It was formerly common for BBC science programmes to be presented by people with no scientific qualifications. The Apollo moon landings were principally covered for them by James Burke, who had a degree in mediaeval English from Jesus College, Oxford, and Patrick Moore, who never went to university at all. The latter, however, was very well informed about astronomy, wrote nearly one hundred books on the subject, and for fifty-five years, until his recent death, presented The Sky at Night on BBC television once a month, which is a world record.
In 1954 the London publishers Frederick Muller issued Flying Saucer From Mars, by Cedric Allingham. This consisted of a summary of UFO literature (such as had appeared by then), followed by an account of how the author had been walking in a remote area of Scotland, when a circular flying machine landed nearby, and he had a conversation with its pilot (in sign language), who was able to inform him that he came from Mars. Robert Chapman, the science correspondent of the Sunday Express, who had an open-minded view of UFOs, nevertheless later wrote that he was suspicious of the book after he had tried to get an interview with Allingham: “It should have been easy. Authors who have just published sensational books are not normally reticent – publishers do not allow them to be. Mostly they are only too anxious to come forward. Cocktail parties are arranged for the specific purpose of introducing them to the Press. But not so in the case of Cedric Allingham.” No journalist was able to locate him. He gave just one public talk, to a UFO club in Tunbridge Wells, after which it was announced that he had died abroad. Chapman commented:
“As for his ‘death’ in Switzerland, I suggest this was no more than a device to put an end to inquiries for him. In my view, there is a strong likelihood that ‘Cedric Allingham’ is alive, in excellent health and far from repentant at having pulled a fast one on thousands of credulous saucerers.”
The book was illustrated with some out of focus pictures, purporting to show the saucer landing. It had a dark vertical rod protruding from the top of its dome, which might have been a radio antenna, but could also be a wire used to suspend a model craft. Careful examination of the landed saucer shows that the near part of the flange is more out of focus than the cupola. The only way that this could have happened is if it were a small object held near to a camera focused on infinity. There was also a picture of the Martian walking away, the saucer being “just out of the picture”.
John Grant wrote in A Dictionary of Discarded Ideas, 1981, that “I have good reason to believe that Allingham’s Flying Saucer From Mars was in fact written by a well-known astronomer . . . but have been sworn to secrecy.” Note that few astronomers are well known to the public. In the mid-1980s UFO sceptics Christopher Allan and Steuart Campbell likewise “heard that a well-known person was behind it”, and decided to investigate.
They observed that: “From internal evidence it was clear that the author knew much about astronomy and its history, and that he was familiar with the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and the Journal of the British Astronomical Association (neither is readily available to the public, then or now) . . . this suggested that the author was a member of both the BIS and the BAA. He was also familiar with the works of active lunar astronomers like H. Percy Wilkins and Patrick Moore. However, no Allingham appears in the BIS membership list of 1953.”
Searching through popular astronomical literature of the time, they found that there were several references to Allingham in Moore’s books, which was rather surprising, since one would not expect a scientific writer to mention repeatedly what most people would regard as a piece of crank literature.
Moore also said that he had met Alllingham when he spoke at Tunbridge Wells in January 1955. They further observed that:
A comparison of the book with Moore’s writings reveals a number of cases where identical words and phrases are used to describe certain event in science and astronomy. We have found 24 such cases – too many to quote in full – but some of the events are: The story of Thales falling into a well; incidents in the life of Galileo; the comet discoveries of Messier; the description of the canals on Mars; an ‘atomic explosion’ once seen on Mars.
Here are a few examples:
Cedric Allingham, Flying Saucer From Mars “Schiaparelli . . . saw and mapped the reddish-ochre areas, supposed (correctly) to be deserts . . . he came across some thin spidery lines running from dark area to dark area. He promptly christened these “canals”.
Patrick Moore on Mars “The most striking features on Schiaparelli’s maps were the very fine regular lines running across the reddish-ochre deserts . . . resemble the finest thread of a spider’s web . . . The canals may intersect among themselves at all possible angles . . .”
Cedric Allingham, Flying Saucer From Mars “Atlantis . . . in the Mediterranean . . . small islands do appear and disappear . . .
Patrick Moore, Can You Speak Venusian? “Atlantis . . . Let us concede that islands – even large ones – do appear and disappear sometimes”
Cedric Allingham, Flying Saucer From Mars “Professor P. Lowell . . . built a special observatory and equipped it with a magnificent 24-inch telescope so that the could devote his life to the study of Mars.”
Patrick Moore, Guide to Mars “Percival Lowell . . . decided to devote his life to astronomy . . . he founded an observatory .. principally to study Mars; he equipped it with a fine 24-inch refractor . . .”
