A Very British Ufology
John Rimmer

Editorial notes, Magonia 95, May 2007

At last, it seems, the Warminster revival is getting underway. With the publication in 2005 of Dewey and Reis’s In Alien Heat (reviewed in Magonia 91) an almost forgotten aspect of British ufological history was brought back into focus. Two recent books also revisit the site of England’s biggest UFO flap. Andy Roberts and David Clarke’s Flying Saucerers: A Social History of Ufology (1) places Warminster into the broader context of UFO development in this country, and Kevin Goodman’s UFO Warminster: Cradle of Contact (2) presents the place and the events associated with it into a more personal context. All three books, I believe, reveal Warminster as an intrinsically English phenomenon, and part of a very distinctive national UFO tradition.

Roberts and Clarke begin their survey with the usual brief account of the 1947 events in the USA, starting with Arnold’s sighting on June 24. Amazingly, it took just six days for the saucers to cross the Atlantic; Britain’s first UFO report came from a vicar’s wife in Kent who saw a `dark ring’ in the sky as she waited at a level-crossing near Sandwich.

Even in this pioneering report some of the classic characteristics of the mass-media UFO report were apparent: the immediate search for, then dismissal of, a prosaic explanation: “I am positive it was not a smoke ring from the passing engine”; the immediate linking with other reports: “Flying saucers were also reported yesterday as having been seen during the last couple of days over Denmark, Johannesburg and Sydney”; then as a clincher of authenticity: “The United States Army Air Force announced at Roswell, New Mexico last night that a ‘flying disc’ was found last week on a ranch near Roswell, and was now in the Army’s possession.”

So within days of Roswell, UFOs were already established in the UK. ‘Ufology’ as an organised pursuit began with the foundation of small clubs, mostly just groups of friends, like that founded in Hove by Richard Hughes, called simply The Flying Saucer Club. It was organised to the extent of issuing membership cards and publishing a magazine, Flying Saucer News.

Clarke and Roberts outline the development of the earliest years of British ufology in some detail, but there is clearly a great deal of material still waiting to be discovered. But what is very clear, even from the limited amount of material available to us, is that ufology in this country, even in the earliest years, developed differently from its American counterpart. Perhaps significantly ufology in Britain attracted a number of ‘establishment’ figures, and in the early years, like much else in Britain in the 1950s, had a distinctive class profile.

Early British saucer enthusiasts (‘ufologists’ is perhaps too strong a word) included a number of high-ranking RAF personalities, most notably Lord Dowding. For some reason the minor Anglo-Irish aristocracy were also to the fore in early British UFO research with Brinsley le Poer Trench (Lord Clancarty) and Desmond Leslie, with a castle in Ireland and family links to Sir Winston Churcill. The aristocratic connection even reached to the Royal Family, with both Lord Mountbatten and Prince Philip expressing keen interest in the subject. (Gordon Creighton claimed that Philip was a subscriber to Flying Saucer Review, but whether this meant more than just that Creighton sent him a copy of every issue is hard to say).

Class divisions characterised much of British ufology on a less rarefied level as well. Throughout its history BUFORA (now defunct but once Britain’s leading UFO organisation) was riddled with factional in-fighting, which often showed a class overtone. Many of the founders and senior figures in BUFORA were primarily occultists, to whom UFOs were a way of challenging scientific values; so that groups and individuals who wanted to bring a scientific approach to the organisation were seen as a hostile force challenging their own occult agenda.

A classic example of this attitude was displayed by BUFORA veteran John Cleary-Baker when involved in a spat with the scientifically-oriented Cambridge University UFO group, dismissing them as “these white-coated godlings of the laboratory”.

British ufology took some strange paths in the 1960s and 1970s, and Andy Roberts’s descriptions of the ufological foundation of the Findhorn Community (an early version of which appeared in Magonia 89) shows how the founder, Peter Caddy, was drawn into the flying saucer world through his involvement with the aristocratic, spiritualist Attingham Park group, with included figures such as Sir Victor Goddard (a former Air Marshall) and Sir George Trevelyan.

Roberts’s description of the ‘hippie’-UFO connection (again outlined in a preliminary article in Magonia 87) shows just how much ufological ideas permeated the underground culture of the era, linking it with ideas about leys, Glastonbury and ‘the Matter of England’: and also how these ideas emerged into a broader culture of mysticism, occultism and anti-rationality, which has continued through to contemporary obsessions with crop-circles.

It is interesting that the development of the crop-circle community has followed the same class-based divisions that marked the early stages of ufology, with an elite of minor aristocracy and the Aga-classes blithely lording it over the lower-middle-class foot soldiers; a situation hilariously described in Jim Schnabel’s Round in Circles and P. G. Rendall’s Cereal Killers.

But the British UFO story is not confined to an aristocratic clique. There are ordinary people in it too, and Clarke and Roberts tell their stories as well. People like Cynthia Appleton, the young housewife who gave birth to a star-child after meeting an Adamski-style alien in her terraced house in Birmingham. Where is the would-be Saviour now? Despite determined investigation the authors were unable to find any trace of him.

Unknown to me until I heard Roberts’s talk at the FT UnConvention last year, is the strange phenomenon of the Flying Saucer Vicars, in the great tradition of eccentric Church of England clergymen (and a few other denominations as well), like characters from an Ealing Comedy. Although some saw saucers as evidence of God’s omnipotence possibly offering, literally, new worlds for evangelising, others found evidence of the devil’s works of entrapment and picketed cinemas showing UFO films.

Britain has only ever produced one UFO cult worthy of the name, the Aetherius Society, and the account given here of its founding by George King is vigorously disputed by the current leadership; but there is something encouragingly English about the idea of it being conceived in a Soho drinking club and ending up at the less fashionable end of Fulham Road like some ‘fifties Chelsea-set demi-mondaine. The Aetherius Society is usually dismissed as a fringe organisation of no account to ‘serious ufologists’, who ignore the fact that it has a much higher profile to the public and the media than most ‘serious ufologists’ are prepared to admit. Clarke,and Roberts are surprisingly sympathetic to it, finding its members genially eccentric.

And now to Warminster, that most English of UFO flaps. Clarke and Roberts devote a chapter to it, outlining the major stages in its growth, and look at some of the curious individuals involved. Greatest of all, of course, was Arthur Shuttlewood. The account of Warminster in Flying Saucerers is a straightforward account of the events in the small town, from the events leading up to the famous town-hall meeting in 1966, to the gradual fading away in the ‘seventies.

One thing that comes across clearly in this account, and which distinguished Warminster from American experience, is the almost total lack of military involvement, despite the enormous army presence in and around the town. The ufologists and the sky watchers were careful to distance the phenomenon from the military, which featured in their accounts merely as the source of a few (very few) UFO misinterpretations, and a minor nuisance to keen skywatchers who wanted to wander across the countryside at night. No crashed saucers in sinister hangers, no secret retrievals, no Men in Black.

The second new book gives us a much more personal, view of the Warminster phenomenon. Kevin Goodman started visiting the Wiltshire town in 1976, a few years after the ‘Great Days’, when establishment ufological interest had moved on and Warminster was being seen as a bit of an embarrassment to many British ufologists. The original stories of ‘The Thing’, strange noises and mysterious objects in the sky had developed into a complex of contactees, hoaxes and the semi-coherent New Age ramblings of Arthur Shuttlewood’s later books. But to the enthusiastic seventeen-dear old and his friends from the Midlands, Warminster still held the magic of the previous decade; it was a place where one could sit on a starlit hillside and be virtually guaranteed to see UFOs.

By the time Kevin arrived, the centre of the Warminster scene had largely moved from Arthur Shuttlewood, who was suffering from increasing ill-health, to Peter and Jane Paget at the Star Foundation in Fountain House. This was a full-on New Age establishment promoting meditation and spiritual healing more than ufology.

* * *

The contact events experienced by the author and his friends, are subtle and ambiguous. No blonde-haired Nordics striding down ramps from shining discs, but more a low-key ‘psychic’ contact, conducted through dream and meditation

* * *

The story of Kevin’s time at Warminster is told in UFO Warminster, Cradle of Contact. This is a fascinating account of the Warminster scene from the mid-seventies through to the late nineties, when most ufologists had given up any interest in England’s major UFO flap.

It is also a very personal story of friendship, enthusiasm, trust and even betrayal, and gives a fascinating insight into the cultism surrounding organisations such as the Star Fellowship. And, as the title implies, it is the story of UFO contact.

Well, not quite. The contact events experienced by the author and his friends, are subtle and ambiguous. No blonde-haired Nordics striding down ramps from shining discs, but more a low-key ‘psychic’ contact, conducted through dream and meditation. Although the ‘contactees’ receive messages and images that suggest an extraterrestrial connection, Goodman and his friends are too intelligent and self-aware to take this all at face-value. They are as puzzled by what is happening to them as we are, reading about it.

I have spoken to a number of English contactees and abductees, and have in every case found that they are aware of the ambiguity of their experiences – there is none of the evangelical zeal, the ‘believe me or else’ attitude that comes across from many American contact accounts.

There has recently been a movement to write the contactee experience out of the ‘real’ UFO narrative, claiming it is not a suitable subject for ‘serious ufologists’. But it is clear from stories such as that of Kevin Goodman that there is no real division between the contact experience, the abduction experience, and the UFO experience in its widest form. The simple ‘abductees good; contactees bad’ dichotomy which is being promoted is hopelessly crude.

Too often now, especially on the Internet, we see ‘ufologists’ who have little or no knowledge of the history of the subject, and who are constantly trying to re-invent the wheel. These two books are an invaluable antidote to that ignorance. Clarke and Roberts give a sound social and historical description of ‘ufology in one country’: Kevin Goodman gives an account of someone who explored one facet of that history, became a part of the experience, but retained the objectivity and self-awareness to give us a fascinating account of a journey to Magonia.

These are important books, please read them.

…………………………………………………….

  1. David Clarke and Andy Roberts. Flying Saucerers: A Social History of UFOlogy Alternative Albion, Heart of Albion Press.
  2. Kevin Goodman. UFO Warminster: Cradle of Contact [2nd edition] Swallowtail Books.

flying-saucererscradle-of-contact

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Keel’s ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ – Two Views.
John Rimmer and Alan Sharp

The Merseyside UFO Bulletin was o ne of the first journals in Europe to welcome the work of John Keel, who became a regular visitor to our letters columns. My review of his first two UFO-related books appeared in MUFOB vol. 3, no. 4, September 1970. It reads a little starry-eyed today, but I would still defend the books reviewed here for opening up new ways of looking at the UFO enigma.

For an updated view, see Peter Rogerson’s review of the 1990′s re-issue HERE


THE LIBERATION OF UFOLOGY, by John Rimmer

<< Click on the cover images to order this book from Amazon

John Keel has written a very good mystery story called ‘Operation Trojan Horse’. He has also written a first-rate UFO textbook called ‘Operation Trojan Horse’. Many people will find this completely unacceptable and will criticise the writing of a textbook in the style of a mystery thriller. However in a subject so innately mysterious as ufology this is probably a valid way of writing. Many critics will probably write at great length about a number of errors of fact that appear in this book. Their criticism will be valid, and it is disappointing that these have been allowed to creep into a work of this nature. However, with the present lack of documentation in ufology cross-checking of facts and incidents is virtually impossible. These errors do not, however, invalidate the arguments of the book.

Not the least value of 0TH is the many signposts it plants, pointing out avenues of further research. The highlighting of the neglected flap years of the twenties and thirties should send ufologists rushing to local newspaper archives.

It would be impossible in a short review to give an adequate outline of Keel’s thesis. It would also be unethical, looking at the book as a mystery story, to give away the end. However it is not a whodunit. There is no last minute denouement in the locked drawing room when John Keel points out the guilty party. As Charles Bowen points out in his FSR review: “he cannot write his QED at the end of the exercise”. It is obvious on reading the book that this is not the object. What Keel does demonstrate is something of the nature of the phenomenon. He acts in a way as the liberator of ufology, and in the process possibly destroys it as we know it. Ho certainly demonstrates the inadequacy of the phrase ‘unidentified flying object’. He liberates ufology from twenty-five years of oppression and misunderstanding. Oppression is caused when anything is forced into an enclosure that is too small for it, whether that is a physical or a psychological enclosure. In the past ufologists have thought that they had a fairly clearly designed phenomenon to study. Even those who tended to reject the ETH have thought of ufology in the rather limiting terms of investigating reports of objects seen. Keel demonstrates the inadequacy of these terms of reference by heaping upon this basic de definition an extension that is infinitely greater than the original.

