Radar & UAPs – a new resource

For 2021 I have launched a new resource on my website that is dedicated to Radar, UAPs and other anomalies related to radar detection systems.

The case studies range from anomalous ‘angels‘ detected by the earliest RDF sets in the 1940s to so-called UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena – tracked by sophisticated ground and air phased-array radars used by Western powers in the 21st century.

Radar UAP landing page:


This is a subject that has fascinated me for some time. During the past 20 years I have collected a large archive of material including first hand accounts from military and civilian radar technicians, fighter controllers and experts such as the late NASA meteorologist Dr David Atlas.

I intend to add new material to this resource on an ongoing basis as I begin to digitise my archive, starting with these case study files:

At the moment the Radar UAP resource is UK focussed as a direct outcome of my fieldwork.  But as the resource grows I will include links to reliable/authoritative source material relating to radar anomalies and case studies from Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world.


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Rendlesham UFOs 40th anniversary: The Man from the Ministry speaks for the first time

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Britain’s best known UFO legend, when unidentified Christmas lights haunted the sky above Suffolk’s Rendlesham forest.

Books, TV dramas and films have portrayed the sightings reported by groups of US air force personnel who witnessed the puzzling events outside the perimeter of RAF Woodbridge over two nights in December 1980.

Simon Weeden – MoD UFO desk officer 1980-81 – pictured during the 1980s (Copyright Simon Weeden)

Until recently little was known about how the British Ministry of Defence had dealt with the incident.

When the contents of Lt Col Charles Halt’s now famous memo were broken by The News of the World in 1983 the MoD said his report had been passed to ‘staff responsible for the air defence of the UK’ who had decided it was ‘of no defence significance’.

In 2001 the MoD agreed to release their file on the case to me after I used Freedom of Information legislation to apply for access.

But the ‘Rendlesham file’ was mainly a collection of correspondence with members of the public years after the incident itself. It did, however, contain original documents from 1981 that I used to piece together what happened in the corridors of Whitehall.

Now the former MoD civil servant who received Col Halt’s report and worked with RAF experts to establish the facts has agreed to explain exactly how their decision was reached.

Simon Weeden joined the MoD as a junior civil servant after the general election of 1979 when Margaret Thatcher won power for the Conservative party. As a graduate entrant he was assigned to defence secretariat DS8 – the MoD branch responsible for UFOs – in the following year.

Dealing with UFO correspondence was a tiny part of his duties and his department had no resources or remit to investigate hundreds of sightings that reached the ‘UFO desk’, mainly from members of the public. He said:

‘Our role was primarily dealing with correspondence from ministers and members of the public…We didn’t investigate but acted as fact-finders, consulting with experts in areas like radar and air defence.’

Then early in January 1981 an unusual report arrived on Simon’s desk. The subject matter was ‘Unexplained Lights’ and it was signed by Lt Col Charles Halt, USAF deputy base commander at RAF Woodbridge.

Halt described how on 27 December a US security patrol had reported seeing a triangular object in the forest after responding to reports of an unusual lights outside the back gate of the NATO complex.

The following day Halt’s report said unusual marks were found at the ‘landing site’ on the ground and in the trees. Col Halt reported having supervised a second night-time expedition into the forest. On this occasion unusual radiation readings were detected at the ‘landing’ site and Col Halt and his men saw a ‘red sun-like light’ moving through the trees.

Halt’s dramatic account was accompanied by a covering letter signed by Squadron Leader Donald Moreland, the British liaison officer. He forwarded the account of ‘mysterious sightings in the Rendlesham forest near RAF Woodbridge…for your information and action as considered necessary’.

Squadron Leader Donald Moreland, RAF Woodbridge’s British base commander, who liaised with the USAF (Copyright David Clarke)

Weeden said that Moreland’s note, dated 15 January – 18 days after the sightings – was the first time MoD was notified of the sensational events.

‘Nearly always the reports we got were from ordinary members of the public,’ Simon said.

‘This one was very unusual in that it came from a military source within our organisation. It is the only one of its kind that I can remember from my time working on UFOs for DS8.’

His first action was to circulate Halt’s report to the specialist branches that he relied upon for guidance on what action, if any, was required.

Among these was a RAF air defence branch, Ops GE, whose experts monitored UK airspace using real-time data from radar stations that defended the East Coast. These were the front line in the ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union at that time.

In the days that followed RAF Squadron Leader Jack Badcock checked Halt’s report with the joint CAA-military Eastern Radar at RAF Watton, near Thetford and with the RAF sector radar HQ at RAF Neatishead in Norfolk.

‘The MOD priority at the time was to establish if this was something that had an air defence aspect…Should we be concerned about this? Did it come up on radar? Did anyone notice anything odd…bearing in mind that the radars at Neatishead and Watton were manned 24 hours every day by skilled radar operators.’

But none of the radar stations checked reported anything unusual on their logs over the Christmas holidays. If there had been an air defence alert, RAF Ops would have known about it.

‘Aircraft were scrambled on a routine basis,’ Simon added. ‘If something is out over the North Sea and you don’t know what it is, it’s not responding, you would send up a Phantom or Lightning to have a look and see what it was.

‘But once we had been through all the basic checks and found there was nothing seen on radar, no obvious explanation, no obvious threat to air defence, we decided no further action was needed.’

How The News of the World broke the story in its famous pg1 splash of October 1983 (Credit: Ian Ridpath)

Simon did recall talking to his RAF colleagues about other potential explanations. US Air Force night time manoeuvres, people such as poachers moving around in the woods at night with lamps ‘that sort of thing’ were considered.

‘This was quite a flat part of the world and maybe these were lights from quite far away that were shining through the trees,’ he said, referring to the theory – championed by skeptic Ian Ridpath – that the airmen saw the flashing beacon from the Orfordness lighthouse 6-7 miles away.

But the MoD did not investigate UFOs and even though Badcock was told Col Halt had made a tape recording of his adventure in the forest, it was decided not to ask for a copy because it would ‘reveal no better report than that already received’.

Weeden also copied Halt’s report on radiation anomalies to desk officers in the Defence Intelligence staff who had resources to follow-up if required. But although DI55 said they could not explain Halt’s report they decided not to investigate further.

‘Our interest was never in unidentified flying objects as potential spaceships,’ he explained. ‘Unidentified flying objects are exactly that. They are unidentified. They might have lots of natural explanations but we would not put any effort into investigating, to try and sort out exactly what it was once the initial assessment had decided we didn’t need to worry about it’.

Simon Weeden left the MOD many years ago and this event is not uppermost in his mind but, despite the lack of concern at the time, he does not dismiss the UFO phenomenon. After leaving the MoD in 1988 he trained as a clergyman and spent the next 30 years in parish ministry. 

‘People do have extraordinary experiences,’ he told me. ‘That’s a fact. So I would never poo-poo those people who say to me they have had things like near-death experiences or felt some kind of angelic presence at times of crisis.

Simon Weeden: final word (copyright: David Clarke)

‘I do believe that people have experiences that can’t be explained. But they can be interpreted in a number of different ways. The interpretation depends upon what your viewpoint or standpoint is. If people have a propensity for conspiracy theories or alien manifestations they will interpret them through that filter.’

And Simon’s final word on the Rendlesham Forest UFO mystery 40 years after the events?

‘I think this is obviously something that exercises people’s imaginations. People want to know what the explanation is. I suspect that at the end of it all the explanation is probably going to turn out to be something quite mundane. But I can’t say that definitively; because I just don’t know.

