Carter, Pollard and the Broken Backed ‘f’.
Gareth J. Medway.

Originally published on Magonia Online, December 2010.

Probably most of us have a list of books that we intend to read some time. For several years mine has included An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, by John Carter and Graham Pollard, but recently I discovered that there is a copy of it in a local reference library. I found it particularly interesting because it deals with a point that I raised more than once in the Magonia Bulletin, that is, how can you prove something to be a hoax, as opposed to merely suspecting it?

To outline the background: in Victorian England it was common for authors to print their shorter works, initially, as pamphlets limited to a few dozen copies, which they would give to their friends, and only later make them available to the public. Some of Tennyson’s narrative poems were first published in this way, for example. Since these were limited first editions, by the end of the century they had begun to fetch high prices amongst collectors. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese (not, in fact, translations, but original compositions), issued in the second edition of her Collected Poems, 1850, but known to have been written in 1846, also featured in an edition (according to the title page) “Reading, Not for Publication, 1847”, this item being particularly prized. In the early 1930s Carter and Pollard, who were both antiquarian book dealers, heard a rumour that it was in fact a forgery.

They were not immediately able to examine a copy, most of which were by then in America, but meanwhile it had occurred to them that there were quite a number of similar pamphlets that had various peculiarities in common: they seemed to come on to the market too often; they were never signed, as one would expect works produced for the author’s intimates would usually be, nor even inscribed with an owner’s name; none had ever been rebound (quite common for that kind of work); and, though they bore dates from 1842 to 1899, there was no trace of any them in sales catalogues until about 1890. Most suspiciously of all, by this time the majority of copies were coming from a single bookseller named Herbert Gorfin. Now, a dealer might very occasionally acquire an unsold cache of works of this sort, but could hardly hope to make a habit of it.

You can see where all this is leading. The suspicion was that these pamphlets had not in fact been printed for their authors, but produced by some unscrupulous dealer from 1890 onwards, bearing false dates. In two particular cases there were already reasons for thinking so. Swinburne, in his old age, had denied knowing anything about a copy of his Cleopatra, purportedly printed for him in 1866. This just might have been due to a memory lapse on his part, but no such explanation was possible in the case of a Ruskin booklet. His best-known work, Sesames and Lilies, is a collection of lectures that he had delivered over a period of a few years. One, ‘The Queen’s Gardens’, was delivered at Manchester Town Hall on 14 December 1864, and printed in the Manchester Examiner and Times two days later. A pamphlet also bore the date 1864. But, as Ruskin’s bibliographers had pointed out, the text of this pamphlet did not correspond to the newspaper printing, nor to the first edition of Sesames and Lilies, 1865, but to the very slightly revised version issued in 1871. Obviously, it was printed much later than the title page pretended.

Carter and Pollard realised that there was a way of proving an earliest possible date for some of these works. In 1863 manufacturers had began introducing esparto grass into paper; chemical wood was included in some makes after 1874. Although not apparent to the naked eye, under a microscope the presence of esparto grass or chemical wood is quite easily visible. The letter f used to break in a press more often than any other; in 1880 a printer devised a new font with a ‘broken-backed f’, which was less likely to break. The ‘1847’ Sonnets from the Portuguese proved to have been printed with a broken-backed f on paper containing chemical wood. These tests also demonstrated some of the other suspect items to be spurious, though not in every case, since esparto grass, chemical wood and the broken-backed f were not always used, and some of them did not, in any case, purport to have been printed before 1880.

The authors then took the obvious step of contacting Herbert Gorfin. He denied having been involved in any forgery, and since he was only ten years old at the time when sales catalogues indicated that the scam had begun, they believed him. But he told them that, without exception, he had obtained the dodgy pamphlets in the years 1909 to 1912 from a certain Thomas J. Wise. This name was familiar to them, as that of a well-known book collector and bibliographer. He had published a ten-volume catalogue of his own collection, the Ashley Library, which could thereby be seen to contain every one of the suspect works, as did that of an American library, the Wrenn collection, that Wise had helped to assemble. Copies in the British Museum, Bodleian and Cambridge University Libraries generally bore a note: “Presented by Thomas J. Wise”. A few others could be traced back to Wise by some other route. A further clue came from the 1847 Sonnets, which, in addition to the broken-backed f, contained what they termed “the tilting question mark”, which, they determined, had never been used in the same fount of type. It must therefore have been a mixed fount, and though several different printers routinely used the same fount, a mixed fount would be unique to a particular printer. They were able to identify the one who used this mixture as the firm of Richard Clay and Sons of Bungay, Suffolk, who were also known to have printed several works for Thomas J. Wise.

In their Enquiry, published in 1934, Carter and Pollard did not come right out and accuse Wise of forgery – libel laws saw to that – but simply presented the facts, so as to let readers form their own opinions. One man refused to accept the obvious conclusion, and said that Wise would have had no reason to engage in fraud, since he was a rich man. He did not speculate on how Wise had got to be rich in the first place.

Subsequent historians have confirmed the suspicions about Wise, who died in 1937. It is now known that in 1886 he had teamed up with one Henry Buxton Foreman. At first, beginning with Byron’s 1806 Fugitive Pieces, they tried to produce facsimiles of genuine first editions and pass them off as originals, but these fakes were easier to detect. So they turned to making pamphlets which were quite unlike the real first editions, but bore an earlier date. See the entries on Carter, Foreman, Pollard and Wise in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Verbal and other literary anachronisms are less conclusive than those of paper and typeface, but they can be highly indicative. In 1979 the publishers David & Charles of Newton Abbot issued An Account Of A Meeting With Denizens Of Another World 1871, attributed to William Robert Loosley, but ‘Edited and with commentary by David Langford’. The ascribed author was a cabinet maker of High Wycombe, who one night saw a strange star descend onto a wooded hill near his home.

Going to investigate, he was confronted by two strange animated metallic objects, who treated him to a sort of holographic light show, which made no sense to him, but which he recorded in such detail as to enable Langford to interpret them as referring to various scientific facts, such as the behaviour of the hydrogen molecule and the carbon atom, which would have meant nothing to anyone in the nineteenth century, but were clearly apparent to a 1970s physicist. They did not appear to have tried to show him anything beyond what was known in 1979, though one might expect that interstellar travellers would have discovered things unknown to twentieth century earthlings.

The book contained several photographs proving that Loosely was a real person, but, as Colin Bord observed in his review in Fortean Times (31, Spring 1980, pp.46-48), there was no authentication of the manuscript itself by experts, nor even a photograph of it, and that without these there was no reason to think it anything but “an academic joke at the expense of ufologists.” He also noted that it read “like a short story by H. G. Wells”, and this is true: it began “It is my intention to record the curious and marvellous happenings of a few days past, while the memory is still vividly with me…” which is typical of nineteenth century fiction, though not of factual writing of the period.

In any case, the generally passable imitation of Victorian prose was completely spoiled by the use, twice, of the adjective ‘alien’ to mean ‘from outer space’: “the small alien contrivance I had seen … the meaning of one alien message…” Of course, in 1871 alien meant ‘foreign’. It was first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as used to mean ‘extraterrestrial’ in 1944, in a story in Astounding Science Fiction. Even then, it took a couple of decades to catch on elsewhere: it was not used by early flying saucer writers such as Keyhoe, but finally turned up in ufology in Brad Steiger’s Strangers from the Skies, 1966, and then in the Guardian in 1967. This fact turns a suspicion of a hoax into a certainty.

David Langford was no stranger to such sport, for only the year before he had contributed a twenty page article to George Hay’s spoof Necronomicon, in which he pretended to describe how he had deciphered the text from an old manuscript with the aid of a computer. How can I be so sure that this was a fake? It purported to be the work of Abdul Alhazred, an eighth century Arab, which was translated into Latin in the thirteenth century, and thence into English by Dr. John Dee in the sixteenth. Langford claimed to have decoded the text of the Necronomicon from a genuine manuscript of Dee’s in the British Library, which consists of a hundred pages of seemingly meaningless jumbles of letters.

It begins: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are and the Old Ones shall be. From the dark stars They came ere Man was born, unseen and loathsome They descended to primal earth.” The idea that the stars might be inhabited was unknown before the Renaissance, and any eighth century writer, and indeed a sixteenth century translator, would have considered that the Earth was only older than Man by a few days. Then we are told that one of these Old Ones, Hastur, should be invoked at Candlemas, “the second day of the second month”, the author of this having forgotten that in Dee’s day April was the first month of the year (hence February was the eleventh), and that no Arab writer would have used the Christian calendar in the first place.

Then again: “And ye stones shall be ye Gates through which thou shalt call Them forth from Outside man’s time and space.” This last phrase is clearly post-Einstein. There are various diagrams in the text, none of which are in the original manuscript, and include a cipher alphabet with separate characters for i and j, although Langford himself noted that the two letters were not distinguished in those times. Here also are some words used in this alleged text of 1587, together with the date of first usage known to the OED: primal, 1602; ultimate, 1654; magnetic, 1634; circumambulate, 1633; antagonism, 1838; vortex, 1653; elevenfold, not recorded at all; intersect, 1615; pentagram, 1833.

One could draw appropriate conclusions from these facts, even if one did not know, as most people do, that the Necronomicon was a non-existent book invented by the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft in the 1920s as a literary device for use in his short stories. These were accompanied by references to copies in the library of Miskatonic University in Arkham, both the institution and the town being themselves fictitious. The myth took on a remarkable life of its own, so that before this book appeared there had already been three printed and at least two manuscript Necronomicons in circulation, none of them having anything in common with each other apart from the title. There have been several others since.

The examples given here only show how hoaxes related to alleged events in the fairly distant past may be exposed. They are, however, important in that there is certain evidence of fraud. What I would like to find are ways of establishing whether supposed contemporary events may be spurious.

UFO Hoaxing: Stephen Darbishire and Alex Birch
Part Two, Alex Birch.
David Clarke and Andy Roberts

From Magonia 75, July 2001

Part Two: The Alex Birch Photograph

In 1962 Alex Birch was one year older than Stephen Darbishire had been when he took the photographs that changed his life. His single black and white picture has since entered the UFO mythology as one of the best-known photographic hoaxes – or was it? Alex’s family were considerably less financially well-off than the Darbishire’s; the Birch parents lived in a modest house at Mosborough, at that time in Derbyshire but actually on the outskirts of the industrial Yorkshire city of Sheffield. Like Stephen Darbishire, Alex had a Catholic upbringing and it is clear that his parents Margaret and Alex senior had an open mind on subjects such as spiritualism and flying saucers.

Alex also had the backing of additional witnesses who initially pledged to stick by the story through thick and thin. They were Alex’s schoolpal David Brownlow aged 12 and an older friend, Stuart Dixon, then 16 years. of age. The instrument of ufological alchemy was a one-year-old box Brownie 127 camera which Alex continues to treasure, despite a recent bid from the Roswell Museum in New Mexico, who wanted to turn it into one of their exhibits. (27)


"The instrument of ufological alchemy was a one-year-old box Brownie 127"

It was a grey Sunday morning in March and the trio were fooling around in a field near the British Oak pub five miles from Sheffield City Centre. Today the pub is surrounded not by trees but by modern housing developments. In uncannily similar circumstances to those described by Stephen Darbishire, Alex was taking experimental pictures with his new camera – snaps of a dog, of Stuart jumping into the air, of a stone being thrown and then, lo and behold… a formation of flying saucers! Five in all, hanging in the air, with dazzling white blobs emerging from their dark saucershaped fuselages. “I got my camera up and took a shot of them,” Alex told the Derbyshire Times. “A second or so later they disappeared at terrific speed towards Sheffield.” (28)

Alex soon became the centre of a whirlwind of publicity. His photo appeared first in the Yorkshire newspapers, then in the nationals during the summer of 1962, whilst the part played by the other two boys faded into the background. Alex’s father and his English teacher Colin Brook, both sympathetic to ET visitations, played a similar role to Dr Darbishire, promoting the pictures and playing heavily upon the naivety and natural honesty of young Alex. His father in particular played a major part in the promotion of the picture to newspapers and UFO societies. In a letter to Flying Saucer Review published in 1963, Birch senior wrote: “…I myself was a non-believer in these objects … [but now] I am firmly convinced that we are being visited by flying saucers of other planets.” (29)

Within months 14-year-old Alex was retracing the steps of his Cambrian predecessor, visiting London to address the inaugural meeting of the British UFO Research Association in Kensington on September 22, 1962. A contemporary, account of the meeting described how the schoolboy addressed a crowd of more than 200 members of UFO societies from across the country “… he seemed dwarfed by the speaker’s stand as he spoke faultlessly for four minutes.” (30)

BUFORA enthusiastically endorsed his pictures following an analysis conducted by one of their ‘experts’, Alan Watts. He concluded his report with the comment: “If we want the truth I would say we couldn’t do better than take these to be fairly normal Adamski-type saucers and argue it out from there.” (31) The editor of Flying Saucer Review, Waveney Girvan went further suggesting the saucer pilots were interested in Sheffield because “if there is life of any sort inside these flying objects it presumably needs water to sustain it …and Sheffield is surrounded by reservoirs.” (32) Predictably, the publicity that Alex’s photo received sparked a major flap in the Sheffield and Yorkshire region during the autumn of 1962 with dozens of others ‘seeing’ UFOs above the city. (33)

But the real highlight of the year was Alex’s visit to the very seat of power – Whitehall. Official interest was encouraged by Alex’s father who took it upon himself to contact the Air Ministry in July 1962. He informed them of the existence of his son’s photograph and said he was “awaiting instructions.” (34) After declining to make a field investigation, the Air Ministry slowly and reluctantly agreed to take a look at Alex’s photo in the face of mounting publicity. Alex and father subsequently paid a visit to Whitehall in a trip sponsored by the Yorkshire Post newspaper.

When the group arrived at the Ministry building the journalist was carefully separated from the Birch family and taken to visit the Public Relations office. Meanwhile, Alex was questioned by the two senior RAF officers whose job it was in 1962 to monitor UFO reports. These were Flight Lieutenant R.H. White of S6 – a predecessor of Nick Pope’s Secretariat (Air Staff) 2A – and a “technical consultant”, Flight Lieutenant Anthony Bardsley of the more shadowy Air Intelligence department DDI (Tech). An internal MoD account described the atmosphere at the meeting as “cordial (andl both Mr Birch and his son were prepared to talk about it [the photograph] at length.” (35)

Mr Birch senior seemingly had another agenda. In Flying Saucer Review he claimed his son was “sick with fear” when the interview began and said the officials “started what I will call a brainwash… asking him wasn’t it any reflection that he saw and what was the weather like, what were the formations of cloud… the questions they must have repeated at least thirty times…” (36)

In the re-telling the length of the interview at Whitehall increased from two hours to three (in FSR) and then to seven hours when recalled by Alex in 1998. He remembered walking up the steps of Whitehall with his father where the pair “met a man in a tweed jacket, flannels and a dickie-bow. We went down long corridors into a room where there were some men and a doctor. They took the negative and the camera and kept them overnight, taking the camera apart. They asked me all these questions for so long I got muddled, telling me they were not flying saucers but Russians,” (37)

Reading the Air Ministry file on the Birch case, preserved at the Public Record Office, it becomes clear that White and Bardsley did not believe the boy’s story but could not say so publically. In an internal memo dated September 24, 1962, released in 1993 under the ’30 year rule’, Bardsley writes to a colleague in S6: “…it is a relatively simple task to reproduce an identical photograph to the one we were shown… the sequence of exposures on the two strips of negatives we saw do not exactly fit the boy’s story.” Bardslev summed up his exasperation: “…perhaps this brief outline of these doubts will assist you in deciding what on earth you can write to Mr Birch.” (38)

After much deliberation, S6 decided on a classic fudge. In a letter sent to Mr Birch senior, and subsequently released by the family to the Press, the Ministry suggested the objects shown in the photograph were “ice particles in the atmosphere” an explanation that was rejected by just about everyone including the editor of Flying Saucer Review, Charles Bowen, who questioned whether the Air Ministry really believed their own explanation, which of course they didn’t!

