From MUFOB New Series 2, March 1976
By examining the effects of a controlled hoax, the reliability and objectivity of UFO experts is analysed. It is concluded that the enthusiasm and credulity of many commentators hinders the scientific appraisal of UFO phenomena.
Over the years many thousands of UFO reports have been documented; numerous individuals and UFO organisations have analysed the information, and attempted to correlate sighting data in order to discover a pattern that will help to solve the UFO enigma. However, rarely has much thought been given to the lowest common denominator, the UFO enthusiasts themselves. How do they influence the collection and compilation of UFO data? Are investigators unbiased, thorough and scientific? Although the answers to these questions are of fundamental importance if a realistic understanding of UFO phenomena is to be achieved, most enthusiasts remain intolerant of such questions. Few are prepared to accept the suggestion that gross reporting errors frequently occur, and even fewer that UFO mysteries are often the result of incompetent partisan investigators.
The Society for the Investigation of Unidentified Object Phenomena (SIUFOP) felt that experimental results were needed to continue the debate. It was considered that useful experiments would compare the details of fabricated UFO stimuli with the descriptions given by unsuspecting witnesses. Subsequent documentation by ufologists would then provide a measure of their objectivity and general ability as UFO investigators. From a third-party viewpoint, results of the tests would enable genuine UFO accounts to be assessed more realistically.
The merits of controlled UFO hoaxes have rarely been discussed (1) but I report here, that during its formal existence, SIUFOP embarked upon a programme of such experiments designed primarily to involve those already engaged in the study of UFOs, rather than other members of the general public. Accounted below is one experiment: a UFO sighting created in 1970 that was substantiated with photographic evidence. Flying Saucer Review (FSR) was largely responsible for documenting the case and by reference to their headline (2), this experiment is entitled Warminster Photographs.
Warminster, in Wiltshire, was the location chosen for this experiment because of its high density of skywatching ufologists. The scheme was to provide those watching on Cradle Hill with a simple visual stimulus, to introduce photographic evidence inconsistent with the stimulus and to observe the effect this evidence had on subsequent investigation, recording and publicity.
UFO landing marks were dug and an appropriate area of grass was singed a few feet from the road along the side of Sack Hill, Warminster. At 11.00 p.m. on Saturday 28 March 1970 a light was shone from this position towards a group of ufologists on Cradle Hill, about three-quarters of a mile away. The light was produced by a 144 watt tungsten lamp, roughly collimated by a 4« inch diameter concave mirror and powered by a car battery. A purple gelatine filter was placed in the beam and the entire assembly was placed directly on a car roof. The lamp was switched on for 5 seconds, off for 5 seconds, and then on for 25 seconds. From start to finish, therefore, the stimulus lasted 35 seconds and throughout this period the car and lamp remained stationary. Taking care not to be seen, the car and lamp were then quickly removed.
Amongst the skywatchers on Cradle Hill (who were soon aware of the strange light) were two items of SIUFOP apparatus: a UFO detector and a camera on a tripod. The outward appearance of the UFO detector was that of a typically home-made magnetic field sensor. Inside there was just a buzzer synchronised to sound 15 seconds after the purple light was first visible: this it did.
Whilst the skywatchers were viewing the purple light and noting the corroborating UFO detector, SIUFOP member Mr Norman Foxwell appeared to photograph the light. The film in his camera had already been exposed, however: the latent image thereon having been arranged to show a spurious UFO in a different position, and bearing no resemblance to the circular purple light. The spurious image was superimposed on two 35 mm frames, each showing the night-time street lamp scene familiar to skywatchers on Cradle Hill.
In the first frame the UFO was montaged above the (invisible) horizon and approximately 22 degrees south of the position of the purple light. The second frame showed the UFO still further south by about 8 degrees, below the horizon, fainter and blurred. Neither frame included the location of the purple light. The UFO image was made cigar-sectioned, horizontal and with a circular blob above and below centre. This design was created on an oscilloscope using Lissajous figures.
Headlamps of cars (about three miles away) driving westbound along the main road into Warminster are momentarily visible to the right of Battlesbury Hill when viewed at night from Cradle Hill. Therefore time-exposure photographs taken in this direction often show a white line traced by the movement of cars during the exposure. It was ensured that the background scene used in each montage showed different lengths of line consistent with time-exposure photographs of a few seconds.