The 40th anniversary of Britain’s best known UFO legend has also been marked by a BBC News feature here. The article includes quotes from John Burroughs, whose book Weaponisation of an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, was published earlier this month. John served in the US Air Force for 27 years and was one of the three man patrol that was sent to investigate what was first thought to be a plane crash in the forest beyond the RAF Woodbridge perimeter.

BBC reporter Nic Rigby also interviewed forester Vince Thurkettle who lived in the Rendlesham forest at the time and who was visited by two mysterious men who arrived at the Forestry Commission office late in December and asked if anyone had reported strange lights in the vicinity of the USAF complex.

Vince believes they may have been British officials who had heard rumours about the UFO incident. But it is more likely they were local journalists who had been tipped off by the Suffolk police who had responded to call from RAF Woodbridge in the early hours of Boxing Day morning.

One of the first civilian investigators to begin inquiries into the UFO mystery is Jenny Randles, author of the first book on the legend, Skycrash (1986) and UFO Crash Landing (1998).

Earlier this month I interviewed Jenny along with John Burroughs for a special extended 40th anniversary edition podcast UFO-LORE. Jenny had not spoken to John since 1988 when they last met at UFO conference in Arizona.

The free-flowing discussion that follows touches on many of the more puzzling aspects of the mystery that continues to fascinate and engage people across the world so long after the original events.

You can listen to the podcast on SoundCloud here or visit our Facebook page for more information here. UFO-LORE is also available from iTunes and Spotify.

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The Real UFO Project

Christmas 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the Rendlesham Forest mystery, Britain’s best known UFO legend.

To mark the event I have contributed a chapter to a new book co-edited by John Burroughs, one of the original USAF airmen witnesses to these extraordinary events near RAF Woodbridge on 26-28 December 1980.

Weaponisation of an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon: the Rendlesham Forest UAP incident 40 years later by John F. Burroughs and James Worrow (editors) is available to purchase/download here. A review by Nick Redfern can be found here.

John Burrough’s new edited collection on the Rendlesham UFO incident published for the 40th anniversary in 2020

My chapter The Real UFO Project covers my campaign that used UK freedom of information legislation to uncover a series of British Ministry of Defence UFO documents that had been with-held from the public for years. I argued there was a clear public interest in their release ahead of the 30 year rule that applied before the arrival of FOI in 2005.

The first record released was the elusive ‘Rendlesham File’ that was opened by the MoD when news of the incident, dubbed by the media as ‘Britain’s Roswell’, first broke in the British media.

I was the first person to receive a full copy of the file in May 2001 and my efforts, along with colleagues, soon led to the release of the 1951 report by the MoD’s Flying Saucer Working Party that was used to brief Prime Minister Winston Churchill following the UFO flap in Washington DC.

This blogpost is a shorter version of my chapter, covering my role in the release of the MoD Defence Intelligence Staff’s Condign Report and summarises the results of my inquiries that led to the identification of its author Ron Haddow, the MoD’s former UAP consultant.

The former Secret/UK Eyes only report was released to the public in 2006 following an FOI request from myself and Gary Anthony. The account that follows was originally published in Fortean Times 396 (September 2020):

It is 14 years since I left the MoD Main Building in Whitehall holding one of only a handful of hard copies of the 3 volume report Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region, codenamed ‘Condign’ by its elusive (and at that point anonymous) author.

The penultimate UFO desk officer Linda Unwin was, like all MoD staff, subject to the Official Secrets Act. She was responsible for releasing the redacted text to me after I used the Freedom of Information Act to prise it from the secret vault of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS).

A page from one of the first generation copies of the MoD Condign report, Executive Summary, delivered by Ron Haddow of DI55 in 2000

For years the MoD had maintained that Linda’s department were the focal point for all British government interest. But the report she handed over made it clear this was far from the whole story. Condign was a project funded entirely by the Defence Intelligence branch DI55 that had kept tabs on UFO reports since the mid-1960s when they inherited the task from the former Air Ministry.

Files released at the UK’s National Archives under the old 30 year rule have revealed that DI55’s main responsibility was guided missiles and space weapons. UFOs or UAPs were a spin-off task inherited from the Cold War era. Anything unidentified that entered Earth’s atmosphere was of interest to DI55’s ‘space desk’ and they used press reports of foreign UFO sightings to track and locate space debris that had fallen to Earth in places as diverse as Nepal and Tanzania.

The scientific and technical content of the Condign report betrayed its author as someone educated at least to PhD level and with some level of personal interest in the subject. He was also someone who did not buy into the extraterrestrial hypothesis that obsessed the media and public during the X-files era.

The documents also revealed a deep suspicion of the UFO desk and its links with UFOlogists. This was evident from the author’s closing directives in the last three UFO files, released in 2018, that sought to hide its existence and conclusions from Nick Pope’s former branch because of their ‘leakiness’. So, who was the author?

In 2009 I appealed to the UK’s Information Commissioner against the decision to redact the name plus that of the other intelligence officers involved. Working with LibDem MP (and former Cabinet Minister) Norman Baker, questions were raised in the House of Commons. But despite the public interest the MoD continued to refuse to be drawn on the identity of the contractor involved.

By that point I already knew that former GEC Marconi scientist Professor Ron Haddow was the author, a fact now in the public domain thanks to Nick Redfern’s book The Rendlesham Forest UFO Conspiracy (2020). I hoped that Haddow, with the permission of his former employers, might be allowed to talk publicly about his controversial conclusion that UFOs existed and were an unknown type of natural phenomena linked to ball lightning.

But Haddow, now an octogenarian, decided not to go on the record. As he had expressed a wish to maintain ‘a low profile’ I decided it was unethical to name him publicly. I did, however, warn Haddow that others – including several contributors to online UFO discussion groups – would eventually follow the same trail of clues that I had and discover his identity for themselves. By 2018 when the MoD declassified three remaining files covering the project journalists at several national newspapers also become aware of his identity.

But as author Nick Redfern says on his Mysterious Universe blog ‘nothing stays hidden forever’. And when the remaining files were released at The National Archives they revealed another reason why Haddow remained wary of attention from both UFOlogists and the media. In 1999 a West Midlands UFOlogist, Irene Bott, phoned MoD Main Building to report a sighting and asked to be put through to the person responsible for UFOs.

Nick Redfern (2nd left) and Irene Bott (3rd left) circa 1999 (photo copyright: Chris Fowler)

Present in the same room was Redfern, author of the 1997 book A Covert Agenda and at that time one of the MoD’s more persistent correspondents. Bott expected the switchboard operator to put her through to desk officer Gaynor South who was the only person officially acknowledged by Whitehall as responsible for UFO matters.

But a mistake was made and, instead, her call was patched through to DI55 who were then based in another central London building.

A man answered the phone. He said his name was Ron Haddow and it quickly became apparent that he was the person who investigated UFOs for MoD.

It is clear from the surviving transcript, released in 2018, that Haddow was not happy:

‘Someone has given our (my) name and number,’ he wrote. ‘This could raise awkward questions since [the UFO desk] not long ago denied publicly that any work was going on. UFOlogists know about DI55 because of the [National Archives] and subsequent TV leaks…at best the name and telephone number will be throughout the UK ufologists in a matter of days’.  And he adds: ‘at worst the press could get hold of it!…Any disparity in future responses will be seen by the UFO community as a “sensitive” cover up and only serve (in their eyes) as confirmation’.

But despite his clear desire to remain in the shadows Haddow had already discussed his own unconventional theories about UFOs at a religious event in Israel soon afterwards. And in 2006, after his retirement from MoD, Haddow published an intriguing novel – No Weapon Forged – ‘with a basis of biblical prophecy’ that was promoted by its publisher as ‘a compelling and entertaining read’ for fans of the Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The blurb describes his novel as ‘a technically, militarily and historically authentic novel about a forthcoming Middle East conflict that is triggered by a dispute over oil. The scenario and weapons in use are frightening – but there is a prophetic twist at the end’.