The book begins on familiar territory with the 1960 radar case, and an analysis of straightforward sighting reports. After that however each chapter adds some complexity to the basic phenomenon. By the end of the book the reader’s mind is reeling from the enormity of what has been said. This is possibly one of those very rare books that alters one’s way of thinking about things. It is disturbing to have one’s ideas of reality assaulted so completely as Keel manages in OTH. Many people will find that their only defence against this assault is in total rejection, not only of the conclusions (which is a perfectly valid reaction), but also of the arguments. For example Keel produces evidence upon evidence that many aspects of the UFO problem are deliberate hoaxes by the forces that are the source of the phenomena. This is a conclusion that many will challenge. However, Keel develops this argument with a mass of data, with many incredible correlations, and with a sound logical argument. It is up to his critics to either show a fault in the reasoning, to challenge the evidence by double checking, or to provide an equal amount of counter-data.

An eminent British ufologist remarked that there are only four books essential reading for students of the phenomena: Charles Fort’s collected works, Passport to Magonia and the two Keel books. This selection might be a little Spartan but it accurately sums up the importance of John Keel’s contribution to the literature.

John Keel uncovers a universe of mystery incomprehensible in its complexity. At the same time he demonstrates that this is tied up, often in a ludicrously mundane manner, with normal people. A mystery that is possibly cosmic in extent yet as much a part of human life as the telephone, Cadillac, or even, so help us potato peelings in which it manifests itself. It would be trite to say that Keel knocks over the ETH. He challenges the framework of ufology as we know it, and poses the problem of what happens now. The evidence in the book, quite apart from the conclusions he arrives at, destroys ufology as we know it. To study the phenomenon as it is revealed in OTH and then to consider ourselves ufologists, is rather like attempting to study marine ecology and admitting we are only tadpole hunters. John Keel has liberated ufology. Are ufologists capable of liberating themselves?

It is something of a relief to turn from reviewing OTH to reviewing ‘Strange Creatures’ This is a far more straightforward book, and somewhat slighter. It is of course an integral part of OTH, and should be read in conjunction with it.

In ‘Strange Creatures’ Keel takes a look at all the many weird animals and pseudo-animals that have cropped up throughout the world in various ages. He attempts to distinguish between the apparently physically real creatures that are currently unknown to conventional Western science (although does ‘physically react have any meaning after OTH?) and the imponderably wide range of manifestations that are described by that unsatisfactory word,
occult.

As with OTH a major part of the value of this work is in the directions it gives for new aspects of study. It is a good, scary, flesh-creeping book to be read alone, late at night by the light of an oil lamp with the wind howling outside. It is a very good horror story. It is also an excellent and scientific catalogue of anomalous apparitions. As with OTH many people will find such a combination unacceptable. This however is how John Keel writes, it is purely a matter of literary style. As a final point, both these books have good indexes, which enhance their value as reference tools. This is unfortunately still a great rarity in UFO literature.

 


 

Alan Sharp was considerably less impressed by Keel’s books than I was, and in a later issue (vol. 4, no. 3, Summer 1971) wrote a devastating critique of Keel’s use of scientific date. The title to this piece will be immediately identified by our readers as a parody of the title of a famous north-country folkson, ‘Do you ken John Peel’. For some reason when referriung to this article in his monumental UFO Encyclopedia, Jerome Clark, usually a stickler for accurate transcription, refers to it as ‘Do You Know John Keel?’, for reason we have been unable to ascertain.

 


 

DO YOU KEN JOHN KEEL? by Alan Sharp

A few issues of the Bulletin ago (November 1970) z wrote a short article in which I referred rather disparagingly to John Keel as the ‘King of the UFO Crackpots’, Although I feel that in many respects my assessment, in UFO parlance, was not very far off the mark I should like to apologise to John Keel for such an ungentlemanly expression of opinion. 

The choice of phrase was, however of interest for it turns out that, quite unknown to me, a henchman of Dr Allen Hynek had previously coined exactly the same expression to describe Mr Keel and this, to use the sort of reasoning which Mr Keel frequently seems to use himself, can hardly be without significance. For myself, I do not subscribe to such reasoning and prefer to regard the identity as purely coincidental and arising solely from a similar assessment of John Keel’s contribution to ufological research. 

One result of the correspondence which my remarks — described vaguely by Mr Gary Lesley as “silly” (Letters, MUFOB 4:2) –called forth has been a determined attempt by me to see whether my judgement was at fault and a drastic reassessment needed in the light of a more concentrated study of Mr Keel’s published work.

I know that I tend to have formed, from experience, a not very flattering opinion of journalists for the simple reason that their reports of items upon which I have been well informed have usually proved factually incorrect and slanted to the point where they have seemed to bear very little resemblance to the circumstances as I know them.

Lest any injustice has been done because of such bias on my part I have had another look at the book Operation Trojan Horse with particular attention paid to those matters about which I can claim to possess a certain expertise. I must say at the outset, though, that my overall impression still persists, that the book is a typical example of journalistic ufology such as one has met so frequently before in the literature. Its accounts of events are frequently even usually, sketchy and imprecise and the logic tenuous or non-existent. Hence the conclusions which its author draws, such as they are, tend to be erroneous. It is therefore scarcely surprising that John Rimmer (MUFOB 3:4, [above]) seems to have found the volume rather difficult to review.

To my way of thinking the book is not even good journalese, for the reason that the narrative is disjointed and confusing. A good deal of space is devoted to a more-or-less ‘normal’ account of various UFO reports after which Mr Keel abandons this approach and plunges his readers into the questionable world of fairies, demons and other similar figments of the imagination. Even from that viewpoint, however, the treatment is not a scholarly one which the reader might respect but a story writer’s presentation of the alleged manifestations of occult forces and the like, which is about as convincing to this reader as the fantasies of Denis Wheatley. To an extent this is perhaps inevitable in a popular work but it is certainly not to this writer’s taste. He happens to have spent the

 past year investigating certain properties of meteorites and moon rock and is well aware of the need for constant vigilance against the facile invocation of way-out hypotheses to explain unwelcome facts whilst at the same time attempting to preserve an open mind receptive to the impact of novel ideas. It is the writer’s opinion that John Keel is over eager to dump the ‘UFO phenomenon’  as he calls it, into the realm of the supernatural and too ready to discount more mundane explanations of at least a goodly proportion of sightings, ignoring for the moment the possibility  extraterrestrial visitation, which the writer has never regarded as very likely.

As an example of this uncritical and biased rejection I think it is instructive to consider the subject of meteors and meteorites upon which Mr Keel is obviously ill-informed. There are, travelling around the Sun in orbits of various eccentricities, pieces of solid matter varying in size from particles of dust to objects having a mass of many tons. These are termed meteoroids and grade upwards into bodies which are large enough to be telescopically visible and are known as asteroids. Any such meteoroids which encounter the Earth, survive passage through its atmosphere and reach the ground in megascopic form are called meteorites.

A meteor is merely a streak of light produced by a small meteoroid in its passage through the atmosphere and is not a meteorite, It is thus incorrect to say, as Keel does (p 165): “Yet there are thousands of meteor falls annually.” He also quotes (p 150) a Lt. Col. Rolph as saying: “A meteor can’t be tracked by radar — but this thing was,” and fails to question this incorrect statement. A vast amount of information about meteors has been obtained by just such means, due to the reflecting capacity of the ionised gases which omit the light constituting the optically visible meteor. By this reflection of radar waves meteors can be ‘seen’ in daylight as well as by night.

The object under discussion in this instance was evidently a bolide and could have been associated with a meteoroid large enough for some portion of it to have survived and reached the ground intact. Unfortunately the information given by Keel is of the kind which causes the serious ufologists so much trouble. He says: “Shortly afterwards (referring to the reddish object which was seen moving in the sky on April 18th. 1962) an unidentified circular object landed near a power station outside of Eureka, Nevada, and the lights went out for thirty minutes.” (Evidently a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.)

Was the connection established? Did someone see this thing land? Was it analysed? What did it look like, apart from being ‘circular’, whatever that means? Where can one find the relevant details? Why was it ‘unidentified’?

This example is typical of so many descriptions in Keel’s book and in the literature generally. The authors may (or may not) know the answers, but the reader justifiably feels that one case properly documented would be worth a dozen such nebulous reports.

Why Keel should doubt the validity of the bolide identification in this case and inveigh against the “scientific attitude” whatever he means by that, is a mystery to which only he can give the answer.

“What are these ‘things”, he asks, “and why don’t we know more about them?” I suggest that he should replace the “we” by “I” and become a little more acquainted with the subject of meteoritics — and with astronomy generally at the same time, for that matter. He is very keen to make rude remarks about astronomers and other scientists, but is apparently very reluctant to become even reasonably conversant with the plentiful supply of relevant scientific literature.

Meteorites can be broadly classified into irons, stones, and stony-irons; or siderites, aerolites and siderolites. A rather rare form of aerolite or stony meteorite is the type known as carbonaceous chandrite, Mr Keel describes the arrival of fragments of such a meteorite at a place called Pueblito do Allende at 1.09 a.m. on the morning of February 6, 1969. Scientists “scurried” there to collect the pieces and identified them as ‘Type 3 carbonaceous chondrite’, translated by Keel to clean “metal fragments containing carbon, which is s suggestive of organic (living) matter”. According to Brian Mason, an authority on meteorites and curator of mineralogy at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, carbonaceous chondrites can “be readily distinguished from all other meteorites by their peculiar characteristics — dull black colour, friability, generally low density, lack or almost total lack of free nickel-iron (my italics) (Meteorites p96, Wiley, 1962).

Type 3 carbonaceous chondrites are largely composed of olivine with necessary pigeononite., not of metal. Olivine is a common rock-forming silicate mineral with the composition(Mg, Fe)2 Si O4, with Mg in excess of Fe, and pigeonite is another silicate mineral having the composition (Ca, Mg) (Mg, Fe) Si2 O6 with even less iron. The iron is, of course, chemically combined. The carbon content of the famous Orgueil carbonaceous chondrite occurs in the 6.4%o of black, insoluble carbonaceous residue which has the composition c 63%, H 6%, 0 31% and is, according to Mason (ibid, p 99) “presumably a complex polymer of high molecular weight”.

It is, of course, ‘organic’ in the sense that it is a carbohydrate, but this is a chemical description with absolutely no ‘living’ connotation. In fact Mason goes on to say: “A solution of the organic material in benzene showed no optical rotation, an important observation indicating that the material was formed by non biological processes”.

There is no reason to suppose that the organic matter in the Pueblito de Allende carbonaceous chondrite was substantially different from this.That Keel should choose to mislead his readers in so blatant a fashion whilst displaying his own ignorance of natters meteoritic is not only manifestly unfair to people who have purchased his book in good faith but also cannot fail to arouse grave doubts about the validity of his thesis generally, doubts which are demonstrably well-founded.

There is the matter, for instance, of the strips of aluminium foil which Keel mentions on page 175 remarking, “These strips are almost identical to the chaff dispensed by, high flying Air Force planes to jam radar, yet they do not seen to be related to AF operations at all”. The first thing to note is that the material which Keel describes need not have been used for the particular purpose he mentions. Another application, for example, is for radar tracking in connection with meteorological work. The fact that some of the foil “is often found under trees and on porches” would only be remarkable if winds had mysteriously ceased to blow, which to the best of my knowledge they have not.

The Condon Report (Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects) deals with the subject of “Space-grass” quitespecifically on page 90, where a sample is mentioned as having been produced — on Earth — by the Foil Division of Revere Copper and Brass Inc., Brooklyn, New York. It would be difficult to be more specific than that. What Keel means to imply by use of the word “almost” is uncertain, but it does not strengthen his case, as one can see by reference to page 175 of his book.He says: “Another exploding UFO, this one at Ubatuba, Brazil in 1957, left behind particles which were nothing but pure magnesium”. The word ‘almost’ might well have been inserted in this statement as John Harney has demonstrated in his article ‘The Ubatuba Magnesium’ (MUFOB 4:2, p 19).

It seems that Mr Keel is not averse to deliberately attempting to mislead his readers when it suits his purpose to do so. There is much more that one could write along similar lines concerning Operation Trojan Horse, but this would savour of using a bulldozer to demolish a house of cards.

Whilst I have every admiration for people who write good books and bear John Keel no ill-will, I would like to suggest that he does something to remedy his lack of scientific knowledge before he commences his next literary work on the subject of unidentified flying objects. A thorough perusal of the Condon Report would be a good starting point and would help to eliminate some of the grosser errors in his text.