To many observers, including Alex Birch senior, the Air Ministry statement simply confirmed their belief in an official cover-up. Birch claimed it was this statement that actually led him to believe flying saucers were extaterrestrial “and what is more, the Air Ministry knows also but won’t admit it.” (39)

Alex Birch had his brief moment of fame, and by 1972 the bubble had burst. By that time he had moved home several times but was still pursued by people he describes as “nutcases” and their endless questions about the saucers. Newly married with his first child on the way, continual ridicule led him to phone the Daily Express and admit the ‘flying saucers’ were simply cut out shapes pasted on a sheet of glass and re-photographed. According to his story, his father only learned the truth the day before the newspapers carried the story and begged him not to go ahead with the plan. The Sheffield Telegraph quickly tracked down another of the trio, David Brownlow, who confirmed the whole thing was a joke which snowballed.(40)

And there it stood until 1998 when, in the midst of short-lived UFO revival that accompanied the popular TV series The X-Files, Alex – now in his mid-50s and a successful antiques dealer – courted publicity once again. This time his story followed a familiar route taken by Stephen Darbishire as a result of his 1959 ‘confession’: it was the hoax that was in itself a hoax – the photograph was genuine after all!

“I did become internationally famous but I also faced a lot of ridicule and pressure,” Birch told Pete Moxon of Sheffield-based White’s Newsagency. “I decided to claim that it was a fake in hope that it would all go away and the pressure would be taken off me. But it didn’t work out like that… the UFO fraternity didn’t believe me, and they even called a conference in London and came to the conclusion that my change of story was due to pressure (from the Government!” (41)

Why had Alex waited until 1998 to tell the whole truth? “The reason I’ve decided to let the real story be known now is because I think it is important that the public should know.” Unfortunately. Alex’s two former schoolpals didn’t see it that way. David Brownlow and Stuart Dixon were still resident in Mosborough and both were contacted by the Sheffield Star before Alex was able to speak directly to them. Both men independently dismissed Alex’s new claim, although Stuart Dixon was later to retract his original statement but only after meeting his old friend for the first time since 1962.

Brownlow, however, was having none of it. “It was a hoax,” he told us. “Alex has always run with it more than we have. It was painted on glass. We were just messing around in Alex’s dad’s greenhouse when we had the idea to do it. We were all into Quatermass and War of the Worlds at the time. It was Alex’s idea to take the photo but then his dad and a teacher at the school got hold of it and we all got swept along with the hoax which just snowballed. Itwas an incredible experience and we had our ten minutes of fame, but I just want to forget about it now.” (42)

The most recent, and amusing, revival of the Alex Birch saga came via the pages of Flying Saucer Review. When, in the closing year of the 20th century, Birch’s latest claims reached the grand old man of British ufology, Gordon Creighton could not conceal his delight. The Birch photograph, Creighton assured the dwindling band of FSR subscribers, long dismissed as a schoolboy prank was genuine after all. It had been examined by none other than Kodak, who had pronounced it genuine and it was known also that the British Air Ministry and the Pentagon had received copies of the print “and conducted their own enquiries.” (43) Not only that, when Birch and his father visited the Air Ministry “the main preoccupation of the officials was to get both of them bundled rapidly out of London and back to Yorkshire before the journalists could discover their presence in the city.” In making this statement, he overlooked the fact that Alex’s visit to London had been made possible by the Birch’s own newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, a fact reported in FSR at that time!

Creighton’s obsession with the British Monarchy and his belief that they hold ‘secret knowledge’ of extraterrestrials denied to the public was woven into this latest twist in the tale. “Although I have no proof of this,” he wrote. “It seems pretty likely that Birch senior and his son were also invited to visit Buckingham Palace to discuss their case either with the Duke of Edinburgh himself or with his equerry.” (44)

Alex’s 1972 confession, Creighton added, had “little if any effect” upon what he called “the serious UFO research fraternity” but it clearly impressed FSR’s then editor, Charles Bowen. The implication was that it was not as easy to pull the wool over the eyes of the current editor. Large amounts of energy and money had been put into campaign to ridicule and denigrate witnesses such as Alex who had produced “dangerous photographs” and as a result were coerced or forced to put out “confessions.”

FSR’s editor could not resist the opportunity to pull out the ace from his sleeve, a case which supported his claims about the Birch photos in every respect. “Much has been done to try to destroy the authenticity of the other famous schoolboy photo, the Darbyshire [sic] one of 1954,” wrote Creighton. “But so far as we know, never without any success, and Stephen Darbyshire [sic] never issued a ‘confession’ and still asserts that his photo was totally authentic.” (45)

Like the saucers themselves the stories never stop spinning. For every person who ‘believes’ that Birch and Darbishire captured `structured objects of unknown origin’ on film you can easily find an equal and opposite sceptical view that both photographs were simple hoaxes.

In between there is every shade of belief and tortuous justification such as this example from the LUFORO Bulletin of July 1962. Using the logic of the believer the writer suggests that:

“on a cloudy day in February 1954, one of these objects sought out Stephen Darbishire who had a camera with him, and that in February 1962, on a cloudy day (giving cover) a group sought out Alex Birch who had a camera with him. This is a relationship or a group of relationships and is evidence for the following possibility: after the disbelief that greeted Adamski, how logical of these space visitors to give evidence of their actuality to boys of an age not to be considered quite knowledgeable enough to have fabricated evidence, yet old enough to be recipients of it. Both Stephen Darbishire, at the time, and Alex Birch had the intelligent presence of mind to point the camera, click the shutter, and move on the film. How many adults would have done so well; were these boys selected’?” (46)

Join the dots time. From Adamski to Darbishire to Birch, the saucer neatly squared in just a few words. ‘Objects’ without objectivity, unexplained photographs as evidence of ‘space visitors’, schoolchildren promoted as unconscious harbingers of the invaders. Neither Birch nor Darbishire are teenagers any longer, but they can’t escape from the monsters they helped create. Birch chose to follow his calling throughout his adult life whilst Darbishire retreated as quickly as possible from his creation. Like many others in the UFO cottage industry Alex Birch launched his own website, www.ufo-images.ndirect-co. uk. Yet in the same mercurial fashion as Birch’s sighting, the web site was there one day gone the next.

However, its existence and content gave further clues as to just how deeply Birch’s ‘UFO’ photograph had affected his life and maybe , some clues towards his original motivation. On his “fantastic site for UFO buffs and everyone else,” the web surfer could read about the Birch sighting, see and order copies of the photograph and purchase copies of the Air Ministry report. The experiences of the father have now been passed down to his son, Adrian, who advertises quality hand-crafted wooden models of classic UFOs, based upon those reported by 1950s contactees George Adamski and Howard Menger. It was an uncritical site, designed to market the case and to inform people about the sightings and how Alex saw mankind in the cosmic scheme of things. Echoing the apocalyptic fears expressed by many UFO witnesses and contactees, Birch wrote: “Perhaps we are in the infancy of our species. We peer into the Dark, fearing it, yet seeking within it a reassurance that we are not alone. Perhaps in the black void are beings not unlike us, but maybe wiser, better, who will tell us secrets that will save Us from Ourselves.”

Perhaps. But whether Birch’s ‘dark’, his `black void’, refers to deep space or the deeper spaces of the human mind is open to conjecture. As Diane Purkiss writes in her history of fairies and fairy stories, “The human mind cannot bear very much blankness… where we do not know, we invent and what we invent reflects our fears of what we do not know.” (47) Birch’s evocations from the dark have remained with him since that day in 1962 and now form a mainstay of his world view. Like his UFOs, over the past 39 years he has flickered in and out of the public eye trying to make sense of nonsense, trying to get us to see it his way.

Stephen Darbishire, child artist extraordinary, is now a sought after artist, living in remote rural seclusion. Our afternoon spent with him was more an exercise in semantics and verbal strategy than a witness interview, as the quotes in this article demonstrate. He said he didn’t really want to talk about his experience, but evidently couldn’t bear not to. Darbishire had, by his own agency, been to the heart of the ufological labyrinth and returned safely, able to relax in his farm house kitchen and play games with the past. He was luckier than most. He knew that we knew that he knew. But none of us could say it outright. Birch, on the other hand, was more evangelical, still trapped, still justifying, pleased to pose with the original camera and prints.

In 2001 the problems surrounding Birch’s photograph are no more resolved that in 1962. Indeed, the case is more complicated not least because of Alex’s claims of a lifetime of paranormal phenomena, experiences shared to some degree by his wife, children and other independent witnesses. (48) If the photo is a fake, then is Alex lying about these experiences too? If so are his family also lying? Why would anyone create such a web of deceit around themselves for no discernable reason? Yet what are the alternatives? Questions tumble over themselves in desperation to be asked, but any answers merely beg further questions. Only blind acceptance or outright accusation seem to offer any relief from the tension they created through the cameras lens.

Maybe it’s all as true as both Birch and Darbishire originally claimed, and five strange light emitting objects and one translucent domed Adamaski craft were really, objectively there in the physical sense, visible to the naked eye, trapped on film.

What then? We are still no nearer to divining what either boys actually caught on film. Or maybe – and this is certainly our belief, borne out by the interviews and evidence available – the photographs were both faked. But does that reduce them to mindless schoolboy pranks which got out of hand, or must we look deeper and acknowledge they were the outward expressions of Alex’s saucer-haunted life and Darbishire’s immense artistic and creative talents? These two photographs have taken on lives of their own, shaping the lives and beliefs of many UFO buffs, leading individuals further into the saucerous labyrinth which is ufology.

The parallels with the Cottingley fairy photographs are almost too obvious to mention. Again children – two cousins – were involved and again their stories were accepted by adults who wanted to believe. The two girls corroborated each other’s story and once it had become an article of faith, they found it impossible to confront the ‘truth’. In the Cottingley case it was only 60 years after the event when one of the girls, by then in her 80s, was confronted with undeniable evidence, finally admitted the they had faked the photographs. Even then, the other cousin swore that although most of the fairy photographs were hoaxes they were produced to prove to others the reality of the beings seen at Cottingley Beck. One of the group of pictures, she maintained, did show real fairies! (49)

The Peter Pan nature of childhood can convince us that our beliefs are as objectively real as the world of grown-ups. Or more importantly that they should be real enough for the adult world to see. So why not a little photographic alchemy to help things along, create a`rcality’ of vicarious experience.

Consider also the role of svengali like figures in at least one of the cases we have considered. Whilst the Cottingley Fairies led Conan Doyle, hard-headed contriver of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, up the garden path, Stephen Darbishire had Desmond Leslie. Leslie comes across as a trickster figure manipulating both witnesses and the subject itself, making random links between imconnected sightings.

Ultimately, no one knows the truth behind the Birch and Darbishire photographs but themselves. And, as we’ve shown they are no longer in charge of their own teenage narratives, having had them taken away by the adult world of the media and ufology, cut up and fed back to them so many times that their experiences are no longer their own. The original negatives are long gone and both Alex and Stephen have, by their own admission, intentionally blurred the line between reality and fantasy, asking, at various times for both, to be accepted as the truth. As investigators in these cases we find ourselves caught up in the dilemma that anything we write will also affect what others choose to believe, but won’t change what happened – and is still happening – to either Birch or Darbishire.

So, be warned. If your children claim to have photographed UFOs or any other mythical phenomena at the bottom of the garden, or if like Moses they return from the mountains bearing emulsion coated saucer scrolls their lives, and possibly yours, will never be the same again.

We prefer leave the last word to one of the three witnesses to the Birch case, Stuart Dixon, who said in 1999: “I find it far better and simpler to let people think what they want to about that photo. I don’t care anymore”



The authors wish to thank Stephen Darbishire, Alex Birch, David Brownlow and Stuart Dixon for granting interviews. Thank you also to Nick Redfern for copies of the PRO file on Alex Birch and Peter Hough for allowing access to the tape recording of his 1993 interview with Darbishire, conducted with Dr Harry Hudson. We wish to make it clear that the views expressed in this article are not shared by Hough or Hudson.



26. “Alex Birch tells his story,” Flying Saucer Review vol 9/1, 22 (Jan/Feb 1963)
27. Sheffield Star, 9 February 1999
28. Derbyshire Times (Chesterfield), 22 June 1962
29. “The Censors at Work,” Flying Saucer Review vol 912, 7 (March/April 1963)
30. FSR vol 911, 22.
31. Report by Alan Watts in BUFORA case file, 620009 dated 21 September 1962.
32. “Flying Saucers: The evidence runs on straight lines,” by Waveney Girvan, Sheffield Telegraph Weekend Magazine, 1 September 1962
33. See Clarke, Randles & Roberts, The UFOs that Never Were. London: London House, 2000, p 129-30
34. PRO Air 2116918, letter from A. Birch (snr.) to Air Ministry, 2 July 1962
36. PRO Air 2116918
36. Interview with Alex Birch, 6 Nov. 1998 37. PRO Air 2116918 38. FSR Vo19/2, 7
39. Sheffield Telegraph, 6 October 1972 40. Yorkshire Post (Leeds), 5 March 1999
41. Interview with David Brownlow, 3 December 1998
42. File 7824 Project Blue Book, National Archives, Washington D.C. contains a b/w print of the Birch photo and brief details of the 1962 sighting. The conclusion reads: “Insufficient data for evaluation. Negatives not with prints. No request made for photo analysis.” The photo was also reproduced in an article by CIA Chief Historian Gerald Haines “A Die Hard Issue: CIA’s role in the study of UFOs, 1947-90″ Studies in Intelligence, summer 1997, p. 70.
43. FSR vol 45/2 (summer 2000), 9-11
44. “Air Ministry Examines Saucer Photograph,” LUFORO Bulletin, Vol , JulyAugust 1962.
46. Purkiss, Diana. Troublesome Things, Alan Lane, 2000, p.11.
46. See David Clarke and Andy Roberts “Flash, Bang, Wallop – Wot a Picture,” in The UFOs that Never Were, p 136-41
47. See Cooper, Joe. The Cottingley Fairies (London: Robert Hale, 1990) and Sunday Telegraph (London), 12 July 1998.
48. Interview with Stuart Dixon, 6 April 1999


Return to Part One: Stephen Darbishire


Scole for Scandal.
Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 71, June 2000

Searching through two reports of the same physical mediumship case, Peter Rogerson finds plenty of convincing evidence, but not what the authors had in mind.

The basic background of these books is simple: four people (out of an original group of seven) with a background in mediumship and related topics, met in a room in a farmhouse in Scole near Diss, Norfolk, and amazing things were said to happen. These included direct voice mediumship, apports, images on still photographs and video recordings, voices on audio tapes, materialised spirit forms, odd lights and in fact the whole shebang of physical mediumship. After a while others are invited to join in the fun, and the group go on tour.

Normally this sort of thing would be barely noticed outside the pages of Psychic Newsbut on this occasion, three members of the Society for Psychical Research, Arthur Ellison, David Fontana and Montague Keen have investigated and appear to endorse the claims. So, is there any evidence in these books which would challenge sceptics like me?

I will take the books in the order I read them, firstly, my response to The Scole Experiment. At first it doesn’t seem very hopeful that much evidence of any kind could be obtained from this book, as its scientific value is negligible. The Solomons only met the group in May 1998, while most of the events recorded in their book took place in 1993-6; so it would seem that much of the material presented is hearsay, told by members of the group and their friends. Some direct testimony is given, some of it by `scientists’, but the majority of these turn to be obscure and credulous spiritualists.

Despite this unimpressive background, I found that very convincing evidence does emerge – that nothing paranormal actually happened – but the authors themselves seem quite unconscious of just how this evidence mounts up as we go along.

Right at the beginning, in Arthur Ellison’s introduction, the clues begins to mount. Now, you know that all these seances have to be held in the dark beause bright lights do nasty things to the psychic vibrations; well Ellison suggests, why not use infra-red photography, with the illumination provided by the participants own body heat, which would allow investigators to keep track of them. Eh, well, er, no actually, because you see its not actually the light as such, but the electric circuits in lights which disturb the vibes. This changing of the goal-posts sets the tone throughout.