The cover of Ron Haddow’s dystopian novel No Weapon Forged published in 2006

Redfern’s book lists No Weapon Forged as another example of a science fiction novel written by ex-MoD insider that seeks to interweave a fictional plot with science fact. This literary tradition can be traced back to 1948 when ex-MI5 operative Bernard Newman published The Flying Saucer with a narrative based around crashes of alien spacecraft at remote locations across the world – including the New Mexico desert.

In 1985 former MoD civil servant Ralph Noyes produced a novel, A Secret Property, that implied the existence of technology ‘that produces etheric visions of aliens and spaceships’ that ‘can affect the real world in real and hazardous ways’.

In his MoD role Noyes helped produce a cover-story to hide the true function of the giant UK-US experimental radar station at Orfordness, code-named Cobra Mist, near the UFO-haunted Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk. Nick Redfern believes that he clearly knew something unusual had happened in the forest but did not have access to the whole story.

In his book Redfern sets out his theory that the Rendlesham events were created by elements of the US and UK military as part of a series of top secret experiments involving ball lightning and the ‘the use of sophisticated holograms and hallucinogens’ to test the reactions of the military personnel who were exposed to them. In his view, using a cleverly plotted novel allowed Noyes to avoid the pitfalls of the Official Secrets Act whilst hinting at deeper secrets.

In the absence of Haddow’s own account what can we learn from the content of No Weapon Forged? It opens with a detailed biography of his career in defence intelligence that closely matches the information provided in his report and the remaining DI55 UFO files declassified by the MoD in 2018.

cover of volume 1 showing former classification

Sadly, the book makes no mention of UFOs or UAPs. But it does contain a surprising new fact that may explain the MoD’s reluctance to talk about him. Haddow had ‘a life changing experience’ at a talk on Biblical prophecy in 1982 and afterwards joined a Christian Zionist group.

In October 2000 he was ‘one of just two scientists invited to speak by the International Christian Embassy at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem’. Did Haddow link his new-found religious beliefs with his interest in UAPs? An independent first-hand account of the Jerusalem feast, posted online by a Canadian delegate, provides a clue. It refers to an unusual talk by ‘a government spokesman’ who claimed that most UFO sightings can be explained by the ‘poorly understood phenomena’ of plasmas.

‘Some of these plasmas are man-made by aircraft with radar shield generators,’ the speaker said. ‘These have been in use since WW2 (foo fighters) but have only be declassified since the Kosovo war… The rest are tectonically generated (earthquake lights) or generated by meteor events in the upper atmosphere’.

Nick Redfern agrees that Haddow’s religious beliefs must have had some bearing on the MoD’s attempts to conceal his identity from the media and UFOlogy. He compares Haddow’s interests in End Times prophecies with those held by members of a military think-tank that once existed in the US Department of Defense who were ‘deep into UFOs but also into Old Testament-type religion’.  Mixing UFOs with religion was always going to be controversial, Nick says, especially when ‘in a roundabout way, it leads to a secret UFO project’. He adds: ‘I can easily see how and why the MoD would want to keep all of this very low key’. 

Indeed, in his book Haddow implies the central character is based loosely upon his own life experiences. In doing so he reveals his interest in aircraft and guided missiles began in childhood when he heard a German V-weapon strike on a village near his home in Bedfordshire.  He joined the RAF at 18 and in 1954 took part in testing one of the earliest types of airborne radar. Later he took part in Operation Grapple, the British H-bomb test on Christmas Island and flew intruder missions in Canberras during the Cold War.

During this time he must have become aware of the Air Ministry and later MoD’s interest in UFO reports made by test pilots and RAF aircrew. Indeed, one memo refers to having filed his own report with the UFO desk following a sighting during a RAF mission during the 1950s. No details of this incident have ever emerged. But Haddow’s expertise in Electronic Warfare, radar, air defence and guided weapons made him a perfect candidate for the MoD’s real UFO expert.

In 1977 he was based at RAF Cranwell working as a specialist in guided weapons. His PhD thesis, completed in 1982, investigated ‘the probability of detecting and tracking radar targets in clutter at low grazing angles’, a handy technique for someone keen to capture evidence of UFOs on radar.  

During the 1980s Haddow was called upon to advise US intelligence on aspects of the Pentagon’s ‘Star Wars’ missile programme initiated by President Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s he was Chief Scientist for Systems at GEC-Marconi, the premier electronics company in the UK, now part of BAE Systems and visiting professor for the Royal Military College of Science.

According to his biography, ‘for the whole of this period he was also a consultant-analyst to a department in the MoD, travelling extensively for NATO, for industry and for government’.

The MoD’s decision to ask him to return, one last time, to write their final report on UFOs must have some significance even if the Official Secrets Act continues to prevent him from saying anything else.

The Condign report was Haddow’s swansong after a lifetime in the world of secret intelligence. His own words reveal that he was aware that it would become a source of speculation and debate for decades to come. But for now, at least, he remains in the shadows.

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A Halloween story published by The Guardian newspaper reveals how a group of mysterious stones continue to be venerated in a remote Scottish glen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tigh1-001.jpg
Tigh nam Bodach (copyright David Clarke)

The Tigh nam Bodach or House of the Cailliche (Old Woman) is a small rocky shrine perched above a rushing burn deep in the Grampian mountains.

The tiny house or miniature shieling, and its stone family has been described as ‘the oldest uninterrupted pagan ritual site in Britain’.

Some believe it is a more recent creation as the earliest written reference to the site was in 1888. Whatever the explanation it is a piece of living folklore that deserves protection.

Glen Cailliche (pronounced KAL-yach), a side branch of Glen Lyon, is home to the house that contains a number of water-worn stones from the river chosen because they have anthropomorphic shapes.

This is a place that has a special significance for me. I first learned of its existence from my friend and colleague the late Celtic scholar Dr Anne Ross, author of Pagan Celtic Britain (1967).

Anne told me that when she visited the shrine with the archaeologist Charles Thomas in 1950 the little house was thatched annually on May Eve (the feast of Beltane) and the stones were brought out to watch over the livestock.

The stone family were then put to bed on 1 November (the feast of Samhain), with the thatch removed and replaced with moss to keep the stones warm for the winter. Dr Ross said that following the death of its last ‘guardian’, she did not know if the tradition continued, although the stones continued to be treated with respect.

Happily The Guardian article suggests the tradition does continue today:

“This weekend, at Samhain the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season, according to a modest local custom that may span centuries, the figures will be returned to their quartz-studded shieling – a basic shepherd’s hut – to spend the winter months undercover.”

Back in 1992 I followed directions provided by Anne Ross during the writing of my book Twilight of the Celtic Gods with Andy Roberts. In the book, published in 1996, I describe how:

‘…we arrived after a lengthy trek across a treacherous bog and rushing burn before the ascent into Glen Cailliche brought us to a triangular stone suspect upon a rock outcrop. This was a specially placed marker, pointing towards the lair of the Cailliche. There were in fact not three but six stones in the family, all gazing down the glen, as they have done for centuries…’

The largest stone in the group represents the Cailliche and when I photographed the site in 1992 she was accompanied by the Bodach (Old Man) and a number of smaller water-worn stones.

The Cailliche stone, Tigh nam Bodach (copyright David Clarke)

At one time the tiny shieling was marked by a large quartz stone ‘shining like a seagull’ that allowed visitors to locate the shrine from the surrounding hills. Recent photographs show the quartz rock has vanished but smaller pieces can be seen inside the tiny house.

