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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 15:34 GMT
UFO programme 'panic' gripped ministry
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online at the Public Record Office

Alleged photo of a UFO
Not what you might think, insisted the ministry
The truth may be out there but in 1972 the Ministry of Defence was agonising about a televised debate on UFOs, fearing it would encourage the British public to believe in little men from outer space.

Documents released at the Public Record Office reveal official anxiety as to what would happen if the Royal Air Force took part in a BBC programme about unidentified flying objects.

On one hand they feared they would fuel UFO hysteria - but on the other hand they feared conspiracy theorists would have a field day if they refused to take part in the show.

When an official did give an interview to the BBC, it just sparked more controversy - with one letter writer requesting to meet the government's expert in languages from outer space.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a huge growth in sightings of apparently unidentifiable flying objects, many of them near to RAF bases.

In 1971, the BBC's current affairs programme Man Alive decided to investigate sightings over Banbury, Oxfordshire, and asked the Ministry of Defence for assistance.

Mr Davis could well be the target for cranks and fanatics and others who profess to believe in 'little men from outer space'
Air Commodore Brothers, Ministry of Defence

This was not such a straightforward request as it would seem.

Air Commodore Anthony Davis found himself nominated as the ministry's official UFOs spokesman - though his colleagues had deep concerns as to the whether he should take part in the programme at all.

"We do not know who will be in the audience," wrote Air Commodore Brothers.

"Mr Davis could well be the target for cranks and fanatics and others who profess to believe in 'little men from outer space'."

"Unless you have any other thoughts on the matter we propose to tell the BBC that we are only prepared for Mr Davis to take part in a filmed interview."

Ministerial rethink

David Filkin, the programme's producer, urged the ministry to think again and he won round the top brass.

It was epoch-making - the star performer of the evening was a gentlemen who speaks fluent Uranian or Plutonian
UFO fan of the programme
"On balance, it would be better to do this and face up to the possible difficulties of dealing with a hostile audience of cranks and fanatics rather than the alternative risk of leaving the field to the fanatics and giving the impression that we are afraid to stand up to questions," concluded officials.

Having decided to take part, the ministry was so determined to quash UFO rumours, officials arranged for RAF Lightnings and one US Air Force Phantom to be filmed flying in formations that they said were the basis for the rumours.

"Good colour film taken [by the BBC] at dusk should show the fire-cones of their jet effluxes in re-heat, apparently hovering and then moving sharply away, as often described in UFO sightings," Air Commodore Davis told the ministry.

"On UFOs, I found both the producer and interviewer apparently fully in sympathy with the MOD point of view; they have probably had their fill of the cranky ufologists whom they have already interviewed at length."

The man from the ministry came away satisfied that the MOD has quashed the rumours for good - not least after his successful performance during the subsequent studio discussion.

Do you speak Uranian?

Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case and the letters kept coming in to the ministry - including one from a Mr Creighton of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire.

The Alien toy from the Toy Story II
Not a contributor to the BBC programme
Like many UFO enthusiasts, Mr Creighton thought the programme was a seminal moment in the battle to prove the existence of extraterrestrials.

"It was not only epoch-making for its treatment of the subject but that the star performer of the evening was a gentleman who, if my memory is not at fault, holds a government certificate of proficiency in the more exotic branches of xenoglossy and speaks fluent Uranian or Plutonian," he wrote.

Mr Creighton said he and other enthusiasts desperately wanted this official to appear as a guest-speaker at UFO clubs around the country.

"I have made several unsuccessful attempts to locate him - could you be so good as to put me in touch with him or indicate how he may be contacted?"

Unfortunately for Mr Creighton, the men from the ministry denied they had a chap conversant in alien languages.

"This department has no knowledge of the person you mention," came the terse reply.

"I can only suggest that the staff of the BBC programme may be able to assist you."

UFO case blocked by MoD
03 Dec 02 |  Politics

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