Later the investigators suggest placing objects in sealed plastic containers for the spirits to read and influence. Eh, em, well no actually, because the psychic vibes can’t get through plastic you see.

Then there are the spirits – you know the sort: Manu the Inca, Patrick the ‘spoiled priest’ from Ireland, with a touch of blarney, Ranji the Indian prince, Mrs Bradshaw with her ‘clipped Oxford accent’. Did someone mention ‘music-hall stereotypes’? Well these jolly spirits like jolly rousing (i.e. loud and distracting) music. Raji the Indian prince in particular likes good jolly martial tunes (wouldn’t an Indian Prince prefer, well, Indian music? Be quiet you awful sceptic!).

Then there are the conditions attached: don’t think sceptical thoughts that will inhibit the phenomena, sit still, don’t move unless you are told, don’t grab at lights or levitated objects. In other words a mixture of excuses and conditions which individually and collectively tend towards making fraud easier rather than more difficult. A happy coincidence?

Well let us explore further. Several of the phenomena, in order to fake, would have needed access to good quality copies of ancient newspapers, printed sale catalogues and such like. The sort of thing you might come across if you were in the paper trade, perhaps buying up the discarded contents of newspaper libraries, solicitors and estate agents offices, for repulping. By another of those happy coincidences one of the principals in the affair just happens to work in the paper trade.

Then we are told that the phenomena are being organised by a collective of great scientists on ‘the other side’. Ah, perhaps we will at least get some real science then. Of course not, just the same old parade of spiritualist/ theosophist/ occultist cliches from a past age, helped out with the excuse ‘you wouldn’t understand’ when the going gets tough. This was a wise move, because on one occasion there is a major slip up. Dr Ellison, an electrical engineer, uses the word ‘rectify’ in a precise technical sense related to radio waves, but the ‘spirit scientists’ make the mistake of assuming it was used in the everyday sense. An odd mistake for a collective of great minds to make, but not for a non-technically trained medium to make, you might think.

Then add in all the stuff like the trumpet mediumship, so redolent of generations of sleazy back-room séances, and the evidence for fraud becomes pretty overwhelming. What was surprising was not that this was fraud, but that it was so obvious.

This leaves two mysteries. What possible motives could people have for performing such a charade, and how can intelligent cultivated people fall for such arrant nonsense? The first may always be a mystery, it could range from pious fraud, providing ‘evidence’ for what you know to be true, something the religious have done time and again. It could be the sense of power of controlling other people, and getting one over on people who make it clear that they regard themselves as your superiors.

And that is a part of what undermined these particular SPR investigators (it should be pointed out in fairness that other SPR investigators are rumoured to be mightily unimpressed). What did for them was a fatal brew of credulity, wishful thinking, and the kind of intellectual and social snobbery which leads to remarks like these, concerning a rather obscure edition of a poem by Wordsworth “it (was) highly unlikely that the members (of the circle) would have knowledge of these matters”. Obscure poems by Wordsworth are clearly not for the likes of papermakers, carpenters and such like oiks, who haven’t been to Cambridge.

Pretty damning, so when a couple of months later I got a copy of the SPR’s own Scole Report, I looked to see if there was anything which would make that verdict too harsh. No, for what I read in the Scole Report was, if anything even more damning, in the evidence for fraud. For exampie, before the report was to be published by the SPR the group were asked to produce phenomena in more controlled circumstances, in a room specially prepared by the SPR. Guess what, the spirit guides told them that the experiment was over, giving some wildeyed pseudoscientific explanation about influences from the future.

Either the mediums are fooling the investigators, or everyone is being fooled by mischevious boggarts. I leave the boggarts to Peter Hough!

A large chunk of the report is taken up with messages supposed to giving recondite information about early members of the SPR. In then turns out (and it was critics who found this out) that the bulk of this information was in a popular survivalist book The Survival of Man by Oliver Lodge, the sort of book that was the mainstay of spiritualist libraries. Is it a coincidence then that the central character in this saga has an extensive library of paranormal books? For a paragraph or two it looks as though our trio are going to have to concede defeat. Ah, but then Montague Keen inspects Foy’s library and can’t see Survival of Man on the shelves. So it must have been paranormal after all. Sighs of relief all round.

And so it goes: damning bits of evidence piling up, such as the spirit recordings with the sounds of breathing, or the paranormal photographs which have the hallmarks of acetate transfers and came from a single book, and so on. The investigators at times almost concede this, but that would mean “all else was spurious” and that would never do beause these investigators, including Fontana, described as “a highly qualified psychologist who has worked for over thirty years in the field of human behaviour and motivation” have decided that the mediums are not the stuff frauds are made from. They have been on holiday with them and found them pleasant company. All of this would be a good deal more impressive if we did not know that far more people, equally qualified in judging human nature in some cases literally swore their life away asserting the absolute integrity and general good eggness of mass-murderer Dr Harold Shipman!

I think on reading this report that credulity is not an adequate explanation; there is something almost perverse about some of the mental gymnastics the authors get up to produce convoluted paranormal explanations for events instead of perfectly straightforward normal ones. They are anything but ‘open minded’ for they have set their faces against and closed their minds to the possibility of fraud, come what may. Whether this due to a desperate will to believe on the part of these elderly researchers, or the vary obvious egotism which comes through as a constant theme; more or less ‘I am the great panjandrum, these peasants couldn’t put one over on me’.

The result must be one of the most incredible documents to be produced by the SPR for many a year, and one which does little credit to the authors. Of course, not all the members of the SPR were taken in, and the report contains detailed critiques by Donald West, Tony Cornell and Alan Gauld, none of them fully paid up psicoppers, which quietly demolish the claims and suggest ways that they could have been faked. Even if these particular ways weren’t the correct ones, this, as Gauld points out, doesn’t mean that we have proved the paranormal, we just haven’t worked out how it was done. The authors complain that this would be an impossible hurdle, as sceptics could always assume more and more complex conspiracies. There is an element of truth in this, only to the point that it is difficult to see how any party tricks, however superficially difficult to explain would be evidence for the paranormal, which is why psychical researchers abandoned physical mediumship a couple of generations ago. A mathematical cross correspondence or a workable theory of quantum gravity or some totally esoteric mathematical or physical theorem totally unknown to the non-specialist coming from an averagely educated medium would be much more interesting.

As for the Scole affair, perhaps Gauld sums it up best, by arguing, though not using these exact words, that there are only two possible explanations; either the mediums are fooling the investigators, or everyone is being fooled by mischievous boggarts. I leave the boggarts to Peter Hough.



(Click on the highlighted links above to order these books from Amazon)


Transformation of Ufology, part 1
UFO Idols with feet of clay
Matt Graeber

PART ONE: UFO Idols with Feet of Clay

There has been a great deal written about the ’ Transformational Effects’ of the UFO experience upon the observers and the interfacers with alien creatures. Many times these incidents are alleged to have produced an enhanced form of spiritual awakening, heightened awareness, or a realisation of one’s cosmic connection with the universe and its many intelligent life forms. In extreme instances, the UFO experience is even said to have produced “Hybrid” half-human and half-alien beings that are presently walking amongst us.

This folly is further expanded by a form of unbridled one-upmanship, in which stories are routinely topped by more outlandish and embellished yarns, and we even find that not only have some fellows claimed to have discovered and identified more than 86 separate alien species presently visiting our planet but, there is an American abduction expert who proclaims that the “Greys” (small statured bulbous-headed alien creatures), actually absorb life-sustaining nutrients in the air through their skin.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, the expert doesn’t mention the rather delicate matter of how the Greys might un-absorb their body’s waste materials. Perhaps, they don’t, and that’s why they smell so horrid on the numerous military base’s autopsy tables!?

But, rather than rehashing the claims and the counter-claims which these many yarns have provoked from the saucer zealots, UFO enthusiasts, sceptics and debunkers – I will discuss the “Transformation of Facts” that the unobjective UFOlogists quite often bring to fore concerning their misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the significance of their truly poor quality reports.

It was then that I first realized that pointed questions and opposing points of view were not very welcome within the established UFO group community… 

Example No.1  (A blast from the past!)

I attended a UFO conference which was held in a high school auditorium at Pottstown, Pa. back in the early 70′s, and the director of the UFO group speaking at the event presented a number of photographic slides of purported UFOs for the audience to view. Many of the photos were images from rather old cases and were frequently written about by the popular UFO authors of the day. However, several were new to me and I found myself particularly interested in one slide that featured a pair of copper-coloured disks flying in tight formation amidst the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky.

The disks were photographed from an approximate angle of about 40-45 degrees, and showed the pair of identical copper-coloured craft from the bottom with a pronounced leading and side edge. I was taken by the fact that this photo was very clear, well-cantered in the frame, and did not have any distortion which might have been attributed to the craft’s movement, camera movement, or the blurred, fuzzy and slightly out-of-focus character of many other UFO photos also being displayed.

When the speaker’s presentation ended, and the lights were rekindled in the school’s auditorium there was a question and answer period in which inquiries were fielded by the speaker. At one point during this period, I raised my hand and asked the speaker if he might share a bit more information about the photo of the copper-coloured UFOs with us. He readily admitted that he didn’t know very much about the photo’s origin except that it came from a small village in South America.

I asked if he could tell us something about credibility the person who took the photo, when it was taken, where it might have been taken and how it ended up in the assortment of photos he had presented. The speaker seemed to be a little stunned by my questions and replied that the photographer is unknown and presumably died in a mudslide that destroyed his entire village.

The speaker didn’t know the name of the village or, the date of the disaster. He also didn’t know when the photo was taken. So, it would be virtually impossible to link the photo to a mudslide catastrophe that was published in newspapers somewhere in South America without at least knowing the approximate location or year of the incident. Even with knowing that, it would still be an investigative stretch to assume one positively knew anything about the reliability of the photos themselves.

When I mentioned the fact that these photos were probably not the best examples for audience presentation, an obviously annoyed lady seated in the front of the auditorium challenged my statement with a rather vehement remark. It was then that I first realized that pointed questions, and opposing points of view were not very welcome within the established UFO group community. (i.e., it appeared that many of the conference attendees hadn’t come to learn anything. They just wanted their preconceived beliefs on UFOs to be confirmed and/or bolstered by the presenters).

Interestingly, I had collected coins as a youngster, and suspected that these copper discs were actually coin planchets that hadn’t been struck at the mint. (viz, American Revolution period large cents), for both appeared to have well-defined nicks along their outer edges, much like circulated coins viewed under magnification. I never got to mention this to the speaker, who shrugged off my questions by proclaiming that “he thought” the photos were interesting and that’s why he presented them at the conference. In other words, the UFO photos were not investigated for authenticity and photographer credibility before being presented to the audience.

I later reproduced the appearance of the UFO photo, by placing two large cents on a piece of transparent Plexiglas and viewed them from a similar angle with the sky as the background. The result was astonishingly similar to the mysterious South American photo shown at the Pottstown conference. This was the first of many disappointing experiences with the fawning group enthusiasts and their leadership I would have during my eight year stint as the director of UFORIC the Philadelphia-based UFO Report & Information Center, 1972-80. (Although, I’ve been semi-active in the field for the last 33 years). 

EXAMPLE No.2 (Implants anyone?)

I attended a speaking engagement at a gathering of the Society of American Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1976 – in which I was to follow an elderly gentleman who had been researching UFO reports for decades. As I entered the dining room of the hall I encountered a young man assisting the primary speaker (we’ll call him Mr.Compton), who was quite visually handicapped and poking about in a upright dining room cabinet which doubled as the speaker’s podium and had a microphone affixed to it’s top. Inside the cabinet small oil and vinegar bottles were stored before being placed on the dining tables with the dinner salads.

Although the young man was repeatedly telling the speaker that only vinegar and oil bottles were stored in the cabinet, the legally blind speaker persisted in rummaging about in the cabinet as if looking for something else to be there. (It was quite strange and an oddly-amusing affair). I do not recall learning what Mr. Compton actually thought might have been nestled within the cabinet.

As the speaker finally settled down behind the podium and the microphone was adjusted to his satisfaction, the lights in the dining room dimmed and the slide presentation and the experts lecture simultaneously began. The first slide was a photo of an unfurled American flag. Mr. Compton said, “I always show this slide first because I believe in truth!” A voice from somewhere the darkness chimed in with something about “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” but, Mr. Compton didn’t seem to be distracted by this comical comment as he continued, “I’ve been investigating UFO reports for many years, and let me make it perfectly clear… I’m no contactee! However, I do know a few, and if you listen to what I have to say you will be endowed by the friendly saucers and able to protect yourself from the hostiles”

Then a barrage of slides was shown in rapid succession with a quick explanation concerning the photographer/witnesses credibility and the date and location of the alleged incident. Many of the photos were quite old and were obviously borrowed from UFO books and group journals. Most were poorly centred in the frame, blurry and of quite distant or small objects.(Were they insects on the wing, birds, Frisbees or alien space ships, stars or planets, it was quite difficult for anyone to tell with any degree of certainty).

Then Mr. Compton warned the audience of the dangers of approaching the Globe, Football-shaped and Bee Hive-like UFOs and how to thwart their attacks with a common hand-held flashlight. Apparently, one could also use the flashlight to perform a ‘UFO Friendship Test’, which was fully explained in Mr. Compton’s 32 page pocket-sized booklet which was on sale in the rear of the hall.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Mr. Compton’s presentation concerned his revelations concerning a middle-aged woman (Mrs. Brotmann), who was out walking her beagle puppy at sunset on a summer’s eve when she was struck down by fleeting a 2.5 to 3 inch diameter UFO.

According to Compton, Mrs Brotmann had just been bending over while adjusting her puppy’s collar and as she was starting to straighten up she was shocked to see the tiny UFO flying straight towards her face. She tried to take evasive action but, the glowing UFO was travelling so fast that it hit her squarely in the forehead knocking her to the ground, lodging itself in her brain! A bit dazed and bewildered Mrs Brotmann finally regained her composure and was amazed to realize that there wasn’t a mark on her face to show where the UFO had entered her cranium. Amazingly, after this incident Mr Brotmann’s IQ was greatly enhanced and according Mr Compton she is now an engineer (Type not specified).

Would it be a stretch of sceptical speculation to point out that the flag slide and the ‘engineer’ connection in the Mrs. Brotmann story seems to be a bit ‘American’ Society of Mechanical and Electrical ‘Engineers’ directed!?

An obviously concerned lady seated near the podium asked Mr Compton if he had taken Mrs Brotmann to the hospital to have x-rays taken of her head injury. Compton quickly replied that he wanted to do so but, Mrs Brotmann flatly refused treatment because of the voices in her head. Apparently, these were the voices of the UFO operators who did not want their presence publicly revealed. Moreover, the x-rays would be lethal to the tiny Venusians who reportedly have been visiting Earth since the dawning of mankind.

This was the very first of the many so-called implant stories I’ve heard of over the years. Compton dates the alleged incident to the early fifties. Naturally, I was quite shocked by the character of Mr. Compton’s presentation and followed up with a rather capsulized talk on investigative methods employed at UFORIC. After this experience I decide to avoid public speaking engagements on UFOs, press interviews and I rarely participated in radio talk show programming on the phenomenon. However, I did answer questions from the public over the phone at UFORIC because we were in fact, a UFO ‘report and information’ centre.

While the above may sound too bizarre to be a factual account, I can assure you that it is quite factual, and that even stranger/wilder yarns are presented at many UFO conferences and websites. So, is there any wonder why mainstream scientists feel that something is not quite right about these wacky UFO experts and enthusiasts? Is there not a reason to suspect that they avoid and ignore the subject for fear of being associated with the kooks and crack pots who have always populated the largely unchecked and totally unregulated Ufological landscape.

Moreover, why is it that if someone does question the validity of a reported incident, the UFO groups generally do not appreciate and applaud that individual’s objectivity and tenaciousness – rather, they label him or her a sceptic and debunker while leaping to the defence of many less than credible eyewitnesses and fantasy-prone self-proclaimed UFO experts who bandy these yarns about.

