Friday, 14 May 2021

Charting UFOs in the UK Media - 1950s

Charting UFOs in the UK Media

As anyone who's glanced at this blog over the last few months will know, I've been working on a research project into UFOs in Wales. Not so much the investigative side of the sightings - though that is fascinating - but more how they were reported, publicised, and became part of the public consciousness (or not as the case may be).

To help with that I'm putting together a timeline of UFO coverage in the UK popular media. Received widsom tells us reporting of sightings goes up in the wake of publicity, and down in times of disinterest. It will be interesting to see if the Welsh cases match up with that!

I'll doubtlessly be adding to this for months. For now, here are some TV, radio and film listings for the 1950s... From what I've collated so far there is a surge in serious interest in the mid 50s - but it doesn't last long. By the end of the decade the idea of visiting ETs seems to have been firmly relegated to comedy / kids' media, or else fringe interest publications.

*A note on films*

The post in original form focuses mostly on British made films as it is obvious when they were actually released in the UK. For release dates of US features and their reception I've been relying upon other sources like British Science Fiction Cinema (ed. I.Q. Hunter) and Matthew Jones' Science Fiction Cinema and 1950s Britain: Recontextualizing Cultural Anxiety (2019). He argues convincingly that rather than worries about nuclear power and communism, these films were decoded in the UK as representing fears about race and the decline of Britain as a major power. 

As Britain's international importance declines throughout the 20th century, I think you can see a direct impact on how people see the UFO phenomena, helped along by Hollywood. When the ET wants to be taken to 'your leader' they aren't asking for Macmillon, Eden, or even Churchill. On the one hand there's the belief that these overdramatic 'crazy' events only happen across the pond, but on the other it's this growing quiet recognition that if aliens were visiting Earth, they probably wouldn't be interested in the UK.



1950

FLYING SAUCERS
June 8th, 19:45 - BBC Home Service (radio)

"Talk by Charles Gibbs-Smith. Flying Saucers came into the news during July 1947, since when official pronouncements and unofficial reports on the subject have followed thick and fast. Charles Gibbs-Smith discusses what is known, believed, and speculated about the phenomena."  

Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith (1909 - 81), according to his Wiki page, has been described as 'the greatest of all historians of early aviation'. Born in 1909, he studied at Harvard and became assistant keeper at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1930s, where he was responsible for the photographic collections. During WW2 he was seconded to the Ministry of Information, where he became the director of the photographic division and an instructor in aircraft recognition for the Royal Observer Corps.

What I'm saying is that you'd be hard pushed to find someone better qualified to tell you what random object you were seeing in the sky! Gibbs-Smith was also interested in the full spectrum of the paranormal and unafraid who knew it. HERE's a clip of him from a 1966 show saying he believed about 5% of UFO sightings represented extra-terrestrial craft. 



1951

Science Survey: Flying Saucers
January 11th, 22:30 - BBC Home Service (radio)

In this programme three speakers try to get at the truth about flying saucers. They are:

George Edwards
an expert on aeronautical matters, who explains what 'flying machines' can and cannot do.

James Paton
a meteorologist and expert on things seen in the sky, who explains how we may misinterpret things that are really there.

W.D. Wright
a physicist, who specialises in the physics of vision. He explains how we may think we see things that are not there.

George Edwards (1908 - 2003) was an aircraft designer who would become the managing director of Vickers Armstrong in 1953, and later served as President of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1957-8. James Paton (1903 - 73) was a lecturer at Edinburgh University, going on to head an independent Department of Meteorology in 1964, and became Director of the British Astronomical Association's Aurora Section in 1952.

The show was deemed a big enough deal to be mentioned on the front cover of that week's Radio Times.

--x--x--

The Man from Planet X

US sci-fi film The Man From Planet X was released to UK cinemas in October 1951.



1952

picturegoer

--x--x--

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still was released to UK cinemas in January 1952.