Tigh nam Bodach appears on the Scottish Sites and Monuments Record where it is listed as ‘a simple pagan shrine’. The entry notes the figures ‘are pieces of sandstone weathered into rough resemblance of human figures’.

It continues ‘…shielings in the area were in use until after 1782 and the inhabitants regularly thatched [the house]…the biennial re-thatching of the shrine continued down to the present century [and] [the gamekeeper/guardian] still puts the figures inside the hut in winter and takes them out in the spring. This action has vague associations with good weather’.

According to local lore, strange and terrible things will happen to anyone who disturbs the lair of the ‘old woman’. In 2011 plans for a hydro-electric power scheme that would have run overhead powerlines along the loch beside the little shrine were dropped after a successful campaign by historians.

As author and story-teller Sharon Blackie writes ‘…in Scottish folklore, the Cailliche isn’t someone you’d want to mess with. She’s a fearsome character with white hair, a dark blue face, rust-coloured teeth and a single eye in the middle of her forehead; she whips up great storms and ice forms in her wake‘.

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Two Podcasts: All About UFOs and Covid-19 folklore

Children’s publisher Usborne have reissued the classic 1977 title All About UFOs from The World of the Unknown series.

Usborne’s reissued All About UFOs

The UFO title is the second in the series to be brought back through popular demand (a companion volume on ghosts was released last October).

Having been a fan of the book since my own childhood I was delighted to be invited to be a guest on the amazing Folklore Podcast for the launch, along with the impressionist and amateur astronomer Jon Culshaw who has provided a foreword for the new edition.

The resultant podcast can be downloaded here and the book is available from Usborne here. All about UFOs is written for young adults but is, in my humble opinion, far superior to any other book aimed at an under-18 audience for this subject matter.

Much like Jon, I was captivated by the idea of UFOs from an early age. This title with its wonderful illustrations and engaging practical tasks – such as how to fake a UFO photograph – fired my imagination.

The text did not pull any punches, introducing youngsters to ‘what [was] known about the flying saucer mystery’ at that time including UFOnauts, radar evidence and the many and varied explanations for unusual sightings.

Missing from the list of topics are the ubiquitous alien abductions (apart from the Betty and Barney Hill story), conspiracy theories and the twin legends of Roswell and Rendlesham that have become the twin pillars of the modern myth. Apart from these more modern obsessions the contents reveal little has changed since 1977.

The text poses some key questions such as where do UFOs come from? Are they spaceships guided by creatures from other worlds? Or are they figments of people’s imaginations?

All About UFOs will make a fantastic birthday or Christmas present for any youngster with an inquiring mind!

On the subject of podcasts Sheffield University‘s annual Festival of the Mind includes a 40 minute programme recorded and produced by me and my Sheffield Hallam University colleague Andrew Robinson on Folkloric Customs in the time of Covid-19.

The 40 minute podcast, available here, summarises our ongoing project that aims to collect and preserve images and personal experiences of new customs, rituals and traditions that have emerged in the United Kingdom since the country entered lockdown in March this year.

A Covid 19 scarecrow from Sheffield, Yorkshire, May 2020 (copyright David Clarke)

The Centre for Contemporary Legend (CCL) based in the Department of Media Arts and Communication at Sheffield Hallam is interested in many different manifestations of legend and narrative.

Rituals such as the now defunct #ClapforCarers and the decoration of windows, pavements and scarecrows to thank NHS and other frontline workers are new folklore deserving of scholarly attention and study.

In the Festival podcast Andrew and I discuss older antecedents including the legend of the Eyam plague in the Derbyshire Peak District and we assess the impact lockdown has had on existing calendar customs such as Castleton Garland and Hastings May Day.

Images of new and emerging folkloric and ritual customs can be found on the CCL website here along with information on how to contribute to the project.

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25 years ago: Alien film a FAKE says movie wizard

25 years ago crowds gathered to see the world premiere of the ‘alien autopsy‘ film at an international UFO congress held at Sheffield Hallam University.

Still from infamous alien autopsy film (copyright S. Melaris)

At the time I was journalist at the Sheffield Star and according to expert Philip Mantle,  author of the definitive history of the legend, it was my exclusive story that tipped off the international media to what became a huge ‘silly season‘ story.

The weekend of 18-19 August 1995 saw the first public showing of the film in Hallam’s Pennine Lecture Theatre during the British UFO Research Association’s 8th international congress. Tickets sold out and TV news crews from around the world were camped outside in Hallam Square eager to interview the key players in the breaking story.

UFOlogist and author Philip Mantle who wrote the definitive history of the ‘alien autopsy’ film, photographed at his West Yorkshire home in March 2020 (copyright David Clarke)

As anticipation grew one week later a segment from the footage was broadcast in the UK as part of the Channel 4 Secret History documentary series. From that moment onward it became part of one of UFOlogy’s cause celebres, the ‘Roswell incident’. Today, images from the autopsy film are now a part of the pop culture UFO mythology.

Many continue to believe the US government has successfully covered up the crash of an alien spacecraft near the New Mexico town in 1947. In The X-Files era, the search was on for hard evidence to confirm this belief – and what better confirmation could there be than actual footage of the autopsy carried out on the alien pilots?

The Alien Autopsy legend became the source of a British-made movie starring celebrity comedians and TV presenters Ant & Dec, currently hosting Britain’s Got Talent and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. For more on this film, read my accompanying blogpost Won’t Get Fooled Again? a summary written with Andy Roberts to coincide with its release, first published by Fortean Times in 2006.

Some continue to believe the footage really was shot in Roswell in 1947 and for years the film continued to attract a small but noisy group of proponents. My exclusive story, published on page 1 of the Sheffield Star 18 August, 1995, did not reveal the author of the hoax but it was prescient in identifying the source: someone within the movie special effects industry:



SPECIAL effects wizards today dismissed a film claiming to show a dead space alien as a fake.

Hundreds of enthusiasts and dozens of TV crews from around the world are heading to Sheffield Hallam University for the sell-out congress organised by the British UFO Research Association this weekend.

But today experts at Pinewood Studios who create effects for big-budget Hollywood films said they found the ‘alien’ was really ‘a very good fake body’ when they examined the footage.

Believers said the grainy black and white film showed a top secret US army autopsy on an alien pilot killed when his flying saucer crashed in the desert at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

The program for BUFORA’s 8th international congress, UFOs: examining the evidence, where the alien autopsy footage was first shown publicly in 1995 (David Clarke)

Channel 4 are planning to use the film as part of a worldwide TV probe into claims that the US government secretly recovered a crashed spaceship and have covered up the truth for 50 years.

Cliff Wallace, of Creature Effects at Pinewood said experts could see evidence of a seam down one arm of the creature which suggested it was a life-like model.

They also picked out the words ‘VIDEO TV’ written on parts of the wreckage claimed to be from the crashed saucer.

‘This film is a fake – there’s no doubt about it,’ Mr Wallace told The Star.

‘It’s been done very cleverly by someone probably within our profession and there is no possibility that it could have been filmed in 1947.’

War of Words over flying saucer film: my inside story, published on p6 of the Star, 18 August 1995

Mr Wallace, whose company made a lifesize model of Sean Connery for the film First Knight, said he believed the film had been made as a publicity stunt for a forthcoming movie on the UFO mystery.

Today, London businessman Ray Santilli, who has been trying to sell the film to TV companies across the world, was not available for comment.

He has claimed he bought it from a retired US army photographer, now aged 82.


