Edinburgh Festival: Banned professor back to stage macabre body show

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The Independent Online

The controversial anatomist Professor Gunther von Hagens is to display one of his preserved corpses in Edinburgh during this month's festival - two years after his macabre exhibits were barred by the city.

The German doctor achieved notoriety for displaying dozens of real human bodies, with skin peeled back to expose muscle and bone tissue and arranged in bizarre poses, at his "Body Worlds" exhibition. He also performed the UK's first public autopsy for 170 years, which was televised by Channel 4 in 2002.

Now Professor Von Hagens is to bring one of the bodies to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, where he is to speak in a debate about the portrayal of death and terminal illness on TV.

The medic devised a process called plastination, in which the body fluids of corpses are replaced by a solid plastic that preserves them and allows them to be displayed in different positions. He has toured his bodies around the world, but a bid to stage it in Edinburgh in 2003 was blocked by the city council.

He had wanted to display the corpses of three adults and a child in Princes Street Gardens during the festival, but the council refused permission.

A council spokeswoman said: "We thought it was not the most appropriate place to have an exhibition of this nature ... there may well have been people that could have been offended."

The council will not be opposing the latest attempt to show a body because it is a behind-closed-doors event for registered delegates who will be aware of the content.

Professor Von Hagens, who sees his exhibits as educational, said: "For decades the movie industry and television nurtured the public more by sensationalising the dead body with crime stories and the horror of decay, rather than using the body for a route of knowledge."

A spokeswoman for the TV festival said: "We feel the portrayal of death on screen merits a serious discussion about what is and is not appropriate to broadcast, and Gunther Von Hagens is clearly a key voice in this debate."


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Nicholas Barber