--x--x--

Superman and the Mole People

Superman and the Mole Men, the first feature length Superman film, was released to US cinemas in November 1951. It made it across the pond sometime in spring 1952, renamed Superman and the Strange People.



1953

Spring 1953 saw the first issue of Flying Saucer News, 'the official journal of the Flying Saucer Club.'

--x--x--

The spring 1953 edition of the Lancet also raised the topic of UFOs. Their explanation was soap suds swilled down drains on wash days, which then collected as froth at sewage farms. This could blow away and stay in the air for a couple of hours, being mistaken for saucers. It sounds ridiculous but examples were observed in 1954! (See FSN#6)

--x--x--

The War of the Worlds

April 1953 - The War of the Worlds was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--

Donald Howard Menzel (1901 - 76), a professor of astrophysics at Harvard University, released Flying Saucers. The book argued that flying saucers "are as real as rainbows. No one should be ashamed of seeing them and reporting them. I have seen them myself." They were, in fact, misidentified natural phenomena.

--x--x--

Are There Flying Saucers?
June 14th, 19:30 - BBC Home Service (radio)

A review by A. C. B. Lovell Professor of Radio-Astronomy, University of Manchester.
Professor Lovell reviews a recently published book on 'Flying Saucers' by Donald H. Menzel, Professor of Astrophysics, Harvard University.

Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell (1913 - 2012) was a physicist and radio astronomer who served as the first director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980. Its radio telescope, completed in 1957 and still the third largest steerable dish telescope in the world, is named for him. He was a skeptic who did not believe in the existence of UFOs, and so likely took this opportunity to agree with Menzel's stance that the UFO phenomena was nothing more than misidentification.

--x--x--

Saturday July 8th 1953 - the first episode of BBC TV six part serial The Quatermass Experiment is aired at 20:15. 5 million people watched the final episode on August 22nd, more or less the entire TV owning population! 

--x--x--

Abbott and Costello Go To Mars

July 13th 1953 - Abbott and Costello Go To Mars was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x---

Summer 1953 brought the second issue of Flying Saucer News. They discussed the various reviews published on Menzel's book, and particularly the BBC broadcast by Lovell. The club wrote to Lovell who 'declined further comment' but 'offered to pass on any reports he receives.' There was more positive comment on the early press surrounding Desmond Leslie's as yet untitled book.

--x--x--

Flying Saucers Have Landed by Desmond Leslie (1921 - 2001) and George Adamski is published. The book was reviewed in all kinds of newspapers and periodicals.

--x--x--

It Came From Outer Space

September 25th - It Came From Outer Space was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--

September 30th. Illustrated published pictures and excerpts from Flying Saucers Have Landed.

--x--x--

October 8th. Eastern Evening News. (See FSN#3) The witness, Mr Potter, was interviewed shortly later by Hardiment Scott for the BBC Midland Home Service.

--x--x--

Snapshot
Wednesday October 18th, 21:40 - BBC1 (tv)

John Irwin presented the show which featured Mr Potter's UFO sighting. The Daily Mail (02/11/53) reported that James Harrison, Socialist MP for East Nottingham, had asked Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Home Secretary, to confirm or deny the story which had 'seriously disturbed' hundreds of people in the Midlands.

--x--x--

October 21st. The Eastern Evening News published a piece about a lecture given in Norwich by Desmond Leslie the night before.

--x--x--

Flying Saucer News #3 was published in autumn 1953.

--x--x--

November. Extensive press coverage was given to UFOs tracked on radar. Questions were asked in parliament. The official Air Ministry response was that they were balloons.

--x--x--

Flying Saucers: an investigation 
Wednesday December 9th, 21:15 - BBC Home Service, North (radio)


Flying Saucer News

--x--x--

Are There Flying Saucers?
Thursday December 10th, 22:00 - BBC1 (tv)

"Arthur C. Clarke, Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, puts forward some theories." That week's Radio Times explained,

A recent edition of Snapshot contained an item about those elusive 'flying saucers'. A short programme on Thursday presents another view of the same phenomena. The speaker will be Arthur C. Clarke who, when we saw him the other day, defined his attitude as one of 'open-minded scepticism' - and this after a visit this summer to the U.S.A. where he interrogated some of the people concerned in a recent alleged landing of a flying saucer.