 

 


Victims of Memory.
Roger Sandell and John Rimmer

From Magonia 53, August 1995 

Like many other parents in Britain and the USA in the past decade Mark Pendergrast has been accused of child abuse on the basis of recovered memories. However he is a professional non-fiction writer, and instead of writing a ‘personal testament’ or confronting his accusers on a TV talk-show, he has written a wide-ranging survey of the whole phenomenon. [1]

Recently a number of sceptical books have appeared in the USA on the subject of recovered memories, some academic, some popular in approach. Pendergrast’s however scores over all the others by the breadth of his social and historical perspective. Seeking the origins of, and analogies for, recovered memory stories he touches on many topics of interest to Magonia readers, including UFO abductions, reincarnation claims, Satanic cults, urban legends, hypnotism, ‘bedroom visitor’ stories and the witch mania.

Many matters dealt with in this book were new to me. There is a section on ‘facilitated communication, a technique alleged to assist autistic children to communicate by holding their hands over a keyboard and picking out characters. The technique has obvious analogies with Ouija boards and the experiments conducted earlier in the twentieth century in which animals were alleged to be capable of producing messages by picking out letter cards. When a high proportion of ‘facilitated communications’ turn out to be allegations of abuse, further experiments produced clear evidence of subconscious cueing by the facilitators.

Even more bizarre are the claims of multiple-personality disorder (MPD). According to MPD specialists victims of abuse become so traumatised that they distance themselves by splitting into separate personalities, which lie dormant and can be recovered by therapists. Some patients turn out to have a hundred or more personalities, who like American TV wrestlers seem to each have one stereotyped characteristic, and answer to names such as ‘The Zombie’ and ‘Mean Joe Green’. Some therapists think the Satanists deliberately induce MPD so that their victims will carry out activities which they will not remember afterwards, such as murder, gun-running or prostitution. Others think it is the CIA, Mafia or Ku Klux Klan that are responsible. Pendergrast notes the similarity of all this to older demonic possession traditions, but does not note its closest parallel with another contemporary American fad, channelling or claiming to be the voice of some dead figure dispensing cryptic wisdom.

To the best of my knowledge MPD has not, at least so far, been a feature of British recovered memory or Satanic abuse cases, a pretty clear indication of its status as a purely cultural artifact. Its origins probably lie in images from film versions oof Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde and similar stories. One wonders if the popular misuse of the term ‘schizophrenia’ has contributed. This word, literally meaning ‘split mind’ is often misunderstood to mean having two minds rather than simply meaning ‘shattered mind’ (it is slightly regrettable that Pendergrast himself uses the term in the incorrect colloquial sense).

These beliefs are not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality

Pendergrast makes it clear that such beliefs as recovered memory are part of a wider climate of irrational therapy. Some therapist believe that their patients have been traumatised by sex abuse in past lives (a development that Peter Rogerson predicted in an earlier Magonia). Others believe that traumas can be traced to memories of experiences while in the womb (a belief that formed the basis of L Ran Hubbard’s pseudo-science of Dianetics in the 1950s).

These beliefs arc not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality. One study suggests that about a quarter of qualified therapists accept the validity of past-life regression tales. Other qualified psychiatrists have written books endorsing belief in demonic possession and exorcism, and containing accounts of ‘recovered’ memories of early embryonic stages of development.

After this over-all survey, Pendergrast devotes a major section of his book to interviews with therapists, accused and accusers. This is a grim section, but comic relief comes in an interview with a therapist who not only deals with abuse memories, past lives and UFO abductions, but pregresses her patients into their future lives. Pendergrast may of course be accused of deliberately seeking those who can be held up to ridicule, but my own reading elsewhere supports his claim that, if he had wished to do so, he could have found far more bizarre therapists than those he actually quotes.

Particularly interesting are the interviews with ‘retractors’, the increasingly large group who have repudiated earlier allegations and now, like the accusers, seem to be forming a quasi-religious group with its own networks, counsellors and personal testimonies. One wonders perhaps whether some of the retractors may be over-keen to emphasis the part played by their therapists in the emergence of their stories, and to minimise their own responsibility. As with the stories of the accused and accusers it seems best to suspend judgement on a number of aspects of these cases where more detailed information is not available.

One quoted retractor, in particular, makes serious accusations against a therapist and the most that can be said is that some recent cases Pendergrast relates of scandals involving therapists mean that this story is not necessarily implausible. (When, one wonders, are the first retractor UFO abductees going to appear?)

Pendergrast then looks at the history of psychology, seeking the background to these allegations. He finds many historical parallels 18th and 19th century beliefs in imaginary mental ailments and bizarre treatments. Sigmund Freud emerges from this section as one very much influenced by some of these ideas, and his heritage has meant that their influence has lasted to the present day.

Pendergrast’s examination of the social roots of the child abuse panic highlight the part played by specific factors such as the interactions between private medicine and the U.S. insurance companies that provide a major source of income for therapists, and wider issues such as current obsessions with victim status and the drive to pathologise an increasingly wide range of human behaviour under terms such as ‘co-dependency’, ‘emotional incest’ or ‘sex addiction’.

Of particular interest is the section of ‘survivorship as religion’, which sees many forms of therapy as amounting to a quasi-religious movement based on the worship of self, an analysis which certainly explains the apparent contradictory alliance of mental health professionals, New Agers and Christian evangelicals in the Recovery movement.

The increasing breakdown of any overall consensus on sexual morality suggests another line of analysis, in which child-abuse provides a rare example of practices that different sides in cultural wars can unite to condemn. As a historical parallel, the mediaeval persecution of the Bogomils, the first Christian heretics to be accused of worshiping the devil and participating in orgies, not only came after a similar breakdown, the rift between Greek and Roman Christianity, but occurred right in the contested territories. The 16th century disruption of Christendom preceded the witch mania which provided an issue uniting Protestants and Catholics.

One can extend the socio-political analysis of the child abuse panic in other directions. The role played by some sections of the women’s movement in fuelling the panic is reminiscent of earlier social reform movements in the USA which, in the 19th and early 20th century moved from support for slave emancipation, workers’ rights and universal suffrage, to supporting authoritarian measures such as Prohibition and the taking of the children of the poor into state care (an activity that was frequently attacked by early film-makers, not merely in melodramas such as D. W. Griffiths’ Intolerance, but in comedies such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid and Laurel and Hardy’s Pack Up Your Troubles).

Peter Rogerson has suggested that now American youth culture has become too de-politicised and commercially dominated to express any revolt against established values, child abuse allegations have emerged as purely individual anti-parental gestures.

Pendergrast ends with a section of advice and recommendations both for individuals caught up in recovered memory cases and for legislative action. Sensible and helpful as this section is, it is hard to believe that calls for licensing of therapists will achieve much since those with genuine academic qualifications have played as dubious a part in the controversy as those with none.

My final verdict is that it is hard to recommend this book too highly. It is essential reading not merely for anyone concerned with this particular controversy but concerned about contemporary culture and society as a whole.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

The Father’s Tale: 

Apart from whatever insight it gives into the phenomenon of false memory, and the illumination it throws on the medical, social and historical context of the contemporary controversy, this book is also an intensely moving account of a personal tragedy. It recounts in harrowing terms the estrangement of first one, then both, of Pendergrast’s daughters as a result of ‘memories’ recovered through therapy. However his account is not, as perhaps one would expect, a bitter condemnation of the therapists involved, nor an unqualified protestation of his own innocence. Instead he reexamines with almost painful honesty his relationships with his daughters and his ex-wife, and seeks out those aspects of his behaviour and attitudes which may have led to his current plight, to the extent that many readers might think that he is over self-critical. The account he provides of the childhood and adolescence of his daughters may perhaps reinforce the suggestion that some abuse accusations ore an aspect of a repressed, late developing revolt against parental authority. Certainly Pendergrast’s children, like some of the other children described in the individual accounts, seem to have had remarkably rebellion-free adolescence. More than most other books on the topic this book reveals the personal tragedies behind the sociological and legalistic descriptions. — John Rimmer.

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[1] Mark Pendergrast. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. HarperCollins (rev. edition), 1997.

Click on the cover image to order this book from Amazon

 

Catflaps. John Harney and John Rimmer

From Magonia 43, July 1992

John Harney writes:

You’ve probably heard stories about dogs, rats and cats disappearing through the back doors of Chinese or Indian restaurants, and being slaughtered, stewed, and served with curry and rice. Police and RSPCA inspectors have wasted a great deal of time investigating such allegations and, so far as I am aware, not a shred of worthwhile evidence has ever been found to support them.

But have you heard that there is a foreign country where cat fur is the height of fashion? I don’t mean big cats, such as leopards, but ordinary household moggies. This country is ……….. [Fill in the name of your least-favourite country.]

You don’t believe it? Well, that’s what it says in my local paper (Bracknell News, 21 May 1992). It’s the lead story, under the banner headline: ‘Fur Traders Target Cats’.

Some weeks previously, a resident of Bracknell, Berkshire had called the police after seeing two men trying to entice a cat into a black plastic bag. Since then “the number of cats going missing locally has soared”. It is rather irritating, though, that we are not given any indication of the number of cats involved. The matter is being pursued by an organisation calling itself Bracknell Petsearch, which has uncovered some startling ‘facts’.

The ‘massive increase in the number of cats going missing’ is ‘easily explained as a blip on the statistics until” – I really like this detail – “it is noticed that each month the colour of the eats going missing changes. Last month tabbies and tortoiseshell animals were being reported lost. So far this month black cats are in the majority.”

Yes, but how do we know they are being captured by fur traders? The main evidence is a black plastic bag full of skinned cats found at the local junction with the M4 motorway. This revelation came from Bracknell Petsearch co-ordinator Lynda Martin who said the discovery had been made by ‘a local RSPCA volunteer’.

“That information came from a very good source,” she said: “Nothing was officially reported because it is difficult to do anything with a bag of dead animals.” Mrs Martin believes the traders have targeted Bracknell recently, stealing the cats, skinning them inside a van, and then fleeing with the pelts to their base in London along the M4. “Those pelts would then be smuggled out of the country to dealers abroad.”

There are other curious details in this story. The reporter alleges that “Scotland Yard reckons a trade in cat skins is raging in London, with the pelts being flown out to unscrupulous fur traders abroad.” If this were true, the tabloids would be full of it, but they don’t seem to have noticed. Local police and RSPCA officials have received no evidence of skinned cats and made the usual non-committal statements when approached by the paper.

It will be interesting to see if this story spreads to other areas. Keep an eye on your local paper — and don’t believe everything you read in it.

John Rimmer continues:

But surely we can believe everything we read in the Barnes Mortlake and Sheen Times, after all it is owned by one of our most respected media dynasties, the Dimblebys, no less. Well judge for yourself. The 19 June 1992 edition carried the front page headline “Cat Snatch Fear After ‘Spate’ of Missing Pets” accompanied by a photograph of local pet-owner Victor Schwanberg holding an appealing looking cat who is not otherwise identified.

The story conforms to the Bracknell pattern, complete with a mysterious “woman who was seen stroking a cat and then snatching it and putting it in a bag”, according to vet Donald Cameron, “someone has also reported seeing five dead cats laid out on the pavement”. The vet declares: “Cat fur fetches a high price abroad,” – in those mysterious countries which have no cats of their own? – “it is used to make gloves and small toys”. High-priced small toys presumably.

The only real fact of the story seems, as in the Bracknell case, to be some alarm about the number of cats going missing in the area. Now I can confirm that there are often small, sad notices attached to trees in this neighbourhood appealing for the return of lost pets (including dogs), but I have always assumed that this was due to the number of very busy roads and the amount of open spaces, parks and commons in the area. Mr Schwanberg, one of whose cats went missing, lives on the Upper Richmond Road, part of London’s notoriously dangerous and grossly over-used South Circular Road.

The item concludes with a quote from a Mrs Joan Wearne of an organisation called Petwatch (it is not clear whether this has anything to do with Bracknell’s Petsearch) who claims that the cats are skinned and their fur sold in Italy and Germany, but the police “do not want to know”. As if to confirm her claim a police spokesman commented “we would not record stolen cats, but we are not aware of a problem”. Obviously evidence of a cover-up!

Shortly after reading this I discovered that the latest issue of Folklore Frontiers discussed a report which appeared in the 24 April 1992 issue of The Mail, Hartlepool, where Mrs Wearne also puts in an appearance. Warning of the dangers of the catnappers she reverts to an older, racialist, theme. She announces that a ‘Yorkshire printer’ found the remains of several cats next to a mincing machine in the basement of a building which used to be an Indian restaurant, while a ‘Manchester policeman’ (highly specific these descriptions) found 200 dead cats in a skip.