Shortly after the purple light had been finally extinguished and the UFO detector had been switched off, Mr Foxwell took two genuine pictures that included, as comparison photographs, part of the aforementioned street-lamp scene. This was to provide future photographic investigators with the following significant clues that the UFO photographs were at least of a dubious nature. Firstly, the images on the prepared negatives were magnified over 10 per cent more than the genuine ones – individual street lamps were easily identifiable and measurement of the distances between them highlights this inconsistency. Secondly, the background scenes used were photographed many months before March 1970 and showed gaps in the street-lamp pattern where two lamps were not working. When the genuine pictures were taken (minutes after the purple light incident) these street lamps had been mended. These inconsistencies had been deliberately used to see if ufologists would critically examine the photographic evidence.
Mr Foxwell’s brief was to pass the film from his camera to any ufologist who would arrange for it to be developed privately. This was considered to be the part of the experiment most likely to fail, as encouraging a complete stranger to accept a potentially valuable film may well have been viewed with suspicion. It should be stressed that at this stage Mr Foxwell was totally unaware of the identity of any person or representative group on the hill (apart from three SIUFOP members).
He approached two people and asked where he could get his film developed. The reply was: Don’t know at this time of night . He approached another skywatcher who was the only person attempting to log information and mentioned that he had got a couple of pictures . During the short conversation that followed, it transpired that this person was Mr John E. Ben, who had contact with FSR. He agreed to take the film and about half an hour later it was handed over.
In an experiment of this type, results arrive in many forms: letters, telephone conversations and published articles, etc. Detailed reference to them all would require more space than is available here, and would probably serve little purpose anyway. I have attempted to extract from the records data which in my estimation indicate the nature of the investigation being carried out by the ufologists concerned. On Tuesday 31 March 1970, after having the film developed, Mr Ben telephoned a relative of Mr Foxwell (Mr Foxwell was not on the telephone) and dictated a message. Part of it read:
There appears to be a large cylindrical object with two smaller objects leaving the main sphere. In one photo it seems one of the smaller spheres is still in contact.
Straight away patches of light on a two-dimensional negative were described as three-dimensional objects by the use of the words cylindrical and sphere.
The next day Mr Foxwell telephoned Mr Ben, who described the prints further and sought permission to take them to a meeting of the FSR consultative committee. He added that the top six men from Europe were fortuitously due to attend.
Mr Ben worked at the Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine, and the film had been developed by Messrs Stanard and Hazell of their photographic department. During a telephone call on 3 April, Mr Foxwell was informed that they had decided the pictures could not possibly be faked. He was also told that the day after the sighting Mr Ben and his friends had visited the area where the purple light was seen, to look for marks on the ground. They found nothing, not even the landing marks left by SIUFOP.
In further communications with Mr Foxwell, Mr Ben indicated that FSR was very interested in the pictures and would have them examined in their laboratory. On 26 May he wrote:
Mr Charles Bowen of the FSR has contacted me this morning to tell me about your Warminster photographs. I am pleased to inform you that they have now proven the negatives to be genuine beyond all doubt.
The July-August 1970 issue of FSR gave the case its first publicity. (2) The cover illustration was an impression of the purple light painted by Mr Terence Collins, a professional artist who had been with the skywatchers on Cradle Hill. Although the general details of this impression were correct, the size of the object was exaggerated. In fact the diameter of the purple light subtended an angle (to those on Cradle Hill) similar to the nearby street lamps, whereas the artist’s impression showed the purple light subtending an angle about ten times larger than that of the street lamps.
This issue of FSR headed its editorial Warminster Phenomenon and printed two articles reporting on Mr Foxwell’s photographs, the first entitled Photographs from Cradle Hill by John Ben. (3) In his article Mr Ben recalled the sighting back in March that year of what was actually a stationary, grounded light, visible for 35 seconds, and with respect to watchers on Cradle Hill was situated at an elevation of approximately zero degrees:
…at 11.02 p.m. an object was seen at an elevation of approximately 20 degrees in the eastern sky. The object appeared very suddenly as if it came through the clouds and appeared to the eye as a very bright ovoid light, purple in colour with a periphery of white. Two members of my group who observed the object through binoculars both remarked they could see a crimson light in the centre; this was also attested to by witnesses with good vision…
The object remained stationary for approximately 30 seconds during which time Mr Foxwell was able to take the first of his photographs. The object then moved slowly to the right – towards the town – and lost a little altitude in the process. At one stage in the movement it dimmed considerably as though obscured by low cloud. The object continued moving for about 20-30 seconds, and then stopped again. The light then increased considerably in intensity, though we could not be sure if the object was moving directly towards the observation point, or if it remained stationary. At this point the alarm of a detector sounded, and a witness ran to switch it off. After 10-20 seconds the light dimmed and then went out as though concealed by cloud. However we were all certain that the object had not moved once more. The sighting had lasted for approximately 1-1« minutes…
The stated elevation of the object and the duration of the sighting are obvious errors in observation, whilst the reference to clouds is misleading. Perhaps the most interesting part of the report is that section dealing with the movement of the purple light. Instead of noting it as stationary, the description is consistent with the implied movement recorded on the fake photographs. The scenes shown on Mr Foxwell’s photographs did not include the position of the purple light but this fact seems to have gone unnoticed.