All this while the so-called serious ufologists have never proven that UFOs actually exist in the nuts and bolts sense of the word in 60 years of intensive inquiry, by thousands of group members and field investigators- not to mention the combined efforts of hundreds of professional consultants in the disciplines of metallurgy, psychology, optics, astronomy, biology, etc. etc.

Moreover these same groups invite Abduction Experts. Implant Researchers and Reversed Engineering promoters to their conferences to speak about aliens absorbing nutrients through their skin, telepathic communiqués from benevolent alien races, and the mass production of hybrid babies aboard colossal motherships which are reportedly laden with human foetuses in liquid-filled jars. (What utter and nonsensical drivel!)

What are we to think of these deluded folks who inflict themselves and their half-baked theories upon the unsuspecting public, the all-to-eager UFO group members and press with “wild” and completely “bogus” UFO tales? What are we to think of so-called serious research UFO group leaders who stand by and permit these same individuals to thrust themselves upon their membership? I actually came across a fellow (we’ll call him Fred), who had achieved some degree of acclaim in UFO circles with his outrageous crashed saucer investigations, alleged alien and MIB encounters, not to mention his own abduction report. Fred was actually an individual dealing with serious mental heath issues.

Yet, Fred and the small group he is an important member of has a growing internet following consisting of many young people who are Yahoo members, and quite a number of senior citizens who are interested in the group’s specialized senior services, such as prayer groups for those with spiritual, emotional and physical wants and needs.

Additionally, Fred had proudly posted information about his own improving mental health status and active MH volunteer contributions on the internet for all to read yet, other UFO researchers continually posted his UFO stories and reports at their sites, often thanking Fred for his contribution to ‘serious ufology’. Fred was even the focus of an article in a leading European UFO magazine. Obviously, all had taken his reports at face value and never looked into the matter of his health and veracity before listing such hokum as credible UFO sightings and alien encounters reports.

I guess that a schizophrenic could have a reliable sighting experience but, how would one be able to establish such a report as factual vs. hallucinatory in nature?

So, the question immediately arises, who is at fault here? The mental patient or the shoddy UFO researcher’s who post such potentially delusional material for UFO enthusiasts to read and readily accept as reliable data? Even the very best computer virus scans and firewalls cannot protect a serious researcher’s UFO database from that sort of contamination.


The entire alien affair reminded me of a time as a youngster, when I first saw an authentic ‘Jackolope’ at a hunting lodge. From what I later learned a taxidermist was producing the spoof-creature (A jack rabbit with small horns) for hunters who wanted to bamboozle less-experienced sportsmen in their group

EXAMPLE No.3 (The fossil remains of Mythical Creatures and Saucer Pilots).

In a 1996 book on the discovery of many mythical creature fossils, a Texas fellow, said to be a palaeontologist, is suspected of actually sculpting and otherwise fabricating the so-called skeletal remains of mythical creatures, which included mermaids from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, leprechauns and several other creative works. Although the books titled clearly identified it as being about the discovery of  ‘mythical’ creatures, one of the major UFO group leaders of the day was so may captivated by a photograph of the alleged skeletal remains of a small creature that was imbedded in a concave plaster of Paris cast. (Sort of like a little alien on the half-shell).

The ufologist thought that the skeletal remains closely resembled those of a downed saucer pilot who reportedly crashed his spacecraft just prior to the turn of the 20th century at Aurora, Texas. Indeed, a UFO report involving the landing of two cigar-shaped objects at Ledonia, Texas was reported to have happened on April 16th 1897, and the Aurora crash (about a hundred miles away) was said to have occurred the following day. The fossil find story was cautiously but, favourably promoted in the UFO group’s journal where it received wide attention by the membership. After all, if the group’s leader thinks there’s something to this story. Well, there must be something to it.

As time passed, and the story started to unravel, the group leader decided to retire albeit, without ever fully-acknowledging that he’d been mistaken about the significance of the bogus alien fossil finding at Ledonia. Jim Moseley of the zany UFO newsletter Saucer Smear, had been gently chiding the ‘Czar’ as he called the group leader about the bogus fossil; and I even drew a cartoon concerning the controversy which compared the fossil to that of Warner Brothers cartoon character ‘Marvin the Martian’, who as you may recall is actually Bugs Bunny’s outer-space nemesis.

The entire alien creature fossil affair reminded me of a time as a youngster, when I first saw an authentic ‘Jackolope’ at a hunting lodge. From what I later learned a taxidermist was producing the spoof-creature (A jack rabbit with small horns) for fun-loving hunters who wanted to bamboozle their sons and younger, less-experienced sportsmen in their group. It’s the hunter’s equivalent of “Snipe Hunting” with young boy scouts at camp for the first time.

So if we find such ‘ufoology’ flourishing at the very top of the heap in the sub cultural community of Saucerdom or (Saucerdumb), take your pick. One wonders, how deeply might such a malady infect the group’s internet list membership and the independent serious UFOlogists who look to these groups and lists for database resources? 

EXAMPLE No.4 (On the Demise of 20th Century Style Ufology)

While hearing from a researcher about the recent ‘Mexican Roswell’ report”, nd the sad state of contemporary ufology in general, the subject of the Carbondale, Pa. 1974 UFO crash came up. He was somewhat amazed to learn that a small group from Wisconsin had managed to revive the long-ago hoax, and was currently claiming it to be a genuine saucer crash that was covered up by the military and the government. In fact, they wanted people to think ‘Carbondale/Roswell’, since they believed the case was actually much more significant than Roswell, and had many more reliable eyewitnesses. (Claims which are not only completely incorrect, they’re absolutely ridiculous too!).

This group ( BUFO), is headed by an aggressive internet impresario (Mary Sutherland), who not only dabbles in saucers but, also operates an online match-making service and prayer services for those in need, while also featuring psychic readings for those daring enough to peek into their future, at very reasonable rate of just $2.95 per minute. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg on her UFO and paranormal internet enterprises which include an abductee support group and an array of items for sale at her online store and Gift Shoppe in scenic Burlington, Wisconsin.

The serious UFO researcher, who had long been studying a particular variety of UFO sighting seemed to be somewhat dismayed that all this was going on while most of the fellows he had been contacting on ’ The List’ probably felt that the Carbondale case was indeed a complete and clumsy hoax. Additionally, the Wisconsin group had established a dominate presence on the net at the <carbondale, pa. UFO crash> site, and was even skilfully promoting their crash and cover up yarns on internet radio (audio) and TV (video) links.

Of course, there is a so-called Mexican Roswell, the Kecksberg, Pa. incident which is often touted a Pennsylvania’s Roswell. The Carbondale, Pa. hoax which the Wisconsin group is actively attempting to turn into a Roswell tourist and entertainment industry – and of course, even the Rendlesham Forest case is being foolishly called the UK’s Roswell.

It seems that if you prefix or suffix the name of any downed or un-downed saucer story with the word ‘Roswell’, the story automatically takes on an added dose of mystery, conspiracy and authenticity which far over-shadows any amount of obviously embarrassing evidence that might dismiss the entire incident as a fabrication or misidentification.

For many in the UFO community, Roswell is the line in the sand over which brutally vehement controversy rages. There is little middle ground on the topic, either you believe or you do not! If you do not, you are labelled a sceptic, a debunker and someone who has simply gone over to the other side.

Even though I never publicly said I do not believe the Roswell incident is very accurately portrayed in the vast saucer literature. I have become something of a piranha in the field simply because I questioned the veracity of two alleged star eyewitnesses concerning the Roswell incident. (Both of whom were later discredited and believed to have been discredited by other proponent UFO researchers).

Continue to Part Two >>>


The “Silencers” in England.
John Harney

From MUFOB, volume 1, number 6, November-December 1968.

Since publishing an article concerning reports of UFO investigators and witnesses being “silenced” we have received only two reports of similar incidents in England.

Mr BA [name witheld by request) of Coventry, started a UFO information bureau in September, 1968, and closed it down a few months later because of strange experiences and incidents. The first disturbing thing that happened was trouble with his telephone when using it for UFO business. This began on the second day after opening his information bureau, When he tried to use the telephone  it either went dead, or he got the engaged signal. This happened about eight or nine times out of ten. Trouble occurred only on outgoing calls connected with UFOs.  The only really odd incoming call was from a man who  spoke “perfect text book English” and refused to give his name. He appeared to be very knowledgeable on the subject of UFOs and asked a number of searching questions. One odd question he asked was if a Coventry woman had been in touch with him to tell him that she had seen aliens working on a space-ship in a Coventry factory.

Another incident occurred during a visit to a house on UFO business, when the lights dimmed several times. Mr BA, a radio and television engineer, regards this as being very unusual and connects it with the other odd incidents.

The final straw came when he was working on the underside of his car one evening, He came out from under the car to get something when he suddenly noticed something looking like a person, except that its head was glowing red, like a neon light. As he watched the apparition the head changed to that of an old man, then walked away, but he was in no condition to follow it. Greatly concerned, he took this as a warning to cease his UFO investigations and he burned his notes on the subject that evening. Strangely enough he apparently cannot remember the date of this startling incident, but it seems it was a Sunday evening between late September and early November.

He is quoted in the Coventry Evening Telegraph as saying: “I want to publicly warn all teenage hobbyists that this is nothing to dabble in lightly.”

Meanwhile there has been trouble in the Slough Aerial  Phenomena Research Association. Several members have been visited by two men who asked questions about the group. They asked about skywatch activities, membership, finances and other members. On one of their visits they said they were from the ‘IMW’, whatever that may be. Apparently, their questionings and telephone calls were supposed to alarm members and one of the members, Mr S.G.Salter believes that the whole business is merely a hoax. His opinion is that some local people have been reading too many “MIB books”. Mr Salter points out that hoaxes have been played on the group before so most members are naturally sceptical.

A number of members have left the group: this is not because of the mysterious visitors but because of an internal difference of opinion. Such differences are, of course, inevitable and quite common in organizations which deal with subjects as contentious as ufology.

There does not, on the face of it, appear to be anything particularly mysterious about the incidents in the Slough group. The experiences of Mr BA do not seem so startling when examined critically, The episode of the dimming lights is not very convincing. Even if it is unusual there would seem to be no logical reason to Connect it with UFOs. Also, it is strange that he cannot remember the date of his startling vision of the being with the glowing head. So far as the telephone troubles are concerned, we would need more details in order to evaluate them. Whatever the explanation of Mr BA’s experiences there is no reason to doubt his sincerity.

An Account of Experimental UFO Hoaxing. David Simpson and Ken Raine

From Magonia 75, July 2001


It was interesting to read Magonia 74’s Editorial Notes about the 1970 Warminster photographic hoax, twenty five years after publication of Experimental UFO Hoaxing in MUFOB New Series 2, and we thought that some background information, plus details of a couple of other UFO hoaxes might be of interest for the Hoax Special edition. As recorded in MUFOB [1] the photographic hoax was designed “…to provide those watching on Cradle Hill with a simple visual stimulus, to introduce photographic evidence inconsistent with the stimulus and to observe the effect this evidence had on subsequent investigation, recording and publicity” – in other words to test the investigators who got involved.

The motivation and plan came after about two years of investigation by members of the Society for the Investigation of UFO Phenomena (SIUFOP), which formed in 1967 at a time when such groups seemed to be forming frequently – due the high level of interest in the subject in the mid-1960s. It all seems very naïve now but the society started with about ten members, with an average age around 19 years. Like most of the other groups at the time, its members were aware of frequent press reports which, if taken literally, meant that there certainly were odd things to be seen in the sky – there could not be smoke without fire we believed.

We set about finding and interviewing witnesses, the first near the South Downs in Sussex. They turned out to be interesting but clearly not the most impressive of observers, with stories that got more elaborate with each telling. Nonetheless we still believed, from the sheer number of sightings being reported, that something really was flying around the skies. So strong was this feeling that we decided to spend a night watching the sky from Chantry Hill, a nearby vantage point on the Downs, with a tripod-mounted camera at the ready. Apart from a few satellites, nothing was seen but we appreciated that statistically it might take more than one night to see something! Undaunted by sub-zero temperatures, four members returned the following evening for a second night of watching. Tired but full of youthful enthusiasm, we drove to the same spot.

A sighting!

SIUFOP Newsletter reported [2]: “No sooner had we reached the top of the hill than the driver pointed excitedly to a point of light a few degrees above the horizon. We all saw it. It was a light of a kind that we had never seen before. It moved slowly upwards, across, then disappeared. Two appeared from behind the horizon in the same place as the first was seen, drifting upwards, across, and then darting a little. Up to six were seen dancing around together in a random pattern changing colour from time to time. Time exposure photographs ranging between 5 and 20 seconds were taken. After an hour and a half or so, the dancing lights appeared less frequently and we had run out of film.

Convinced that the film contained images of world-shattering importance we rushed home in the early hours to develop it but were puzzled and disappointed by what we saw. We were expecting up to six line-traces to have been recorded on each image (lines caused by photographing a moving light with a long time-exposure) but the images all looked roughly the same with no more than two line-traces per frame. The lights were only a fraction of one degree above the visible horizon too, much lower than thought. A week later we were back at Chantry Hill, no longer tired or so fired-up with faculty-dimming enthusiasm, and observed car headlights on a distant hill – a hill that had not been visible in the weather conditions prevailing the week before.

To this day the lights can be seen there; they look so obviously like car headlights it is difficult to believe that tiredness and enthusiasm could have warped our observational skills so much. We had converted the simplest of white lights, moving mostly horizontally, into variously coloured, multiple objects moving vertically. Reasonably good photographs had made analysis possible and were it not for them we would still be retelling stories of the strange lights in the sky; if asked whether they might have been car headlamps we would surely have rejected the possibility.

It wasn’t the only time we fooled ourselves either. At around the same period three members of SIUFOP were walking along a dark, frosty, lane surrounded by trees, illuminated only by moonlight and in an area where umpteen odd lights had been reported. They were heading for an interview with a witness but noticed the silhouette of a tall object through the trees to one side. Fully spooked by the circumstances they thought they had stumbled on a landed machine of some sort. Falling over a fence to get a better look they were alarmed to see a red glow at its base and presumed it was about to take off again. They prepared to retreat in haste, although not before taking a photograph with a flashbulb (it was before electronic flashguns were commonplace). The illumination from the flashbulb was enough to identify a sand-washing machine sitting in a quarry; there was also an inhabited workman’s caravan near its base with red curtains in its windows! The photograph is still amusing.

Earlier Warminster photographs

Undaunted – we presumed that others had not been so easily fooled – in February 1968 a party set off for Warminster where, according to reputation, we stood a better chance of seeing the real thing. There we met none other than Arthur Shuttlewood who showed us his collection of photographs, supposedly of lights in the sky over the local hills. They consisted of white lines wandering across a black background; some were single, some dotted and some showed multiple images of wiggly lines.

On returning home we successfully replicated the three broad styles of the photographs. One had resembled the dotted lines produced by photographing tumbling earth-orbit rocket casings as they passed overhead, periodically reflecting light downwards. Most others were clearly not satellites but the second style could be closely imitated using a small neon bulb (similar to those sometimes fitted to the back of 13 amp plugs). Waving it in a dark room, in front of an open-shuttered camera, gave just the characteristics [3] seen in the Shuttlewood collection. The third style of photograph could be produced by moving the lamp slowly in front of a mirror, again in a dark room in front of an open-shuttered camera. This produced three wiggly lines ‘flying in perfect formation’. The first and brightest image was that of the lamp seen directly by the camera, the second brightest image was a reflection of the lamp from the aluminised (or silvered) back surface of the mirror, and a much fainter third image was a reflection of the lamp from the mirror’s front glass surface.

We even developed techniques to help analyse other white-line type photographs. Using an optical microdensitometer [4] made it possible to differentiate between gas-discharge lamps, filament lamps, ‘beam chopped’ lamps and also the nature of their power supplies. Unfortunately we were never allowed to borrow any negatives!

