22.8.13

FIRST READ: THE BRITISH UFO PIONEERS

Harold T. Wilkins. Flying Saucers Uncensored. Arco, 1956.

Compared with this wild book, the UFO books I had read before were pretty tame stuff. In some respects this is not really a coherent book at all, it reads like a collection of random jottings and rambling thoughts. Under headings such as ‘Coming of the Titans’, ‘Silent Sphinx or Roaring Chimera’, ‘Messages from Outer Space’, ‘Strange Stories of Colossal Space Ships’, ‘Is There a Cosmic General Staff', and ending with ‘The Earth’s Gravest Hour’ Wilkins ran together vast numbers of UFO stories taken from the press, a variety of Fortean accounts, stories of bizarre weather (blamed in those days on Atomic bomb tests rather than global warming), aircraft crashes, historical mysteries, and a wide range of wild tales told by correspondents.

In general Wilkins was a follower of Meade Layne and his Borderland Sciences group, which saw the 'saucers' as coming from the ‘etheric realm’. In his chapter ‘Mystics, Venusians and Hoaxers’ Wilkins presented some of the early contactee tales, never quite indicating whether he really believed any of them or not. His book was also one of the first in the English language to present the great 1954 wave, though I have to say that did not register with me at the time, as I was then more captivated by tales of teleportation, Kaspar Hauser, and Mr Davy’s monstrous beast.

Wilkins was essentially a hack writer, about whose life very little is known. He was born in 1891, the son of a train driver in Gloucester. The 1911 census records him as journalist, and a short piece in the Gloucester Journal of 30 March 1912 gives us the information that he had attended Sir Thomas Rich’s school and was currently out of work. Newspapers in the 1930s record his various books and pieces on a wide variety of topics. His bibliography in this book shows his main interests were archaeological mysteries and buried treasure. By his latter years it was clear that Fortean topics were taking over. More on that next year, when I will review his previous UFO book.

Clearly this is not an academic work or a book on Serious Ufology, but its merit lies in the fact that it is completely uncensored and records what came to hand or mind at the time (which means there is some repetition). As a result it preserves a wide variety of UFO folklore that otherwise would have been forgotten.

Leonard Cramp. Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer. Werner Laurie, 1954.

This was the second of the UFO books I read on holiday in Colwyn Bay in late July 1963. I can’t really remember what I thought of it, though I think I was intrigued by the chapter on levitation. What really stuck in my mind was a single phrase, describing spoked wheel saucers (?) as being of great dimensions and riding very high. This seemed to resonate with the swifts flying high above the seaside town as the night came on and gave a sensation of ‘the ecstatic freedom of flight’. I mentioned this in one of my last Northern Echoes pieces in Magonia Magazine, written on September 1, 2001. 10 days later a rapid editing to remove that phase seemed appropriate.

Cramp’s claim to fame was his ‘orthographic projections’ showing how the Stephen Darbyshire photograph proved the authenticity of George Adamski’s, which, at least at that time, Cramp implacably believed. The correct explanation - that Darbyshire’s faked photographs were based on Adamski’s faked photographs - was beyond the mental abilities of ufologists of the period.

Cramp shared other things with pioneer British ufologists, excepting only our own Mr Harney, that he was a spiritualist and occultist. He was also an engineer, which in our experience in this field, was synonymous with crank. No doubt much of this was due to the appalling level of science education in the pre-war and immediate post war periods.


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3 comments:

  1. I think "ecstatic freedom of flight" is best exemplified by the Tokoloshe, a flying penis.

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  2. An oddity is that both Harold T.Wilkins and his namesake H. Percy Wilkins, who was a well known lunar astronomer and colleague of Patrick Moore, both lived in the same town of Bexleyheath and died in the same year (1960). I do not know if the two were related or ever met but Percy Wilkins became a saucer believer towards the end of his life.

    Cramp assumed a 13-year old boy (well above average intelligence and already a good artist) could not possibly have the skills to fake a UFO photo. He made the same mistake about Alex Birch's photos a few years later. Had Cramp been around in 1920 he would doubtless have said the same about the Cottingley fairy pictures, so enthusiastically endorsed by Arthur Conan Doyle. Oh well!

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  3. > As a result it preserves a wide variety of UFO folklore that otherwise would have been forgotten.

    Or has been sanitised by "respectable" ufologists?

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