The second article, ‘The Warminster Photographs Examined’, (4) was written by Percy Hennell FIBP, a photographer and consultant to FSR. He wrote:
Let me say at the outset that there is nothing about these photographs which suggests to me that they have been faked in any way…
Later he draws readers’ attention to the left-hand edges of the UFO shown in his enlargements. Because these edges are more pointed than the right-hand ones he suggested:
…that some propulsive jet may have been operating to move the object to the right.
Both articles noted car headlights in the background scene, but incorrectly placed them on the hill beyond the street lights. Neither author seemed aware that they were to the right of Battlesbury Hill and on a main road.
Charles Bowen, the editor, added a note What the Eye Sees… (5) questioning why the object seen was so different from the image recorded by the camera. He ended his note by quoting an observation made by Mr R.H.B. Winder after seeing the painting:
These colours are reminiscent of the colours associated with ionisation in air.
(Mr R.H.B. Winder BSc CEng MIMechE is listed as a consultant to FSR.)
During September 1970 Mr Ben invited Mr Foxwell to join him and his group at a meeting, to discuss the case further. By this time, I had contacted Mr Ben in my capacity as Chairman of SIUFOP and expressed interest in the Warminster Photographs. As a result, I too was invited to this meeting. It was considered expedient that Mr Foxwell should not attend, but Ken Raine (Vice-chairman of SIUFOP) and I did.
Among those present were John Ben, Terence Collins (the artist) and an independent consulting photographer, Michael Samuels FRMS. Much of the evening was spent trying to establish the positions of the photographic UFO relative to Battlesbury Hill. Ken Raine and I suggested photographically superimposing a twilight picture of Battlesbury Hill (taken from Cradle Hill) on to Foxwell’s pictures. Photographs taken at twilight show the street lamps as well as the outline of Battlesbury Hill. These components would have enabled accurate superimpositioning and placing of the UFO respectively. The position of the car headlights would also have been correctly established. Little notice was taken of our idea: the others preferred to transfer construction lines from one photograph to another. Had our suggestion been heeded, they would have had a reasonable chance of discovering the magnification discrepancy outlined earlier.
A few weeks later Mr Ben told me that they had calculated the length of the UFO to be 56 feet and in the second picture it was 50 yards from the car headlamps.
Dr Pierre Guerin, Director of Research at the Astrophysical Institute of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, presented a Tentative Interpretation of the Warminster Photographs in the November-December 1970 edition of FSR, translated by Gordon Creighton. (6) Initially he cleaned the negatives and then made new enlargements. He stated:
In my opinion there is no question of the object photographed being in any possible way the result of faking…
He then questioned the difference between the appearance of the image on the photographs and the eye-witness descriptions. To answer the question he suggested:
…that the object photographed was emitting ultraviolet light which the eye does not see. Around the object, however, a ruby red halo, probably of monochromatic colour and doubtless due to some phenomenon of air ionisation, was visible only to the eye and in actual fact has made no impression on the film…
If this interpretation is correct, the consequences which we can draw from it are important. As will be known, in a recent issue of FSR (15, 2), John Keel disputed the presence of any solid material object inside the variable luminous phenomena which he calls soft sightings , claiming thereby that the solid phase of the UFO phenomenon is only one of the aspects – and no doubt the least frequent aspect – of the phenomenon in question. The Warminster sightings do indeed appear to furnish us with an example of a soft sighting linked with the presence, at its centre, of a solid object not visible to the eye, but emitting ultraviolet light.
That UFOs can appear, or disappear, on the spot, when leaving or entering our visual four-dimensional space-time is probably true. But it would be rash to assert that they do not always possess a material, solid body right from the very moment that they have penetrated into this space-time. Despite the claims of John Keel, the soft sighting could in fact very well be merely secondary effects of the presence of solid objects, whether or not visible to the eye, in the gaseous medium of our atmosphere. This hypothesis had already been formulated long ago, and the Warminster sightings seem to confirm it.
