A day or two after I heard the sad news of the death from cancer of Jim Moseley – the ‘Supreme Commander’ of Saucer Smear magazine - I saw an item on the TV news about the last ever typewriter to be manufactured in Britain, by the Brother company of North Wales. The machine is to be donated to the Science Museum. What could be the connection between these two events? They represent to me the passing of an era.
Saucer Smear was probably the last UFO 'zine in the world to be hammered out on a typewriter. Every month or so, less frequently in later years, Jim’s eight-page newsletter would turn up in the post. It was an almost stream-of-consciousness thread of satirical comment, insider gossip, ufological grudge-bearing, gentle character assassination, and the well-aimed demolition of some of ufology’s sacred idols. Sometimes there were even the odd bits of UFO news. Interspersed with the text you would find odd newspaper cuttings and illustrations (often involving well-endowed young ladies), cartoons, amusing headlines and anything else that captured the editor’s fancy. You couldn’t subscribe to it, the readers were defiantly described as ‘non-subscribers’, but it was always open for you to send the editor a ‘love-offering’ or contribute a letter to ‘Missives from the Masses’.
Moseley was involved in ufology from the beginning, his interest piqued by the Mantell incident. He starting publishing Saucer News in 1954, and eventually selling it off to his friend Gray Barker. In 1976 he started a new Saucer News, which would occasionally morph into Saucer Booze, Saucer Jews, Saucer Glues, and any other title which came to mind before settling down as Saucer Smear. The copy I have before me, which looks like it will be the last one ever, is numbered volume 59, number 8, whole number 454. Has any other UFO 'zine got anywhere near that record?
Although almost a founder member of the so-called ‘UFO community’, the relationship became strained early on, with his expose of George Adamski in 1957, which was not universally welcomed. Although at one time a MUFON ‘Regional Director’ or whatever the title was at the time, he moved away from the party line on the ETH, towards a more ‘alternate reality’ – or as he described it “3 1/2 dimensional” – explanation, and was gradually downgraded in the MUFON hierarchy, finishing off proudly displaying his position in the organisation with the letters ‘J.S.’ after his name – ‘Journal Subscriber’.
He was a prankster and loved other peoples’ pranks, giving him a relaxed attitude to hoaxers which sometimes grated with the ‘Serious Ufologists’ – always with capital letters - whom he enjoyed taunting. His 2002 book, Shockingly Close to the Truth; Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist, told of his life in ufology and as a sometimes rather over-enthusiastic amateur archaeologist in Peru. It got off to a bad start with many ufologists through being issued by Prometheus Books, publishing arm of the arch-skeptical CSICOP, and received a six-page drubbing in the pages of International UFO Reporter.
A Serious Ufologist pronounced “Moseley has spent the last five decades engaged in thinking as little about UFOs as his brain can be lulled into … Over the years he has entertained about every view it is possible to hold about UFOs, without ever managing to say anything especially interesting or memorable about any of them”. Later the Serious Ufologist proclaims, “Moseley insists he is no debunker though anyone who has followed his career will have no trouble discerning why he is every debunkers favourite UFO personality . . . Moseley’s obsessions . . . have the effect of rendering ufology trivial to outsiders’ eyes and making even its most intellectually restrained participants look like dolts."
Surprising then, that commenting on Moseley’s death, this same Serious Ufologist announced “Moseley, whom I knew well and with whom I corresponded up till the end, was not a skeptic by any definition. He thought UFOs to be some kind of extradimensional phenomenon, and he did not like skeptics, whom he regarded as bores and worse, all that much.” I think it’s truer to say he had a sort of love-hate relationship with some prominent US ‘skeptics’, certainly he seemed one of the few people in American ufology to have a civil word to say for Phil Klass (or 'lovable old Uncle Phil' as he sometimes called him), and his dubbing of James ‘the Amusing’ Randi suggest that not all were seen as bores. He certainly seemed comfortable with the European brand of sceptical ufology.
Perhaps the key to Moseley’s approach to ufology is also revealed elsewhere in that IUN review, and also why he was regarded with suspicion by the ufological ‘establishment: “Well-edited and lively, Saucer News is still eminently readable and informative, evoking a lost 1950s world of fringe characters and pursuits. More focussed UFO researchers – meaning those who sought to document sightings, not the saucer craze they generated - were making a point of keeping this sort of stuff off the record”
You bet they were! But Moseley saw very early on that the so-called “saucer craze” and its fringe characters were as much a part of the UFO phenomenon as any neatly documented list of sanitised and cleaned-up sighting reports, becasue these were the people who gave the phenomena its meaning.
The Magonia team met Jim at the Fortean Times UnConvention in London in 1997, where he spoke on his own ‘fortean’ experiences and was part of a UFO Brain’s Trust Panel along with Phil Klass, Jenny Randles, Dennis Stacy, Patrick Huyghe and a rubber alien head, standing in for Budd Hopkins, who was mysteriously indisposed. He was, as we had expected, an excellent raconteur and great company in the bar after the show.
The arrival of the latest Saucer Smear was always the highlight of Magonia editorial meetings which usually descended into helpless laughter whilst reading it, and it’s hard to imagine never seeing one again. I suppose it’s possible that one of the people who have been helping Jim with Saucer Smear over the last few years, largely as his link with the “dreaded Internet”, may carry on with publishing it. But even if they do, this really is the end of an era. The last link with the early years of the UFO phenomena has been cut, and I doubt that any revived Smear will still be produced on that old typewriter, which really should now be donated to the Smithsonian.
Looking at my copy of Shockingly Close to the Truth, Jim has written a short inscription on the title page: “To John Rimmer, a truly intellectual gentleman. (I hope this assures a favourable review)”.