Cedric Allingham, Flying Saucer From Mars “Venus . . . the curious glow known as the “Ashen Light”. When the Moon is a crescent, it is often possible to see the “dark” half shining faintly. And there is no doubt about the cause of this. As the Moon shines on the earth, so the Earth shines on the Moon – powerfully enough to cause the Moon’s dark part to shine, though faintly. Country people call this “the Old Moon in the New Moon’s arms” . . . when Venus is a crescent, it also shows the dark part shining faintly with a coppery hue. The “earthlight” explanation will to do here. Venus has no moon.”
Patrick Moore, New Guide to the Planets “Venus . . . the Ashen Light . . . When the Moon is a crescent . . . the unlit or ‘night’ part of the disk can generally be seen shining dimly. This is often termed ‘the Old Moon in the Young Moon’s arms’, and there is no mystery about it; it is due to light reflected on to the Moon from the Earth . . a similar effect has been seen on Venus, but it cannot be due to the same sort of cause, because Venus has no moon”
Cedric Allingham, Flying Saucer From Mars “It was in 1609 that Galileo . . . first turned a telescope to the heavens . . . the wonders of Nature were shown in the field of his tiny instrument; the craters of the Moon, the phases of Venus, the stars of the Milky Way, and – perhaps most significant of all – the four moons of Jupiter”
Patrick Moore, Eyes on the Universe “Galileo . . . in the summer of 1609 . . . set out to make a telescope for himself . . . He saw the mountains and craters of the Moon, the myriad stars of the Milky Way, the four main satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus . . .”
Many more examples could be given, but you get the idea. Allan and Campbell approached Edinburgh University, who had developed stylometry, a computer programme to identify anonymous and pseudonymous authors by their style, though its reliability has been questioned. (One of their early conclusions was that the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament are in fact the work of at least three different people.) Two passages from Flying Saucer From Mars were compared with two from Moore’s books, but major differences appeared. The two authors were not identical.
Trying another tack, they wrote to the publishers (by now Muller Blond and White) for the name and address of ‘Allingham’. They replied that they were not prepared to reveal the author’s identity, but would forward any correspondence to him. So they wrote asking if he would say who he really was, but the letter was returned marked “not known here for at least twelve years”. However, the publishers accidentally returned not only the letter but the envelope, revealing that they had sent it to one Peter Davies of Oxted, Surrey. They later traced this man to an address in Sevenoaks.
He admitted that he was involved with FSFM and that it was a spoof. He also told us that the book was originally written by someone else (whom he declined to name), and that his job had been to revise it to disguise the style. He also shared the royalties. He admitted that he is the person shown on the frontispiece of the book, where he was wearing a disguise. He also confirmed that he gave the Tunbridge Wells lecture, and that he had a helper present who knew much more about the subject than he did. He also said that he was an old friend of Patrick Moore
It was now evident that the book had indeed been written, originally, by Moore, but that the revision by Davies meant that stylometry could not confirm this. Yet: “. . . many of Moore’s idiosyncracies remained. Two of these are Moore’s use of ‘Cro-Magnard’ and his spelling of Plato’s ‘Kritias’ (other writers invariably spell it ‘Critias’).” ‘Kritias’ is a legitimate though less common spelling of Critias, but ‘Cro-Magnard’ is simply a mistake for Cro-Magnon. It is implausible that two different authors would independently perpetrate this error. Also, Thales, according to Diogenes Laertius, fell into a ditch, not a well.
As Chapman observed, to judge from the photograph the saucer pilot “admittedly might have been a man from Mars but could equally well have been a man from Margate.” In fact, given the way that his hair stands up on his head, he could also have been a young Patrick Moore.
The book’s frontispiece showed “An informal photograph of Mr. Cedric Allingham, with his 10-inch reflecting telescope.” In fact it showed Peter Davies, wearing a false moustache, nose and glasses as a disguise. Unfortunately, no attempt was made to disguise the telescope, which can be identified from a picture in The Observer’s Book of Astronomy to be the reflector owned by Patrick Moore, and installed in his (then) garden in East Grinstead – notice that not only the telescope but the garden is the same.
Allan and Campbell suggested that Flying Saucer From Mars was inspired by Flying Saucers have Landed, 1953, which included what appeared to be two close-up photographs of a flying disc taken by a Californian named George Adamski, and which, unlike those of ‘Allingham’, were in focus. The following year, in England, a schoolboy named Stephen Darbishire took two pictures of a similar craft over Coniston Old Man in the Lake District. An engineer named Leonard Cramp use a geometrical technique known as orthographic projection to demonstrate (he claimed) that the Adamski and Darbishire saucers were identical, for instance, in both the ratio of height to diameter was 3:7. Adamski co-author Desmond Leslie later wrote that a photograph by another schoolboy had been shown, again by means of orthographic projection, to be the same as the Allingham saucer. Leslie had not actually seen the picture, though. Instead, he had this information from, er, Patrick Moore.
