An astronomer helped fake Britain’s first UFO contactee story

Kenneth Arnold could never have imagined the consequences when he reported seeing nine shiny objects flying rapidly past Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. He told reporters the next day that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.” The “flying saucer” age was underway, ceaselessly barreling ahead to this day.

UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings were so numerous that by February 1955, TIME magazine would remark, “Simply sighting flying saucers is out of date — the big spin now is to spot them landing and to hobnob with their interplanetary passengers.” The comment came in the magazine’s review of Cedric Allingham’s book, Flying Saucer from Mars. Allingham, described as a 32-year-old “thriller-writer, amateur stargazer, and bird watcher,” reported that while on vacation in northeast Scotland in February 1954, he encountered and visited with a Martian.

Skeptics noted that Allingham’s experience came within months of the British publication of Flying Saucers Have Landed by Californian George Adamski. Adamski is considered the first person to publicly claim to be a “UFO contactee,” someone who’s had direct contact with extraterrestrial beings. He said that on November 20, 1952, a large translucent UFO landed near him in a California desert. The pilot, a Venusian named Orthon, left the ship to converse with Adamski through telepathy and hand signals. Adamski’s book sold 65,000 copies in the U.S. and 40,000 in England in only a year.

Allingham said he was bird-watching when a 50-foot flying saucer landed beside him, as happened to Adamski. The alien used a sketch drawn by Allingham to show he was from Mars. He also indicated he’d visited Venus and the Moon. Akin to Adamski, Allingham communicated with the Martian with gestures. Like Adamski’s Venusian, the Martian expressed concern about humankind’s wars. Allingham took a photo of the visitor — but from behind. His pictures of the Martian spacecraft were more blurry but similar to Adamski’s pictures of the Venusian craft.

Allingham was hard to find once his book appeared in October 1954. The only apparent report of him making a public appearance came from Hugh Downing, former Air Chief Marshall of the Royal Air Force. He wrote that Allingham spoke to “our local Flying Saucer Club” in January 1955. The club members “were all strongly impressed that he was telling the truth about his actual experiences, although we felt that he might have been mistaken in some of the conclusions which he drew.”

“Cedric Allingham”

Allingham’s publisher first explained his unavailability by saying he was on a U.S. tour. Later it announced Allingham had tuberculosis and was in a Swiss sanitarium. In 1956, the publisher announced Allingham had died.

Although skepticism always surrounded his story, it took 30 years after Allingham’s reported death to debunk it. The July 1986 issue of Magonia magazine, which had its origins in the Merseyside UFO Research Group, carried an investigation by Christopher Allan and Steuart [sic] Campbell. It revealed Allingham never existed. Instead, he was the creation of British amateur astronomer Patrick Moore and his friend, Peter Davies.

Davies admitted Flying Saucer from Mars was a prank attempting to capitalize on Adamski’s book’s popularity. Davies said someone he wouldn’t name wrote the book and he revised it. Moreover, Allingham’s photo on the book jacket was, in fact, Davies standing next to a telescope owned by Moore. Davies also admitted it was he who spoke to the UFO club.

Allan and Steuart used several methods to identify Moore as the author. A computer analysis of Moore’s writing style and Flying Saucer from Mars showed numerous similarities, although they acknowledged that Davies’s revisions prevented saying they were identical. They compared the Allingham photo with one in one of Moore’s astronomy books of a telescope in his garden. The telescope and garden background were identical. Also, they said, Moore said in a book that he met Allingham at the UFO club lecture. They assert Moore is the only person who claimed to know Allingham.

Moore never admitted involvement with Flying Saucer from Mars, perhaps because of his status. Although an amateur astronomer, he compiled a catalog of astronomical objects, and an asteroid was named for him. Moore was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and president of the British Astronomical Association. He published more than 70 books on astronomy, many for the general public and children. Before his death in December 2012, Moore had a monthly astronomy program on BBC television for 55 years. He was knighted in 2001 for “services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting.”

Yet, Moore was recognized as eccentric, was a critic of ufology, and unafraid of pranks. His first BBC television appearance came in a 1956 debate about the existence of UFOs. According to Allan and Steuart, Moore sent a hoax UFO sighting to his local newspaper and spoof letters to the newsletter of the Aetherius Society, a UFO religion. They also said he invented a rocket expert to comment on an alleged UFO landing in southwestern England in July 1963.

Regardless of Moore’s involvement, it’s clear no Allingham existed to communicate with a Martian. Given Flying Saucer from Mars sprung from Adamski’s book, it might also be considered an early component of what the Atlantic magazine would later describe as “the UFO-industrial complex.”

The reliable (UFO) cases are uninteresting and the interesting cases are unreliable. Unfortunately there are no cases that are both reliable and interesting.

Carl Sagan, Other Worlds

(Originally posted at Medium)

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