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Guest Tim

How I Faked Britain's Flying Saucer ‘sighting’

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Guest Tim

HOW I FAKED BRITAIN'S FLYING SAUCER ‘SIGHTING’

Roger Hooton shudders at the terrible trick he played on his fellow Britons….

 

'Oh my Gawd! I knew the joke had gone so terribly wrong.

 

‘Twenty-nine years ago, my friend, Gordon Faulkner, and I, built a toy flying-saucer, photographed it, and handed the picture over to the editor of the Warminster Journal, circulation at the time: 2,000 a week. With a Letter to the Editor saying Faulkner had seen a UFO in Warminster.

 

‘The only problem was the joke went too far. And it caught the imagination of millions of people, starting a UFO stampede to Warminster, before Gordon and I could admit what we'd done and stop it.

 

‘A freelance journalist had seen the joke letter and photo on the editor's desk, "borrowed" them and then took off by train to London and sold the picture to a national newspaper. It was splashed all over the centre pages of the Daily Mirror with a front-page headline saying a 'Thing' had been sighted. 'The Thing' was in fact made from a sawn cotton-reel, a black button and a silver-foil milk bottle top, bent and painted black. Gordon and I had photographed it being dropped, taking the film to the local chemist to be processed.’

 

Within 24 hours of the Mirror hitting the streets sleepy Warminster was being overrun by reporters and photographers with interviews of its citizens splashed around the world. ‘It started the whole UFO-sighting industry in Britain, the UFO experts now admit. And it was all our fault...

 

‘This is actually how it happened. And it's the first time I've told the real story…’

 

Warminster, Wilts., in 1965, had 14 pubs and a population of 10,200. There was a lot of noise about as the defence departments experimented with their 'flying bedsteads', vertical take-off jets. Salisbury plains were the scene of gliders and weird-shaped objects being towed behind aircraft. And small rocket firing outside the town added to the racket.

 

Otherwise it was a sleepy little village. It wasn't far from the mysterious Stonehenge circle of stones; it wasn't far from the famous Westbury horse, carved into a chalk hill. And it is at the crossing point of the mysterious Ley lines that some people claim have an earth 'power' going back thousands of years.

 

So it was at the right place for something odd to occur.

 

‘I was a printer, aged 23, working on an old Wharfedale press that printed the Journal. It took two full days to clank out the weekly 2,000 copies, and at the time there was a tradition among the staff to insert a "joke" letter now and again to the editor. The paper was really a village notice-board.

 

‘One night Gordon and I were having a pint with several other staff members of the Journal in the Weymouth Arms, and someone started talking about flying saucers. That was it! That would be our next joke Letter to the Editor, Charlie Mills. Ideas were awash in the hazy atmosphere of the pub on how a flying saucer photograph could be faked. We chatted about boy scout hats, saucers, plates, the bedroom urinal pot..Gordon and I were both keen photographers and so we took on the challenge.

 

‘One of the chaps in the pub was a reporter called Arthur Shuttlewood, a tall, thin man not unlike the classic Sherlock Holmes. Arthur could ferret a story out of a stone; but in his freelance capacity had never managed to find a big enough story for the national newspapers. But his time was approaching.

 

‘Arthur had a son working as a compositor for the Warminster Journal and it was he who told him that another joke letter was on its way to Charlie Mills, the editor.

 

‘In the meantime, Gordon and I were experimenting with my Praktica single-lens reflex camera on a tripod. We reckoned we needed a small image, nothing in the foreground or background to indicate distance. And of course nothing that would indicate size. It also had to be a 'lucky' photo, taken on a film already half-used.

 

‘We took many experimental shots and developed them in our own homes. But for one reason or another they weren't right. We'd suspended the 1-ins. wide 'UFO' on black cotton, but that also showed up. It took two weeks for perfection. We photographed ‘The Thing’ as we dropped it.

 

‘And at the same time that we were experimenting, we were steadily building up the joke. Other "sightings" had to be reported first, so gossip was spread about people seeing weird lights in the sky at night. There was a mysterious "discovery" - after someone had seen flashing lights - of a line of rats all found dead and facing the same direction, with scorch marks on the ground. The rats looked like they had been subject to intense heat.