Moore, it might be mentioned, also wrote some science fiction as well as science exposition. These included Mission to Mars, 1955, and The Domes of Mars, 1956.
In 1956 the Aetherius Society was founded by a London taxi-driver named George King, who was in touch with various aliens, mainly by telepathy, who appointed him as “the Voice of the Interplanetary Parliament”. The Society began a periodical named Cosmic Voice, which in 1957 published some rather odd articles featuring men with unusual names. Dr. Dominic Fidler wrote ‘Mescaline and Flying Saucers’, which quoted a Swedish scientist, Professor Huttle-Glank. Follow-up issues described the work in this field by Dr L. Pullar, Professor N. Ormuss, and two Dutch researchers, Houla and Huizenaas. There was also an article by Dr. Walter Wümpe about a ‘Congress on Vibrations’ in Vienna, reporting on messages received from outer space, which featured the contributions of a Leipzig scientist, Egon Spünraas, and Drs. E. Ratic, Kreme and Hotère. The Italian physicist Lupi missed the meeting as he boarded the wrong plane and went to Oslo instead of Vienna. It was translated by Wümpe’s secretary, R. T. Fischall. One of these articles was reprinted in Psychic News (on King’s invitation), and ended by asking ‘Huizenaas’? George King was forced to the conclusion that he had been a victim of an L. Pullar, and came to the conclusion that the guilty party was Patrick Moore.
This was no doubt true, as decades later the name R. T. Fishall appeared on the cover of Bureaucrats: How To Annoy Them, to whose authorship Moore later admitted. This included some accounts of spoof letters which, one may presume, were the work of Moore himself. These included a 1947 letter in the East Grinstead Observer (Patrick Moore then lived in East Grinstead), suggesting that the river Medway at Forest Row should be equipped with luxury bathing machines, to make it a holiday resort. There was a follow-up missive pointing out that the Medway is only three feet wide at Forest Row, and purportedly from a ‘sanitary engineer’ who signed himself ‘W. C. Plummer’. The Parish Council actually held a debate on the subject, but people woke up when the paper received a missive from a Mrs. U. Rynall. The London Evening Standard once printed an article about traffic problems which concluded “In this way the whole problem can be turned upside-down”, and was signed ‘R. Supward’.
Yet one should perhaps not be too critical, because such hoaxes often have the side effect of revealing things about the public at large. In 1967 the Belfast News-Letter (Patrick Moore lived in Belfast at the time) published a letter from Mrs. Mary Hackett of Wylands Lodge, Belfast:
“I have a pet budgerigar, which has a swing in its cage. I have made a practice of disconnecting the swing each Saturday night and not putting it back into use until Monday morning. Is this in accord with Christian principles?”
Many other letters poured into the paper in response, including:
“Mrs. Hackett’s excellent example should be a lesson to all those who seek to desecrate God’s Sabbath, and to those who were in doubt as to how far the alarming trend in moral laxity should be allowed to develop. M. J. Metcalfe.”
“I vehemently oppose Mary Hackett’s suggestion of the removal of her budgerigar’s swing on a Sunday. I regard this as an encroachment on our British liberty. P. Field”
“All creatures should obey the Ten Commandments. I habitually read the Bible to my St. Bernard each Sunday morning. William Mahoney.”
“Mrs. Hackett may be assured that her attitude is entirely Christian. What I am worried about are the monkeys and apes at the Zoo. If they are, as Darwin has told us, relatives, then they should not swing on Sundays. S. W. Sands.”
“The answer to Mrs. Hackett is – it all depends upon whether the budgerigar is a Protestant or a Roman Catholic bird. It is commonly thought that we Protestants believe that all Roman Catholic budgerigars to go hell by predestination. We do not think that at all. We believe that all Papists, budgerigar or human, go to hell on their merits. Malcolm McKee.”
On the first of April 1976, Moore made a broadcast on BBC Radio 2, in which he stated that owing to the ‘Jovian-Plutonian effect’ – meaning, an apparent conjunction of Jupiter and Pluto – the force of gravity would decrease that day. Weirdly, a number of people later telephoned the BBC and said that they had noticed the force of gravity diminishing. He also took part in several programmes that were obviously meant as jokes, such as an episode of The Goodies where he was dressed as a punk rocker, and every third word was bleeped out.
When Allan and Campbell published their findings, in the July 1986 edition of Magonia, Moore threatened to sue. He pulled out of a live television programme on which he was scheduled to appear when he learned that he was to be questioned about Flying Saucer From Mars. It is notable, however, that there have been no further mentions of Allingham in his subsequent books.
Gareth J. Medway
Postscript: In more than one of his books, our hero mentioned a museum that displayed a metal Roman urn bearing the inscription Iti sapis potitis andantino ne. Rather than trying to translate the Latin, rearrange the spaces to form an English sentence. Though Moore did not specify where or when this was exhibited, one may guess that it was his own handiwork.