21 November 2012


JIM MOSELEY  1931 -2012

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 once 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 focused 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, because 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)”.


Terry the Censor said...

I read Moseley's memoir this summer and I now regret that I never became a non-subscriber.

Based on my readings of the classics, I offer that Mr. Moseley was an ironist of the highest order -- a Socrates of ufology.

Please bless this field with another!

> 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..."

You can name names. Even a newbie such as myself knows this is the Estimable Jerome Clark the First (let us hope that after JC's untimely passing, the next pope takes on JC II as a moniker. I can't imagine any serious person objecting).

> Over the years he has entertained about every view it is possible to hold about UFOs

A rare thing in ufology: an open mind!

> He certainly seemed comfortable with the European brand of sceptical ufology.

A virtue indeed.

If one keeps only to the US brand, one will be deceived.

Terry the Censor said...

I would like to make an addition comment:

When I wrote my previous comment, I had a BB King CD on repeat in my headphones. This is fitting. There are many blues artists and numerous ufologists...but some of them are one-of-a-kind: imitated, sure, but not to be known again.

James Moseley is unique. He will be missed by believers and skeptics alike.

Is there a higher honour?

T. Brown
Toronto, Canada

Ross said...

I find it surprising that Terry the Censor would applaud Moseley for having an open mind, since I'm sure T the C would reject and ridicule nearly every one of the many views that Moseley held about UFOs through the years.

ahtzib said...

I'd say Clark's words would be a surprise, but after his vicious comments about John Keel in the Paracast roundtable held in Keel's honor, I can't say I'm shocked. It seems particularly ironic considering that Clark has written a fair amount about contactees himself.

I'd suggest, though that this is not the most ufology-damning part of Moseley's record (be it Saucer Smear or Shockingly). It's instead the window it opens on how the sausage of ufology has been made, how the myths were made by the likes of Barker, how any number of grifters have bummed around the edges of the field, and how the careers of esteemed UFO elders today can be traced not back to groundbreaking research into the topic, but to their being available to give entertaining lectures at corporate events.

That's the kind of history Smear is all about, and it's not the one anyone involved in UFOs except social scientists wants to hear. IIRC, Moseley's partial successor is in fact an anthropologist, which is entirely fitting.

Ross said...

Clark's critical comments about Moseley's supposed intellectual inactivity with respect to UFOs were not made after Moseley's death. Also, Moseley (in a Paracast interview) agreed with some of Clark's comments about him.

Clark made no "vicious" comments about Keel after his death. He simply said, in agreement with some of the the others in the roundtable, that Keel could be a very unpleasant and even "paranoid" individual. No one who has read Keel's books should be surprised at Keel being described as paranoid by those who personally knew him. I didn't detect any vitriol in Clark's voice when he spoke of Keel.

By the way, what's all the Clark-bashing about at this website? Is acceptance of the ETH a mortal sin in Magonia? (Well, rejection of the ETH does set one apart from the unwashed masses.) Is Keel's UTH (ultra-terrestrial hypothesis) somehow preferable?

Lawrence said...

How amusing and fitting that the comments to a tribute to the one and only Jim Moseley go off-track and veer into the bitter Keel-Clark feud.

If anything Moseley did get closer to the truth than anybody because of his and his rag Saucer Smear's irreverance, humour and gossip. Moseley knew the subject of ufology was far too important to take seriously. Perhaps not always consciously, yet most definitely Moseley's own participation, contributions and commentary on ufology put the Trickster at the centre of the phenomenon, and dare I say that it is. Of course this begs more questions than it answers, yet that is just the way it is...

ahtzib, I myself agree with you and think Clark's rude and condescending dismissals of Keel on the paracast recently do not reflect well on Clark at all. Simply shameful ad hominems from Clark who still holds old grudges, he can't put it all behind him. A pity. Well who needs reminding of his outrageous commentary directed George Hansen's way? And as some of you know, I have defended Clark at Rich Reynold's blog not too long ago. I won't be doing that again.

Anyhow this respectful obituary on Moseley from Rimmer is one of the best I have read. It is truly the passing of an era. I miss Moseley already.

Funny story that only those of us seriously interested in ufology can appreciate: I was on the phone the other day to my cousin, who like all regular folk doesn't know anything much about ufology at all, and he remarked, 'did you see who just died?'. And I was about to blurt out in response, without thinking, 'yes Jim Moseley' when my cousin simply remarked, 'Larry Hagman/JR'. A reminder that us ufology freaks don't have the same mundane concerns or interests as the rest of the population, even if we often can't stand one another!

Randel Smith said...

Thank you John for such a good article on Jim. He was a good friend and I liked his attitude. He was indeed very interested in UFOs, and simply admitted to not knowing what they really were. I discussed several phenomena explanations with him and he was open minded as ever. He just didn't get bent out of shape over things, which seemed to annoy people. He seemed to like everybody, and that annoyed many as well.

He really will be missed and was the last of the first saucer enthusiasts. Too bad he didn't like the internet though. There were always materials I wanted to send him but had to print it up and mail it, so I didn't do as much of it as I should have. His decision to not be online did keep him out of the comments that are made by so many and may have contributed to his being a friendly spirit.

Thanks again John.

Randel in Texas

Ross said...

Could we put "the Trickster" to bed? It's become such a tired cliche.

There's a roundtable discussion of Moseley, the man and the ufologist, over at The Paracast (www.theparacast.com). The show is dated November 25, 2012. Warning: Jerome Clark is one of the participants. DANGER! DANGER!

Purple mage 7 said...

sad to hear the passage of Jim Moseley...I enjoyed catching the saucer smears out there...I named a character and a space ship the saucer smear with his blessings for my film, misadventures in space, I think he liked it, and that humor is best thing about saucer smear...and probably the big reason he sometimes rankled 'serious' UFO hunters...RIP commander!

Terry the Censor said...

> I'm sure T the C would reject and ridicule nearly every one of the many views that Moseley held

I don't have to agree with someone to respect them. Can you say the same?