29 March 2009


For ufologists of a certain age the name Clement Freud means several things: grumpy doyen of radio and TV panel shows; grumpy Liberal MP for the Isle of Ely, grumpy celebrity chef and food critic, grumpy star of dog food adverts partnering an equally grumpy-looking dog, and grumpy newspaper journalist and columnist.
Surprising then, to receive from noted sceptic and experimental hoaxer David Simpson, a PDF file from an unidentified magazine recording the great grump’s visit to Warminster. It must have been written before 1968, as Arthur Shuttlewood refers to Freud’s visit in Warnings from Flying Friends, his second book, published that year. He recalls: “Clement Freud visited our hill one night and described these satellites as elderly dowagers at a sedate tea party or rolling lawns”, although in Freud’s piece he attributes the quotation to Shuttlewood. My own opinion is that it sounds more Freudian than Shuttlewoodian.
Freud gives entertaining pen-portraits on some ufological figures of the time. Here's Brinsley le Poer Trench:
Tall, bespectacled, 40 and abounds with boyish enthusiasm for the venture … we met for breakfast. He arrived 20 minutes early for the appointment, ordered coffe, eggs and bacon, toast and marmalade and was steadily worried about being late for the office; he is advertising manager for a gardening magazine
At the time neither Freud or Trench would have anticipated that between 1975 when Trench succeeded to the title Lord Clancarty, and 1989 when Freud was defeated in the General Election, they would both be Members of Parliament, though in different Houses. I wonder if they met in that period? Here's another familiar figure, Ken Rogers:
Secretary/Treasurer of [BUFORA], send one guinea and a stamped addressed envelope ... Rogers is 18, works as a copytaker on the Daily Express, which is a newspaper. He is a slight, fair-haired boy who spends an average of six hours a day on UFO work; his mum is unhappy about the size of the telephone bill ... BUFORA is the biggest association of its kind and in the words of the secretary "we have a scheme whereby nuts are excluded ... "
There is also Arthur Shuttlewood of Warminster in Wiltshire .... A home-spun rustic ('call me Arthur, Clement') with John Arlott-like fluency, a feeling for words and a penchant for taking your arm and pointing to the sky. Arthur and his group are unaffilated to any organisation of association and are probably unaffiliatable.
After Warminster Freud ventures to a location near Potters Bar, where he meets the Sky Scouts who are holding a skywatch to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Arnold‘s sighting, thus dating this event as 1967:
They were a motley group: 21 men, two women. A very small man in his early twenties wearing a corduroy suit was equipped with two cameras tied on a plank of wood. This device, he said, would take stereophonic pictures. So far each camera had a separate film but this was a teething problem upon which he was working. His wife, a sad long-haired lady, was carrying a thick batch of UFO magazines; her husband, she explained, was chairman, secretary, printer, everything really. They had an association. Membership had reached four. As it would have been sadistic to have asked if this number included the founder and his lady, I wished them good fortune.
Anyone recognise Mr Corduroy? Freud returns to Warminster where he joins the crowd on Cradle Hill. His description of the scene on the hill will be familiar to all Warminster veterans:
By now the mist was turning to fog and the journey was long and hazardous. Coming into Warminster of the Westbury road you turn sharp left … and Cradle Hill is the next hill up ... About 50 people, a dozen of them women; three telescopes mounted on tripods. A tape recorder flickering by candle light in the open boot of a car. A spirit-lamp hissing away at what would be instant coffee in about 20 minutes time; and over by the gate stood the great Arthur Shuttlewood.
It’s here that we get the disputed description of satellites as duchesses: “You can tell a satellite, says Arthur because it moves like an aging duchess with an umbrella at a tea party. It traverses the horizon in seven minutes while a UFO can do it in twenty seconds flat”
Arthur, we are told was 'surrounded by a small coterie of rustics', but even then, lurking in the background was 'a gaggle of sceptics who had seen nothing.'

Here's another anonymous figure needing identification: 'Arthur introduced me to a young woman, fair of hair and limp of handshake who was reputed to have made a number of sightings in London.' Soon Freud makes his first sighting, one of Arthur’s ‘matronly dowagers’, a satellite moving in the general direction of Devizes:
Elevation 36, bearing 259, said the No. 1 man on the telescope. Another relayed the information into the candle lit tape recorder. The elevation and bearing changed … the tape recorder was kept fully informed. ‘Are we doing a chop on it?’ said the elevation man. I missed the reply.
But the sceptics were still around:
’Does this count as a sighting?’ asked a sceptic who had give a lift to a hitch-hiking Ufologist and accompanied him in search of enlightenment. There was no-one qualified to answer; the Warminster lot, you understand, is unaffiliated.
Aha, just as I copied those last words from my PDF printout I noticed a logo of a small gothic typeface letter ’T’ at the end of the text, identifying it as being taken from the Sunday Telegraph colour magazine.

This picture, reproduced at several removes from the original, shows the London Sky Scouts at Alexandra Palace. Anybody identifiable there?

UPDATE: Dave Clarke has some more information on this; click on 'comments' below. And here's a link to the book he refers to. Essential reading:


  1. This feature by Clement Freud was published in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 22 September 1967. It is referenced in my book with Andy Roberts, 'Flying Saucerers: A social history of UFOlogy' (Heart of Albion 2007), p 162-63.

    As we note in the book, Freud's article generated a furious letter to the Daily Telegraph from FSR editor Charles Bowen who accused the journalist of seizing the opportunity to entertain readers "at the expense of the cultists, the hilltop worshippers and the publicity seekers who plague the fringe of the [UFO] movement." As a result, according to Bowen, the public was left with the impression that everyone who studied UFOs were nuts... (What a terrible accusation for a journalist to face!)

    Fortunately, Trench (later Lord Clancarty, instigator of the House of Lords UFO debate in 1979) wasn't as precious as Bowen. He got the better of him in a light-hearted response published a couple of days later. He pointed out that: "all minority groups are apt to take themselves too seriously...[and] we must allow a little light relief to enter the subject otherwise we become bores."

    Hear hear for that! (Clearly there was no love lost between the two former FSR editors, so nothing changes in love and war)

  2. Julian Butler (late of Cradle Hill)24.4.18

    According to my reckoning 22 September 1967 was a Friday.