Case Histories : Photo Hoaxes> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ next]


The Stephen Darbishire photograph

Flying saucers arrived in the British Isles in the late summer of 1950, when two popular weekend newspapers, the Sunday Dispatch and the Sunday Express, launched a major media promotion campaign. Both papers competed to serialise the seminal books by Major Donald Keyhoe Flying Saucers are Real, Frank Scully’s Behind the Flying Saucers and Gerald Heard's Riddle of the Flying Saucers. Behind the scenes, the editor of the Sunday Dispatch, Charles Eade, was quietly encouraged to promote ‘flying saucer’ stories by his friend Lord Mountbatten whom he had served as Press officer during the Second World War (3).

Mountbatten, who was at that time a personal believer in the ET origin of the saucers, felt the subject should be taken seriously and wanted to make the public aware of the “evidence.” The Sunday Dispatch played an influential role in creating the first real flying saucer invasion of Britain. The popular newspaper featured saucer sightings prominently on page 1 on a number of occasions throughout the early 1950s much to the chagrin of its rivals, but Eade took great pains to protect the source for his original story that he claimed in October 1950 was “bigger than the Atom Bomb wars.” Partly as a result of this first tabloid-style hype, the Dispatch’s circulation rose from a mere 700,000 copies in the late 40s to 2,400,000 when Eade left the editor’s seat in 1957. (4)

The flying saucers had arrived and the ground was prepared for ever more bizarre and incredible stories. By the autumn of 1953 when George Adamski’s book with Desmond Leslie, Flying Saucers have Landed was first published the Britain, the public were already primed to accept the incredible (5).

It was an era of rapid technological progress and great optimism that mankind would soon be taking steps into outer space. As a result, the British public eagerly lapped up the stories describing military jets outpaced by saucers and puzzled over the photographs taken by a humble American farmer, Paul Trent, allegedly showing a flying disc (again featured on pg 1 of the Sunday Dispatch). The next logical step was a story claiming a flying saucer had landed, followed by the first photograph taken in the British Isles. Both events were to follow in the space of little more than 18 months.

“ …It had to happen. It has happened. A flying saucer has landed - in the United States!”

This was how science editor Maurice Goldsmith opened the story published in the October 3, 1953 edition of the popular London-based magazine Illustrated. Entitled “Happy Landings from Outer Space” the article featured a half-page b/w reproduction of the classic ‘bottle cooler’ photograph taken by US contactee George Adamski at Palomar Gardens, California, on December 13, 1952. The photo it was said, depicted a flying saucer “Scout Ship” 35 feet in diameter, complete with three portholes and three “landing spheres.”

Also featured in the magazine were photographs of ‘six flying saucers’ and a cigar-shaped ‘Mother Ship’ taken on March 5, 1951 and an artist’s impression of the 'man from Venus’ Adamski claimed to have met near at Desert Centre, Arizona, in November the following year. Goldsmith adopted a tongue-in-cheek stance throughout his extended review of the book and concluded dryly: “...unfortunately, Adamski’s logic is poor and I am prepared to wager that if ever I see life from Venus it will not look anything like me, or Mr Adamski or the being he encountered.” (6)

Many thousands of people read the article in Illustrated, and the follow-ups that appeared in the national newspapers during the winter of 1953-54. Adamski’s photographs and claims were transmitted across the world, and the exciting story of visitors from other planets were the very stuff of schoolboy fantasy. So widespread were the stories that news of the arrival of the flying saucers reached Little Arrow farm at Torver, in the beautiful surroundings of the English Lake District, during the winter of 1953-54. Little Arrow was the home of Dr S.B. Darbishire, a GP who had retired to run a small farm in the fells below Coniston Old Man (2,575 ft). He had a son, Stephen, then aged 13, an intelligent, creative boy who had displayed a talent for art that he would eventually develop into a career as an adult.

Dr Darbishire had been brought up as a Quaker and his son Stephen says he had “a good sense of humour and a very inquiring mind; he would accept nothing, questioned everything he was told and loved excitement.” More excitement than many people experience in a lifetime was soon to follow. Within six months of the publication of Adamski's book, Stephen became the first person in England to take photographs of a ‘flying saucer’ hovering near the Old Man.
The story began - as in so many other UFO photo cases - as a result of what Stephen describes as “an accident” of history. On the morning of February 15, 1954, Stephen - then a pupil at Ulverston Grammar School - and his eight-year old cousin Adrian Meyer set off for an expedition on the slopes of the fell below the Old Man armed with an “old fashioned” Kodak box camera recently purchased by his father. To this day, Stephen maintains that at this point he knew “absolutely nothing” about the subject of flying saucers. According to Desmond Leslie’s account the youngster experienced “a nagging persistent restlessness” that fateful morning, as if something was urging him that he must go up the hill behind his home “...he could not tell why; he merely knew he had to.” (7)

The pair planned to take pictures of birds and other wildlife in a small hill valley on the slopes below the Old Man. Stephen immediately raises doubts about the reality status of the photographs he obtained when, today, he recalls how: “ cousin and I had been fooling around taking pictures…[doing] trick photography and lots of other exciting things with it, double images, ghosts, jumping off rooftops and that sort of thing…”

What happened next is a little “out of focus” - as were the photographs that resulted from this encounter with ‘the unknown.’ According to the story told by the boys in 1954 it was Adrian who first drew Stephen’s attention to something odd in the sky in the direction of the mountain. The older boy was at that moment looking in the opposite direction, towards Lake Coniston when Adrian thumped him on the back and exclaimed: ‘Look, what on earth’s that?' pointing to the sky above Dow Crag. The ‘object’ , according to the first published account (in the Lancashire Evening Post, Preston, February 18, 1954) had a silvery, glassy appearance, shining “like aluminium in the sunlight.” It glided towards them from the direction of Coniston, descending until it disappeared behind a piece of high ground, once again coming into view again a few seconds later. It approached within 400 yards of two startled boys, travelling at tremendous speed, and then stopped suddenly and hovered, noiselessly, in the sky.

Stephen told a reporter they could clearly see every detail: “The object was glistening and it was a silvery milky colour. You could tell the outline of it very plainly indeed and see port-holes along the upper part, and a thing which looked like a hatch on top. There were three bumps underneath and the centre of the underneath part was of a darker colour. I took the first picture when it was moving very slowly about three or four hundred yards away and then it disappeared from my view as there was some undergrowth in the way. When it came into sight again I took another picture but then it suddenly went up into the sky in a great swish. As it went upwards it tilted and I could see the underneath side more clearly. There was some sort of whistling sound as it went up which I think was the wind.” (8) »

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