The Mystic and the Spy: Two Early British UFO Writers. Philip Taylor

From Magonia 61, November 1997

Looking back over 50 years of the UFO phenomenon, it is easy to forget just how few books were written on the subject in the early years, compared with their almost daily publication now. The early Flying Saucer story unravelled almost entirely in the pages of newspapers and magazines in the USA and the UFO scholar has to search hard to find anything on library bookshelves that comes from the first 5 years of the 1947 era. UFO material from this period published outside the USA is even more elusive.

One of the best known early UFO books was published in Britain in 1953: ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’, the first and most famous book by the contactee George Adamski, co-authored with British writer Desmond Leslie. For many people this will have been the first British UFO book they were aware of – but in fact two previous books had been published in Britain in the previous 5 years, both very different books by very different authors. Both authors were once famous in areas quite unrelated to UFOs but, strangely, both men seem to have been largely forgotten in recent years: their lives and contribution to the early history of UFOs deserves to remembered.

1. The Flying Saucer, by Bernard Newman (1948)

flyingsaucerThis fictional book, published in the UK by Gollanz in June 1948, was possibly the first in the world to deal with the topic of Flying Saucers. Although said to have been ‘well- received in the American press’ on its publication there in 1950, it seems to have rapidly fallen into complete obscurity. The book never seems to have been referred to in subsequent UFO books, nor have I seen it listed in any published UFO bibliography.

The book was obviously not intended to be factual, nor a particularly substantial one: it appears to have been another in the long series of thrillers written by the prolific and versatile British author and lecturer Bernard Newman (1897-1968). Newman published over 100 books, at his peak publishing 4 or 5 every year. Many were non- fiction, with travel, current affairs, global politics and real-life espionage books featuring heavily. On the fiction side he concentrated on spy and detective stories, sometimes writing under the pseudonym Don Betteridge. [1]

Newman’s book The Flying Saucer is a tale of how a group of scientists, taking on the mantle of world peace-makers, stage a series of crashes of ‘Flying Saucers’ with the aim of uniting the world’s leaders. The idea that saucer crashes themselves have been staged or that stories have been deliberately manufactured as part of a Military ‘Disinformation’ campaign is one that has been around at least as long as the modern saucer retrievals stories have been current. The theme of an alien threat leading to world peace and unity is one that has cropped up on many occasions, a recent example being the often-quoted remark of Reagan to Gorbachev in1985. Newman’s inspiration was a speech by Sir Anthony Eden, who in 1947 said: “It seems to be an unfortunate fact that the nations of the world were only really united when they were facing a common menace. What we really needed was an attack from Mars 85″ The idea of a fake saucer crash serving this purpose is probably original to Newman’s book, but is one which may have been absorbed almost unknowingly into the popular folklore of UFOs. Despite the more recent amnesia regarding this book, it was once described as being one of three books for which ‘Newman is possibly best known in the United States’. Newman dismisses the book briefly in his autobiography but mentions that Anthony Eden was ‘very amused by the book’.

Newman’s book begins with an initial series of mysterious saucer crashes occurring first in England, then (where else but) New Mexico, and thirdly Russia. The crash sites are chosen carefully to involve all the three major powers of the post-WWII world. Then, as their grand finale, the scientists decide to include an alien occupant in the next crash. In modern tales of crashed saucers, the alien occupants seem to remain surprisingly unscathed, apparently sustaining nothing more than a grazed grey knee in the course of a high-speed crash. By contrast, Newman is gruesomely realistic with his staged crash: the alien ‘victim’ is apparently pulverised by the impact and this enables the scientists behind the scenes to confuse investigating pathologists by presenting them with a ‘body’ consisting of a grotesque melange of exotic animal remains.