In his definitive account of the story, Roswell Alien Autopsy: the truth behind the film that shocked the world, Philip Mantle writes (p39):

‘The first the public was to learn about the film was on January 14th, 1995, when [Reg Presley, the late lead singer of The Troggs] was interviewed on a BBC Breakfast TV show. He surprised everyone by announcing what he had seen – a film of “real, live aliens”. There was no great reaction to this announcement as the show in those days did not have a big audience. In the meantime, I having now seen the AA films, asked Santilli if he would show it at a British UFO Research Association conference I was organising in Sheffield for August that year [1995]. Surprisingly, Santilli agreed. Shortly after this I received a phone call from local journalist and long-time UFOlogist David Clarke, of the Sheffield Star – one of Britain’s biggest newspapers. Clarke was writing a small article for the paper about another local UFO researcher and asked for a few quotes on the proposed August conference. I gave him a few lines and and, as an off-the-cuff remark, noted that an ‘alien autopsy’ film was to be shown as an exclusive. 

‘Clarke published his article and I was subsequently contacted by White’s Press Agency in Sheffield. They wanted to know more about the AA film and I answered their questions – never expecting anything to come of it. Within hours of White Press Agency sending their story out around the world [my] phone began to ring off the hook.

Philip Mantle’s definitive book on the alien autopsy film, revised edition 2020

‘The story was out. The conference sold out in no time and Santilli was besieged by journalists, UFO researchers and TV companies…’

Mantle’s book documents the origins of the legend and examines the trail of evidence that exposed the hoax in forensic detail. Roswell Alien Autopsy: The Truth Behind the Film That Shook The World (Flying Disk Press 2020) is available from Amazon.

You can also watch a four-part documentary Alien Autopsy: The Search For Answers that follows Mantle’s investigation of the film, available from Amazon Prime and I-tunes.

Coincidentally this summer also marks the centenary of another set of faked images – in this case black and white stills – that became a legend and part of Yorkshire’s folklore.

In August 1920 two cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, took three of the famous ‘Cottingley Fairy photographs‘ in and around the beck behind Elsie’s family home at Cottingley, near Bradford in West Yorkshire.  These three images complemented two others, produced in 1919, that convinced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, that fairy folk really did exist.

In 1975 Elsie, then aged 74, in a TV interview, said: ‘I have told you they are figments of our imagination and that’s what I’m sticking to’.

It was not until 1982, sixty years after the story broke,that the two women confessed the photographs were drawings of ‘fairies’ that had been cut out of popular magazines and held in place by hatpins. Even then, Frances continued to maintain they had seen fairies and the girls took the photographs as proof that would confound their skeptical parents.

Elsie Wright and the leaping fairy, one of the Cottingley photographs from August 1920 (source: Wikipedia)

Much like the alien autopsy film, the story of the Cottingley fairies continues to capture the popular imagination today. There have been dozens of books about it, two Hollywood movies and numerous TV programmes and documentaries. The story is often described as one of the greatest photographic hoaxes of all time.

But is hoax the most appropriate word to use when you are dealing with matters of belief? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a hoax as ‘a humorous or mischievous deception with which the credulity of the victim is imposed upon’.

What I have learned over 40+ years investigating extraordinary beliefs and experiences is that when people believe in something so strongly – whether that’s belief in fairies or aliens – individuals will interpret what emerges from the camera as confirmation of their beliefs.

Seeing isn’t believing – believing is seeing!

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Won’t Get Fooled Again?: The alien autopsy film (2006)

This piece originally appeared in the Flyingsaucery column of Fortean Times 210 (2006) to mark the release of the movie Alien Autopsy.

Alien Autopsy film (2006) – credit Amazon

UFOlogists are always keen to play down the amount of hoaxing that goes on within the subject and to be fair, hoaxes only account for a small proportion of UFO reports. But many of the central planks of the subject such as ‘good’ photographs, contactees and ‘leaked’ Government documents containing evidence of secret conspiracies are rooted in hoaxes of varying complexity. It is only now, after more than a decade, that one of the most complex and influential UFO hoaxes has finally begun to unravel.

On 5 May 1995 a large group of people, mainly UFOlogists but also representatives of various religions, journalists, MoD minions and others gathered in the hushed darkness of the Museum of London’s film theatre. They were there at the invitation of video entrepreneur Ray Santilli, to view a film that would change the face of UFOlogy for more than a decade. A film showing an autopsy on a non-human creature possibly, it was hinted, from the infamous 1947 Roswell Incident.

Santilli later related how he had been offered the film whilst on a visit to the USA to buy up film of Elvis Presley and other early rock’n’roll stars. When a retired military cameraman showed him the special film he had harboured for over 40 years Santilli was indeed all shook up. It was too good an offer to turn down and so he raised the cash and brought the film, all 22 reels of it, back to the UK where it was edited down into usable material and the rest is history. Until now.

Santilli’s story, and the subject matter of the film came at just the right time for UFOlogy. The hit TV show The X Files was making cultural waves and clueing the general public into the possibility that alien craft really had really crashed and were in the possession of the military. Conspiracies were everywhere and the western world was primed and ready for some actual evidence. Santilli’s film appeared to deliver just that.

Despite warnings issued by more wise and experienced UFOlogists the mass media saw the film as easy, punter-grabbing copy. The AA film (as it became known) was seen by an estimated 1.2 billion people across the globe. It was splashed across a thousand newspapers and eventually turned into a mega-selling video.

Since 1995, UFOlogy has been arguing over the film’s authenticity and some diehards have been desperately trying to shoehorn the footage into one of the many ‘crashed saucer’ scenarios.  Along the way, a number of professionals and experts from the fields of model making, forensic pathology and other disciplines came out in vocal support of the film being the real thing. But none of their questions could be answered because Santilli consistently refused to allow the film stock it to be properly analysed and changed portions of his story over the years.

Time passed and during 2005 rumour had it that Santilli was involved with making a movie about the AA film. Not a “serious” movie but a comedy directed by Jonny Campbell starring the UK’s answer to Pinky and Perky, former child actors Ant and Dec (Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly). Surely not? Why was the man who discovered The Greatest Story Ever Sold considering selling out by making a comedy – even one billed as being “based on true events.” The reason soon became clear, Santilli was finally going to reveal the real ‘truth’ about the AA film and it could be no coincidence that this ‘truth’ was to be revealed just two days before the comedy hit the cinemas. More worryingly, both these events were taking place days after the most important date in the hoaxer’s calendar, April 1st!

Sheffield Star 18 August 1995

Santilli had conspired with the incestuous TV industry to feature on a programme called Eamonn Investigates…The Alien Autopsy film. The Eamonn in question, former Breakfast TV anchor man Eamonn Holmes, revealed the ‘truth’ at 8.00pm on April 4th [2006] on Sky One, playing the part of a hard nosed investigator, keen to learn the truth about the AA film. This was post-modernist docu-comedy at its best, with all parties clearly in the know and hamming it up to create yet another ‘truth’ about the AA film.

But what lay behind the alien on the autopsy film itself? Well, it’s not so much what lay behind as what lay within – sheep’s brains in jelly. No prizes for guessing that the alien, the autopsy and the hype surrounding its 1995 was a hoax. However, Santilli didn’t like the word ‘hoax’. He much preferred the term ‘restoration’, for the simple reason that whilst his film had been a mock-up there really had been a real AA film after all! What?  Santilli was patient with Holmes (no Sherlock, this one) and carefully explained that there had been an original AA film and there had been a genuine military camera man.