So what is going on here? I rang the Barnes and Mortlake paper and spoke to the reporter who had written the story. I was particularly concerned, because in the following week’s paper there were letters from obviously distressed pet-owners in the area. Unfortunately she seemed unimpressed by the thought that she may have been sold a pup (sorry!) on her front page scoop. “I was only reporting what people told me” she explained. I had always thought that journalists considered `printing things people told you’ mere public relations, and journalism involved going out and finding the facts. I pointed out the startling coincidence of a virtually identical story appearing in three local papers in different parts of the country and the unliklihood of catnappers in both Barnes and Bracknell leaving dead cats neatly lined up at the sides of the road. “Maybe that’s how they operate”, she said. Well maybe, but didn’t she think that in view of this extra information she might consider taking the story a little further, if only to reassure anxious local cat-lovers? No, but if I wanted to write a letter to the editor, they would publish it on their correspondence page.

I find it disturbing that after playing on many local peoples’ fears with a front page lead story presented with all the authority of Dimbleby Newspapers, the reporter was not prepared to do any further checking when presented with new evidence that made the story look decidedly dubious, and was prepared to leave any further coverage to the vagaries of the letters column.

So what it going on? Why do cats in the North-East end up in the curry, whilst cats in the South-East are skinned and their pelts flown hundreds of miles across Europe? Could it be because these alarmists feel that traditional racist slurs about Indian restaurants are unlikely to be taken seriously in the liberal climate of Richmond and Barnes, whereas concern about the fur-trade and ‘animal rights’ might produce a greater sense of shock? And in how many more local papers have variants of this story appeared?

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1. Folklore Frontiers, edited by Paul Screeton, 5 Egton drive, Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, TS25 2AT

More on catnapping HERE

 

More Catflaps. John Rimmer

Originally published in Magonia 51, February 1995.

At one of the seminars at a recent conference on ‘Moral Panics’ I raised the topic of the cat-skinning rumours that we have touched on from time to time in Magonia. They seem to be an example of the way an urban legend can be turned into a moral panic. It has many of the features of both genres. Implicit in it is xenophobia: the phantom villains are usually foreigners or other outsider groups like gypsies. The fact that the British rumours so often seem to identify the culprits as being from other European nations, perhaps links in with current ‘Europhobe’ attitudes and fears — worry over loss of British identity in the European Union, and continuing concern over perceived cruel attitudes to animals in other European nations. Current campaigns over the transport of live farm animals, bullfighting and hunting of songbirds are helping to reinforce this stereotype in the minds of many British people.

One way in which this fear and suspicion has fed into discussion over public policy has been the current debate over British quarantine laws ostensibly intended to keep rabies out of the country. The Channel Tunnel incorporates the most elaborate system of fences, traps and electrified sections to prevent French wildlife making it under the Channel. However, a recent Parliamentary committee has recommended that the laws should be revised or scrapped altogether. This suggestion has produced a hostile reaction from animal protection groups in Britain, despite the fact that rabies cases in Western Europe are now very rare indeed. Many critics feel that the quarantine laws are now less a practical defence against animal disease than a symbolic attempt to prevent “infection from less happy lands” to misquote John of Gaunt, and maintain Britain’s island status against such intrusions as the Channel Tunnel itself, and the threatened European super-state.

catinabag

“We have had a few complaints since we started stocking it. It’s all down to your sense of humour”.

Indeed, the catnapping scare does now seem to be on the verge of transformation into a fully-fledged moral panic. A participant at the conference told of recent events in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Here a local shop was selling small toys made of fake-fur which looked like a cat’s tail popping out of a paper bag. Some sort of balancing mechanism made the tail wag about when the bag was moved. Soon, after press attention was called to this novelty by the sight of children standing outside the shop laughing at the ‘cat in the bag’, a campaign was started by the local paper to ‘ban this cruel toy’. Amazingly, the shop complied and the item was withdrawn from the shop window and from sale.

Amazing coincidence department: Literally minutes after typing the above paragraph, a copy of my local free-sheet, the Richmond and Twickenham Informer dropped through my letterbox, and there on page 18 was a story headed ‘Fur flies over sick moggy toy’. [1] The ‘cat in a bag’ had arrived at Mayfair Cards, Kingston-upon-Thames, where it was spotted by ‘Teddington window cleaner Doug Petts, 62, browsing for some early Christmas gifts’. “It’s disgusting” the appositely named Mr Petts said, “If this is someone’s idea of a joke they must have a sick sense of humour. I found it offensive”. An RSPCA spokeswoman contacted by the Informer claimed that the animal charity had received a ‘flood of complaints from all parts of the country’. “We are particularly upset because there has even been a suggestion that this toy was actually approved by the RSPCA. That is completely ridiculous”. The manageress of Mayfair Cards has responded to the complaints by putting up a sign saying ‘This is not a real cat – please don’t do it at home with your pet’. Concludes Wendy Bragg, 25: “We have had a few complaints since we started stocking it. It’s all down to your sense of humour”.

When we started writing about the cat scare – after it featured in our local paper in Richmond-upon-Thames, we had no idea of its long history. Now Gareth Medway, has sent us photocopies from a book published in the 1930s, which recounts the legend-panic in its most extreme form.

Elliott O’Donnell is better known for his books of classic ghost stories, but in 1934 he published Strange Cults and Secret Societies of Modern London. [2]

In assessing the credibility of the book, Gareth Medway comments: “The interesting thing about this book generally is that whilst almost everything in it is over the top, those societies and events that O’Donnell claims to have been personally involved with are far more implausible than those where he invokes some witness. The only reason I can think of for this is that when he had been told a story by a witness, they would know if he altered it too much; whereas when he himself was the witness he could let his imagination run wild. Thus a Pagan Lesbian sect, the Gorgons, are described in such a way that they might have been real, his informant having been a woman, of course. ‘The Gots’, whom he had investigated personally (he says) break the boggle-barrier for me. Anyway. I think the skinned cats stories are probably narrated much as they were told to him.”

“Police protection is of little use against these organisations, because they are so subtle and secretive, and they number amongst them some persons who are outwardly thoroughly respectable and law-abiding”

Here then, in O’Donnell’s own words, is his account, compare it to the stories from Richmond and Bracknell reported in Magonia 43:

Some years ago a shocking case of cruelty to cats was reported in the Press. Somewhere in the East End, of the exact locality I cannot be quite sure, a man saw a sack lying on the ground, and noticing it move he opened it. To his horror it was full of skinned cats, some of whom were still alive. The man told the police, but the culprits were never caught. It was surmised at first that they were a gang of foreign East Enders, who made a living out of flaying cats alive, for the sake of their skins; the skins being of more value when taken off a living, healthy animal. Afterwards, however, it was mooted that these cat-skinners belonged to a cult out to get thrills from any and every kind of cruelty; and that they were responsible for the skinned dogs that had, from time to time, been found floating in the Thames. It was said, by the way, that they had meant to throw the sack of cats they had skinned into the Thames, but were prevented.

Soon after reading about all this in the Press, I met, quite by chance, a school teacher in the East End who was able to confirm it. She told me she had learned, from some of her pupils, that secret societies existed by the riverside in the City, and as far east as Dagenham, who made a practice of stealing cats and skinning them alive. If the cats were fine and healthy, they sold the skins to foreign Jewish fur merchants for a few pence a skin; and if they were poorly nourished they skinned them alive all the same, just for the fun of it.

“Bodies of cats and dogs are constantly to be seen floating in the Thames,” she informed me, “and no one ever queries how they got there or thinks of examining them. If they were examined a large percentage of the cats would be found to be minus their skins… Dogs are often stolen from the humble homes and sold to doctors, medical schools and vets. I have been told these things as facts,” she went on, “but there it ends. It is impossible to discover any details about the secret societies, because of intimidation. The children, who tell me about them, make me promise I will never give them away. They say if it leaked out they had told me about the cats, they would go about in fear of their lives. Police protection is of little use against these organisations, because they are so subtle and secretive, and they number amongst them some persons who are outwardly thoroughly respectable and law-abiding. The police probably know of their existence, but they find it as difficult to prove anything against them as they do to lay hands on the people who smuggle dope into the Port of London.”

“And the various societies for the protection of animals, can’t they do anything?” I asked.

“The same applies to them,” the schoolmistress responded. “I have told some of them about the skinning of cats, and they want to know names which I cannot give them. It is useless for them to send officials to make enquiries, because the societies are always on the alert. they spot strangers at once and take very good care that they discover nothing. After all, the majority of people do not trouble about their cats because they are of no monetary value. they would rather say nothing about the loss of their cat and enjoy immunity from malice than take any action that might antagonise the secret organisations.”

Later, describing a case of cruelty to children, O’Donnell reports that a woman living in the King’s Cross district of London (nowadays notorious for drugs and prostitution) told him of secret societies of young people:

“Their chief delight was in being cruel to children and animals”. The woman, who was the caretaker in a house O’Donnell was considering renting, told him of a recent court case, in which a nurse maid employed by a West End doctor was charged with cruelty towards the doctor’s children. This had caused a great deal of interest in the King’s Cross area because “the girl belonged to a secret society of young people whose homes were mostly in this neighbourhood, and who were known to do all sorts of wild and savage things”. Apparently many members of these societies were in service with wealthy families in the West End, “I know that they always very much resent taking their employers’ Pekinese dogs out for constitutionals, and hate having to clean up after them”.

What is most remarkable about O’Donnell’s account is the way it mirrors exactly the preoccupations of modern legends and panics. The ‘secret societies’ which contain `outwardly respectable and law-abiding’ people corresponds exactly to Joan Coleman’s description of Satanic cults sheltering wealthy aristocrats who are the main organisers and instigators of the groups’ atrocities. Here too we see the alleged indifference of the police and the impotence of animal protection societies in the face of a lack of evidence and a wall of silence.

The cat-skinning culprits are, of course, foreigners, or even ‘foreign Jewish fur merchants’. I have no idea how practical cat-fur would be for clothing – not very, is my guess – but the modern catnapping tales also point the finger of suspicion to fur traders. It is perhaps relevant that concern has been expressed that the present day anti-fur trade campaign has attracted some unwelcome anti-Semitic elements.

whitechapel1

Elliott O’Donnell was reporting from the East End of London. An area which to most of his readers would have a remote, violent and sinister reputation, and which in many people’s minds would still be over-shadowed by the memory of Jack the Ripper

Elliott O’Donnell was reporting from the East End of London. An area which to most of his readers would have a remote, violent and sinister reputation, and which in many people’s minds would still be over-shadowed by the memory of Jack the Ripper. Even as late as the 1930′s it bore scars of terrible poverty, and was dominated by immigrant communities: Chinese, Jews, ‘Lascars’, a frightening `underclass’ which, to quote Roger Sandell earlier in this magazine, would seem like “a modern ‘Dark Continent’ awash with idolatry and witchcraft”. No wonder respectable West End matrons worried about their little Pekinese when they were entrusted to servants who had emerged from this urban hell! (All this youthful torture and mayhem was taking place, it is worth pointing out, without the influence of television or video nasties.)

It was doubtless the case that some domestic servants did feel resentment against their wealthy employers, and perhaps occasionally took out their anger against a pampered pet – understandable if, as may have been the case, the pet was costing almost as much to keep as the servant was earning to maintain a family. What is interesting is that such acts, if they were taking place, were ascribed to a secret society organising random acts of cruelty, rather than to a possible combination of personal resentment and class hostility. After all, a violent East End secret society the wealthy West End lady could not do much about apart from whisper about in shocked and muted tones; acknowledging the personal hostilities and resentments of her staff might involve paying them more money and treating them better. Far easier to blame it on the mysterious men in the shadows of Limehouse or Whitechapel!

The June 1994 issue of that excellent magazine Foaftale News has a round-up of stories of birds of prey attacking and/or carrying away domestic animals and even children. It describes reports from the Northcliff suburb of Johannesburg, where residents were convinced that cats were being caught and eaten by spotted eagle-owls living in the area. Although an ornithologist claimed that the owls would be incapable of picking-off anything bigger than a rat, one Northcliffe resident was adamant that she saw “an owl in our driveway stalking our cat”. The bird was chased away but next day the cat had vanished. Another resident tied two great panics together with the comment “at least it’s nature taking its course and not something sinister like Satanists who steal and torture cats”. It is perhaps no coincidence that this report should also be coming from a society still divided rigidly along lines of class and race, but undergoing massive social and political change.