Now thirty-six, Clarke was a government auditor before the war, then joined the R.A.F., worked with the first experimental blind landing unit, and published a great many technical papers on electronics and radar. He took his degree in physics and mathematics after the war and his now a full-time writer of science fiction (his last book was called Expedition to Earth), and of such studies as The Exploration of Space. Clarke is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society.

FSN



1954


--x--x--


--x--x--

April. British Flying Saucer Bureau and the Flying Saucer Club amalgamated.

--x--x--

Spring 1954. Flying Saucer News #5.

It carried an interesting report on a saucer photograph taken on February 15th by 13 year old Stephen Darbishire of Lancashire. Stephen was invited to Buckingham Palace on March 23rd so a report on his sighting could be prepared by one of the Duke of Edinburgh's secretaries, then forwarded on to him in Australia.

--x--x--

Devil Girl From Mars


This UK production was released to UK cinemas on May 2nd.

--x--x--

People Talking Flying Saucers
May 20th, 20:30 - BBC Light Programme (radio)   

First of a series of three feature programmes of argument and fact devised and written by Denis Mitchell. For centuries people have been reporting strange sights In the sky. And now— flying saucers. What might they be?

That week's Radio Times mentioned the programme in their Both Sides of the Microphone section:

From Outer Space. 

When it became known that a programme about flying saucers was to be broadcast in the North of England Home Service last December many people wrote or telephoned Denis Mitchell with accounts of their personal experiences. 

Some of these accounts will be included on Thursday when a new production of this mixture of fact and argument is presented in the Light Programme. 

Other contributors to the programme will be Group Captain Douglas Bader, G. Tilgman Richards, the aircraft designer, Desmond Leslie, part-author of a best-selling book on flying saucers, and Professor A. C. B. Lovell, Professor of Radio-Astronomy at the University of Manchester.

The programme is the first of three to be broadcast under the general title of People Talking. The other two will be devoted to 'The Drifting Sort' and 'The English Sunday'. 

--x--x--

May 31st. Flying Saucers From Outer Space is published in the UK.

--x--x--

July. Every newspaper and its supplement publishes stories about a UFO sighting by passengers and crew of a BOAC Strato-cruiser on June 30th.

--x--x--

Summer 1954. Flying Saucer News #6.

--x--x--

Leonard G. Cramp publishes Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer.

--x--x--

Cyril Richardson publishes Venus Speaks.

--x--x--

Cedric Allingham publishes Flying Saucer From Mars.



1955

People Talking 2 - Unusual Beliefs.
Tuesday January 25th, 19:30 - BBC Home Service, North of England (radio)

A series of programmes devised and presented by Denis Mitchell.

--x--x--


--x--x--

The Wolverhampton press and Junior Sketch reported on a flying saucer photograph taken by 16-year-old schoolboy Harold John Cummins over the Christmas holidays.

--x--x--

February. Flying Saucer News Bulletin #1 published by the British Flying Saucer Bureau in Bristol.

--x--x--

March 24th. A bright ball shaped UFO was seen in the skies across Britain. Many newspapers reported on it over the following few days. See FSN#10 for a full investigation.

--x--x--

Spring 1955. Flying Saucer News #8.

--x--x--

Children's Hour
Saturday 9th April, 17:00 - BBC Home Service (radio)

Ann Price's short story 'Jane and the Flying Saucer' was read by Gillian Andrews. 

--x--x--

People Talking - Unusual Beliefs.
Monday 18th April, 20:30 - BBC Light Programme (radio)

The recorded broadcast of the North of England Home Service of Jan 25th.

