convincing in his various guises. Trevor-Roper's dossier ended abruptly in 1983 when he was humiliated by the Hitler diaries scandal (he had innocently authenticated the forgeries), and Sisman had to do some diligent digging on his own to unearth the rest of this jaw-dropping tale. The author speculates only modestly about why Peters behaved as he did, but he concludes that he was a classic narcissist. "Studying Peters," writes Sisman, "is like tracking a particle in a cloud chamber: usually one cannot see the man himself, but only the path he left behind." The appended chronology is also incredible.A captivating true tale that makes even the most intricate con-artist movies look cartoonish. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.