An international league of scientists springs into action and with remarkable speed the differences between the world’s governments dissolve under the ‘Martian’ threat. The final chapter sees every international political problem speedily resolved, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland. This 1948 fantasy is very much of its time: it was published in the very month of the Russian blockade of Berlin. Newman’s heroes find a way around the frustrating limitations of the new United Nations, with, in the background, the emergence of the super-power blocs and the omniscience of the atomic scientists all playing their part.

Newman’s book, now nearly 50 years old, presents familiar themes to us today: a saucer crash in New Mexico, an alien autopsy (albeit a particularly messy one). In the background, an ultra-secret military disinformation campaign designed to create a New World Order hidden from the general population. In 1948 the New Order that Newman envisaged was that of brotherhood & peace to all men and is plotted by pipe- smoking, back-room boffins, fresh from their successes in the War.

With his fondness for writing books, both fiction and non-fiction, on espionage themes it is reasonable to assume that Newman had first-hand experience of the secret intelligence world. Several writers have alluded to Newman’s probable connections with the British Intelligence service, including Peter Rogerson who has speculated in Magonia on a possible intelligence connection with the Roswell incident of 1947. As one might expect, Newman’s intelligence career remains shrouded in obscurity and deceit. In his unrevealing autobiography Speaking From Memory [2] he describes how from 1919 onwards he was apparently employed in an undemanding Civil Service job in the Ministry of Works. Somehow he seemed able to take extremely long and, for those days, exceedingly adventurous holidays, including lengthy stays in Eastern Europe and Russia. His destinations invariably seemed to include areas of particular political interest: for example several extended holidays to Germany in the 1930′s.

However, one of his more remarkable claims remains a puzzle. He claims to have made a report on the secret Peenemunde rocket site in 1938, which he sent to the Foreign Office, but the report ‘was ignored’. This clearly contradicts Dr R.V. Jones description of the legendary ‘Oslo Letter’, received from an anonymous informant in 1940, which was said to be the first information that British Intelligence had of the significance of the rocket development site.[3]

To add to the mystery, an article in the New York Times in 1945 described Newman as having spent the three years from 1915 operating as a double agent in the German Intelligence Service.[4] Newman was indeed fluent in German, his mother having come from Alsace and he grew up speaking English, French and German. But the idea of an 18-year old boy spy operating within the German forces and influencing senior officers is stretching credulity and an addendum to Newman’s obituary in the Times contains a reference to the alleged episode that relegates it to the realm of fiction.[5]

Whether true or not, no hint of any such exploit is mentioned in Newman’s autobiography. The resemblance between incidents described in The Flying Saucer and the Roswell crash remains intriguing: we are left to speculate and can perhaps, one day, hope to learn some of the real facts about this enigmatic author.

[NOTE: Newman's book was republished in 2010. See details HERE]

2. The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, by Gerald Heard (1950)

heardBy contrast to the Establishment figure that Bernard Newman presents, Gerald Heard (1889-1971) was a determinedly individualistic Anglo-Irishman who began his career as an academic at Cambridge and then Oxford. He first became well known in the 1930′s as an author of books on philosophy and as a BBC broadcaster on popular science and was acquainted with many of the leading intellectual and literary figures of the day. Having become a committed pacifist, Heard, along with Aldous Huxley, emigrated to Los Angeles in 1937 and became a devotee of a Hindu religious order there. The writer Christopher Isherwood was attracted to follow Heard to California and soon he also joined the Hindu order, led by Swami Prabhavananda. Due to his avowed pacifism, he never became a US citizen, despite living in California until his death 34 years later. [6]

Unlike Isherwood, Heard never produced any well-known literary works and all his books are now out of print. Heard was a polymath who wrote about whatever interested him: about 30 books in all, on a wide-range of subjects, ranging from esoteric philosophy to an early book entitled Narcissus: An Anatomy of Clothes.