--x--x--

April. Major Patrick Wall MP asked a question about UFOs in parliament. 

--x--x--

This Island, Earth

June 27th - This Island, Earth was released to UK cinemas. The BBFC issued various cuts to allow it a U (universal - suitable for all ages) certificate.

--x--x--

The Quatermass Xperiment

August 26th - Hammer's The Quartermass Xperiment was released to cinemas. This remake of the BBC TV show from 1953 had a slight name change to highlight the fact it had been given an X certificate by the BBFC. Introduced in 1951, the X certificate meant a film was extremely graphic and only suitable for over 16s. (In 1970 it was bumped up to 18s and over, and renamed '18' in 1982.)

--x--x--


--x--x--

M. K. Jessup publishes The Case For The UFO.

--x--x--


--x--x--

Saturday October 22nd, 20:00 - BBC TV airs the first episode of their Quatermass sequel, the imaginatively named Quatermass II. This time around the episodes were telerecorded and repeated on Monday nights at 22:15. 9 million people tuned into the final episode on November 26th.

--x--x--

Children's Hour - Jennings at School
Thursday December 22nd, 17:20 - BBC Home Service (radio)

' Jennings at School'
A series of plays by Anthony Buckeridge
3—' Jennings and the Christmas Spirit'
Produced by David Davis

It was Jennings' idea to send Mr. Wilkins his hand-made and unconventional Christmas card of space ships and flying saucers landing on the moon. True, it carried Christmas greetings, but there was also an ulterior motive, to which, as you will hear, Mr. Wilkins was slow in responding!

--x--x--

George Adamski publishes Inside the Spaceships.



1956

Spring. Flying Saucer News #11. Lack of sales saw it return to a simple duplicated affair for this issue.

--x--x--

Forbidden Planet

June 1956 - Forbidden Planet was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--

Fire Maidens From Outer Space Movie Poster

Fire Maidens From Outer Space

This rather cheap British production hit cinemas on September 6th.

--x--x--

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

November 1956 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--

Flying Saucers Do They Exist?

First Hand: 3: Flying Saucers - Do They Exist?
Tuesday December 4th, 21:45 - BBC (tv)

--x--x--


--x--x--

Saturday December 15th 1956 - ITV aired the first episode of their six part series, The Trollenberg Terror.



1957


Children's Television: Studio E
Monday February 25th, 17:00 - BBC (tv)

Vera McKechnie introduces: Jet Morgan investigating waves ripples, and flying saucers with Andrew Faulds, Desmond Leslie, Kit Richardson, Arthur Garratt. Followed by Mr. Plackett's Rocket starring Clive Dunn (Mr. Plackett is interviewed by Tony Bateman).

--x--x--

Children's Television: Studio E
Monday April 8th, 17:00 - BBC1 (tv)

Vera McKechnie introduces: Desmond Leslie with Kit Richardson reporting on flying saucers.

--x--x--

Children's Television: Studio E
Monday May 6th, 17:00 - BBC1 (tv)

Vera McKechnie introduces:

Kit Richardson talking with Pat Hansford about Flying Saucers.

Jet Morgan presenting Robots at your Service with Andrew Faulds and Arthur Garratt.

--x--x--

Quatermass II

Quatermass II was premiered in cinemas on May 24th. It went on general release on June 17th.

--x--x--


--x--x--

Invasion of the Hell Creatures

November 1957 - US film Invasion of the Saucer Men was released to UK cinemas as Invasion of the Hell Creatures with an X certificate.

--x--x---

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

November 1957 - Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, a US film from 1956, was released to UK cinemas.



1958

The Strange World of Planet X.

Released to UK cinemas on March 4th. It's better known by its US title, Cosmic Monsters.

--x--x--

Flying Saucer News Bulletin #9

--x--x--

September 14th. George Adamski gave a lecture at Caxton Hall in London. It was tape recorded and has been uploaded to Youtube. They also have a short interview he did before the lecture, along with a recording of him being interviewed by Desmond Leslie.