 

‘On a quiet Sunday afternoon in Cradle Hill, a lonely cow field, Gordon took several shots with the Praktica, and then, while I dropped ‘The Thing’ in front of him, the historic shot. Next day he took the film into the chemist to be developed. Neither Gordon nor I, made any comment to anybody about our "sighting".

 

‘On Thursday, 9 September, 1965, the editor's office at the Warminster Journal was open, but the editor was not there. Arthur Shuttlewood happened to be passing. There, on Charlie Mills' desk, was the UFO photograph and the negative. Staff in the shop noticed him go in and walk out.

 

‘Several people on Warminster station saw Arthur on the station, waiting for the London-bound train, and passed the time of day with him. He did not tell them why he was going up to London.

 

‘At the Daily Mirror office he was vetted by senior staff, and he remained in the building all night until the first edition was printed. Next day all hell broke loose in Warminster. The Mirror had a scoop picture of an historic event. On the front page and all over the middle pages they called it ‘The Thing’. And they called Arthur Shuttlewood 'the Editor of the Warminster Journal,' doubling its circulation to 4,000.

 

‘Reporters and photographers from other papers rushed down. And hard on their heels were UFO "experts" and eventually "government investigators".

 

‘Arthur was interviewed by press and radio and instantly became the town's leading UFO expert. Gordon and I stayed out of the limelight. I shot off to London on my motor-bike to stay with my parents.

 

‘Three days after the national publication of the picture an angry Charlie Mills, owner/editor of the Journal, was heard in his office having a heated interview with Arthur. Charlie also refused interviews.

 

‘I became so scared of being found out I gave notice and moved back to Harlesden, in London. Gordon Faulkner had already completed his papers to migrate to Australia. He told Shuttlewood to keep the negative as he wanted nothing more to do with it.

 

‘Letters poured into the Warminster Journal from around the world. Now there were other "sightings" of UFOs in the village and stories of people being taken away by them. Psychic News moved in and did a special edition.

 

‘Shops and hotels began to do a roaring trade with the tourists. An industry was spawned.

 

‘One of the world's foremost UFO authorities, Mr. John Spencer, years later listed the sighting in his respected UFO Encyclopaedia that has recorded most world sightings and interviews with people claiming to have been abducted: "In 1965 Gordon Faulkner photographed a banded, disc-shaped UFO over Warminster which was highly publicised in tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mirror. Immediately there were rashes of photographs of similar objects making headlines in newspapers.

 

"All came from Warminster, which instantly became one of the most famous UFOcals in the world. For around a decade it was to remain the British Centre of UFOlogy. Largely due to the diligent efforts of the local devotee, Arthur Shuttlewood, Warminster was a collection of UFO cases."

 

Mr. Spencer went on to hint that there might well have been abductions of Warminster citizens into flying saucers, but they were "passed over" through lack of investigation into particular cases.

 

‘And Mr. Spencer, who is also Investigative Secretary for British UFO Research, said the other day: "That photograph really did focus everybody's attention on Warminster. It kicked off the entire Warminster thing."

 

‘In March, 1992, I decided to confess all. I, too, had migrated to Australia and on a trip back to England I contacted Mr. Spencer.

 

‘He and his wife came down to see me and put me through a three-hour grilling. Two years later, having returned to Australia, I went public with my confession. Mr. Spencer said: "He actually felt terribly guilty about it. He wanted to put the record straight. I think he was glad to get it off his chest. He was almost worrying that he had committed some offence."

 

‘He added: "He and Mr. Faulkner had lined up dead rats in a field and set alight to them, saying a flying saucer had just taken off and the rats had been burned. The sighting’ was at the time a very important one. It brought Arthur Shuttlewood, the freelance journalist, to the fore. He became a guru on UFOs and wrote several books, even leading expeditions over the hills looking for space-ships.

 

"I am not a believer in space-ships and little green men. But Warminster was a window-area for UFO sightings in Britain; there were lots of glowing lights and objects in the sky.

 

"We had cases where there were elements of abductions having taken place. People were reporting missing time and there were "entity" sightings. At the time it wasn't acceptable to talk about aliens. It is now acceptable; and it is quite possible that a lot of stuff that wasn't investigated then would be investigated today."

 

Said Roger: ‘I’m still terribly embarrassed.’

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