As we read more about the Cat Flap, it seems what we first though of as a few mildly amusing examples of silly-season stories in local papers are turning out to be symptoms of something very significant. There are clear links to other topics which we have looked at in the past, from Satanism to animal mutilations and secret cults. It seems like our society – perhaps any society – needs monsters within. In many cases this is as a form of social control: “look at the terrors that are going on outside your front door, aren’t you lucky to have us (police, secret police, KGB, Gestapo or any other oppressive control system you care to name) looking after you”. But in other cases we create the monsters to explain worrying random events. Is it easier to believe that acts of cruelty and violence are random separate incidents caused by a complex of unknowable social and personal stimuli, or that they are organised in a rational way by secret organisations that control their members with ruthless efficiency? In the latter case we may feel that there is the hope – remote but always there – that these master criminals, or whatever, will actually be caught, and the evil they are orchestrating will end. Paradoxically we may be creating monsters of uncontrollable violence to control the frighteningly random and chaotic universe we see around us.

*******************

References:

1. Birch, Colin. ‘Fur flies over sick moggy toy’, Richmond and Twickenham Informer week ending 2 december 1994, p.18.

2. O’Donnell, Elliott. Strange Cults and Secret Societies of Modern London, Philip Allan, 1934

The Strange Case of Mr Esther Rantzen and the Demon Headmaster.
John Rimmer

First published in Magonia 66, March 1999 as “Ah yes, I remember it… Well…?”

For well over twenty years Esther Rantzen has been a dominant figure in British television, at one time being spoken of as a possible candidate for the post of Director-General of the BBC, although her star has declined recently. In the 1970′s her programme That’s Life was the top-rated non-soap programme on BBC television. With its combination of consumer campaigning and a seemingly endless search for phalliclly-shaped root vegetables, it became a pioneer of ‘victim television’ in this country. Amongst its many campaigns it took on the issues of bullying at school, and ME. 

In recent years it has emerged that Esther Rantzen’s daughter is an ME sufferer. And now, according to a newspaper story last year, Rantzen’s husband, the television producer and broadcaster Desmond Wilcox was allegedly a victim of school bullying. In November newspapers carried a story that at the launch of a telephone helpline for stammerers Wilcox revealed that he too had been a stammerer when a boy at Cheltenham Grammar School. 

“Stammering was the first disabling condition of my life”, he is reported as saying (Daily Telegraph, Friday, November 13th., 1998). 

“I stammered so badly until the age of thirteen that I was almost locked into silence. It was wartime and very little sympathy was available. He then went on to make a remarkable allegation: “The onlyteachers who were left behind were women who had not volunteered and men who were drunk and a Jesuit priest who was the headmaster. 

“I can’t remember his name but I have his face in my mind. I don’t know why I’m protecting him or the others as it is more than they offered me … The school I was at thought stammering could be beaten out of people. I held the record for the number of times I was caned. The headmaster was the beater but it was not unusual in those days to be caned. As a stammerer you were thought of as a malingerer and a faker.” 

A deplorable story, and it is certainly true that many children have been put through an experience of total misery by parents and schoolteachers who have thought that stammering could be cured by such crude methods. The only problem with Wilcox’s experiences though, is that they appear never to have happened. Three days (16th November) later this account of life at Cheltenham Grammar School was challenged in the correspondence column of the Daily Telegraph by another Old Boy, a Mr Peter James of Cheltenham: 

“Sir – Desmond Wilcox’s claim to have been beaten by the Jesuit headmaster of Cheltenham Grammar School in the 1940′s for stammering must be a mental aberration. the Headmaster at the time, Geoffrey Heywood, was a gentle caring man who led a dedicated staff and was certainly no Jesuit. For the sake of surviving teachers and their families, Mr Wilcox should think again.” 

The next day the Telegraph returned to the subject. In a piece by their entertainment reporter Jessica Callan (chosen to cover the story presumably on the basis of Wilcox’s occupation) more Old Boys and teachers challenged Wilcox’s version of events. Bob Beale, the school’s deputy Head from 1976 to 1986 told the Telegraph that many former pupils and teachers were upset by the allegations: 

“It has caused a lot of distress. He mentioned that there were drunken staff during his time but there was only one teacher, a botanist, who liked to drink. He was never drunk during the school day but he was quickly removed from his part-time post. I don’t know what Mr Wilcox is thinking of.” 

Others recalled that the headmaster, Mr Heywood, was the very opposite of the enthusiastic beater Wilcox described, and was not a Jesuit. In the letters column of the 19th November more former pupils join in to defend Mr Heywood. After pointing out that the headmaster before Heywood, and well before Wilcox’s time at the school, was a strict disciplinarian, Lord Christopher of Leckhampton recalls: 

“As a disciplinarian Geoffrey Heywood was the other side of the coin. If he had a weakness it was perhaps that he was not quite hard enough on us. His toughest punishment was a letter to one’s parents suggesting that the school and his son were wasting each other’s time.” 

Another correspondent denied that the headmaster at the time was a Jesuit, noting: 

“Geoffrey Heywood was a caring headmaster, an active member of the Church of England, who must have been proud of the excellent academic record of his school” 

A retired physics teacher, Julia Edwards also dismissed the claims, saying “The headmaster certainly was not a Jesuit. I can safely say no teachers were drunk when I was there. It was an excellent school”. (The suggestion that the teacher was a Jesuit is interesting, as in largely Protestant Britain Jesuits have a sinister reputation as teachers, brainwashing the children in their charge into an unquestioning Catholicism: “Give me a child until he is seven…”, etc. and many people would readily accept that a Jesuit would behave in such a way.) 

However, despite this flood of contrary memories Wilcox was sticking to his side of the story. In his conversation with Jessica Callan he denied that his recollections were at fault: 

“I am afraid my experience was one I remember vividly as you might imagine. The headmaster wasn’t Geoffrey Heywood. I can’t remember his name and wasn’t in a position to remember it at the time. My memory is my memory. He didn’t wear Jesuit robes. He may have been trained by Jesuits, but he was fond of telling us he was a Jesuit, which is why I remember it clearly. I don’t think many schoolboys can remember the name of their headmaster 50 years later.” 

He then makes the very significant remark that “no-one invents this kind of experience from their childhood.” 

Apart from the fact that I think many schoolboys (and girls) can remember the name of their headmaster fifty years later (a point that a number of other Telegraph readers made – in my case, L. W. Warren, Alsop High School, Liverpool, 1955 – 1959) it is certainly true, as any Magonia reader knows, that people do “invent that kind of experience from their childhood”; in many cases experiences far more remarkable and traumatising than being caned by a drunken Jesuit. Wilcox, like many others, fails to distinguish between ‘inventions’ that are the deliberate work of the conscious mind, and unwitting ‘inventions’ that arise through complex and hidden psychological processes. 

One of the factors behind such processes is that we are increasingly living in a victim culture, where being victimised is seen as in itself conveying some sort of moral authority. This is an attitude which Desmond Wilcox’s wife Esther Rantzen has probably done more to promote in Britain than almost anyone else. The essence of victim culture is that any of the many misfortunes of life are the fault of someone else: parents, teachers, the government, authority figures of one kind or another. Being a victim also delegitimises any criticism or examination of the claims of victimhood. We see this in the protests of ‘victims’ of alien abduction and their investigator/promoters, that their claims are not amenable to critical examination, and that any attempt at sceptical analysis simply prolongs their ‘abuse’ at the hands of the aliens. This reached its obscene apotheosis in Budd Hopkins’ declaration in Intruders that rejection of the claims of alien abduction was comparable to Holocaust denial.

Being a victim also allows you to identify with others who perhaps have more justifiable claims on that status. Wilcox’s apparently quite genuine childhood stammering did not prevent him from becoming a successful television presenter, a role in which it is rather difficult to appear as a victim. Now we must assume that Mr Wilcox has not just made up his memory of traumatic schooldays – we would soon be hearing from Messrs Sue, Grabbitt and Runne if we assumed otherwise – as apart from anything else it would be foolish to invent a scenario which could be so easily checked. So obviously he does genuinely believe that these beatings happened, just as many people believe they are victims of violent Satanic abuse or UFO abductions. 

This was not a memory induced by hypnotic regression or prolonged interviewing by an obsessed therapist, but it appears to be as false as those that are. In the context in which Desmond Wilcox ‘recalled’ these events it clearly helped him to empathise with those suffering from stammering who would make use of the helpline he was inaugurating. It could be that an identification with a successful public figure who had undergone a traumatic experience as a result of stammering and had ‘survived’ and ‘recovered’ would encourage other sufferers to come forward who would not otherwise have done so. It could seem that if these memories were unconsciously fabricated the motivation behind that process might have been to identify with and help stammerers; a few uneasy memories, misplaced recollections and overwrought might-have-beens were woven together to produce a moral fable with Wilcox as the hero overcoming misfortune and an example to other victims. 

However, the Daily Telegraph’s conclusion, in an Editorial on 18th November was not so accommodating. Drawing a comparison between Wilcox and disgraced MP Ron Davies of Clapham Common infamy, it concluded: 

“Ron Davies denounced his violent father before the Commons, and justified his own misconduct with the all-purpose excuse ‘we are what we are’. So to Mr Wilcox: ‘My memory is my memory’. That might be a suitable motto for Mr Wilcox, but the desire to be seen as a victim of child abuse does not make the claim true … Mr Wilcox is not the first to demonise a headmaster. What is new is the therapeutic maligning of the dead in the name of self-righteous, self-validating memory. Perhaps we need a new term for cases like Mr Wilcox’s: recovered psychobabble syndrome.”

 

 

Facts, Fraud and Fairytales.
John Rimmer

From MUFOB New Series 9.

In recent articles in this Bulletin (1), Peter Rogerson has promoted the idea that some features of the UFO phenomenon can be seen as works of ‘naive art’, through which percipients may externalise subconscious and semi-conscious ideas and beliefs. Such a theory acknowledges the ambiguous and equivocal borderlines between real UFO experiences, exposed and admitted hoaxes, and totally fictional experiences. In each case the stimulus for the expression would be the same: a need to create an external, concrete experience in order to identify or communicate a nebulous, and in many cases almost totally non-understood, emotional or philosophical feeling. Only in deliberate works of fiction or imaginative art does this expression manifest itself in a way which is acceptable to society at large.

When these artistic visions are enacted in the form of a ‘real’ UFO experience, they are less widely accepted than the legitimate forms of artistic expression; but are still acceptable to a variety of specialist students, who will generally tend to see such events in the framework of ‘consensus’ reality. In the UFO context this usually involves a straightforward acceptance of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, or at least some external influence on the human brain. However, the hoax falls beyond the pale of even these specialist students, who see it merely as a stumbling block in the investigation of real events, to be discarded as soon as it is identified. The out-and-out work of fiction will not even be subject to any consideration by the specialists, who would dismiss it as being entirely without objective value in the real world.

If however we consider fiction, hoax, and real experience as different parts of a spectrum of experience, a new set of patterns begins to emerge. Loran Gross has pointed out the similarities between some American science fiction stories of the thirties and forties, and many of the ostensibly genuine contact stories of later years. One in particular (2) depicts a car stoppage scenario with many of the details that have become familiar from subsequent reports; yet it would be impossible that any significant proportion of the people involved in these cases could have read the story in the small circulation SF magazine where it appeared. The science fiction story is a culturally approved ‘art-form’ in which many philosophical ideas on the nature of power and energy, man’s relationship to machine etc., can be expressed and debated in a popularly understandable fashion. Due to the general cultural environment in which most potential UFO percipients live (even in fairly remote parts of the world) these concepts and ethical questions are widespread in the human psyche, in more or less coherent forms. Consequently, from time to time they will require some form of external expression from the individuals who ponder them. In cases where either the intellectual ability, or the cultural opportunities available to the person attempting this self-expression are in-adequate for this to take a generally acceptable format, it may emerge in a manner only fragmentarily understood by the ‘artist’ himself.

Some ufologists (sadly not as many as one would hope, especially in this country) are beginning to realise that ‘subjective’ UFO experiences are of equal validity to the so-called ‘objective’ cases (3). They no longer see the psychological examination of witnesses as a way of sorting out the ‘reliable’ from the ‘unreliable’ witnesses, so that they can get on with the real job of studying the hard physical evidence. However this more inclusive attitude has not yet extended to the ‘hoax’ reports, which are still treated as a nuisance, getting in the way of serious research. Yet in many cases these hoaxes may be desperate attempts to make some sense of the overwhelming barrage of emotional, intellectual, psychic and cultural impressions that are absorbed into the long-suffering human brain.

