The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
How likely was it that the 13-year-old living in the early 50s had never heard of “flying saucers”? Not very likely, it seems. A survey of newspapers published in Cumbria during 1953-54 revealed an earlier saucer sighting, pre-dating Darbishire’s experience, made by three Coniston schoolboys who claimed to have seen a saucer pass over the village as they waited for a bus. Another sighting followed at the village of Askam. (17)
Surely a boy with such inquiring mind as Stephen Darbishire had would have heard about these sightings, if not in a newspaper then on the local grapevine, along with the stories about flying saucers widely published in the national media? Stephen was in fact quoted in the London News Chronicle as claiming a second sighting, just five days after the photograph was taken, of “a cigar-shaped object, again near Old Man” and added “since then I have studied reports of flying saucers and believe in them.” (18)
Was it entirely coincidental that the second sighting was of a cigar-shaped craft - of the ‘Mother Ship’ type photographed by Adamski and published alongside the ‘Scout Ship’ pictures in that widely-read issue of Illustrated?
Wherever the inspiration for those sketches came from, what can be said about the photographs themselves? Very little, because according to Darbishire both the negatives and all the surviving prints were “stolen” or “borrowed” and never returned. Although Stephen remained convinced he had correctly focussed upon “Infinity” before the saucer had appeared, the “object” depicted in both photographs is out of focus. The explanation for this curious anomaly suggested at the time was that “the bellows of his small camera were not fully extended.” This theory was disproved when Desmond Leslie experimented with the camera at the place where the photographs were taken, taking a number of exposures using different combinations of shutter speeds and bellow settings. The results suggested the camera was in fact correctly focussed, but Leslie suggested that Stephen had altered the shutter setting by mistake during the excitement of the moment.
The reproduction of the photo featured in most UFO books is in fact the first picture taken as the youngster spun around when alerted to the saucer’s presence by his young cousin. In the second photo, rarely published in the UFO literature, the ‘craft’ appears partly distorted on its right-hand side, as if the craft’s angles are ‘slewed round.’ It was an effect that a writer in Flying Saucer News explained as being the result of UFOs’ ability to change shape “prior to warping into hyperspace, or another dimension.” (20)
This peculiar feature has since been seized upon by Timothy Good as evidence to support the authenticity of the notorious Silver Spring film taken by George Adamski in 1965. In the film the ‘Scout Ship’ displays a similar distortion of its dimensions. (21)
On the contrary, there is no good reason why Adamski could have not been aware of Darbishire’s second photo. Darbishire met Adamski in London during 1959 - six years before the Silver Spring film was produced - and would certainly have been shown both photographs taken by the youngster in the presence of his host, Desmond Leslie.
Despite the underlying doubts, believers in the Space People were overjoyed when aeronautical engineer and Saunders-Roe hovercraft designer Leonard Cramp used a method he called “orthographic projection” to demonstrate that the objects depicted in the Darbishire and Adamski photographs were proportionally identical. (22)
This should not be so surprising if the “object” photographed by Stephen Darbishire was based upon the photograph of the Scout Ship he had seen in Illustrated and so faithfully reproduced in his pencil sketches just half an hour following his “sighting.”
So what was the “object”? During the writing of his best-selling Above Top Secret author Timothy Good approached Stephen and asked if the experience was genuine. Stephen, then 46 and back living in his native Cumbria, would say only: “It happened a long time ago, and I do not wish to be drawn into the labyrinth again.” (23)
Today he continues to distance himself from the flying saucer buffs who staked so much of their belief system in the authenticity of those two photographs. After almost half a century Stephen’s original account of the Adamski “Scout Ship” with portholes and turret has been replaced by a description more fitting the preoccupations of the 21st century. “By the time I took the second photo it had gone,” Stephen said. “There was nothing dramatic like people at windows or anything...it looked like a cloud to me and when it first happened I thought 'that’s a funny shaped cloud.” The original glistening, translucent metal had become a “preternatural light.” (24)
And what of Adrian Meyer, who despite being the first to see the UFO, faded into the background and never received the attention of his elder cousin? Could he provide the key to what really happened that cold February afternoon in 1954? “I met him recently for the first time in many years,” Stephen told us candidly. “He wasn’t involved in it really. He just sort of 'blinked twice.’ He dosen't remember anything about it and probably thinks we made it all up. He just said ‘that was a load of baloney, wasn’t it?’”
The other major player in the Darbishire photo case, Desmond Leslie, passed away in February 2001. His obituary described his extraordinary life as rivalling “any fiction by Nancy Mitford or Anthony Powell, with overtones of a Fifties sci-fi movie, and a little Weimar decadance thrown in.” (25)
One of his final notes, faxed to Stephen Darbishire, read: “Dear Stephen, how lovely to hear from you again; you know it’s extraordinary that there are still people taking pictures of the old flying saucers...where can they find those 1930s lampshades from, I thought they had all gone out of production.” Stephen said of him: “You never knew with Desmond. He appeared to believe completely, but he also had a great sense of humour.”
Echoing Alex Birch - soon to follow in his footsteps - and many others caught up in the UFO labyrinth through accident or design, Stephen summed up his feelings of that time:
“It was a one-off experience that lasted 30 seconds but the repercussions are still reverberating.... I don’t have any idea about its significance, except that it was one of these things that happen out of the blue that you are caught up in. It’s just a type of accident.” »