By January 1971, SIUFOP published its Newsletter No. 19 to which I contributed a characteristically critical article about the Warminster Photographs entitled The Hoax of 1970?. (7) The SIUFOP Newsletter had a reputation for strongly attacking ufologists’ methods and motives so this article was quite in keeping. In it I summarised the published case history and went on to criticise the investigations carried out by Messrs Ben, Hennell, Gu‚rin and others for stated reasons. My conclusions contained the following sentence:
At no stage in its publicity campaign has FSR referred to an investigation of the photographer – the most important person, because without the photographs this would be merely another light in the sky report.
An investigation of the photographer was not referred to because, surprisingly, nobody had interviewed him.
The March-April 1971 issue of FSR carried a surprise headline ‘New Mystery at Warminster’ . Mr M. Samuels (previously met by DS and KR) had recently returned to Warminster with a camera to take some photographs from Cradle Hill in daylight. In his report Unexpected Photographic Effects at Warminster (8) he recounted a high light-meter reading and linked this with a later discovery of a very small, dark amorphous blemish in the sky area on one of his pictures. He wrote:
My feelings now are that some link needs to be found between the facts that the image that was formed on the film appeared during the time of excess ultraviolet radiation – especially as none of the four persons present on Cradle Hill at the time when the photographs were taken remember seeing any object, either usual or unusual, over Battlesbury Hill.
If we assume that our object was of solid matter, emitting ultraviolet radiation, we find, on consideration, that the solid outline would be broken down by the non-focusing ultraviolet radiation, but would still be dark enough to cause a loss of density on the negative.
Suffice it to point out that an ultraviolet source, like any visible one, would cause an increase in the density of a negative, not the decrease observed.
A total of five articles relating to the Warminster Photographs were published in this issue of FSR. Charles Bowen chronicled Progress at Cradle Hill (9) and printed a contact print of Mr Foxwell’s negative strip, showing the order of the four exposures. The images on this published contact strip are obviously quite small, but anyone with normal eyesight and a ruler can measure the aforementioned magnification error by comparing the distance between the ten street lamps on negative 1 with the distance between the same ten street lamps on negative 4.
In a full-page letter to FSR, (10) Mr S. Scammell did actually suggest superimposing day and night photographs; but he proceeded to do this by measurement, rather than photographically. As a result he concluded that the UFO pictures were taken from a location on Cradle Hill known as Field Barn. They were not; from this location much of the detail shown in the UFO pictures cannot be seen as it is obscured by Cradle Hill itself. From John Ben’s original report he calculated that the object photographed was probably an army vehicle travelling at about 15 mph. He too, incorrectly placed the main road car headlamps on Battlesbury Hill.
In John Ben’s second report ‘Continued Investigations at Warminster’ (11) the car headlamps were placed on Battlesbury Hill yet again.
‘A Further Examination of the Warminster Photographs’ by Terry Collins (12) featured a double-page elevation diagram of Battlesbury Hill. With measurements from the UFO photographs he constructed, with gross errors, the two positions of the UFO and the position of the car headlamps. (The published diagram was 13 inches long and the error in positioning the headlamps was 2 inches.) According to his calculations the main body of the UFO was 60 feet long and 15 feet wide.
In order to record more accurately the true appearance of the purple light, SIUFOP had revisited Warminster on Saturday 13 February 1971. The light was shone twice that evening, once from the original position on Sack Hill, and once from a car moving along Sack Hill. Several ufologists were skywatching at the time. When the sixth supplement of FSR Case Histories dated August 1971 was published it became apparent that one of the skywatchers had photographed our light and submitted the transparency, with a covering letter, to FSR. (13) In his letter, Mr Frank M.G. Morton drew attention to the similarity of this sighting to the cover illustration of FSR, Vol. 16, No. 4. He described the events reasonably accurately in a manner contrasting with John Ben:
The appearances and disappearances of the light in all cases were like a lamp being switched on and off suddenly.
Little more was published in the second year since the start of the experiment, but verbal comments made by various ufologists at lectures etc. gave the impression that this case was becoming a classic reference.