Eamonn Holmes, TV anchorman, who investigated the AA film for Sky One (copyright: SkyNews)

Nevertheless, by the time Santilli and co had raised the cash to buy the film stock it had deteriorated, so the only way to show the world (and recoup the investment of course) was to make ‘restoration’, the kicker being that tiny parts of the Santilli AA film were from the original AA film. ‘How much?’ asked Holmes. ‘I don’t think any of us knows anymore,’ smirked Santilli’s sidekick Gary Shoefield. ‘Less than 5%,’ Santilli smirked back. Santilli and Shoefield did more smirking than was strictly necessary as they told the story of how they made shed loads of money from human gullibility. It’s their apparent glee at making money from the gullible that will cast a shadow over their hoaxing achievements.

It emerged that the AA film was shot in flat in Camden’s Rochester Square, using a manikin built by a model maker in just three and a half weeks. This was sculptor John Humphreys, the unsung hero of the AA film, who explained how he made the model and packed it with bits of dead animal spare parts, all bought from Smithfield market. Sheerluck Holmes duly questioned the butcher who had sold Humphreys the meat. He cheerfully ‘fessed up that he knew it was for making the model of an alien. Humphreys also played the surgeon in the AA film, so he could be sure that his model was treated like the cosmic cadaver it was supposed to be. But the blood on the knife as he sliced the critter – how did he do that? Glad you asked. Quite simply he smeared animal blood on the unseen side of his surgeon’s knife which trickled off as he made the ‘cut’, giving the illusion the blood came from the newly opened body.

By all accounts they had a real laugh making the AA film, even when the first ‘alien’ didn’t work and they had to create a new one. A ‘fun atmosphere’ was how Humphreys described the experience, which also involved some of Santilli’s work colleagues playing other roles. The recreation of this sequence in Campbell’s film Alien Autopsy really is the highpoint of the movie, with its farcical depiction of dotty relatives, actors slipping on gore and extras fainting on the set.

A model, some genuine instruments, shaky film and lots of raw meat, all obvious now you think about it. But at the time, when seen together in the context of the prevalent Roswell myth, well, it all seemed to make sense to a great many people. UFOlogical sleuths were quickly on the case in the late 1990s seeking to track down the original cameraman, as he held the key to the whole story. Only he could back Santilli’s claims up and give his story the authenticity it needed. And lo, Santilli came up with the goods, organising a TV interview with the cameraman who, obviously, supported Santilli’s story of the film’s provenance and subject matter (played effectively in the movie by Harry Dean Stanton). UFOlogists not being too bright this put them off the scent.

Actor Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) who played the role of the US army cameraman in the 2006 film Alien Autopsy (source: Wikipedia)

In Eammon Investigates the elusive snapper was revealed to be yet another twist in the Santilli created hall of smoke and mirrors – just a bum picked up off the street and given lines to speak to camera. Another hoax, but one which put ufological sleuths off the scent of the real cameraman. Confused? Well you should be keeping up then!

Was any of this contrived expose true? Who can tell. The AA film is surrounded by so many layers of falsehood and deceit that it would be unwise to take Eamonn Holmes’ ‘investigation’ as the final word. That the AA film was a hoax is about all we can deduce for certain. And whatever you may think about hoaxing and hoaxers credit must go to ray Santilli and his chums for being shrewd, highly manipulative masters of popular culture who had the Big Idea, the cash and, most importantly, the cojones to carry it off, fooling and making millions along the way. The Never Ending Story, with its tantalizing promise that genuine alien footage still exists will allow them to milk the easily gulled for years to come, whilst adding yet more layers to the mish-mash of disparate elements that comprises UFOlogy.

In the early days of their attempts at marketing the film the hoaxers approached a number of tabloid newspapers, all of whom offered them largish sums of money to tell the film’s story. The News of the World offered the most, a rather tempting £50,000 and Santilli was all set to go with it until the editor revealed that he would want the film verified first and payment wouldn’t be forthcoming until after publication. Oddly – or perhaps not – Santilli severed further communication and decided to market the film himself, largely through dupes in the UFO field.

UFOlogists, for all their self styled investigative rigour had been waiting for years for something like the AA film which, at last, give them the credibility they craved. The British UFO Research Association’s (BUFORA) Sheffield conference in 1995 was largely given over to promoting the film to UFOlogy and to the media. Unfortunately the media, whilst happy to sell papers on the back of the AA hype, decided the AA film was risible and the film’s corrosive influence set serious UFOlogy back many years and was effectively the beginning of the end for BUFORA. The media once again associated UFOlogists with cranks, crackpots and people desperately seeking something.

The program for BUFORA’s 8th international congress, UFOs: examining the evidence, where the alien autopsy footage was first shown publicly in 1995 (David Clarke)

All in all there was a lot of talk and little analysis in Eamonn Investigates. Forteans, when they see the program, will be mulling over what it tells them about the power of the media and human credulity, which is seemingly limitless. The expose also spoke volumes about the degree to which we put our faith in so called ‘experts’ when they tell us that a rubber mannikin, sheep’s brains and buckets of animal blood compose an alien and that ham-fisted Londoners are trained military autopsy personnel.

Perhaps we should leave the last word to the UK’s Philip Mantle, UFOlogical maven and one of the unwitting pawns in Santilli’s game, who did much to help publicise the AA film: “After watching this tonight I can honestly say that I do not believe one word of either Santilli or Shoefield and I have no doubt that the film is nothing more than a complete fake. There is and never was any original film and there is and never was
any US military cameraman. Santilli & Shoefield had little credibility as it was but now they have none.”

Caveat emptor!

Alien Autopsy was released in UK cinemas on 7 April 2006.

Text copyright 2006 David Clarke and Andy Roberts



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Britain’s Ritual Protection Marks

Witch marks‘ is a relatively new term popularly used to describe a range of ritual protective marks and charms that are carved and etched into the structure of churches, grand buildings and caves in Britain and elsewhere.

I have summarised the most recent scholarship that added to our knowledge of these mysterious carvings in the May 2020 issue of Fortean Times (FT392). Some have been dated to the late middle ages, such as those identified on wooden beams in the National Trust property at Knole in Kent.

Others such as the ubiquitous double V or ‘Marian marks’ have been identified in both pre-Reformation contexts and more recent locations – dating to the Victorian era – when it was used as a more generic evil-averting symbol.

Apotropaic carvings, counter-witchcraft charms and the folklore that surrounds them will be the subject of my next book currently in preparation. My PhD, completed in 1999 at the University of Sheffield, examined carved stone faces and heads that performed a similar function in buildings and archaeological sites across the British Isles. The word apotropaios means ‘to turn away’ and reflects their evil-averting function.

Thousands of these secret charms have been identified by folklorists and archaeologists during the past two decades. The marks were largely ignored by architectural historians before this century because they were so common and easily dismissed as graffiti or masons marks.

An example of a so-called ‘Marian mark’ or apotropaic symbol carved on the wall of a medieval rock shelter at Stanage Edge in the Peak District National Park (copyright David Clarke)

The subject hit the national headlines in February this year when a huge collection of markings, dating from the medieval period to the 19th century, were discovered at Creswell Crags on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the English midlands. The crags already had an international reputation as the site of the only confirmed Ice Age art in the British Isles.

Earlier this century similar examples of marian marks and other apotropaic symbols had been identified in the Cheddar cave complex in southwest England.

Brian Hoggard completed a thesis on charms and runs www.apotropaios.com that provides a database and clearing house for new examples. His book Magical House Collection: The Archaeology of Counter-Witchcraft (Berghahn 2019) lists the principal ‘charms’ found in buildings and archaeological contexts as so-called ‘Witch Bottles’ or Bellarmines, concealed shoes, dried cats, horse skulls, written charms and ‘protection marks’ (the so-called Witch Marks). The gazetteer contains hundreds of examples from across the British Isles and parts of the northeast USA.