Scepticism set in

We had found out how easy it was for us, and presumably anyone else, to be fooled by simple earthly lights, including plenty of non-car-headlight example [5]; we had seen what we were expecting or wanted to see, and did not observe objectively. Few of our interviewees or other investigators, however, seemed to give much credence to the idea that such misperceptions might be commonplace; there was always a let-out “…but he was a trained airline pilot!” or more commonly “…Ah but you haven’t explained this one…”

Attending lectures organised by the British UFO Research Association did nothing to stem our increasing belief that, whilst UFOs had undoubtedly been observed by lots of people, scientific evidence that they were observations of something unearthly appeared to be non-existent. Most ufologists disagreed with this viewpoint, siding instead with the then fashionable Extra Terrestrial Hypothesis, claiming that there was plenty of good evidence to support it if scientists would only snap out of their pre-conceived beliefs and take the evidence seriously. Several SIUFOP members were, or were training to be, scientists and felt that such views could be put to a scientific test – ufologists should be tested for their observational and investigational abilities. We thought that the best way to do this was to give them something to see and then observe how they investigated the sighting; in other words to conduct a hoax with scientific intention.

First hoax

On 15 July 1968 BUFORA held a National Skywatch, with twenty nine watching points across Britain. One was at Pewley Downs in Surrey; it was organised locally by the Surrey Investigation Group on Aerial Phenomena (SIGAP) and SIUFOP ensured they saw something whose origin was certain. Just before midnight a parachute flare was launched about 3 miles from Pewley Downs in the direction of Godalming. The watchers saw it but no one took a photograph – no one even had a camera ready. Therefore, to be sure that there was at least one photograph of it, David Simpson had to get his own camera out and take it.

Unknown to us, George Hughes, of Amateur Photographer, had been a visitor to the skywatch. He reported [6]: “I wanted to see how such groups carry out there investigations, and to what extent photography was being used. Sadly, it wasn’t; or hardly at all.” Richard Beet, secretary of SIGAP, responded indignantly [7], pointing out that “… a photograph of a red object was taken by a skywatch official, Mr David Simpson”, giving him instant promotion.

On inspecting the photograph Geoffrey Doel, of BUFORA, commented that it could be of a firework. At the following BUFORA meeting, however, the National Skywatch organiser, Edgar Hatvany, dropped this suggestion when he elevated the photograph’s status by proudly waving it saying, “Last year we had a sighting, this year a photograph; next year we will have it in the bag!”

“Last year we had a sighting, this year a photograph; next year we will have it in the bag!”

One year later

In June 1969 SIUFOP went to Warminster, on BUFORA’s next national skywatch day, equipped with some plastic bags and balloon gas (crude helium). The aim was to launch a number of brightly lit torch bulbs and batteries under a single helium-filled plastic bag from Sack Hill, opposite the watchers on Cradle Hill. Our estimate of the bag’s inflated volume and hence buoyancy were not very accurate, however, and it did not take off until we had removed four of its ten battery/lamp packs [8]. It then rose slowly into the sky, drifting silently with the just perceptible wind, crossing the nearby army range at tree-top height.

Even we were particularly surprised by the stunning brightness and spectacular image of the small bulbs against a clear black sky, even when a mile or more distant. (It was in the days before small quartz halogen bulbs were available and we powered 2.5-volt bulbs with 4.5-volt batteries, making the bulbs very white for a short while.) The watchers on Cradle Hill were even more impressed, and it was generally rated the best sighting ever seen there. A second balloon was launched a while later on the western side of Cradle Hill and it drifted much closer to the watchers than the first balloon. Excitement on the hill was electric and emotional. Telepathic communication was claimed with the light bulb, which was said to be as bright as a searchlight and also to be metallic with portholes.

We were all surprised and almost shocked by the reaction. A few simple components had provoked what seasoned watchers were describing as the best sighting ever made. What did that suggest about the credibility of the other sightings in one of the world’s most famous UFO hotspots?

Over the next few weeks we revisited Cradle Hill – it was invariably populated on a Saturday evening – to listen to the gossip. One SIUFOP member had been less than discrete soon after the hoax, letting it be known what had happened. Oddly this explanation was not generally accepted; apparently the objects had changed direction against the wind, so they could not have been lights on a balloon! Also, another sighting was made by three people the following evening where “…the object appeared just like those of Saturday night…” raising the question “Why should any UFO-rigging pranksters hang around Cradle Hill area on Sunday, long after BUFORA members had left?” [9]

BUFORA’s Research Bulletin acknowledged the balloon theory [10] and indeed described it accurately but the consensus was against it.

The Warminster Photographs

Thus we designed a new hoax, to be less deniable, and hence the ‘Warminster Photographs’ came about. In summary, during March 1970 a ground-based purple light was shone from the hill opposite Cradle Hill, a colleague appeared to photograph it, a bogus UFO detector sounded and the film was handed to a stranger who agreed to get it developed. The film had been pre-exposed to show frames of airborne UFOs much stranger than the purple light but they also contained enough serious inconsistencies to allow any competent investigator to question their authenticity. The most experienced investigators in the subject, however, repeatedly pronounced the photographs genuine and failed to spot any of the built-in clues.

At a BUFORA meeting some time later David Simpson publicly pointed out that the case was full of anomalies which probably meant it was a hoax. Ivor McKay and John Cleary-Baker, both BUFORA stalwarts, argued otherwise, confidently pointing out that if it had been a hoax the hoaxer would not have made such mistakes; the very presence of the anomalies apparently made it more certain that the case was genuine. A classical heads they win, tails we lose. John Cleary-Baker then launched Project Warminster and unfortunately asked us if we would investigate the Warminster photographs on behalf of his Project. Soon afterwards he sent signed documents giving us all sorts of authorisations; we didn’t do the job very well.

“The trouble with this SIUFOP lot is they never come down here to see for themselves”

One evening Arthur Shuttlewood was talking to a group of people on Cradle Hill, unaware that we were there; he was moaning about our ‘disbelief’ in the Warminster photographs; “The trouble with this SIUFOP lot is they never come down here to see for themselves” he complained.


It was satisfying to have confirmation of what we suspected was probably going on but it was also disillusioning to find out just how poorly investigations were carried out. We had, after all, started out by presuming that there may be something in the sightings. We repeated the experiments with one or two more UFO hoaxes – repeating experiments is a necessary scientific practice – using kites instead of balloons, and single (hence easier to lift) bulbs that were coated on one side so they would appear to flash irregularly as they rotated in the wind on a suspension thread. Electronic timers were added to delay switch-on until the apparatus was well clear of the ground (to stop the hoaxer being illuminated!) and we became expert at flying kites in the dark.

BBC Nationwide

In the summer of 1972 there was considerable publicity concerning a forthcoming BBC visit to a skywatch on Cradle Hill. We reverted to balloon technology, albeit much smaller ones than the originals, each carrying just one torch bulb. By then we knew that a single over-run bulb was still an impressive sight at a range of one mile or more against a dark sky. But this time we added photographic flashbulbs to the payload, timed to flash after about 2 minutes.

Two balloons were launched, as usual in complete darkness, about 1 minute apart. The weather was perfect – clear and with just the faintest wind blowing – and the balloons carried their winking lights majestically and in tandem across Salisbury plain. We could see across to Cradle Hill and immediately noticed a row of torches, pointing in the direction of the balloons, being flashed on and off. More torches appeared and they were quickly joined by more powerful lights as motorcyclists upended their machines to use the headlamps for even better signalling.

The watchers were thus looking directly at the little points of light in the sky when one of the flashbulbs was triggered. Presuming this to be a response to their signalling they flashed even more enthusiastically and were rewarded when the second flashbulb ignited shortly afterwards.

The BBC interviewed the watchers who again claimed it to be the best sighting they had ever made, some saying that the UFOs had been communicating with their “random yet intelligent” flashings and that the “explosion of light” was in response to the rows of flashing torches and motorbike headlamps.

“These were obviously lights on a silly little balloon that did not and could not replicate the complex flying pattern seen the week before”

After the story was broadcast, on BBC Nationwide, we owned up and were subsequently given a studio interview alongside ufologist Rex Dutta. We showed examples of the plastic bags and torch bulbs etcetera but he refused to believe that he had been hoaxed and the BBC therefore asked us to stage a re-enactment. This we did the following weekend, albeit in rather poorer weather conditions. On seeing the balloon-suspended lights for a second time Rex Dutta declared them to be nothing like the lights of the previous week. “These were obviously lights on a silly little balloon that did not and could not replicate the complex flying pattern seen the week before”. He had been investigating these things for 19 years and “any fool could identify a balloon when they saw one”.


Our experiences and hoaxes of 30 years ago were very interesting, stimulating and disillusioning at the same time but they also demonstrated to us something useful as well – that human beings tend to see what they want, or expect, to see. Very simple stimuli had provoked an astonishing range of entirely imagined attributes including shapes, sizes, colours, motions and other false effects which tended to grow in order to stop a particular belief being disproved. Most disappointing of all was the low calibre of the investigations being undertaken, partly due to a lack of technical knowledge, no desire to be rigorous and a marked tendency to select only those bits of evidence that most suited a particular belief.

Science and scientists

At the time, UFO sightings were argued to be evidence of extraterrestrial visitations (and still are in some parts of the world). Science and scientists, we were repeatedly told, should be more open minded and look into this possibility. What seemed to be constantly bypassed though was an appreciation of what constitutes a scientific claim. To demonstrate that a scientific conclusion is valid, testable evidence has to be provided and the quality and repeatability of the evidence required is related to the significance of the conclusion being drawn. To conclude that UFOs represent evidence of extraterrestrial visitations is a very significant claim and this requires correspondingly high quality, rigorous and testable data as evidence. But instead we had (and have) a loose array of unrepeatable sightings which, when scaled against the observational uncertainties and investigative confusion clearly demonstrated by hoaxes, come nowhere near to providing adequate evidence.

It is often pointed out that maybe 90% of UFO sightings are explainable if an investigator looks hard enough but that science should concentrate on the unexplained remainder. This is a false argument; the fact that they remain unexplained does not make them better evidence. The point was well illustrated by Alan Hendry [11] in his UFO Handbook. He had good statistical data to show that, apart from them remaining unidentified, there was nothing about the unidentified cases to differentiate them from the identified ones; they had just the same mixture of characteristics.

Non-UFO hoaxes

We were aware that our hoaxes were illustrating the characteristics of an existing subject and in the mid 1970s thought that it would be interesting to measure just how easy it might be to create an alternative self-sustaining myth, perhaps triggered by a few pump-priming hoaxes. A while later crop circle stories took hold and again we were confronted with strangely illogical statements like “this circle is too accurate to be a hoax” from the investigators. Just like ufologists they argued that hoaxers (who appeared to be able to replicate any circle on demand) merely got in the way of serious investigations. We were certainly accused of being involved but can say that we did not think up the idea or participate at all!


Hoaxes have been a useful tool for testing observational skills and the investigational abilities of ufologists. They have clearly illustrated that humans see what they want to see and that the quality of UFO investigations is generally very poor indeed.


Notes and references

1. Simpson, David; Experimental UFO Hoaxing, MUFOB New Series 2, March 1976
2. Simpson, David; SIUFOP Newsletter, 1, March 1968
3. The intensity of the light from such gas discharge lamps increases and decreases in time with the alternating mains voltage powering them – essentially going on and off 100 times per second. The human eye cannot see this cycling but if the lamp’s image is moved quickly across a photographic emulsion it is easily recorded. A tell-tale characteristic of this technique is the ‘bunching’ together of the recorded dots as the arm of the waver changes direction from left to right; the slower the arm movement the closer together the dots become. This bunching was certainly evident in Arthur Shuttlewood’s photographs.
4. Densitomer: an instrument which allowed the optical density of negatives to be measured by scanning a narrow beam of light across them.
5. Including searchlights from a film studio reflecting on clouds, aeroplanes at sunset, being in a car ‘followed’ by the moon, and even a spider’s web unusually illuminated by the sun.
6. Hughes, George; Are Ghost Pictures Real?, Amateur Photographer, 136, 31, 24 July 1968
7. Beet, Richard; Reader write: Investigating UFOs, Amateur Photographer, 136, 34, 21 August 1968
8. The six remaining lamps were suspended close to each other and from a distance appeared to be a single source of light.
9. Arthur Shuttlewood; Root Out These Stupid Hoaxers, BUFORA Journal, 2, 12, Summer 1970
10. John Clear-Baker; Editorial comment, BUFORA Journal, 2, 12, Summer 1970
11. Hendry, Alan; UFO Handbook, New York, Doubleday, 1979

UMMO: The Planet of the Anonymous Correspondents. Luis R. González

27 years of close encounters of the postal kind

From Magonia 47, October 1993.

In 1958 Donald Franson wrote a short SF story The Time for Delusion (1) about a debunker who, in order to make a fool of every cultist once and for all, decide to publish (under a pen name) his own hoax, a book describing several phone talks with a Venusian. Among all the nonsense he planted many hidden clues, proving its fallacies. The book became an unexpected best-seller, and when he disclosed his authorship to blow-up the affair, pointing out to the buried evidence and self-revealing inconsistencies, nobody believed him !. They all knew he had been ordered to recant.

Surely Bertrand Meheust was not thinking about this kind of influence when he wrote his book Science fiction et soucoupes volantes, but I maintain that this form of counterattack is more frequent in Ufology than usually admitted. A classical example had already been exposed in Magonia (2) concerning the book Flying Saucer from Mars by Cedric Allingham aka Patrick Moore. But there are many more.

Ocasionally, one of them reaches a long-standing fame.The so called “UMMO affair”, the most important contribution of Spain to UFO folklore, has been around for more than 25 years, and it is still quite controversial. In spite of the scores of Ummologists that painstakingly comb the “sacred texts” in search of the definitive proof of their extraterrestrial origins, there is no doubt among the serious Spanish ufologists that UMMO is a HOAX. But that only answers half of the problem. The second half is almost as appealing.

Good hoaxes die hard. Any serious investigator can avoid their direct effects and point to their evident falsehood (not always soon enough to avoid some embarrassing) but it is more difficult to avoid secondary effects. I will quote our admired Peter Rogerson: “It may be conforting, flattering even, to imagine that the hoaxers who fooled you needed the huge resources of a goverment or international agency to pull the wool over your perceptive eyes”.

Or even tertiary ones…. a few sentences later, Peter Rogerson himself wrote: “UMMO had, one suspects, a more serious purpose. It was samizdat literature saying things which could not be said openly in Francoist Spain” (3). More about the explanations at the end.

To appreciate “in toto” this amazing story of the unilateral contacts of a purported expeditionary group of aliens withsome Spaniards under the Franco dictatorship, during the sixties, I must begin by putting it inside the appropiate context.

First, some pertinent antecedents: The contactee era began in 1952 when a self-appointed ‘Professor’, George Adamski, claimed contact with the alien beings aboard a flying saucer. Gradually this subphenomena extended all over the world: Coniston (England) February 15th, 1954; Oeydalen (Norway) August 20th, 1954; Natal (South Africa) December 27th, 1954; Madrid (Spain) November 17th, 1954; etc., etc.

In the Madrid case, a male nurse, Alberto Sanmartin, allegedly received from an ufonaut that did not identify himself, a “Space Stone” covered with strange signs. During the immediately precedent weeks, another self-appointed ‘Professor’ (a civil servant working in the Telegraph Office, with a peculiar liking for cryptography and graphology) Fernando Sesma, had been writing in a local newspaper a long series about UFOs, including Adamski.

Thanks to this publicity Sesma formed his own group Sociedad de Amigos de los Visitantes del Espacio(Friends of Space Visitors Society). During the following years they will discuss at length about the “Space Stone” and its meaning. It was in 1961 when Sesma saw his first UFO and began to receive anonymous letters. They were absolutely symbolic, full of short incoherent sentences. Then, in 1962, arrived the first letters whose author identified himself as an alien, Saliano, from the planet Auco, orbiting Alpha Centauri.