Unfortunately for SIUFOP, June 1972 heralded the end of its control over the experiment. The success of the experiment depended on secrecy and it was therefore regrettable that a friend in whom Mr Foxwell confided was also a friend of Carl Grove, a contributor to FSR. As a result FSR were informed that the Warminster Photographs were faked, although I do not think they knew of SIUFOP’s involvement. Mr Foxwell had changed his occupation and as a result the good communication channels that had previously existed between him and SIUFOP members were lost. As a result much time elapsed before SIUFOP was aware of the extent of the disclosure. Were it not for this, Messrs Ben and Bowen would have received full answers in reply to their subsequent courteous letters to Mr Foxwell. I must apologise for the fact that no such answers were sent.
The experiment was ended after 2« years by the editorial column in the July-August 1972 issue of FSR, (14) headlined Dubious Photographs.
Summary and Conclusions
In any detailed investigation, whether into UFOs or something else, all evidence should be subjected to critical appraisal if it is to be thoroughly understood. Scientific evaluation requires that inconclusive, suspicious, or self-contradictory evidence be classified as such and subsequently shelved. Unless this is done we are left with either a hypothesis made weak and unconvincing by disreputable evidence, or a hypothesis based on myths which add nothing useful to the understanding of our environment. The Warminster Photographs provided a group of ufologists with the opportunity to use such a classification. The inbuilt flaws were easily detectable had the negatives been subjected to a critical analysis.
The vast amount of literature published leads one to the conclusion that the pictures were considered very significant by UFO researchers, yet despite this and their impressive list of consultants, the investigators concerned did not analyse the evidence critically. Not once did they interview Mr Foxwell, yet without his photographs the sighting would have been insignificant. Their statements and actions were often not those of people trying to understand a strange event, but those of people prepared to ignore relevant criticisms in order to support a cause.
In the eyes of many a UFO case takes on an aura of credibility when endorsed by someone of high professional standing like Dr Pierre Guerin. It is therefore disappointing that Dr Gu‚rin should apparently be unaware of the ease with which perfect fake photographs can be manufactured. It should be stated that FSR was not singled out for this experiment: its involvement was pure chance. Charles Bowen, the editor, his consultants, John Ben and most people associated with the case are not archetypal flying saucer fanatics: indeed FSR is considered by many to epitomise dispassionate UFO research. It is therefore unfortunate that when presented with a UFO case of such potential importance, so little was achieved. The sighting took place in England, the photographer lived near London, and his negatives yielded what many considered to be the most convincing pictures of an unidentified flying object ever taken. Knowing this, investigators failed to learn the geographical layout of the sighting area, they failed to interview the photographer and they failed to discover the substantial inconsistencies introduced into the negatives.
The other UFO cases published in FSR often originate in distant parts of the world and are rarely corroborated with scientific data. Is it likely that they have been reported or investigated more competently than the Warminster Photographs? I doubt it.
- 1. Hopkins, Paul. Of Hoaxes and Hoaxing, Merseyside UFO Bulletin, Volume 3, number 4, December 1970
- 2. FSR, 16, 4, July-August 1970, front cover
- 3. Ben, J. Photographs from Cradle Hill , FSR, 16, 4, July-August 1970
- 4. Hennell, P. The Warminster Photographs Examined , Ibid.
- 5. Bowen, C. What the Eye Sees , Ibid.
- 6. Guerin, P. Warminster Photographs, a Tentative Interpretation , FSR, 16, 6, November-December 1970
- 7. Simpson, D.I. Hoax of 1970? , SIUFOP Newsletter, 19
- 8. Samuels, M. Unexpected Photographic Effects at Warminster , FSR, 17, 2, March-April 1971
- 9. Bowen, C. Progress at Cradle Hill , Ibid.
- 10. Scammell, A.E. A Surveyor’s Criticism , Ibid.
- 11. Ben, J. Continued Investigations at Warminster , Ibid.
- 12. Collins, T. A Further Examination of the Warminster Photographs , Ibid.
- 13. Morton, M.G. Yet Another Photo from Warminster , FSR Case Histories, No. 6, August 1971
- 14. Bowen, C. Dubious Photographs , FSR, 18, 4, July-August 1972
I would like to thank all those members of SIUFOP who helped in the experiment, and the editors of MUFOB for printing this belated report.
Editorial Note (from MUFOB New Series 2):
We wish to make it clear that until being presented with this report by Mr Simpson, none of the editorial team of MUFOB had any more information about this hoax than was published at the time in FSR. The appearance in MUFOB in 1970 of an article by Paul Hopkins about such an experimental hoax was one of those synchronicities so beloved of Charles Fort!