Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012): astronomer and flying-saucerer

The death of Sir Patrick Moore, at the age of 89, is a sad loss to astronomy and for all those who grew up with his iconic BBC programme The Sky at Night.

Photograph of Sir Patrick in his office at his home, Farthings, in Sussex 2006 (photo copyright David Clarke)

Photograph of Sir Patrick in his office at his home, Farthings, in Sussex 2006 (photo copyright David Clarke)

Patrick will be remembered for bringing astronomy into the homes of millions but few will be aware that he attributed his big break in TV to flying saucers.

In his autobiography 80 Not Out, Moore credited his appearance on an obscure BBC television programme ‘Flying Saucers – do they exist?’ in 1956 as the launch pad for his career as Britain’s favourite TV astronomer:

‘I have often been asked how I managed to break into it [television], and the answer is that I made no conscious effort at all; the idea came from the BBC…so far as I was concerned the whole chain of events began with flying saucers.’

In fact, his interest in UFOlogy can be traced back to 1950s when he interviewed Desmond Leslie and George Adamski for the long-running BBC programme Panorama.  Adamski had become a minor celebrity at the time because of the success of his 1953 book Flying Saucers Have Landed. The book told a wildly improbable story of his meeting with a tall, blond alien called Orthon from Venus who landed in the Mojave Desert.  In 2006 Moore told me that he and Desmond Leslie, Adamski’s co-author, were chums who had both served in the RAF during the war. He admitted that he and Desmond ‘enjoyed playing practical jokes’. And to demonstrate how easy it was to write fairytales about visitors from other worlds, Patrick produced his own spoof novel, Flying Saucer from Mars. Written under the pseudonym Cedric Allingham, it claimed the author had witnessed the landing of a UFO in Scotland in 1954 and that he was taken on board and whisked around the solar system.

This ripping yarn, told as it was in a less sophisticated time to a less sophisticated audience, caused a flutter of excitement in Fleet Street. Various journalists tried to track down the elusive Mr Allingham for more details of his wonderful celestial voyage. But alas, his publishers (Muller) told them he had died at a sanatorium in Switzerland and that was that. Patrick Moore was virtually unknown in 1954, when Flying Saucer from Mars was published, and he never publicly confessed to the hoax.  In 1986 when Magonia magazine published an exclusive story unmasking Moore as the real Cedric Allingham, he refused to comment and threatened to sue anyone who repeated the claim.

My prized copy of Patrick Moore's book Flying Saucer from Mars

My prized copy of Patrick Moore’s book Flying Saucer from Mars

Ironically, by the ’80s few people remembered Flying Saucer from Mars  and the only person who continued to refer to it in books and TV programmes was Moore himself. When I visited Patrick at his Sussex home Farthings in 2006 I asked him to sign my copy of the book. He just laughed and batted my questions away before dismissing flying saucers as ‘a load of bunkum’. But he could never quite escape from the subject that had launched him on his career as Britain’s best known astronomer.

In 1979 he co-presented an edition of The Sky at Night with his friend and former Goon star Michael Bentine which aimed to answer the vexed question ‘UFOs: fact or fantasy?’  In the programme Moore declared he was ‘the most complete sceptic about the idea that flying saucers are spaceships coming from other worlds’ whilst Bentine – who had a sighting of his own in 1958 – described himself as ‘a hopeful agnostic.’

During the programme Moore revealed that during the 1950s he ‘played a hoax’ by sending a phoney sighting to his local newspaper in Sussex: ‘…I said where it was and what it looked like and so on and this came out in the local paper and…over twenty people wrote in to confirm it.’ This demonstrated to his satisfaction that ‘people really see what they want to see’. While I disagreed with Patrick on a few subjects, on this point I had to concede he was 100% correct.

When he was not making fun out of the subject, Moore’s considered views on UFOs were similar to those of fellow astronomers and cosmologists, such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Sir Bernard Lovell. He had seen a range of unusual natural phenomena whilst observing the sky and believed there were adequate explanations for flying saucers without turning to alien visitors. In a 1977 article published in Radio Times, he wrote, with characteristic humour, a fitting last word on the subject:

‘There is nothing I would like better than to meet a Martian, a Venusian, a Saturnian or even a Sirian and my immediate instinct would be to invite him to join me in a Sky at Night programme.’