In my Fortean Times article I list the major categories of ritual protective marks identified in the British Isles. These include:

An example of a ‘daisy wheel’ or hexafoil carved on a beam inside a medieval barn in Derbyshire (copyright David Clarke)

  • Daisy wheels, hexafoils or triskeles – based on an ancient solar symbol, these geometric marks were sometimes cut with compasses. Examples have been found in many Tudor buildings in plaster and wood.
  • Pentagrams – the five pointed star was described as a potent protection against demons in ancient texts and is mentioned in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Examples are much more difficult to find but have been identified in a number of secular and religious buildings.
  • Marian Marks – the VV symbol is probably the most ubiquitous example of protective charms in the British Isles. The mark invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary, ‘virgin of virgins, mother of Jesus Christ’.
  • Mesh Marks – these are often found etched into secret places in old buildings and functioned as demon traps to ensnare evil spirits in an endless maze.
  • Burn Marks – these were made with a candle or taper as a form of protective magic that aimed to expose timber to a deliberate flame to protect wooden buildings against disastrous blazes of the type that were common in the past.
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Going ‘out there’ in SoCal: Fortean Traveller

One year ago, in June 2019,  I spent a week on the road in southern California  with friends Dr Tom Clark and Professor Chris Bader seeking out UFO contactee cults, quirky museums and modern ghost-hunters. Our account of the trip, written with Tom and my wife Carolyn, appeared in the Fortean Traveller section of Fortean Times  388 (January 2020).

Roadtrips in the first half of 2020 have been postponed thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. So here for your enjoyment is an account of our memories from last year, in anticipation of future adventures and reunions with good friends.

Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert, California, where George van Tassell hosted his ‘Spacecraft Conventions’ from 1953 (credit Carolyn Waudby)

Most people visit Southern California for the sunlit white beaches and Hollywood celebrities. But with a population of well over four million, it’s not surprising that there’s a whole host of options to interest the Fortean traveller. We set off with our host, Professor Chris Bader – author of Paranormal America – to investigate a number of infamous alien visitations, hauntings and as much weird Southern California as we could fit into a week.

We set up a base camp near Professor Bader’s office at Chapman University in a quirky little guesthouse called Ruta’s Olde Town Inn. With three rooms, as much breakfast as we could eat, and an interesting display of vintage childrens toys and ephemera, it was located in something of a ghost hotspot, with a number of haunted houses nearby. On the edge of Anaheim in Orange County, it was a perfect base to begin to explore SoCal.

And there’s the thing. Los Angeles is huge. Its freeways are like spaghetti, its intersections constant and choked with traffic. It has flyovers that frequently soar into the sky before slamming you down into a NASCAR-like race to the next turn-off. It is also rightfully notorious for its poor public transport, so it’s worth taking the time to understand both the Amtrak and Metro systems. Before you plan your schedule consider whether you’d be better off hiring a car and steady yourself for a white-knuckle ride.

Distinctive interior design in the Unarius Academy of Science in El Cajon, California (copyright David Clarke)

But once you’ve gained your bearings, SoCal is hugely rewarding. After a brief sojourn to the Church of Scientology bookshop in Santa Ana, we began our trip by visiting The Unarius Academy of Science in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego and about a two hour drive south out of Los Angeles. Unarius is an acronym for the ‘Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science’.

It was founded in 1954 as a kind of galactic consulate by Ernest and Ruth Norman who had built up a small following through their psychic readings and channelled messages from space people. Its purpose is ‘to advance awareness of the inter-dimensional science of life as based upon principles of fourth-dimensional physics’.

Ruth styled herself as the Archangel Uriel and after the death of Ernest in 1971 she became its public face. Her channelling work stepped up a gear, as did the production of her gowns and Norman predicted a mass-landing of flying saucers in 2001 on a piece of scrubland near the Unarius headquarters.  When this failed to happen the Unarians concentrated on their past-life channelling that continued after Ruth’s death in 1993.

With colourful murals that still adorn the walls, the World Teaching Centre hosts on-going workshops that are designed to help its students understand the continuity of consciousness. In pioneering a new science of reincarnation, they continue to use ‘past life therapy’ to channel those lives into the written word. With no Karma that it cannot overcome, the likes of Napoleon, Yamamoto, and ‘the last Inca, Atahualpa’ have all been channeled into biographies that can be purchased from the bookstore. But not all past lives are as memorable. When we asked our guide who he had been he said, ‘yeah, I was a Russian painter, what’s his name…? Hell, it doesn’t matter!’

Dinosaurs still walk the Earth at the Creation and History Museum in Santee, where exhibits aim to prove that our planet is only 10,000 years old (copyright David Clarke)

For a different sort of religious experience, just a few blocks away in Santee is the ‘Creation and Earth History Museum’. Originally opened by the Institute for Creation Research its exhibits are largely aimed at proving that the Earth is, in fact, only around 10,000 years old. Among other claims, it provides ‘evidence’ to suggest that the world was indeed created in just six days, that the Grand Canyon was formed in a matter of weeks, and, perhaps most surprisingly, that dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark (but, given their size, only young ones).

Without any hint of irony, it is suggested that over a number of generations the dinosaurs later died out because they weren’t well adapted to the world after the flood. There’s also a surprising assertion that Karl Marx was ‘(according to some) a Satanist in college’, and a diorama that encourages children to sit with a fluffy sacrificial lamb and ‘reflect on the ultimate sacrifice – Jesus the Lamb of God’ in front of a scene that does indeed depict the sacrifice of a lamb.

To continue with our contactee theme, we ventured out into the heat of the Mojave desert to visit The Integratron near the tiny town of Landers, California. This unique circular structure was built by George Van Tassel, a former aircraft mechanic who lived in a house under the Giant Rock – a massive seven story granite boulder – three miles drive away. The subterranean ‘house’ beneath the rock was excavated by his buddy, German immigrant and prospector Franz Critzer. But during WW2 Critzer came under suspicion of working for the Nazis and was blown up when dynamite store exploded during a police siege. Van Tassel bought the property in 1947 and opened a café but few people ventured out to this remote place before the flying saucer craze arrived in SoCal.

Early in 1953 George Adamski, a Polish émigré, stunned the world with his account of a meeting with the angelic pilot of a ‘scout ship’ from Venus that landed near Desert Center. Soon afterwards, whilst meditating, Van Tassel began to channel messages from space people and was ‘astrally transported’ to meet the Council of Seven Lights. From 1953 he hosted annual ‘Spacecraft Conventions’ in the shade of the Giant Rock that attracted up to 10,000 saucer fans eager to hear the latest wisdom from Ashtar and legions of other entities with unpronounceable names. Adamski and all those who followed him to create what Greg Bishop and Adam Gorightly call the ‘Golden Age of Contactees’ spoke here at one time or another.

During the ‘60s the LSD-soaked desert scene attracted Keith Richards and Gram Parsons, who reportedly tripped out on mushrooms whilst skywatching at nearby Joshua Tree National Park. But the only evidence of visitors that we could find was UFO graffiti on the remains of an airstrip and nearby rocks.

The Integratron, built by UFO contactee George Van Tassell in the Mojave Desert, California (copyright David Clarke)

Van Tassel claimed the space people taught him a method through which he could rejuvenate the human body and, using his new-found knowledge and funds provided by Howard Hughes, he designed and built a cupola-shaped structure that could harness the EMF energy necessary to effectively recharge the cells in your body as if they were an electric battery. Unfortunately for Van Tassell this was not enough to save him from a heart attack in 1978. But his Integratron survived plans to turn it into a disco and today it is a listed building in the US National Register of Historic Places.