Meanwhile, more UFO folklore was being created everywhere. In April 24, 1964, the famous Socorro case took place in USA , the first one where the UFO showed a symbol on its fuselage. According to Jacques Vallee (4) it was the Arabic sign for Venus. Also in 1964 the French writer Robert Charroux received several letters (through an unnamed correspondant MNY) allegedly from beings of Proxima Centauri that called themselves Baavi. They described their civilization, their grammar, their metric system and even included several concepts of Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry (5).

On April 23, 1965, the world’s most controversial contactee, George Adamski, died. The day after, in Scoriton, Devon, Arthur Bryant met a huge flying saucer and its three occupants, one of them identified himself as “Yamski”. After a second sighting on the night of June 6, 1965 several pieces of machinery were found in the area, including a small glass phial, with a message rolled into the broken end (6).

Also in 1965, Frank Herbert wrote a SF book that was to generate a kind of cult: Dune. Could it be a coincidence that it included the word UMMA, under the following meaning: “one of the brotherhood of prophets (a term of scorn in the Imperium, meaning any ‘wild’ person given to fanatical prediction)”?

All the pieces of the script are now available. Now, let us have a look at the actors. Unfortunately, the most important ones have decided to remain anonymous: the mysterious “gentlemen from Ummo”, the copyists (apparently, two of them) charged withthe duplication and delivery of the amazing documents, many of the alleged recipients – including everybody outsideSpain, and any possible scientist), and even both photographers of the San Jose Valderas case. It seems that several of the precedent roles (if not all) had been played by the same person or persons.

Among the extras, first mention must fall on the original members of the Friends of Space Visitors Society, each one with his own peculiarities: ‘Professor’ Sesma, the charismatic leader; Mr. Villagrasa, a civilian construction engineer who was to receive the most technical papers; Mr. Garrido, a police officer who became a convert when his son’s health (in desperate need of a cardiac operation) was improved enough to allow for it, thanks to the Ummites and their “microscopic UFOs”; Miss Araujo, a young lady employed in the American Embassy (providing the unavoidable CIA-connection, so useful), etc. Around them more and more spectators and jokers, as the events developed.

And so, the story began.

During 1965 Sesma obtained great popularity all over Spain with his disclosures about the utopian Auco society, a real Eden in the heavens. His weekly gatherings in the basement of a bar called La Ballena Alegre(The Joyful Whale) became a fashionable meeting point for all the most peculiar caracters in Madrid. The temptation was unsurmountable.

On January 1966, ‘Professor’ Sesma received several phone calls, followed by an emissary that showed him surprising tridimensional cards (very similar to Japanese ones, then unknown in Spain, as Sesma himself admitted several years later) to convince him of their extraterrestrial origin, carrying them away afterwards. These were followed by tens of pages describing their home planet, their civilization, etc. etc. Each and everyone of them was read aloud by Sesma to his acolytes, along with the messages from Saliano and other personal experiences, as raw material for the continuous brainstorming of the group. But the Ummopapers did not look like just another piece of moonshine. Their principal attraction, a very skilled work, was their non-proselytizing, non-messianic aspects, plus their strongly rational philosophy. Besides, their authors insisted on not to be believed and to keep the situation secret.

Nevertheless, at the same time that they proclaimed “Do not believe us”, a masterful psychological strike came from the skies. On February 6th, 1966 at 20.00 p.m., a UFO flew over an astonished witness who was driving home, Mr. Jordán Peña, and landed for a few seconds in the outskirts of Madrid, leaving some physical traces. Peña’sphotographs became front page in several newspapers. To establish an inescapable link between both sets of events, the UFO displayed upon its belly the same emblem used to “authenticate” the Ummodocuments: it very much resembled the alchemical symbol for Uranus. Besides, the Ummites themselves confirmed the sighting, apparently a few hours before it was made public.

With the passage of time, Mr. Jordán Peña, has reached the unconfortable status of being the only ‘credible’ and identified witness in a close encounter with a Ummo spaceship (there were some journalist’s comments about additional ones, but none have been found since then). No wonder then, the curiosity that his life and adventures has created among the investigators. Thanks to the persistent efforts of many ufologists it has been possible to bring into light several pieces (coincidences?) that surely bear relevance in all the affair:

Around 1955 Mr. Peña was living in Alicante (a town at only 100 miles from Albacete, where in 1954 took place a macabre incident that caused a great stir in the area, and later the Ummiteswill credit to themselves) and studying many esoteric and spiritualist groups. He read at length about cultural antropology, philosophy, and history of religions, among many other subjects. He learned several languages and subscribed to Natureand other international scientific magazines, back in 1965 at least. His investigations introduced him to fraudulent mediums and prompted him to study conjuring and sleight of hand. He describes himself as an agnostic (rejecting his Catholic upbringing) and a sceptic (despite being a declared opponent to all the paranormal, he did believe in telepathy up to the 70′s) but he was one of the founders of the Spanish Parapsychology Society, where he has been Vice-chairman for many years. Mr. Peña obtained a degree as telecommunications technician, but prefer to introduce himself as a psychologist. In fact, at the time of the sighting, he was working at the Personnel Department in one of the biggest Spanish building societies (Agroman).

This short summary offers you just a very limited glance over such an amazing personality. Let me add a final touch. Mr. Peña himself denies the extraterrestrial origin of the craft he saw. He maintains that it was some kind of experimental aircraft developed by the Americans and deployed in Spain thanks to the collaboration of Franco’s regime. And the ‘Ummo affair’ would be a psychosociological experiment masterminded by the CIA. In any case, unexpectedly, he joined Sesma´s group, (at first, without revealing that he was the witness of Aluche), and quite soon reached its leadership.

The flow of documents was continuous. After the first bunch about the daily life in Ummo, there followed all kinds of digressions about philosophy, sociology and religion (in Ummo and Earth), even featuring the most appealing coincidence for a Catholic reader: the life and teachings of UMMOWOA, a religious founder, whose body dissappeared from the table where he had just been vivisected, as ordered by an ancient bloodthristy Empress. In spite of all these proofs, Sesma gradually became dissatisfied with the Ummites; they were too much rational (they do not even know about the so called ‘liberal arts’) for his liking. It was a mutual refusal, because on the other side, the Ummites became obsessed with the minutiae: they were said to be monitoring every meeting, and asked for silence among the audience and a raised voice during readings to allow for a perfect recording. They always complained to Sesma for mixing their messages with those of Saliano and others, up to the point that several times they cut the supply as a punishment.

In what can be seen as a final attempt to convince Sesma, the typist himself wrote to him, confirming everything. All the emotional overtones lacking in the arid paragraphs dictated by the Ummites, can now freely flow. Despite his anonymity (hopefully only a tempory measure), at least there was a human being who actually met and worked with them. So, we got the first description of these alien beings: completely humanoid, tall and fair, with blonde hair. Angelic, but also witha sinister side: as they communicate through telepathy (of course !) their vocal chords become atrophied, so on Earth they must use an artificial larynx, that gives them a very peculiar voice without inflexions. The copyist was oppressed by the whole extraordinary adventure in which he found himself caught up, and his letter released a mixture of fear and ingenuity that appealed to our most basic emotions. To leave no stone unturned, he also included a final surealistic touch: the Ummites were accounting experts !

With the arrival of the summer holidays of 1966, the contact is interrupted during several months, except for the ocasional letter to keep the ashes burning. Maybe the Ummites needed time to evaluate their activities and plan and prepare further developments. At the begining of 1967 they struck again, with renewed strength, in an encircling movement.

On one side, there appeared another anonymous correspondent purporting to be a certain professor, the holder of a chair in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Madrid. His only letter described how he received (on loan) a little piece of apparatus that convinced him of their extraterrestrial origin, as he saw on a tridimensional screen a histological specimen, greatly enlarged, in colour, and alive. He recorded (and kept) a colour film of all the operation. He ended his letter proposing to all the recipients a gathering, to coordinate their actions and, should it be considered neccessary, inform the Spanish authorities … The plot thickens !

On the other hand, there really was a qualitative leap ahead. Deserting Sesma, the Ummites turned to some of his followers (Villagrasa, Araujo, Garrido, etc.) witha real barrage of pseudo-technical papers, trying to knock them out into definite faith.

It is really too much that the first document preserved for the galactic posterity turned out to be some pages of the French newspaper Le Figaro used as toilet paper by a peasant

First, the exclusive report about his arrival to our planet (written with their characteristic irrelevant minuteness): “At 04 hours 17 minutes 03 seconds GMT on the terrestrial day of March 28, 1950, an OAWOLEA UEWA OEM (lenticular-shaped spaceship) established contact for the first time in history with the lithosphere of EARTH (…) at a place some 8000 metres distant from the town of La Javie, Department des Basses Alpes, (France)”. This long story (49 pages) is a masterful piece of work. The reader is absolutely touched when the expeditionary group made their first transcendental discovery: “some fragments of white-yellowed, flexible and brittle sheets… full of characters… and stained withfeaces” whom they attributed ritual meanings.

It is really too much that the first document preserved for the galactic posterity turned out to be some pages of the French newspaper Le Figaro used as toilet paper by a peasant! After several initial blunders, the Ummites adapted so well to the human culture that in the following months they commited “nineteen acts of transgression against private property”… naturally, to be returned “as soon as they were able to obtain money without robbery”. To keep closely to their role as scientists, transgression means to anaesthetizethe inhabitants of a house, and besides taking an assorted group of objects, “to undress the humans and take samples of hair, nasal and vulvar mucus, etc.”

Second, a very peculiar group of documents about Spiritism and parapsychology, describing, among others things, a supposed Ummite expedition to India in order to investigate, with their advanced technology, the ‘miracles’ of the fakirs. Naturally, they discovered the hoaxes and disclosed to their readers the tricks employed. In short, a strong sceptical commentary on the paranormal, from people who were assured to be born telepaths!

And finally, the long-delayed answers to anybody’s questions: 1) How they make the journey here?, and 2) Why they are so similar to us? These papers form the real core of the myth, what sets up the difference with any other contactee tale. Unfortunately, in spite of all the favourable publicity around them, from Antonio Ribera in 1979 to Jean-Pierre Petit in 1992, they are just pseudocientific jargon at its best. I will give you a very rough and incomplete summary, just to let you know the flavour of them.

1) To explain their easy crossing of the huge interstellar distances, the Ummites employed a multistaged strategy:

a) there are an infinity of paired Universes (matter and antimatter) that interplay between them, creating certain space-warps which, when the isodynamic circumstances are right, became a kind of ‘short-cut’ (for instance, a voyage to the stelar system UYI ABEE, located at 9165 light-years from Ummo, only took 40078427,56 thousansths of UIW (86,06 terrestrial days)) . Unfortunately these disturbances are unpredictable except within a very short time, a useful way out of any inconvenient appointment

b) Usually, these short-cuts are not enough, so they need additional help: luckly, each Cosmos has “at least, ten dimensions”, fully-interchangeable, and with the suitable property that in each new tri-dimensional space, the speed of ligth should adopt any value between zero and infinity

c) now, there only remains the ‘simple’ problem of performing such a dimensional change. At a time (the sixties) when the earth physicists were confused with the endless discovery of subatomic particles, the Ummites introduced (in 68 pages and a few formulas) the IBOZOO UU, defined as an elemental (and inmaterial) entity composed of ortogonal axes. According to the manner in which these axes are orientated, we see the production of matter, energy, space, and even time.

Now everything is clear. You take an spaceship and its crew (just some zintillions of IBOZOO UUs), reverse each and every one of their axes with absolutely accuracy, go into the suitable dimensional frame, and once in the desired destination (through non-disclosed means of propulsion), you undo the reversing without missing a single atom, with the bonus of recovering all the energy wasted before. Voilá !

The real problem, so well hidden by the Ummites behind such an exhibition of pseudoscientific pyrotechnics, and never answered, is that, if they themselves admitted the imposibility of acelerations “above 24500 GAL”, even an interplanetary shortened distance needs too much time to go through.

2) To explain their incredible resemblance with us, the Ummites appeal to their pompous ‘biogenetic bases of the living beings that inhabit the Cosmos’ (29 pages). In a shared trait with their human counterparts, they began by denying random evolution with childish and trite arguments, to be replaced by a previous information about ALL possible living beings in the Cosmos, coded into 86 pairs of krypton atoms (they have a real fixation with the noble gases) “in mysterious resonance” and located in every germinal cell of the Universe (as they confirmed in terrestrial samples) that will express itself according the environment. More precisely, “each change of an electron in a suborbital layer codifies one of the possible animals”. Confronted with an exponential branching, they pulled out of their hat a useful teleological convergence that will bring them together into the Man (ummite or terrestrial), explaining our mutual likeness. Not satisfied, they maintain that the range opens again afterwards, to come together in some future and final Superman.

If all this is already quite difficult to swallow, what can we say about the working procedures. They are absurd and lacking any logic, even wrapped with an accuracy and terminology pretending to be scientific. The long range mutations are connected with a cosmic cycle of 877,533 years, imposed by the electromagnetic emissions from the galaxies in the 21’106 cm. frequency, recorded into the cell’s water and assembled through several generations, due to their short span of life!

On the other hand, the short range mutations acted through a chemical way. For instance, those wonderful camouflage adaptations will simply develop “as the luminous stimulus from the surrounding colouration fall into the nervous system of the animal, they will originate a series of biochemical alterations in the most external layers of the oxigen atoms that form the intracytoplasmatic water molecules, their electrons will vibrate and then disappear after emitting gravitational waves affecting the corresponding kripton atom, which will react as required”. No comments.

These detailed revelations seemed to point at some inmediate confrontation. The dramatic tension was mounting. As well as the real one surrounding the Middle East. Then, another ‘coup de theâtre’. The “gentlemen from UMMO” learned all about the proposed meeting and prohibited it. Therefore, the professor never revealed himself, and over the following months the believers were very busy trying to ascertain his identity, without real success.

What God takes off, God returns. On the last day of May, 1967, about forty people present at the usual gathering of ‘Professor’ Sesma were read the announcement of the forthcoming arrival of three UMMO spaceships next day ! (one in Bolivia, one in Brazil, and the third, in none other place than Madrid). Unfortunately, even though they organized several reconnaissance parties, none was able to met the spaceship as it allegedly performed evolutions in the sky over the Madrid suburban estate of San Jose Valderas and landed briefly nearby, at 20.20 hours of the day in question.

But they were not to be disappointed, one amateur photographer had inmortalized the sighting with his camera, had contacted the same journalist that covered the Aluche case, and had graciously departed with some of his negatives for free, keeping his anonimity. The photos hit the front page and did not leave the slightest doubt.

Surely, this incident was intended to be the final point of the affair. Another summer was approaching, no better time to enjoy well deserved holidays. Few days later there exploded the Six Days’s War between Israel and the Arabs, which provided a timely alibi for their departure and the cesation of the correspondence. Discharging ballast, the followers received a sale package, with papers about law, astronomy, etc. plus a personal letter from the anonymuos typist, confirming their flight without date of return (and so did he, talking about leaving his old address and travelling abroad, to damper any future search). R.I.P.

As in any second rate SF plot, the Ummites did not counted on the human element. Up to then all the UMMO affair had limited itself to a small group of believers that did not showed a high level of scepticism. But now, armed with those definitive proofs, it was decided to engage professional help. They decided to contact an ufologist: Marius Lleget. The situation suddenly opened to a whole new level of interest and challenge. It called for reinforcements and a very careful and close handling.

Out of thin air materialized ‘Antonio Pardo’, a second anonymous photographer of the San Jose Valderas UFO. In a beautiful strike of synchronocity, he wrote Mr. Lleget before the Madrid’s group, enclosing new negatives, a detailed report of his own ‘in situ’ investigation, and to cap it all: an extraterrestrial artifact! It was a semi-destroyed capsule that contained a piece of green plastic engraved with the Ummo symbol.


Mr. Lleget rightly refused to get involved, and passed this greek present to his friend Antonio Ribera, the most prestigious Spanish ufologist of the time. Fortunately, he was some kind of  ‘arm-chair ufologist’, a SF writer and translator who obtained his fame rehashing foreign UFO books but seems to have never been involved in a personal direct investigation. In this case, the field-work was left to his valued friend Rafael Farriols, who over the years, will become the leading specialist in Ummo, up to the point of founding some companies with Ummo trade-names and securing all the documents received since then. As they lived in Barcelona, their man in Madrid was … anybody guess? Mr. Peña. Thanks to his praiseworthy efforts were located several witnesses. Most of them could only give circumstantial evidence after severe prompting, but those who allegedly witnessed the UFO always insisted to remain unnamed. It must be something contagious.

