Feature length documentary that tells the outrageous story of the largest self help movement that Britain had ever seen, and its effects on the people that joined.
Founded in the mid seventies by the nomadic and charismatic Robert Daubigny, It became known under the name of Exegesis. Much in the same manner as US based self help organisations (sometimes labelled as Cults) like Scientology and The Landmark Forum, Exegesis started modestly; slowly building a loyal group of followers, who would meet in front rooms and rented apartments. Swiftly, the numbers began to grow, and Daubigny expanded the Exegesis program, hiring out hotel reception rooms to supply the demand.
Lasting three days initially, and costing a healthy fee of around £200, Robert Daubigny shrewdly designed the course as a short and accessible boot camp, which would show positive results in a concise time frame. It was precisely this element that drew controversy with the media and psychiatric groups, who branded the techniques as extreme and unethical.
Much in the same way that institutionalised military boot camps break down and dehumanise the participant in order to rebuild them as a stronger and more effective soldier, Daubigny’s Exegesis training would take a similar approach. Techniques like cathartic ‘hot seating’, where two people would seat opposite each other, and externalise their aggression at each other, that are now obligatory in the Self Help industry today, were seen as abusive and extreme at the time.
Exegesis continued to expand despite the bad press (or because of it), and a more solid home for the movement was formed in Kilburn and Cricklewood in London. Many of the key members purchased properties in the area, and a small community was formed (known within the group as ‘The Ghetto’). A company was also created in 1982, called Programmes LTD, which employed members of the group as telephone sales people, and built up an enviable client list of companies like IBM and products like the Sinclair C5. High proﬁle celebrities like Mike Oldﬁeld and Tony Visconti joined the group, and spoke publicly about the positive effect of the training on their own lives and careers.
Despite this success, the movement began to struggle against the rising tide of bad press. A conscious decision within the ranks was made to push Exegesis away from the ‘Cult’ label, and more towards the business aspects. Soon hardcore members began to leave, frustrated by the prominence of Programmes LTD over the original Exegesis training that caused them to join in the ﬁrst place.
Eventually the Exegesis brand petered out completely, and the movement became an entirely money making endeavour. The formation of Merchants in the late 80s, another sales company that grew out of Programmes LTD, sounded the death bell for Exegesis, and continued business without any sign of the training techniques that formed the basis of the movement.
Today, ex-members are plentiful, and still regard that period of their lives as profound. A Very British Cult will look at whether Exegesis transformed lives, or went too far, and what it says about modern Britain.