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9 Responses to Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012): astronomer and flying-saucerer

  1. Christopher Allan says:

    It is only fair to point out that Cedric Allingham never claimed that he “was whisked around the solar system”. In fact he was not even “taken on board” the saucer (what an unlucky chap!).

    I have always assumed that Moore wrote his spoof for one main reason – to go one better than Adamski. He succeeded in this by printing a photo of the ‘Martian’, whereas Adamski could only supply a drawing from a distance, done by one of his companions. But if Venus was inhabited, and the Earth was also, why not Mars?

    You may have noticed that in his book ‘Allingham’ relates how he wrote to Adamski and the two compared notes. ‘Allingham’ then tells us that Adamski even invited him to visit him in California!

    Alas, the book is now long forgotten. Moore shared the royalties with another man, a journalist Peter Davies, who polished up the text to make it more presentable as it was very early in Moore’s writing career. Davies even went as far as to pose as ‘Allingham’ at a lecture to a UFO club in Tunbridge Wells. Patrick supported him in the audience as a guest. Some ‘guest’! It was soon after this lecture that ‘Allingham’ suddenly became seriously ill with TB, went into a Swiss sanatorium and ‘died’.

    I wonder to this day if Desmond Leslie might have been privy to Moore’s spoof.

  2. Mark Bowyer says:

    Having just finished reading “Flying Saucer From Mars”, I was struck by the frontispiece photograph of Cedric and his telescope. The ‘scope and run off shed that covers it when not on use seem identical to the one that Patrick Moore had in his back garden. I wonder if now, Sir Patrick has sadly passed away, if y further information will come out about his role in this hoax.

    • Hi Mark – that’s because the telescope in the frontispiece is the same one in Sir Patrick’s garden at Far Things! This was noticed by the authors of the expose of the book published by Magonia magazine in 1983. Evidently Sir Patrick Moore was Cedric Allingham but I doubt we will ever have proof unless there is some written evidence in his correspondence. And people who wish to believe in the Flying Saucer myths will continue to believe what they want to believe. Only a few months ago I received an email from someone who had read Flying Saucer from Mars who believes Cedric Allingham was a real person and who refused to accept the book was a prank.

      • Mark Bowyer says:

        Hi David,

        Thank you for your reply. I wish I had known about this book a couple of years ago as I spoke to Patrick a few times on the telephone about his early work and observations, although he may have well simply changed the subject when questioned! I wonder if he shared any information with close friends who may be willing to talk now he is sadly no longer with us? There may even be some mention of it in his papers.

        I hope to raise the subject in the BBC Sky at Night Magazine, to see if anyone else has any information. I’ve written a couple of articles for the magazine (the next one should be in the November issue, looking back at Skylab) although I’m not sure if it is a subject they will want to discuss.

        No doubt believers of the story will claim that the Martians are hiding from us under the “Face” or “Pyramids” on Mars. Personally I think that there is a better chance of the old stories of dragons being true than any of the accounts of close encounters.

  3. clipperride says:

    One thing that does strike me as odd. If the person in the picture is really Peter Davies who says he was asked to reword the manuscript to disguise the writing style – why would Patrick Moore need to do that? When the book came out Patrick had only published “Guide to the Moon”, with “Guide to the Planets” coming out in the same year as “Flying Saucer From Mars”. It was only afterwards that he became a household name who produced a huge volume of work. At the time, his writing style was not really known, so why worry about disguising it?

    • Hi – you really need to read the Magonia article that exposed the truth back in 1980s. This answers all your questions about why Patrick felt the need for a ‘disguise’ in FSFM.

  4. clipperride says:

    Sorry for another Post Script, but it just occurred to me that the telescope in the picture looks like it is in the shed in Patrick’s garden in Farthings, Selsey. However he didn’t move there until 1968, 14 years after the Flying Saucer From Mars was published.

  5. Christopher Allan says:

    Moore had that telescope from 1951 and it was in his garden at East Grinstead before he moved to Selsey. Reagrding his writing style, Moore published a book called “Suns, Myths and Men” in the very same month FSFM was published and from the same publisher! Thus the necessity (to avoid possible detection) of having someone alter it in places.

  6. Christopher Allan says:

    Mark:
    Try John Grant (alias Paul Barnett).
    He is available at http://www.johngrantpaulbarnett.com.
    Was tight-lipped about it years ago but may be more forthcoming now.

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