With the Ummites safely far away, the work of keeping alive the myth was an easy and not-demanding one for the typist. Only a letter from time to time, delivered to members of the Madrid group, full of trails to be followed all over Madrid by their eager recipients. Mr. Peña also received a couple of letters, but of a different nature. They are the only ones (allegedly written by members of an equivalent French group) that acknowledged the distribution of Ummo documents outside Spain. As usual, it had been impossible to confirm them, despite the fact that they provided a postal address and a reward for any other capsule they obtained.

In due time, Mr. Ribera and Mr. Farriols published a book with their conclusions, whose title tells it all: A Perfect Case. Inside they included an analysis of the device: the capsule itself was made of nickel of a very high purity and the plastic material was polyvinyl fluoride. At the time of the events, this material was made exclusively by du Pont de Nemours in the USA, under the brand name of TEDLAR. They pointed to “some NASA and military applications”, but its main use was in the building industry. They also invented another acronym (VED) (Extraterrestrial Manned Vehicle) and the typist obliged. In what will be his last appearance on the scene (excluding a much later letter in 1973) he enclosed a long report (60 pages and many drawings) about the UMMO VEDs that nevertheless managed to tell us nothing useful and testable about them. It is surprising that people who claim to use gravitational waves for everything, including cooking, had to resort to spinning their small spaceships in order to obtain an artificial gravity !

It was Summer 1968. The UFOs had already become acceptable in the Spanish media. Films like 2001 and Planet of the Apes attracted crowds. The Invaders appeared weekly on television. All over Spain the first and biggest UFO flap of our history was taking place. So it surprised nobody when the typist added that THEY had returned. But the holidays passed without any notice from them.

Finally, in September the Ummites sent a letter of introduction from Paris to their new friend, Antonio Ribera. The show continues. But as fate would have it, on September 17th, 1968 an indiscretion of Father Enrique Lopez Guerrero, disclosed the affair to the public making, headlines all over the world with statements like “thousands of years ago, Jesus Christ incarnated as a slave in the planet Ummo, suffering prosecution and death”. Shocked, the contact was suddenly interrupted. It was never to be the same again.

It restarted in 1969 but only with very short papers (4 or 5 pages each), exclusively addressed to Mr. Ribera and quite superficial, nothing with the depth that they used to show. They also wrote to another contactee of the time, Sinod (who maintained telepathic contact with an extraterrestrial named Atienza, from the planet Urln, descendant of a Spanish conquistador abducted in Argentina in 1650) in order to arrange a meeting. Small Universe, indeed! Maybe they did not arouse the reactions they wanted because the contacts became less and less frequent and soon stopped.

In January 1970 Mr. Jordán Peña deserted Sesma and created his own group, ERIDANI. The Ummites followed him, in what can be seen as a return to the origins, and involved themselves strongly in the activities of this group; but he, the president, never received their written attentions. Their correspondence became paranoic, advising about the malevolent intervention of secret services like the CIA, tapped calls, infiltrators, etc. etc. On the other hand, they also offered guidance for proselytizing new members and usefuls tips to gain the control of the group. All this culminated in November 1973 with a real thriller, as they predicted a nuclear war because of the situation in the Middle East, announced their definitive departure, and in a final stroke of sentimentalism offered their own nuclear refuge for the salvation of their flock. Our old acquaintance, the typist, was the trustee of the code to the refuge’s coordinates. Unfortunately we will never know them, specially now that the Cold War is finished.

And this is the situation that remains up to date. An age-decimated group of believers meeting periodically, usually under the benevolent leadership of Mr. Peña and Mr. Farriols. At first (in 1971 and 1973) there were quite a happening: limited symposia only for the connosieurs (but, even so infiltrated by the Ummites, as they revealed afterwards) to discuss and analyze the sacred texts. But after Ribera revealed to the world in 1974 (first in the FSR and later with 3 complete books) the contents and peculiarities of the ummite papers, the UMMO affair has become a myth-in-the-making. The Ummo symbol is described in Denmark, USA, Poland and last, but not least, in Voronezh. It is an established alien trademark. Anybody can borrow their cloak, from dangerous child-abusers (Edelweiss sect in Spain) to Fundamentalist Christians looking for additional help defending the Turin Shroud.

Now that you have a bare summary of this complex situation, I should defend my thesis. I maintain that it all began as some kind of joke that later got out of hand. The best evidence is the fact that all the quantitative data included in the very first document was (more or less subtly) wrong. Considering its galactic importance and the typical punctiliousness displayed by the Ummites, this is quite shocking, but true. They began by giving as the correct distance between Earth and Ummo 3.68502 light-years, identifying their star as Wolf 424. This distance was precisely which was calculated by its human discoverer in 1938 but, as it was already known in 1966, the correct distance was about 14.6 light-years.

Afterwards they gave both radius of their planet (equatorial and polar), the second being longer than the first. Next, they estimated Ummo’s mass in 5.4 x 1021 tons, and its gravity acceleration in 11.88 km/sg2. These measures are mutually incompatible.

The first inconsistency spotted was about the mass. The Ummites pleaded guilty of too much familiarity and explained that they should have used DUUOs instead of terrestrial tons (1DUUO = 1.7333 Kg). The problem with distances offered a perfect excuse to attribute the smaller one to those wonderful isodynamic shortcuts. This procedure of claims, errors and counterclaims continued through all the correspondence.

When they wrote about their planetary system they refered to a second planet. Apparently nobody noticed that the meaning of “binary system” (Wolf 424 being one) is quite different! As their sun (IUMA) has a spectral type M, with a low superficial temperature, coherency imposes that UMMO must circle very near it, but then its sydereal period (orbit’s length) did not square. This time they appealed to their ancestors’ “false conceptions”, but even so it still miss Kepler’s Third Law by a ten per cent !

You must understand that it is not easy to point out errors against people who displayed a disgusting superiority, bordering on the most hypocrite paternalism. This submission was reinforced by planting careful traps. For instance, when they insisted that the visual apparent magnitude of IUMA was lower than its absolute magnitude. Or when they wrote: “weigh two masses in a steelyard, one kg. of straw and one kg. of iron … you will see how the pointer leans to the iron”. Or when they explained how to prepare krypton compounds, apparently unknown in Earth. Many sceptics laughed then, but the Ummites laughed last !

In short, so many (false or true) errors and inconsistencies cannot be casual or due to lack of knowledge. They must have been deliberately included.

Let me finally present the UMMO affair, summed up in its appropiate dimensions:

Duration: a little more of a year (from February 1966 to July 1967), plus another outburst at the begining of 1969. From then onwards, never more than occasional contacts. Space: limited to Spain, despite the headings of some documents suggesting translations to languages as non-existent as “slav-czech”.

Volume: Around 1000 known pages corresponding to 150 different shipments, even though they themselves said to have prepared “more than 6700 reports”! Contents: A third of the known material (330 pages) is just pure gossip, 269 pages refered to various philosophical considerations, around 178 pages gave some raw data (usually impossible to verify) and only 144 pages contained valuable information, already commented.

Quality: The papers never offered nothing really novel. For example, the cosmological theories could be derived from the works of Eddington and other material easily obtained in scientific journals of the time (like Nature and Science&Vie). Without a doubt the author was familiar with foreign material (the Ummites made references to the works of Halton Arp (sic), and also extracted from books by Martin Gardner, The Ambidextrous Universe, and Asimov, The Noble Gases). But with the hindsight of the 27 years passed, the contents look very naïve, and the real mystery is why so many people had believed in them for so long.

Special mention is reserved those so called “ummologists”. Nowadays any religion or sect cannot rely only in faith, it needs some middlemen who will analyze its ‘sacred texts’ (the Bible, the Urantia book, etc.) and provide the followers with final proofs of their veracity, from the authority not of God but of its secular counterpart, science. So pseudosciences like ‘scientific creationism’ or ‘TM science’ are born. It is also true that you can always find an expert to support your pet belief. In short, the UMMO papers had been a peculiar kind of Roscharch test, each one had found what he was looking for: Father Guerrero elaborated from them his own ‘Cristocentric Thesis of the Universe’ (in a 618-pages book); Jean-Pierre Petit (a French physicist long interested in Ummo), after studying hard for several months the Theory of Relativity, assures that “nothing demands that the speed of light should remain constant” (7). Many people had been trapped in this vicious circle. They come across some hint, develop their own ideas around it, and in a final feedback, credit them to the Ummites, reinforcing their admiration towards “their high scientific level”.

Even the sceptics (and there were a lot of them since the very begining) had been mystified. In a ironic letter that clearly betrays their terrestrial origin, the Ummites themselves summarized many of the conspirancy theories that proliferated. From the Opus Dei to the Rosacrucians passing through the CIA, the KGB and the Punch! I have already said that Mr. Peña prefers a CIA-connection. In France has just appeared L’affaire Ummo: les extraterrestres qui venaient du frois, by Renaud Marhic, insisting in a KGB-connection.

In Spain, Carles Berché champions a ‘shared-paranoia’. (8). Make your choice.

Mine is a radical use of the Occam’s razor. The Ummoaffair is just an unipersonal endeavour. The author surely enrolled some accomplices to forge traces and photos, and he also got the unexpected help of many others freelance hoaxers, but neither more people nor a secret agenda are needed. Hoaxing is fun, and funnier if you mix with your victims and enjoy their doubts, their emotions, their naïvete, and even become their master, pulling the threads of your puppets at will. Besides there is always the thrill of being uncovered. I will not even deceive myself by appealing to higher rational motivations like a sociological study or similar, as I suspect that the author himself did. But who was he?.

Such a good mystery story cannot end without naming the culprit. As it can never be proved, even with a confession now lacking, I can only offer my firm belief (shared with many other ufologists) that UMMO’s creator was Mr. Jordan Peña. We do not have any smoking gun but the circumstantial evidences are overpowering although controversial. To me, it does not matter, he had offered us a marvelous opportunity to follow the making of a myth.


  1. Compiled in: Flying Saucers, 1982, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G.
    Waugh Eds.
  2. MAGONIA 23, “Flying Saucers from Moore’s?”, Christopher Allan & Steuart Campbell.
  3. MAGONIA 43, “Book Reviews: Jacques Vallee’s Revelations.” Peter Rogerson.
  4. Jacques Vallee, The Invisible College, p.112 (British paperback edition).
  5. Robert Charroux, Le livre des secrets trahis, 1964.
  6. Eileen Buckle, The Scoriton Mystery, 1967.
  7. Jean-Pierre Petit, Enquete sur des extra-terrestres, 1991.
  8. CUADERNOS DE UFOLOGIA, nº 3, 1988, Carles Berché Cruz, “Ummo, 20 años de paranoia compartida”.


Of Hoaxes and Hoaxing. Paul Hopkins

From Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 3, number 6, December 1970′

This article was published in Merseyside UFO Bulletin nine months after David Simpson and SIUFOP conducted their famous experimental hoax at Warminster. Despite comments and suggestions made over the years Paul Hopkins was unaware that SIUFOP had conducted their experiment when he wrote this piece. The nature of the experiment did not become publicly known until summer 1972, when Flying Saucer Review published an editorial exposing the hoax. A link to David Simpson’s MUFOB article revealing full details of the hoax/experiment can be found at the foot of this article

Wherever there is a mystery or intrigue, or when man hovers on the brink of dicovery, hoxes will inevitably occur. Great hoaxes of the past such as the Piltdown Man have made scientists and authorities ever cautious, with some good reason since their reputation as experts is vulnerable through the mass media. Of all subjects that come under the shadow of hoaxing, the UFO receives more than its fair share, which is unfortunate since it is so easy for both the public and the experts to disregard any evidence in favour of the UFO, and thus to class any number of events as due to the unquestioned activities of hoaxers. Looking at hoaxes, so far the UFO scene is concerned they can be roughly placed into three broad categories. The first, hoaxes perpetrated for sheer amusement and performed in a light-hearted manner. Secondly, hoaxes perpetrated by cranks for a number of devious reasons, such as a genuine belief that they are messengers or ambassadors for alien creatures. Also a need to be accepted as a prominent figure in UFO activity; to create an aura of mystery about themselves, and through sheer insanity. Thirdly, hoaxes by publicity addicts and those that are in the game for personal and financial gain.

There is of course no strict dividing line between one category and the next, and a hoaxer will more often than not cover all three of these categories, but will be heavily biased towards one. In the examination of a hoax one must consider the quality of that hoax as regards the total cost to the hoaxer in terms of time, finance, and possible enhancement or damage of reputation, and on the other hand the total barrage incurred by the hoaxed, and finally the success of the whole operation as far as the hoaxer is concerned. It is the determination of success that is perhaps the hardest factor to assess, since the motives of the hoaxer, or suspected hoaxers have first to be determined, Allowance must be made for the time factor between event and investigation, thus the investigator, in order to initiate his works and to have a reference point from which he may follow a line of investigation, will have to use a great deal of conjecture as regards the personality of any persons connected with the observations.

UFOs are very much transitory phenomena, and even more so when they appear as lights in the sky. From such sightings or claims there is little that the investigator can deduce since he has not only to consider the possibility of a hoax, but also such things as mistaken identity of common objects under peculiar circumstances, or ignorance on the part of the claimant of astronomical objects and atmospheric phenomena. A hoaxer has little to gain from remote observations except perhaps a mention in the local rag, unless the ‘observation’ is an intricate part of a larger hoax, and the hoaxer is relying upon the cumulative effect.

The cumulative effect may operate in a number of ways according to the control the hoaxer has over his situation. Opportunists may operate immediately after a sighting elsewhere so that momentum is added to their own story; while some will rely upon others coming forward with similar stories. The subsequent influx of investigators, gullible tourists (hoping to witness an event) and the lunatic fringe then primes the locality so that a carefully planned hoax may be carried out fairly successfully, since the influx of the differing factions causes confusion to the serious investigator. This, I suspect, is what happened at Warminster. Though such a situation is hard to rationalise owing to its complex nature which often affords some degree of protection to the hoaxer or hoaxers.

Another way in which the cumulative effect may influence a hoax is in the case of a fairly simple ‘class one’ hoax where the hoaxer, seeing that the public — at least some elements of the public — are taking him seriously, carries the hoax a little further. As long as he remains relatively undetected the hoaxing continues until the hoaxer suddenly realises that his fame has spread beyond the confines of his country, and also that some eminent persons are taking a keen interest in the whole affair. The hoaxer is now faced with a dilemma. He must either admit to his wickedness and be castigated through the press, or maintain a front until the whole issue dies away. If we consider the Adamski saga in this context, as a man trapped by his own hoax, then the peculiarities of the story are self explanatory. Certainly the Adamski affair was, and still is, an integral part of a cumulative hoax due to the numbers that jumped onto his band wagon before and after his death. Two of the best known factions (at any rate to me) being the IGAP, USA, and in England the Aetherius Society. Both these societies rely upon the fact that human beings of this modern age are essentially insecure especially in the West where Christianity is slowly dying, and the world is seemingly balanced on the edge of a nuclear holocaust. The new religions centred about Adamski-type space beings fill to some degree this religious void since they provide the security of extraterrestrial guardians of the earth. The appeal of such a religion attracts and fulfils the needs of many people and as such the hoax of Adamski has become a self-proliferating legend.

From the experience of Adamski, it is evident that in order to perpetrate a successful hoax with a long life and the probability of good returns in terms of support and finance one must resort to a contact claim with some mythical or imaginary being bearing a message for mankind. Such were the essences of the claims of Dan Fry, Truman Bethurum and many others. Alternatively one can appeal to man’s aggressive instincts by attributing acts of violence and interference with machinery to visiting aliens. Such claims however do not seem to be as successful as those of friendly visitors.