Its new owners adapted it to offer ‘sound baths’ to locals and passing tourists and the small gift shop stocks a range of flying saucer-themed clothing and trinkets. The ground floor of the Integratron has wall displays on local history and the saucer conventions plus a small library of UFO books.

These days you can join fellow pilgrims for a ‘soun-bath’ inside the Integratron (copyright David Clarke)

The leader of the sound bath ceremony makes a number of large quartz drums ‘sing’ so that they reverberate around the dome-like structure until it produces an all-encompassing sound. We were invited to climb into the roof space and relax on mats arranged in circles facing the curving walls.

Fellow pilgrims were a mixture of young yogis and older dudes and, given the New Age vibe, we were surprised to hear a potted history of ‘50s contactee stories before the auditory experience began. We found it impossible not to feel immediately relaxed, so much so that a warning was issued to those prone to snore not to spoil the moment for everyone else.

Within seconds of the first low G-note there was some very loud snoring from an unidentified source but the ambience was ruined only temporarily. Sound baths are proving very popular so if you want to experience the delights of the Integratron we recommend you book ahead here.

Perhaps the most unusual ‘haunted house’ in SoCal: the RMS Queen Mary offers regular ghost tours and paranormal investigations (Copyright David Clarke)

For those who like their more Fortean adventures to be more ghostly, SoCal is also home to a large number of haunted houses. Perhaps the most unusual is the RMS Queen Mary, now permanently docked at Long Beach. Once the flagship of the Cunard and White Star Line, and a former holder of the Blue Riband, the cruiseliner took her maiden voyage in 1936 and remained in service through WW2 until 1967, when she was converted into a floating hotel.

With such a distinguished past – and a reported 50 people are reported to have died on board – perhaps it’s not surprising that it picked a few ghosts along the way. Indeed, the ship has been voted as one of the top ten haunted places in the USA and now offers both ghost tours and paranormal investigations.

Opting for full immersion, we enjoyed an entertaining evening in the bowels of the ship staring blankly at EMF meters, taking EVP recordings, and generally looking for any sign of ghostly activity. Whilst our host appeared certain that there was ‘something’ on at least one of the recordings, we were less convinced.

What was undeniable, however, was that two of the security guards were seriously spooked and reported having their own weird experiences whilst on patrol. One young man in particular clearly believing that he had heard his name being called behind him. His fellow guard, a grandmother who worked in a hospital by day, admitted there were parts of the ship she didn’t like venturing into.  ‘There’s good ones and there’s bad ones,’ was her summing up of the RMS Queen Mary’s ‘spirit’ presence.

Leaving the ghosts of the Queen Mary behind, we then did what all LA tourists do and took a trip to Hollywood. But whilst many people walk up, down, and around Hollywood Boulevard looking for the names of famous stars they might recognise, just around the corner on Afton Place lies the Headquarters of the Aetherius Society, an international organisation that is dedicated to using and spreading the teachings of advanced extraterrestrial intelligences.

Once inside we admired the immaculately tended flowers and garden, iron gates with a shimmering star-scape engraved into the metalwork and a crystal-ball topped fountain inscribed with the words ’Service To Humanity Through Protection’.

The HQ of the Aetherius Society in Los Angeles (credit: Carolyn Waudby)

The ‘society’ or New Religious Movement was founded in the mid-50s by an English contactee, George King, a London taxi driver, who began his journey as a psychic medium and yoga master. After reading Adamski, he swapped the Great White Brotherhood for the Space People and in 1954, whilst washing the dishes in his Maida Vale bedsit, a voice announced: ‘Prepare Yourself! You are to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament!’

In the verdant gardens outside the Aetherius Society HQ (copyright: David Clarke)

This was the first of hundreds of messages King received from Cosmic Masters including an extraterrestrial called ‘Aetherius’ who, it later emerged, lived on Venus. Over the next 30 years, King would continue to commune with Aetherius and other disembodied entities from Mars, Saturn and elsewhere in our solar system.

On one occasion he was ordered to go alone to a hill in Somerset where he met the Master Jesus who landed in a flying saucer. In 1958 King moved his HQ permanently to downtown LA and a number of his followers continue to live out their lives in a small community based around King’s former bungalow home. The shop sells Aetherius Society literature and tape recordings of King’s channelled messages from the Masters.

All these contacts led King to develop his New Age religion to spread enlightenment, selflessness and ongoing action protect the Earth from a range of threats from outer space and, more recently, climate change. But Greg Bishop notes that in 1997, soon after King’s death, the mass suicides of followers of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult in nearby San Diego caused both the Aetherius Society and the Unarians to open up and explain ‘why they were not all like that bunch’.

As it happened we chose to visit on a day that most of the congregation were making their way up Mount Baldy, one of the society’s Holy Mountains. These are used for ceremonies that store spiritual energy as part of the society’s ongoing battle to save us from all kinds of natural disasters. Little did we know that, just over ten days after our visit, SoCal would be rocked by an earthquake that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, the largest tremor to strike the region in 20 years. The epicentre of the quake was the town of Ridgecrest, 240 km north of Los Angeles,and sparked fears of further devastating quakes along the San Andreas faultline.

Oblivious to the pending threat we did what all tourists do and went off in search of the Hollywood sign, then hit the six-lane freeway back to Orange before LA’s infamous rush-hour began.

Left to right: Chris Bader, David Clarke and Tom Clark outside the Unarius Academy (credit: Carolyn Waudby)

Notes and further reading/watching:

Dave and Tom wish to thank Chris and Sarah Bader and Carolyn Waudby. We stayed at Ruta’s Old Town Inn at Orange and flew to LA by Virgin Atlantic. Ghost Tours of the RMS Queen Mary can be booked online here

Adam Gorightly and Greg Bishop,A’ is for Adamski: The Golden Age of UFO Contactees (Gorightly Press 2018)

Farewell, Good Brothers (Dir: Robert Stone 1998)


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Close Encounters (at a distance): the UFOlore Podcast

The first episode of the UFOlore podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and TuneIn.

Art by Tom Voyce used in the UFOlore project has been auctioned on Ebay to raise funds for the NHS emergency

We hope this weekly dose of discussion surrounding the folklore of UFOs and those who see and believe in them will be a nostalgic distraction from the Covid-19 crisis for many like-minded folk who are currently in lockdown.

UFOlore is a joint research project with journalist Richard Wilson and writer Jim Chisem, with assistance from a number of colleagues from the Department of Media Arts and Communications at Sheffield Hallam University and elsewhere.

Earlier in 2019 Jim interviewed me about my work on The National Archives UFO project for the British Online Archives podcast Dr Clarke versus the Flying Saucers. The podcast that resulted proved so popular that Jim approached me with the idea for a more regular podcast – and some YouTube films – that tackled the subject in an educational, non-sensational way.

It was a happy coincidence that TV journalist Richard had already proposed a mini series  that interviewed those who had seen and experienced unexplained aerial phenomena. Work had begun on filming just before the Covid-19 virus became a pandemic in March so this part of the project has been placed on hold for now.

But with the first two episodes of the podcast in the bag we decided to launch on Easter weekend – with apologies for the sound-quality on episode #1.

Future episodes will include a discussion with a retired schoolteacher who observed a triangular UFO over Sheffield city centre and with a special constable who experienced ‘missing time’ during a strange experience in North Yorkshire.

UFOlore also has a Facebook and Instagram page. Please like us and we welcome constructive comments and ideas for future episodes.

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