Consider the remarkable story which came out of Peru in 1965, and was reported in FSR two years later (4). A restaurant proprietress in the La Victoria district of Lima reported that “a little green man” (her literal description) with one eye in the centre of his forehead had come into her restaurant and ordered a chicken, “with plenty of red pepper and saffron”. The proprietress, Señora Dora Nakamura, claimed that despite her astonishment she managed to serve up the order, which was paid in strange coins with undecipherable hieroglyphics on them. An obvious hoax, and indeed when a local UFO investigation group tried to follow up the story they were informed that Senora Nakamura was in “delicate health” and did not wish to say any more about the matter, admitting that it was a hoax.

And that, to most UFO investigators, is that. But consider for a moment what could have prompted such a hoax. Señora Nakamura must have realised that such a claim could only have led to extreme ridicule. To willingly court such derision seems almost masochistic. On a conscious level she must have realised that the hoax would never be even half-way acceptable – the strange coins were presumably never offered in evidence. Her retreat from the consequences of her act through ill-health, whether ‘real’ or psychosomatic, suggests that she could not have intended her hoax as a joke, perhaps to publicise the quality of her chicken and green peppers (although one can perhaps visualise a successful advertising campaign based on the theme “They’ll travel light years for a Nakamura chicken dinner!”).

It seems scarcely imaginable what inner conflicts, what agonies of a confused mind, what mental struggles could force a person to perpetrate such an enormity. Yet in a more skilled, perhaps more educated, individual with a greater capacity for conscious self expression, could they not have emerged as a powerful surrealist painting or poem? Are they not the same inner forces which, in a different type of personality produce a bizarre UFO contact report, perhaps not much less absurd than Dora Nakamura’s hoax; but which, because it is believed in literally by the percipient, is accepted as a legitimate object of investigation by ufologists?

There is a need therefore for some serious and detailed study of hoaxers, on a level with the sensitive and carefully monitored investigations that are at last beginning with the so-called ‘subjective’ percipients.

If the reaction of most students of our subject towards hoaxes is simply to unmask then discard them, it is inevitable that their reaction to out-and-out fiction is even simpler. They just do not regard it as any part at all of the material they are studying. Yet, if our model of the percipient and hoaxer externalising, with varying degrees of conscious control, a confusing welter of internal feelings and imagery is valid, then the artist and writer, producing overtly ‘imaginative’ fiction from the same internal stimuli, is manifestly part of the same phenomenon, and worthy of similar study.

Up to now the study of artistic fiction (5) has been through a series of somewhat conventionalised critical attitudes – ‘fine art’ criticism, Eng. Lit., etc. As most artistic enterprise is designed to fall within the framework of one or other of these critical apparati, the result is something of a closed-shop, and potentially valuable alternative analytical structures are seldom utilised. It is, for instance, only quite recently that art has been subjected to any sort of political analysis. So, just as it is now generally accepted that art and literature are influenced by, and in some cases entirely derived from, their political and social background, we moat recognise that much of the material which up to now has summarily been dismissed as ‘fiction’ is evolved from the same ‘cultural primeval soup’ as our UFO reports and hoaxes. This is perhaps most evident in the field of folklore and mythology, which are increasingly intensively studied to reveal many of the archetypes which structure the UFO experience. This sort of inclusive approach is more readily accepted with myth and folklore, as they are obviously the crystallisation of a collectivity of experience, dream, and impression. What is not so easy to accept is that the artistic vision of one person can, as in the case of the SF story unearthed by Loran Gross, be equally valid as an expression of a collective mythic experience.

tolkien

Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, he would answer as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction

 

Yet how else can we explain the fascination that a writer like J. R. R. Tolkien has for so many people? Here a writer of great talent has created a vast, mythical world in a series of compulsively readable works of avowed fiction. Yet is his achievement so different, except in the manner of its execution, from someone like Adamski, who feeling the same urges for sub-creation produces as potentially great a vision in a series of botched-up, half believed in hoaxes, eventually getting drawn into his own creation to the point of incorporating it into his conscious world-view, and losing sight of its fictional origins? In a fascinating account of a conversation with Tolkien, his biographer Humphrey Carpenter (6) comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, the author would answer in his self-created rôle as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction. Yet here there is obviously no question of ‘hoaxing’ as there was when Adamski replied to questions in the role of ‘reporter’ rather than ‘author’. A person like Tolkien, with a secure intellectual foundation in the consensus world view could regard his involvement in his own sub-creation as a literary joke (albeit one of considerable significant to himself); Adamski, without such a secure world-view, could easily be drawn irretrievably into a Magonia of his own making.

When we examine Tolkien’s world it is temptingly easy to see the parallels with Magonia. His concept of the Valar, for instance, as demiurgical entities which, from their land of Valinor, oversee the actions of men and the other beings of Middle-Earth with an occasional nudge and a shove and a word of advice, echoes not only the Norns and the Fataof Northern and Classical mythology, but also the benevolent space brothers of the contactees. The Valar live in a remote other-world, now “removed from the circles of this world” and reached only by mysterious ships crewed by the Elves, tall and beautiful immortals. Yet in the remote past of Tolkien First Age, Valinor was in more direct contact with mortal lands, its inhabitants taking a more direct (and sometimes disastrous) part in its affairs. Can we see here a working of the same archetypal themes that in other hands have resulted in the Ancient Astronaut myth? The Old Gods that have left us as the result of the breaking of a great taboo. In Tolkien’s case this is the attempted invasion of the Blessed Realm by the men of Numenor/Atlantis. But does it matter too much whether this universally felt myth is expressed in a great work of imaginative fiction, or as a message from an apparently real spaceman, or as a lucrative hoax in some paperback pot-boiler. It is certainly the same ore that is being mined, and it is capable of being refined and fashioned into a Faberge Egg or an old tin can!

Yet we must realise that a great deal of the background to Tolkien’s work is drawn quite directly and consciously from a commonly-held store of mythical imagery. His most recently published work, The Silmarillion, (7) outlines the creation and remote history of the world in which the later stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. In a way it is the mythology of his mythological world. Like the great legends it echoes, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories, They are nor necessarily consecutive or consistent in style and content; they are sometimes repetitive. There is not the formal literary or narrative structure of his two earlier published works, and this has aroused the wrath of the critics in the literary journals who insist on treating Tolkien’s prose and verse with the conventions of the ‘English Literature’ syllabus. The folklorists and ufologists, of course, regard it as ‘just fiction’ and will have nothing to do with it.

Tolkien’s consciously created myth-world, like the contactee’s Magonia, and the hoaxer’s imaginary universe, is fundamentally neo-Manichean, with the vast opposing forces of the Valar and Morgoth/Sauron; neither capable of being totally destroyed. The peoples of Middle-Earth are largely deprived of ultimate control over their destinies, having to throw in their fate with whichever of the Cosmic Forces they choose to align themselves. The hopelessness of individuals in the face of such forces is a recurrent theme in contactee lore, forming the raison d’être for such borderline sects as the Aetherius Society, and has a strong appeal to ufologists such as Gordon Creighton, who explicitly see mankind as ‘belonging’ to one side or other in the eternal battle. Tolkien’s Christian background and one suspects, his fundamentally hopeful character, prompted him to give the ‘good’ forces the advantage in the struggle. But it is only a very slight advantage, and the evil of The Enemy may break through at any moment. In the darker and more insecure world of the contactee and the hoaxer the advantage is not always so clear. The eternal battle, as revealed for instance in the books of John Keel, is for them a terrifying cliff-hanger where, like Middle-Earth’s hobbits, mankind can only sit and await its destiny.

It is often claimed when examining details of a reported UFO experience that the percipient must be genuine, as he is apparently able to give details, similar to those occurring in other reports, but which have never been given wide media coverage. In reports on percipients the observation is often made that the alleged witness had never read any books on UFOs, and was totally unacquainted with the literature of the subject. These facts are adduced as evidence that the experience was ‘real’. On reflection though, why should it be so readily assumed that a hoaxer is incapable of making-up – perhaps ‘creating’ is a better word? – a coherent mythology from the store of cultural and psychological archetypes that we are surrounded with from birth? The difference between hoaxer and genuine contactee may be very slight. Indeed, it could be argued that the hoaxer, through having to some degree the ability to consciously manipulate elements of myth, is of a higher intellectual stature than the genuine percipient who find them so disturbing and confusing that he is only capable of manipulating them on a subconscious level.

Jung has suggested (8) that it is in the more unimaginative personality that the subconscious, unable to break through the ‘cool judgement’ and ‘critical reason’ of the conscious mind is forced to produce a vivid external projection of its contents before they will be taken note of. It is precisely because percipients of these ‘projections’ are noted for their ‘solid common-sense’ that they are taken quite literally by those ufologists determined to find some external stimulus for the phenomenon. It is those more imaginative and creative people who are able to tap directly the contents of their subconscious mind, externalising its revelations in the form of deliberately produced fiction or hoax, who are ignored or vilified by the ufological establishment. We must recognise that it is essential for any understanding of the UFO phenomenon to examine not only the ‘genuine’ reports, which are just one manifestation of this collection of archetypes, but also the other ways in which these constants emerge … be it as hoax, or in the hands of a skilled artist as a work of art. 

Click on the image to read the text

Click on the image to read the text

Let us look for a moment at one way in which the ephemeral borderline between fiction and genuine experience has been crossed. In 1914 the author Arthur Machen wrote a short story called The Bowmen. In it he described how British troops in the retreat from Mons were joined by the ghostly forms of St George and the bowman of Agincourt, who helped them hold out against the German advance. After this story was published in the London Evening News rumours circulated that soldiers involved in the action at Mons had indeed seen not only bowmen, but cavalry, the figures of saints and angels, and knights in armour fighting alongside them. At first Machen thought that these stories were the result of his original tale. However a book published later (9) gave eyewitness accounts of incidents which had apparently been reported before Machen’s story was published.

In an incident such as this there are a number of interpretations which may be put on the facts. Firstly, it is not unnatural that the soldiers of a retreating army would be comforted by the thought of a ‘Heavenly Host’ guarding them. English soldiers would be particularly responsive to such patriotic imagery as St George, Agincourt, etc. Amid the horrors of the First World War the desire for such spiritual intercession would be so strong in the minds of soldiers that, unable to find expression in any more ‘rational’ way, it was projected externally in the form of a memorable vision. Machen, more remote from the grim reality, and as a writer possessing an acceptable way of expressing these deep emotional responses, creates an equally memorable ‘fiction’ from the same set of stimuli.

Yet this itself may be an oversimplification. It would appear that prior to the publication of Machen’s story there were no generally circulating rumours of such spiritual intervention. Indeed, a year after the original story was published it had become so popular that Machen issued it as a booklet, adding a note that the believed that the subsequent rumours were a result of his story. The book mentioned above was an attempt to refute this. Are we to conclude then that the reports made by soldiers after publication of The Bowmen were hoaxes? It seems unlikely that soldiers who had suffered through those harrowing events would wish to lie about it in such a way. Perhaps we should consider the possibility of a retrospectively induced memory, in which people, finding their unarticulated wishes and dreams expressed in such a direct and moving way as Machen’s story, take it to themselves and are impelled quite genuinely to remember events that never took place?

Could it then be that with the continuing diffusion of the UFO myth throughout society, many people are finding it a suitable medium for the expression of their own personal hopes and fears, and are also ‘remembering’ with every degree of verisimilitude events which never took place?

Just as, in the First World War, what now seem the rather naive patriotic visions of Arthur Machen helped crystallise a mood of the time; so perhaps today does Tolkien’s more troubled cosmic vision express today’s zeitgeist, and delves those hidden realms that in the minds of UFO percipients bring forth a gallery of elvish, orcish and dwarvish entities that still stalk a troubled and divided Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s works are a beautiful and skilfully wrought evocation of the dreams, fears and hopes of man. It is here that the answer to the UFO mystery lies. A writer like Tolkien can study and understand these things, and use them to create a great and haunting work of ‘fiction’; yet fiction which is true enough to find a greater response in the hearts and minds of the public than that of almost any other writer this century.