--x--x--

The Phil Silvers Show: Bilko and the Flying Saucers
Monday September 22nd, 20:20 - BBC1 (tv)   

--x--x--

Children's Hour - Birds, Balloons, Meteors-or Flying Saucers?
Thursday October 2nd, 17:15 - BBC Home Service (radio)

Ever since ' Flying Saucers ' first came into the news in 1947 thousands of people all over the world have reported seeing U.F.O.s (Unidentified Flying Objects) moving across the sky. This programme includes reports of some of these ' sightings' and of the efforts that have been made to find out what lies behind them.
Script and presentation by Nan Macdonald.
Produced by Herbert Smith.

--x--x--

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

October 1958 - It! The Terror From Beyond Space was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--
 
The Trollenberg Terror

October 7th 1958 - The Trollenberg Terror (known as The Crawling Eye in the USA) was released to UK cinemas. The story was based on an ITV show of the same name from 1956.

--x--x--

For The Schools - The Jacksons: Spaceman Ken (recording aired at 14:30)
Monday November 10th, 13:40 - BBC Home Service (radio)

--x--x--

Monday 22nd December, 20:00 - BBC1 (tv)

The second Quatermass sequel began on December 22nd. The final episode aired on January 26th 1959, attracting 11 million people.

--x--x--

Children's Hour
Friday December 26th, 17:00 - BBC Home Service (radio)

Leonard Henry as Simple Simon in an original radio pantomime 'Spaceman Simon' by Philip Bentinck.



1959



Children's Hour - More about U.F.O.s
Tuesday March 24th, 17:25 - BBC Home Service (radio)

A follow up to the programme
' Birds, Balloons, Meteors or Flying Saucers? ' broadcast last October
Script and presentation by Nan Macdonald
Production by Herbert Smith

--x--x--

Queen of Outer Space

May 17th - Queen of Outer Space was released to UK cinemas.

--x--x--

A-Z: Q
Wednesday May 27th, 20:45 - BBC1 (tv)

Alan Melville takes you from A-Z through the world of entertainment.
This week's programme deals with Letter Q and is produced by Bryan Sears.
Artists include:
The quartet of Tony Kinsey
Quatermass discussed by the author, Nigel Kneale
The Questors Theatre and its founder, Alfred Emmet
The music of Roger Quilter and The Eleven-Plus Quiz
(Tony Kinsey and his Quartet are appearing at the Flamingo Club, London)

--x--x--

July 12th 

LUFORO (London Unidentified Flying Object Research Organisation, predecessor of BUFORA) is set up.

--x--x--

Front Page
August 13th, 13:10 - BBC Home Service (radio)

     Stories behind the headlines told by the people who made them
3-The Nine-Days' Wonder
From time to time a new sensation fills the newspapers only to disappear from the front page after a few davs. Flying saucers, the Girl Pat, Amy Johnson's flight to Australia, the Loch Ness Monster-these and many others are recalled with contemporary recordings.
Written by Gordon Cruickshank
Narrated by Alexander Moyes
Produced by Denys Gueroult

--x--x--

Woman's Hour
September 15th, 14:00 - BBC Light Programme (radio)

Including 'Flying Saucers: fact, fancy or hoax?' Three speakers give their views.

--x--x--

Children's Hour
Saturday September 19th, 17:00 - BBC Home Service (radio)

' Tammy Troot-Spaceman ' :
Willie Joss reads a story by Lavinia Derwent
The Burn is overcrowded-that is quite ohvious-what with the Trout's Granny, his friends Rab Rat and Froogy, the millions of minnows attending Sam Sole 's Academy for Mixed Infants, and the Rubbish Heap. Is it any wonder that Tammy Troot , Esq. has decided to explore outer space?

--x--x--

LUFORO (London UFO Research Organisation) published their first bulletin.



OTHER UFO RELATED FILMS

(aka films I have yet to establish UK release dates for...)




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