Each new contact claim, each close observation, and claim of UFO photography presents both a challenge and a burden to the UFO investigator that may extend for several months with no definite result forthcoming at the end of that period. Apart from mistaken identity, one is invariably left with the conclusion either that an extraterrestrial event did indeed occur, or that a hoax was perpetrated and the hoaxer is intent on keeping quiet. (Persons often talk about the ‘men in black conspiracy’, but it seems to me that there is just as much evidence for a world wide hoax conspiracy.)

Those readers who have been to Warminster will probably appreciate my meaning when I refer to it as a hoax-sized town

The point is, in my opinion, that we probably know more about UFO phenomena than the phenomena of hoaxing, and to this end I suggest adding a fourth class of hoax to the three already given. Namely, hoaxes perpetrated for the purpose of the study of hoaxing and its cumulative effect upon people. To suggest deliberately setting up a hoax would no doubt invoke a great deal of controversy in the UFO world. No doubt this has been done before on a small scale. Many amateur photographers fake UFO pictures just to prove that it is easy, for indeed it is. Yet such pictures seldom take the serious investigator in for long. Likewise the more nutty or occult tinged stories. I suggest that there is a case for the setting up of a carefully planned and controlled hoax on a grand scale. In effect it would be desirable to create a second Warminster for the sole purpose of examining the time it takes to get a hoax off the ground, to observe the influx of parasites and nutters, to take account of the total cost, and most important of all, to study witness reactions.

Those readers who have been to Warminster will probably appreciate my meaning when I refer to it as a hoax-sized town. It is too large for its inhabitants to know each other intimately, and yet information would spread fairly rapidly via the various media. Being situated on a main trunk route it has a fairly large itinerant population, especially during the tourist season, Further relevant properties of this town are that it is situated in a region of the country that is deeply imbedded with man’s primitive history. As well as the conventional historians, the area is very much a shrine for those occultists who believe that the Holy Grail is still to be found, or that a new age will dawn with Avebury or Stonehenge at the centre of the universe. The Army encampments naturally add interest and help further the mystery of the area both by their presence and weird activities, especially when it comes to making noises.

In such an area it is little wonder that a hoaxer could, after acquainting himself with the surroundings and the traits and haunts of the local populace (and also accounting for the small influx of new-ageians keeping their vigils) guarantee himself an audience. Thus for an experimental hoax, the investigators would have to find a town that has very similar properties to those of Warminster. This done, their troubles are only just starting, if they are not to transgress in any manner the law. It is a simple matter to make lights appear in the sky at will, providing one has an assistant. A couple of polythene clothes bags filled with coal gas and tied together will lift a small battery and bulb high into the air. Strictly speaking this is illegal, unless you have obtained permission from the Ministry of Defence and also notified local airports.

Again, it is not too difficult to make a crater appear in a farmer’s field, and to experimenters I would suggest they try the following method. First obtain an iron pipe, say about five feet long and l½ inch diameter. At one end films a couple or more sharp cutting teeth, and at the other drill a hole to take a tommy bar. Armed with this device and a large hammer the tube can be driven deep into the ground and cores of earth removed by a number of repeated borings until you are left with a fairly smooth straight hole. To add interest you can scoop out several radiating channels from the central hole and make several other interesting depressions round about. Fill the central hole with a finely divided mixture of magnesium, aluminium and tin, (the three supposed constituents of flying saucer metal) insert an igniter wick and retreat. With a high proportion of magnesium in the mixture an extremely hot and brilliant flame will be produced that should attract some attention. Should you have got your timing wrong and there was nobody within the vicinity, then the farmer is sure to come across the desecration of his field some time or other. This is to be preferred since it may give rain time to wash away the tell-tale traces of white ash.

We can now see what the score is. First there is the cost of the tubing. Then several pounds will be required to pay for the cost of filling the bore with an explosive mixture. You will have fallen foul of the law on several counts. For trespassing, and doing damage to a crop, (Remember, grass is a valuable asset to a farmer, let alone barley, oats or potatoes.) and for discharging and possessing explosive materials. As your hoax gained momentum so also I suspect would the number of antisocial acts that you committed rise in proportion.

Which brings us to two points. Firstly a hoaxer most probably has antisocial tendencies. This would explain why so many saucer contactees want to kick, modern science and society in the teeth. They want to be considered apart from the herd, as selected beings often guided by superior intellects from above. Like so many restless ‘students’ they want to give convention a jolt; to have reporters and camera men rushing about on a wild goose chase while they themselves sit back enthralled by their powers of disturbance, while their egos swell. Secondly the hoaxer of a large hoax runs the real risk of being sued or prosecuted. Thus he is often forced to remain anonymous.

With these points in mind the setting up of an experimental hoax is not the sort of thing that should be attempted overnight. Neither should it be set up by an amateur body, since the results are not only likely to be disastrous but also wasted. The co-operation of local bodies would be required, including the police and the local council. Permission would have to be obtained from the Ministry of Aviation if one wished to eject objects into the sky, and so on.

To sum up, a large scale, will organised UFO hoax could provide valuable insight into how people think and react to what they think is an unknown phenomenon. By facing then with artificial UFO situations modelled on past case histories, even though the stimulus is false, the reaction would be the same as would most probably occur under the genuine conditions of a UFO sighting and flap. Then, and then only, will the UFO investigator really know what he is about.

Read the story of the actual experimental hoax at Warminster HERE




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’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.


  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

UFO Crashes: An Emergent Pattern. Gareth Medway

From Magonia Supplement, June 2001

I have come to doubt whether it is possible to draw any conclusions from individual UFO reports. It may be, however, that a group of reports considered collectively can reveal something significant. As briefly as possible, I shall try to show this with the example of UFO crash stories.

It was on 14 June 1947 that William Brazel, a farmer near Roswell, New Mexico, found a lot of silvery wreckage on his land.(1) At first he did nothing, but on 8 July, following news reports of flying saucers in the area, it occurred to him that this might be one of them, and he reported it to the sheriff, who passed it on to the Air Force, who told the press that the mystery of the flying discs would now be solved. According to the official report, however, when they got there it proved to be merely a balloon. This they declared at a press conference, and the incident was totally forgotten for over thirty years. Their initial announcement suggests that, if they had captured an alien spacecraft, they would have said so.

Nonetheless, persistent rumour, at least in California, had it that a saucer had indeed crashed and that the Air Force were busily learning the secrets of its technology: a 1949 memo by Meade Layne of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (an organisation mainly devoted to recording channelled messages from “The Etherians”, as they called the ufonauts) reported that two scientists, one of them “Dr Weisberg, a physics professor from a California university” had seen a crashed disc with six dead occupants.

The source of Layne’s information is unclear, but soon people started to talk. In February 1950 Barney Barnett of Socorro, New Mexico, told some visiting friends that when working near Magdalena, New Mexico (nowhere near Roswell) he had chanced across a crashed metallic disc, 25 to 30 feet across, with dead bodies of small humanoids around it. Some archaeologists also saw it. Then the military turned up and ordered them all away.(2) This sequence of events was the template for many subsequent stories.

silas nwtonOn 8 March 1950 a lecture was given to students at the University of Denver, Colorado, by a mysterious man who claimed that a saucer had crashed at Aztec, New Mexico (hundreds of miles from both Roswell and Socorro), in the spring of 1948. The man was later identified as Silas Newton (left), and his testimony was used as the basis for one of the first UFO books, Behind the Flying Saucers, by Frank Scully. Silas Newton was a partner with one “Dr Gee”, who claimed that later two other saucers had crashed in Arizona, and that he had been privileged to examine all three. The first two both had a (dead) crew of sixteen, the third only two. He believed they came from Venus. Dr Gee claimed to be a magnetic scientist, though what he said on the subject (“there are 1,257 magnetic lines of force to the square centimetre”(3)) was utter drivel.

denverpostScully also described how Gee and Newton had developed a magnetic device which could detect underground oil deposits. Two years later, this led to their arrest on a charge of fraud. They had been trying to sell their device for $800,000, but according to police it was “a worthless piece of war surplus equipment” that they had bought for $4.50.(4)

In the spring of 1952 one Bill Devlin was told by a soldier he met on a train from Philadelphia to Washington that he had been one of three drivers who took the remains of a saucer, along with “sixteen or so” small bodies, from Aztec, New Mexico, to Fort Riley, Kansas.(5) This is the other main type of crash story, the military man who was there after the civilians were cleared away, and who is sworn to secrecy by frightful penalties, though willing to violate it to casual acquaintances. His story of a saucer at Aztec with sixteen small bodies is consistent with that in Scully’s book, though since this had become a bestseller, it is hardly independent confirmation.

In February 1954 President Eisenhower went on a golfing holiday in Palm Springs, California. On 20 February he went off leaving his entourage behind, and the press corps started speculating wildly as to where he might have gone. In the evening a press secretary explained that he had had to make an emergency trip to a dentist. This did not satisfy the rumour mongers, who quickly put it about that that the President had secretly gone to Edwards Air Force Base to view a crashed flying saucer. Sure enough, three months later Meade Layne received a letter from a man named Gerald Light, who claimed to have visited the base himself and seen no fewer than five different alien craft that the Air Force was studying.(6)

silphoBadly piloted UFOs kept on crashing, so it was said, in among other places Arizona, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, British Heligoland, Spitzbergen, Mexico, Sweden and Brazil. Invariably the local military picked up the pieces, except in the case of a four-foot saucer (left) that fell on Silpho Moor near Scarborough, Yorkshire, which was bought from the finder by a civilian and put on display in a local fish and chip shop.(7) Though such stories went out of fashion in the sixties, in the seventies Leonard Stringfield renamed them “retrievals of the third kind”, and, having thus put the subject on a scientific basis, began a collection of anecdotes: he learned for instance of a room in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, “in which several small humanoids were preserved in a glass case”; two disc-shaped craft at Wright-Patterson, with four small bodies preserved in chemicals; and the 1953 crash of an oval object near Kingman, Arizona, in which was a dead four-foot tall alien.(8) By the end of the decade he had accumulated nineteen retrieval stories, all different.

According to one tale, in the late 1940s, the photographer Nicholas von Poppen (d. 1975) had been flown to ‘Los Alamos’ airfield, where he was paid to photograph a flying saucer, 30 feet in diameter, which still had four dead aliens, dressed in shiny black one-piece outfits, in their seats in front of a control board. The only problem is that there was no air base at Los Alamos; obviously, he was told that was where he was as part of the cover-up.(9)

The problem, for the rigidly scientific ufologist, was that the witnesses did not fully confirm each other’s stories. In general terms they agreed that alien spacecraft had crashed and come into the possession of the military; but the crash sites were all different, the bodies (varying in number from one up to sixteen) and the wreckage were supposed to be stored in a variety of Air Force bases and other places, and where dates were given they did not match up. Yet soon this was to change.

Jesse Marcel, one of the officers who had picked up the wreckage from Brazel’s farm, used to talk about the incident, stating that he believed that the object had indeed been an extraterrestrial spacecraft. When Stanton T. Friedman was interviewed on TV in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 21 February 1978, to promote his lecture tour “Flying Saucers Are Real”, a friend of Marcel’s who worked there mentioned him. Friedman often heard “Stories of acquaintances who claimed to know someone who worked with a guy who said he knows where the bodies of a ‘flying saucer’ crew are stored”, but was always unable to follow them up.(10) This was different, a real man who had handled the wreckage.

Later that year Friedman also heard about Barney Barnett. He passed both stories on to William Moore, who then needed a subject to form a sequel to the bestseller he had co-written with Charles Berlitz, The Philadelphia Experiment. A crashed UFO was suitably sensational. Asked in an interview by Gray Barker if he was investigating saucer crashes, Moore was reticent, but said: “If I were working on this, I would take one particular rumor, one of the more persistent ones, and devote all my investigative efforts to that one case.”(11)

Though the original newspaper reports, and an interview with Marcel, were not nearly enough to fill a book, they were padded out with crashed saucer rumours generally, glossing over the discrepancies with regard to dates and places. They were able to bring in Barney Barnett’s claims by suggesting that the saucer had exploded over Roswell, leaving the wreckage that was found on Brazel’s farm, but that most of it travelled another 125 miles to crash near Socorro. (Or perhaps, in a variant of the urban legend, there were at that time only two UFOs in the whole of the New Mexico airspace, and they collided with each other.) Eisenhower’s 1954 disappearance could have been to view the Roswell saucer, they suggested, failing to explain why it was seven years before the President took an interest.

The Roswell Incident was indeed a bestseller, so much so that the subject has dominated ufology ever since. Suddenly, lots more witnesses (and people who had heard the confessions of witnesses since deceased) came forward with their Roswell, 1947, stories, which none of them had ever felt the need to tell before, enabling the publication of a whole series of subsequent books. Frankie Rowe said her fireman father told her he had been on the way back from a fire when he came across the crash, and saw “two little corpses and one person running around”. Iris Foster, of Taco, New Mexico, said one “Cactus Jack” had told her of seeing a round object and four little bodies. More than one archaeologist, who had been out looking for evidence of early American settlements, testified: “I was there and saw everything.” Jim Ragsdale, who was there with his girlfriend, saw the craft and several small beings, but, “While observing the scene, we watched as a military convoy arrived and secured the scene. As a result of the convoy’s appearance we quickly fled the area.” So did the others.(12)

If all these people are telling the truth, then we have to assume that a flying saucer crashed in a semi-desert region, and for four weeks no one chanced to go near it but the farmer on whose land it was. Then, suddenly, a whole crowd of people, who were in the vicinity for a variety of reasons, archaelogists, courting couples and so on, all happened to converge on the wreckage by pure accident. Just then the army arrived, preventing them from getting any proof. Such synchronicity would be a remarkable anomalous phenomenon in itself.

In 1979 Sergeant (as he had been in 1947) Melvin E. Brown read the Daily Mirror’s review of The Roswell Incident, and told his family – he had married an Englishwoman and lived in the UK – “I was there. Everything in the article is true.”(13) This would be rather more compelling if he had told his family the story before it had appeared in a national newspaper. It will have been observed that, whilst no pattern emerges if one takes the alleged dates of these crashes, there is a definite pattern if one takes the dates on which the various stories are first known to have been told.

The different accounts still do not agree: most say that the craft was a disc, but Frank Kaufmann (who claimed to have detected the crash on radar from White Sands) claimed it was wedge shaped, and that there were four corpses and one living being – others say three corpses, two corpses and one alive, three corpses and one living, and so on and so forth.

Space does not permit me to deal with the claims of Philip Corso and others to have been employed to ‘back engineer’ the wreckage, but I have often wondered at a technology that enables the Greys to navigate safely across nine trillion miles of void from Zeta Reticuli, only to smash into the ground on arrival. Perhaps at this very moment American saucers, built in Area 51, are crashlanding near military bases on the aliens’ home planet.



1. Roswell Daily Record, 9 July (evening) 1947, quoted by Klass, Philip J., The Real Roswell Crashed Saucer Coverup, Prometheus Books, 1997, 20-21. The date of the initial discovery is often given, wrongly, as 5 July.
2. Berlitz, Charles, and William Moore, The Roswell Incident, Granada, 1980, 97-98, 57-63
3. Scully, Frank, Behind the Flying Saucers, Victor Gollancz, 1950, 163
4. Jacobs, David Michael, The UFO Controversy in America, Signet, 1976, 51
5. Berliz and Moore, op. cit., 108-109
6. Good, Timothy, Alien Liaison, Century, 1991, 56-58
7. Randles, Jenny, UFO Retrievals, Blandford, 1995, chapter 4
8. Stringfield, Leonard H., Situation Red: The UFO Siege, Sphere, 1978, 190-195
9. Berlitz and Moore, op. cit., 99-101
10. Berliner, Don, and Stanton T. Friedman, Crash at Corona, Marlowe, New York, 1997, 9
11. Gray Barker’s Newsletter, issue 9, December 1979
12. See for instance Hesemann, Michael, and Philip Mantle, Beyond Roswell, Michael O’Mara Books, 1997, 42-50
13. Ibid., 50-51