Heard never flinched from dealing with subjects that bordered on the taboo including nonconsensus reality, psychic research, mysticism, pacifism, synchronicity, homosexuality, madness and criminality. He resorted to a pseudonym for many of his works, for example the “Mr. Mycroft” detective thriller series published under the name H.F. Heard and a utopian science-fiction novel by “Auctor Ignotus”, which has only recently been attributed to him. A particular theme, which he explored in a number of books, was that of the evolution of human consciousness, which was developed most fully in the 1963 book The Five Ages of Man. After 1947 he became fascinated by the new Flying Saucer phenomenon. On the one hand he saw the reports as presaging a New Age of increased cosmic and spiritual awareness and on the other he developed an original, but quirky, nuts-and-bolts hypothesis as to who was piloting the flying vehicles.

riddleHeard’s book The Riddle of the Flying Saucers was published in the UK in 1950, and in the US the same year under the title Is Another World Watching?. The book follows a now-familiar pattern that was to be repeated in endless books during the next 30 years. The book begins with a series of chapters presenting the USA Flying Saucer reports of 1947-1949, presented at face value, with little or no context or critical analysis. The reports are a familiar litany: Arnold, Maury Island, Mantell, the New Mexico green fireballs. As was usual for those days, there is no suggestion of the Saucers ever descending from their lofty paths, whether to land deliberately or in a crash. This story was yet to come: Frank Scully’s book Behind the Flying Saucers, with its story of alien bodies recovered from a crashed saucer, was published in the same year, as well as Keyhoe’s first book The Flying Saucers are Real.

Heard reviews many of the then current theories about the Saucer’s origins: various countries, not only the USSR, are considered and discarded, as the builders of the craft. Inevitably, each solar system planet is considered in turn, until the planet Mars is selected. After a lengthy rhetorical argument, Heard concludes that giant bees from Mars pilot the craft! This remarkable theory, seldom promoted by any subsequent author, seemed to have been based on Heard’s belief that only bees could both survive on Mars and also withstand the immense G-forces sustained by the Saucers’ flight manoeuvres.

Heard as a flying saucer writer is a lot less interesting than Heard as a philosopher, and his book can be viewed as the result of just one of the many enthusiasms of a free- thinking and enquiring mind. Heard did not return to the subject in print and enthusiastically welcomed Jung’s contribution to the subject a few years later. Heard has only recently begun to be recognised as a Californian New Age pioneer, not only inspiring major developments in the human potential movement but also as a user and evangelist of psychedelic drugs for spiritual enlightenment. Along with Huxley, Heard experimented with both mescaline and LSD in the early 50′s, years before Kesey and Leary began their crusades in the 60′s. An evaluation of Heard’s contribution to modern thought and culture awaits the publication of his biography; meanwhile we can ponder on Isherwood’s remarkable epitaph: “Gerald Heard is one of the very few who can properly be called philosophers, a man of brilliantly daring theory and devoted practice. I believe he has influenced the thought of our time, directly and indirectly, to an extent which will hardly be appreciated for another fifty years. Gerald was a rare creature altogether; he breathed another air, in a way.” [7]

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References:

  1. Current Biography 1959, p319.
  2. Bernard Newman, Speaking From Memory (1960).
  3. R.V. Jones, Most Secret War.
  4. New York Times, January 9 1945.
  5. The Times, 27 February 1968.
  6. Gerald Heard, by J.V. Cody: Article in Gnosis magazine no. 26, Winter 1993.
  7. Christopher Isherwood Diaries, Volume One 1939-1960 (1996).

 

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One thought on “The Mystic and the Spy: Two Early British UFO Writers. Philip Taylor

  1. Much as I would like to be the grandson of a Spy, I think that people confuse his novel ‘Spy’ with his WW1 service. The novel is of course, fiction. I have started up a Bernard Newman archive/research website to answer questions raised by your article and a couple of others. Even his New York Times obituary mentions him as a spy. Maybe the jury is still out, but it seems clear to me.

    I would be very grateful for some of the archive sources that you quote

    Simon Hipkin, grandson of Bernard Newman

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