References:

  1. “A Panorama of Ufological Visions”, MUFOB New Series 3, page 11; ‘Doves are Just Middle-Class Pigeons”, MUFOB New Series 7, page 3.
  2. GROSS, Loren. Charles Fort, the Fortean Society and UFOs. Privately published, 1976.
  3. A welcome exception to this general rule is Randle and Warrington’s study of the “Garry” case.
  4. Flying Saucer Review, 11, 6, page 32.
  5. I use the word ‘fiction’ to include all forms of imaginative art, as well as just literature, including poetry, symbolist and abstract painting, music and song, non-realist drama, etc.
  6. CARPENTER, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
  7. TOLKIEN, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
  8. JUNG, C G. Flying Saucers. Routledge Kegan Paul, 1977.
  9. BEGBIE, Harold. On the Side of the Angels – A Reply to Arthur Machen, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published in MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-8

Ridicule and Ufology. John Rimmer

Originally published in Magonia Supplement, no. 19 September 1999


shipWhat is it that makes someone a sceptical ufologist? Could it be that after becoming interested in the subject through reading popular books and magazines, then studying more detailed reports, serious books and specialist journals, they then decide that the evidence they have uncovered is not enough to justify the belief that UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin? And there are certainly some sceptics who have already made up their minds before studying the topic in any depth. They may have a rigid and dogmatic view of science, and look only at evidence which confirms their existing viewpoint.

But now we learn that there is another type of sceptic. These are people who are sceptics because they are frightened. Frightened of what? Well, in a long Internet discussion recently on UFO UpDates, Jerome Clark has declared that such people are frightened of ridicule. Apparently some UFO sceptics become so upset if people criticise them that they adopt – perhaps subconsciously, Clark suggests – a sceptical attitude that signals to those in the know: “Hey guys, we really don’t believe this stuff, we’re just like you scientific types”.

When this remarkable discovery was posted on UpDates I replied that, yes, some people may trim their ufological views so as not to offend others, but that probably this was confined to people in academic positions who didn’t want to prejudice their jobs or funding. John Mack is someone who has been in this position, although no one could accuse him of adopting a policy of ridicule avoidance during his dispute with Harvard University. However, I couldn’t see that this would apply to your normal, common-or-garden amateur ufologist. Clark would have none of this: “You seem, absurdly, to have reduced us all to the sum of our financial interests!” He continues: “Look to your soul my friend. Magonia and the larger PSH (Psycho-Social Hypothesis) crowd of which it is a part are always going on and on about unconscious motivations of which witnesses and non-PSH theorists are unaware but which nonetheless, according to you guys, drive them to certain experiences, actions and behaviors”.

If we were afraid of ridicule, we wouldn’t be in ufology in the first place; what ridicule there is starts at the moment you profess an interest in UFOs.

Warming to the theme he claims that UFO sceptics and Magonia types “go bonkers” if anyone suggests that they also might have their own unconscious motivations. Now I don’t know about my own unconscious motivations – well I wouldn’t do, would I, because they’re unconscious – but looking around at the sceptical ufologists I know personally, people like Peter Rogerson and Andy Roberts, I don’t notice any great fear of ridicule. A point I made to Clark, which I have had no comeback to, is that if we were afraid of ridicule, we wouldn’t be in ufology in the first place. What ridicule there is starts at the moment you profess an interest in UFOs. Most people outside the field are unaware of the distinctions between ETHers, New Ufologists, Sceptics, Skeptics, Paraufologists, Military Ufologists or whatever. Moving from one group to another is far too subtle to ward off any ridicule from the laity.

I’m reminded of the old political joke:

“You can’t come into the country, you’re a communist.”
“But I’m an anti-communist!”
“I don’t care what sort of communist you are, you still can’t come in.”

Clark is concerned that by adopting a “pelicanist” position (new word for sceptic – too complicated to explain here) Magonia has “effectively ensured that you are not one of those iconoclastic ufologists who question the conventional wisdom on the matter, and thereby have immunised yourselves from ridicule”.

So we must assume that according to Clark the people who are “iconoclastic” and challenge conventional wisdom are the ufologists who promote the ETH, or at least some form of hitherto unknown actual physical phenomenon. But is this so? One person following the Internet exchange wrote to me directly rather than to the mailing list, challenging this assumption. He wrote:

“I would also like to add that the argument could be made that someone who suggests a relation between incubi/succubi attacks and alien abductions, or sleep paralysis and alien abductions, or other dimensional visitations vs hardware in the sky, or spiritual/demonic phenomena, or for that matter attempts to relate the UFO phenomena to the paradigm emerging from quantum physics, is just as likely, if not more likely, to experience raised eyebrows or hostility, as someone suggesting visitors from Alpha Centauri, to a population that believes in UFOs.”

Clark’s response to this, apart from a snide comment about a mis-spelling, was that it shows that anyone who suggests a non-conventional explanation for UFOs is liable to ridicule. So as the topics mentioned by my correspondent cover most of the issues raised by PSH ufologists, presumably they also are liable to ridicule, so there is no particular advantage in being an ETH ufologist if you want to avoid ridicule. Which is of course what I said in the first place.

Like all Internet debates a great deal of other relevant and totally irrelevant material was thrown in including a historical sidetrack on the fine town of Canby, Minnesota, and the delightful neighbourhood of John Dee Cottage. A more relevant contribution from Jenny Randles pointed out that the opinions of friends and co-researchers were liable to influence an individual’s opinion more than some sort of vague “establishment” viewpoint. I agree. I can well imagine walking into The Moon on the Square in Feltham one Tuesday evening and announcing to John Harney that I was going to write a piece for Magonia on UFO propulsion systems – the uneasy silence, the moving to the far end of the table and the sudden interest in the framed local history photographs of old Feltham – and I probably would feel the icy blast of ridicule.

There certainly is ridicule heaped on the UFO subject. Probably the people who suffer from it most are the UFO percipients themselves, and perhaps some of the ridiculous ideas put about by some researchers only adds to this. But are UFO researchers themselves influenced by this? I doubt it. The Internet debate threw up no evidence of it despite dark talk of it influencing us on an unconscious level, and my only advice to ufologists who fear it – ETHers, “Pelicanists”, Sceptics – is if you can’t stand the ridicule get out of the kitchen.


 

Trindade. Multiple Witnesses or Wishful Thinking? John Rimmer

From MAGONIA Supplement No. 44, December 2002

1957 was ‘International Geophysical Year, a United Nations sponsored event which united scientists across the globe in a range of experiments and research designed to find out more about the structure of the Earth. (In fact, the ‘Year’ ran to eighteen months, well into 1958.) As part of the Brazilian government’s contribution, in October of that year it set up a research station on the small, rocky islet of Trindade, in the South Atlantic Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Brazil.

baraunamapAlthough the main UFO event, which produced the photographs that have become the object of so much controversy, did not take place until after the arrival of the Brazilian naval training ship Almirante Saldanha in January 1958, a number of very interesting reports were made on the island before the ship’s arrival. These included UFOs apparently interfering with radio transmissions from a balloon and an object tracked through binoculars and a sextant, and a photographic case which has important implications for subsequent events, which I shall return to later.

Present on the ship, but not part of the Brazilian navy crew, was a professional photographer, Almiro Barauna, and several colleagues from an underwater photography club. On 16 January 1958, at around mid-day as the ship was preparing to depart for Brazil an object was allegedly sighted by people on deck, and Barauna took some photographs of it. The object was described as “Saturn-shaped” – an ovoid disc with a distinct band around it at its widest point, which was likened to the rings of Saturn. Barauna took five photographs of the object as it moved around and behind the peak of the mountain on the small island.

Shortly afterwards, Barauna’s photographs were developed in a makeshift darkroom on board the Almirante Saldanha, but because no photographic paper was available, only the negatives were available for examination at the time. After examination by Captain Bacellar, the Commander of the naval post on Trindade who had now taken command of the ship for its return journey, Barauna was allowed to keep the negatives and Almirante Saldanha returned to Brazil, where Barauna disembarked, still with the negatives, at the port of Vitoria, and returned to his home by bus. The ship lay up in Vitoria for two days before sailing onward to Rio de Janeiro.

After returning home, Barauna produced prints from the negatives, and was then visited by Commander Bacellar , who took the enlargements away for examination, returning them a couple of days later. Barauna was interviewed by naval officials, and the negatives were examined by a photographic laboratory, which concluded that they were not the result of a double exposure.

The story of the UFO and the photographs had by now made the front pages of the Brazilian newspapers, and had attracted the attention of politicians, including the Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek. On 24 February, the Naval Ministry issued a statement denying claims that it was impeding the publication of the photographs and statements by the ships crew about the UFO incident: “This Ministry has no motive to impede the release of photographs … taken by Mr Almiro Barauna … in the presence of a large number of the crew of the Almirante Saldanha from whose deck the photographs were taken”. The statement concludes: “This Ministry will not be able to make any announcements concerning the object seen, because the photographs do not constitute sufficient proof for such purpose”.

This is a very significant statement, as it is a clear declaration that not only were photographs taken of a UFO, but that this object was seen by a large number of people. It is this which has given the Trindade case a special position in UFO history. However, this statement is not borne out by closer examination of evidence subsequently released by the Ministry.

In his substantial UFO Encyclopedia Jerome Clark concludes his summary of the case with the claim: “Given the number of witnesses, the results of photo analyses both military and civilian and the need for debunkers to ‘reinvent’ the incident to explain it, it seems most unlikely that the Trindade photographs were hoaxed”. In captions to photographs in that encyclopedia Clark states that “48 witnesses saw the object”, while the figure of 150 witnesses is given in Coral and Jim Lorenzen’s account in Fate magazine. It is not clear what the source is for either of these figures.

Clearly, if the events are as described above, this is one of the most important UFO cases ever, being that rarest of things, a multi-witness, photographic case. Naturally, this account of events has been challenged, particularly by the ‘usual suspects’, UFO sceptics Donald Menzel and Phil Klass. Menzel claimed that the photographs had been produced by double exposure. In a letter to UFO investigator Richard Hall in 1963 a Project Blue Book official pointed out that Barauna had previously produced a hoax UFO photograph for a Brazilian magazine article.

However, the question of whether or not the photographs were hoaxed would be irrelevant if it could be conclusively proven that the UFO was witnessed, at the time, by anything between 48 and 150 members of the crew of the Almirante Saldanha. As most of these potential witnesses were naval personnel they would obviously be readily available for interview by the appropriate authorities, and as the Naval Ministry had confirmed that they had no interest in impeding the story, many may have been available to speak to the press. This is where things start to get more ambiguous.

In the first edition of Magonia [Monthly] Supplement, editor John Harney refers to this case when considering the evidence for the ETH. Quoting Jerome Clark’s Encyclopedia remarks (above) he asks:

Well what are the agreed facts on this case? I was astonished to discover, on re-examining the literature on this incident that some of the most basic and presumably easily ascertainable facts are very much in dispute. For example, how many witnesses were there?

The answer, he claims, depends on whether you are a believer or a sceptic, as according to Coral Lorenzen, “Rio de Janeiro’s Ultimo Hora on February 21 reported that at least a hundred individuals had witnessed the sighting of the object”.

Harney then quotes the US Naval Attaché in Rio (who was quoted in the letter to Richard Hall) who says that the Captain of the Almirante Saldanha only named his secretary as having seen it, but when interviewed the secretary was noncommittal on the matter.

This debate was re-opened on the Internet’s UFO UpDates mailing list. In commenting on an unrelated topic, I quoted John Harney’s article as giving an example of the way that even apparently well-witnessed UFO sightings became more doubtful when they were looked at in greater detail. This sparked a response from several American ufologists as to what evidence I had that the Trindade case was not as well witnessed as claimed. As I had merely been quoting John Harney’s article, I decided that I should have to do some more research of my own.

One of the first things I discovered was that the Brazilian Navy seemed to be remarkably careless about these photographs, which, if taken at face value, would be almost certain evidence that a large physical object was flying around a Brazilian scientific station and a naval ship which was engaged on a scientific mission! Although I had originally been concerned only about the veracity of the figure of 48 (or 150) witnesses, the more I learned about this case the stranger the story of the photographs themselves turned out to be!

For a start, it seems remarkable that the Almirante Saldanha had no facilities for developing and printing films, even though there were according to some reports, at least four photographers on board. Although there seemed to be developing equipment and chemicals available, Barauna had to develop his film in a makeshift darkroom in one of the ship’s lavatories! Remember also, that at this time the ship was moored off Trindade Island, where there was an IGY scientific station. Was this also devoid of photographic equipment? Apparently not.

As I mentioned above, even before the arrival of the Almirante Saldanha there had been a number of odd UFO-like incidents over the scientific station on the island, whose main function was a launching and tracking post for high-atmosphere research balloons. Olavo Fontes, in his extensive report on the case outlined seven separate incidents, including ones in which a UFO possibly interfered with radio transmissions from a balloon, and another object was observed through binoculars and a sextant.

The object sighted in the final, island-based case, “appeared to be made of polished aluminium (or similar metal), and was shaped like a flattened spheroid with a large ring circling its equator. The spheroid body did not rotate, but the ring appeared to be spinning at fantastic speed.” This makes it very similar to the object depicted in the Barauna photographs.

Fontes then says that “the investigation also revealed another important thing (also denied by Com. Bacellar): that the UAO had been photographed by one of the witnesses, a Navy sergeant. The man was taking pictures of the island with a box camera when he spotted the UAO moving across the sky. He shot one picture before it disappeared”.

newsclippingThe reaction of the naval authorities to this incident is quite different to the relaxed response to Barauna: “The negative was immediately requested by Commander Bacellar and the film developed the same day. The picture was good enough to show that the object photographed was the same as described by the witnesses. Its spherical outline as well as the large thick ring around it could be clearly seen in the enlargements made from the negative.”

So, the scientific base on the island had the facilities to quickly develop films and produce good quality prints, yet Barauma developed his film in a makeshift darkroom on board ship and was unable to make prints due to a supposed lack of photographic paper. What is going on here?

Even after the film was developed and examined by Commander Bacellar on board ship, it was returned to Barauna, who then had complete possession of it for at least six days until Bacellar turned up at Barauna’s home and asked to be allowed to take the film and prints away for examination.

The question of the lack of control of the exposed film before it received adequate analysis is addressed as a ‘negative point’ by Corvette-Captain Jose Geraldo Brandao in the Naval Intelligence Section’s report on the incident:

  1. No prints of the film were made at the moment it was developed;
  2. The ship’s Commander didn’t take possession of the negatives, after they were developed, in order to get the prints made later in the presence of witnesses;
  3. The making of prints and enlargements was done by the photographer in his own photolab.

    However, he also listed the ‘positive points’ that led him to accept the photographic evidence:

  1. The report of the CC Bacellar, who saw in the film immediately after it was developed, still wet, the images he identified in the prints as the object photographed, and also that the pictures preceding the sequence connected with the object’s passage corresponded with scenes taken aboard a few minutes before the incident;
  2. The statements of the persons who sighted the object: they saw the copies of the photographs and declared they had seen exactly what appears on the photographs.

These positive points might be conclusive if we could verify that the UFO was also observed by 48 (or 150) other people who could confirm that its appearance and manoeuvres corresponded with the photographs. Surely, with all those witnesses there must be plenty of first-hand reports. In a response to my original comments on this case Jerome Clark pointed out that the official Brazilian Naval report into the case referred to “many” witnesses. This report, surely, would confirm the exact number of people who reported seeing the UFO at the time Barauna took his photographs? Well, the report does indeed say that “many” other people were present, but it presents no evidence to corroborate the claim that Trindade was one of the best witnessed reports in UFO history.

The official Brazilian report can be found on the CUFOS website. It is headed:

INTERNAL COMMUNICATION – CONFIDENTIAL No. 0043
From: The Subchief of Intelligence.
To: The Vice-chief of the Navy High Command
Subject: Phenomena observed over the Trindade Island
Reference: Report No. 0005, of 1/6/1958, from the Chief of the Navy High Command to the Commander of the Trindade Island Oceanographic Post.

    So this is a fairly high-level document. But its value as proof of an extraordinary event over Trindade is subverted by its opening paragraphs:

  1. That there are a number of witnesses who state they have sighted unidentified aerial objects (UAOs) over the Trindade Island;
  2. That most reports presented are insufficient, mostly due to the lack of technical skill of many observers and to the brief duration of the phenomena observed, so that no conclusion can be reached concerning positive data about the UAOs;
  3. That the most important and valuable evidence presented, the photographic, somehow loses its convincing quality due to the impossibility to [dis]prove a previous photomontage. [Note: this sentence only makes sense if the word is intended to be 'disprove'. I assume this to be a glitch in transcription - the inability to 'prove' a previous montage would actually add to its convincing quality.]

Further on, the report describes the circumstances under which the photographs were taken:

Obtained, from the deck of the NE “Almirante Saldanha”, when anchored close to the Trindade Island, four photographs of a UAO, taken by a professional photographer in the presence of other witnesses who state they have sighted the object photographed.

Well, what we now expect are the names of these other witnesses, maybe not all 48 (or 150) of them, but at least eyewitness reports from the numerous naval officers, ratings and civilian personnel who we assume witnessed the events. Far from it. Although there are a number of references to “members of the ship’s crew” having seen the object (at one point they are described as having an extremely strong emotional reaction to it) the only direct eyewitness reports, apart from Barauna’s come from two people.

Firstly, the longest statement comes from Amilar Vieira Filho, president of the Icarus Club for Submarine [Underwater? - an over-literal translation from the Portuguese?] Hunting. In an interview to a reporter from O Globo he reports:

First, I want to make it very clear that I don’t know if what I saw was really the so-called ‘flying saucer’. What I saw, in fact, was an object of gray color and oval in shape when first sighted, which passed over the island and then – emitting a fluorescent light it didn’t possess before – went away toward the horizon and was gone, vanishing just on the horizon line. Everything happened in just a few seconds, in no more than 20 seconds, and for this reason I cannot give you more details about the curious craft. It looked like an object with polished surface and uniform color. I am sure it was not a balloon, an airplane, or a seagull.

Further questioned, he adds:

As I said before, the thing was too rapid. It was almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail of the object. Mr. Barauna, however, was operating with a camera of modern type which was able to register those details. Generally speaking, the shape of the object sighted was the same seen on the negatives developed aboard the NE Almirante Saldanha.

This latter comment is rather odd, giving the impression that the whole event was over in a second or so, yet Barauna had time to take five photographs using his Rolleiflex camera, and after taking the last photograph the object remained in view for a further ten seconds before “gradually diminishing in size and finally disappearing into the horizon”. Rather different from “the thing was too rapid, almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail”. The business about Barauna’s “camera of modern type” is quite irrelevant.

The other directly quoted witness, Captain (Retd.) Jose Teobaldo Viegas, also was a member of Barauna’s underwater exploration club. He mentions other witnesses on deck, but we have no statements from them, and although there was apparently another photographer on deck at the time he failed to get any photographs at all. Viegas states:

I was on the deck. My friend Amilar Vieira Filho suddenly called my attention to what he thought to be a ‘big seagull’. I looked toward it and was unable to control my excitement, shouting: ‘Flying saucer!’ Mr Barauna was 20 yards away with his Rolleiflex, watching the manoeuvres [loading equipment onto the ship before departure]. He heard my shouts and came running – in time to take four pictures of the object. Other people were also alerted by my alarm: a sergeant, sailors, the ship’s dentist (Lieutenant Captain Homero Ribeiro), and other persons. They all sighted the object. The photographer Farias de Azevedo, who was more distant, didn’t come in time to get photos.

(One question occurs to me here; if the object was circling the mountain peak more than a thousand metres away, why would it have been necessary for Azevedo to “come in time” to get photos, if he was already on deck? Couldn’t he have taken the photo from where he was standing?)

Viegas was also the person who accompanied Barauna into the makeshift darkroom to develop the negatives whilst Captain Bacellar remained outside. (An odd aspect of this is that Barauna, apparently because of the hot conditions in the darkroom, stripped to his underpants to develop the film. Captain Bacellar and the investigator, Olavo Fontes, saw this as additional evidence that he could not have faked the photographs by smuggling some equipment or film into the darkroom. Curiously, we have no record as to whether or not Viegas also stripped.)

The third named witness, Antonio Homero Ribeiro the ship’s dentist, is never quoted directly in any of the reports I have been able to find, and is only mentioned by Barauna as one of the people, along with Viegas and Filho, who drew the UFO to his attention. So Barauna names three other people as witnesses of the event, but only two, Filho and Viegas, gives any form of direct statement, and this to a newspaper rather than the Government investigator. Viego mentions Ribeiro and Azevedo, but we hear no more of them.

Although in the Internet discussion much was made, by Jerome Clark and others, about the “thorough” investigation by the Naval authorities, in fact the report is based solely on second-hand reports, largely from Commander Bacellar, who, on his own account was below decks at the time, and was only alerted by the shouts of – presumably – Barauna and his associates. The “thorough” report does not interview any of the other alleged witnesses.

Federal Deputy Sergio Magalhaes who originally raised the matter at government level, requesting an investigation into the facts connected with the incident at Trindade, protested to the Navy Ministry at their failure to secure sworn statements from witnesses:

For the first time in flying saucer history, the phenomenon was attended by large numbers of persons belonging to a military force, which gives these photographs an official stamp. Threats to national security require greater official attention and action.

So it’s not only sceptical ufologists who were dissatisfied with the quality of the Brazilian Government’s investigation.

Now, when I pointed all this out in the UFO UpDates discussion, I felt that all that was needed was for the proponents of the case’s importance to come up with the names of a few more direct eyewitness testimonies, either from contemporary newspapers, or from Government sources. I wasn’t expecting 48 (or 150), but even three or four more direct statements would have made my argument very shaky indeed. Perhaps even just one statement from someone who was not a member of Barauna’s underwater diving team!

(One small point: Jerome Clark took me to task for describing the other witnesses as ‘friends’ of Barauna, just because they were members of the same diving club. Captain Viegas describes Filho as a ‘friend’ in his statement (above), and Olavo Fontes also describes Barauna, Filhio and Viegas and ‘friends’.)

It seemed now that I was expected to come up with a statement from someone who was present at the time who did not see the UFO! Surely, Jerome Clark thundered, with all the hullabaloo going on in the press and elsewhere, non-witnesses would be lining up to sell their non-story to the newspapers. In one exchange Clark says: “John has yet to produce the name of a single individual who, while in a position to see the UFO Barauna photographed, stated that he saw nothing. I have named witnesses. John has named none, only continued to indulge in innuendo.”

The only comment I can make here is that if there were, as I suggest, no other witnesses to this event, how could anyone be “in a position to see the UFO [that] Barauna photographed”, and how could anyone therefore challenge Barauna’s version of events?

Even if you were on deck when Barauna and company were running around shouting hysterically – yes, that is what happened; it is claimed that ship’s dentist Ribeiro was so flustered he allegedly fell over a cable in his panic! – how would you realise what you were supposed to see, or that it was significant that you didn’t see anything? After all, as Amilar Vieira Filho said: “the thing was too rapid. It was almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail of the object”. Over in a flash, what significance would it be if you hadn’t seen anything? Certainly nothing worth going to the newspapers about, or risking the attention of more military investigators – perhaps the very ones whose report you were, by implication, criticising.

Imagine if you were a member of a military unit, and military Intelligence officers were coming around asking about an incident which, remember, was reported only by civilian personnel, would you voluntary stick you head over the parapet to present a statement that nothing happened? Especially if you knew that your country’s authoritarian President had taken a personal interest in the case? How would you actually know that you were meant to be one of the 48 (or 150) witnesses?

Maybe, buried deep in the vaults of the Brazilian National Archives there exists a report which lists the 48 (or 150) witnesses of this case. Maybe one day Brazilian versions of Dr David Clarke and Andy Roberts will uncover it and I will have to eat my words. But until then, I feel the Trindade Island case rests on far shakier foundations than its chroniclers would have you believe. And, moreover, that the responsibility is on saucer proponents to demonstrate that independent witnesses did see the object, rather than I should start searching for improbable statements from people who may not have been there that they didn’t see it!

Postscript:

After this debate continued on the UpDates list for several weeks, gradually getting more and more circular in its arguments, there came an intervention from a researcher in Brazil, offering what he claimed was new evidence. In fact this turned out to be some cuttings sent to Richard Hall in the 1960s. I was unimpressed, and replied:

I have said this ad nauseam, and I will not repeat it until some new material is available (and Richard Hall’s cuttings are certainly not new material. They are second, third, or fourth hand accounts); we have no direct evidence from anyone except two people who are known to be associates of the photographer prior to the incident. We are nowhere near the “48 witnesses” claimed in Jerry’s encyclopedias.

Then, in a dramatic intervention Jerome Clark replied, “Wrong, old boy. There is some very important new evidence. I’m sorry to say that the news, for you, is not good.”

Before completing this piece, I e-mailed back to Clark to see if this new material was yet available for publication: “Are you able to give me any further details of this important new evidence?”

Jerry replied: “Yeah, it’s still out there and will be announced, I’m sure, in the near future. As I understand it, it pretty much eliminates whatever small possibility there was, if any, that the photos were hoaxed. You’ll know about it when the report is released.” It will be fascinating, after fifty years, to learn what this evidence might be. My hope would be that it was additional contemporary eye-witness reports, with direct statements from named individuals who were present, on the deck of the Almirante Saldanha. I would be disappointed if it were merely a re-hash of the photographic analyses that were made at the time.

Sources:

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