23.9.17

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A UFO MAGAZINE

Steve Holland and Roger Perry. The Men Behind The Flying Saucer Review. Bear Alley Books, 2017.

For those of us who entered ufology in the mid 1960s, Flying Saucer Review, or FSR, as it was generally known, was the acme of ufology and if you got an article published in that journal you knew you had arrived. I first read FSR in the Autumn of 1967, almost exactly 50 years ago as I write.
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The September/October issue included an article on a hole in the ground in France which was assumed to have been produced by a spaceship, a sceptical article on ocean light wheels, an account of a very strange experience of a group of children in mid 1950s California, and a very odd article asking 'Do the cherubim come from Mars?'

That rather set the course for the about the next twelve years or so, a mixture of intriguing and mind boggling articles, along with banal tales of lights in the sky and some utter nonsense. FSR even reproduced an article on Warminster by John Harney and Alan W. Sharp from MUFORG Bulletin, as well as featuring the first two articles written by our late friend Roger Sandell. I can still remember the awe I felt as a teenager on first meeting John Rimmer and John Harney, who had actually met the editor of FSR in the company of the august figure of J. Allen Hynek.

The editor concerned was Charles Arthur Bowen (1918-1987), who's period of editorship (1966-1982) marked the magazine’s golden age. It was interest in Bowen that first drew the authors of this short booklet to interest in Flying Saucer Review, for what linked them, Bowen and several other contributors to FSR together was their involvement with children’s comics. Bowen was a contributor to Boys' World, the Eagle (to which he contributed articles on sport) and a magazine called Countdown, which I confess I had never heard of, the only thing that name conjured up to me was the popular afternoon TV quiz show.

Bowen was not the first editor, for Flying Saucer Review was founded back in 1955. Unlike its early rival Flying Saucer News, the review was not founded out of organised ufology but by people in the publishing industry. The driving force was the rather sinister Ian Waveney Girvan (1908-1964), a man deeply involved in hard right pro-Nazi politics, before and after the war. Girvan was trained as a chartered accountant but by the end of the 1930s had become involved with Westaway books, the co-director of which was the Nazi sympathiser John Beckett. Beckett was interned as a potential traitor during the war, and the company's chief financer was the pro-Nazi Lord Tavistock, later Duke of Bedford. Bedford was in effect Girvan’s employer by the late 1940s. By this time Girvan was fed up with life under the thumb of the Duke and found employment with a firm that shared premises with Westaway Books, Carroll and Nicholson. The authors of this booklet suggest that this was at the instigation of Beckett who wanted to use the firm to produce far-right political material.

However it would appear that Girvan had realised that involvement in neo-Nazi politics was not exactly conducive to a good bank balance in the post-war world, and soon found a new cause, flying saucers. While at Carroll and Nicholson he took the opportunity to commission the mystic and science writer Gerald Heard to write the first commercially published British UFO book The Riddle of the Flying Saucers. This claimed that the flying saucers were piloted by super-intelligent Martian bees.

This was not an idea that generally caught on, though it did inspire Dennis Wheatley’s Star of Ill Omen (1952) which introduced the idea of alien abduction. At about this time Girvan was head-hunted by T. Werner Laurie just in time to get the manuscript of Desmond Leslie’s occult orientated history of flying saucers, a sort of theosophical version of ancient astronauts, not one calculated to gain a great readership. Fortunately Leslie also sent in the manuscript of Adamski’s tale of meeting with the long haired blond Venusian. Girvan merged the two and possibly did some quite substantial editing and even ghost writing. The resulting book, Flying Saucers Have Landed, was a best seller in Britain and as a result supporters of George Adamski were to dominate British ufology for at a couple of decades at least

Perhaps it was that success that led Waveney Girvan to establish Flying Saucer Review along with a group of associates which included the young aviation writer Derek Dempster, the Hon. Brinsley Le Poer Trench, and a young librarian, Dennis Montgomery, who dreamed of a sort of Institute of Flying Saucer Studies, Also involved were the author Oliver Moxon and the managing editor of This Week, Lewis Barton. This was achieved, allegedly, with the support of Peter Horsley, an equerry to Prince Philip. Conspiracy theorists make of this what you will.

Presumably Girvan’s past made him to be too controversial to be editor, and that job passed to Derek Dempster. However with a little more than a year Dempster found he was losing his battle to keep the Review a sensible publication of record, and the supporters of Adamski, along with a number of people who had a general beef with science and modernity were increasingly dominant. There was also 'Pisces' “a prominent astronomer who does not believe in Flying Saucers” . One wonders if this was Patrick Moore, who had produced his own spoof contactee book along with a friend Robert Davies, under the pseudonym Cedric Allingham and who was to co-author a comic book for children with Desmond Leslie.

Dempster was succeeded as editor by Brinsley Le Poer Trench, the fifth son of an Anglo-Irish aristocrat. Like many younger sons of the aristocracy he was sent out to 'Trade', and in the 1950s was employed selling advertising copy in a gardening magazine. Trench shared Leslie’s background, though at a less exalted level, and his interest in theosophy and occultism. He also shared Girvan’s involvement in pre-war far right politics, being a member of the pro-German Right Club. Trench would continue to show far right views in later life, during his time in the House of Lords as Lord Clancarty he was a noted supporter of the racist Smith regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Under Trench’s editorship FSR degenerated into a receptacle for just about any contactee tale going, perhaps the nadir being articles by T Lobsang Rampa an alleged Tibetan lama, who was actually a very British plumber called Cyril Hoskins, who came from the less exotic realm of Thames Ditton.

This, and perhaps Trench’s publication of a book called The Sky People, which had unorthodox and barely comprehensible occult views on the Bible and the origins of humanity, may not have gone down too well with the more conventional Scottish Presbyterianism of Girvan, and the result was that towards the end of 1959 Girvan, now working in some obscure back office job on Girl magazine, took over the editorship himself.

Through a long ufological drought Girvan slowly steered the magazine away from its contactee roots, though continuing to give support to Adamski. By the mid 1960s the magazine was even publishing technical articles on orthoteny, a belief that flying saucer cases could be plotted on straight lines, including some by arch-sceptic Donald Menzel.

When Girvan died FSR faced an existential crisis, for some people including Girvan’s secretary wanted the editorship to go to Reginald 'Rex' Dutta, an occultist of boundless credulity, whose appointment would have terminated it as a serious publication. Instead it went to Charles Bowen, who was in place to ride the ufological tide of 1964-1969. In Bowen’s time FSR published case investigation and a range of more speculative articles by the likes of John Keel, Berthold Eric Schwarz, C Maxwell Cade, Aime Michel etc., as well as introduced tales of the great 1897 airship. In the early 1970s it even produced eighteen issues of a companion magazine FSR Case Histories. It also produced in the 1960s and 1970s several special issues of which the first and best known was The Humanoids, the first global assemblage of non-contactee entity cases.

By the mid 1970s FSR did look like entering the doldrums but was rescued by its involvement with Jenny Randles, especially after the setting up of UFOIN in 1978, which gave the journal a large number of interesting British cases. However by about 1981 things were clearly going downhill and more space was devoted to nonsense about crashed flying saucers. Charles Bowen’s health was in serious decline and the real work was being done by his de-facto deputy Eileen Buckle. However when Bowen finally retired Ms Buckle refused to take on the full job. That sealed the fate of FSR.

On the surface it might appear that the man who took over, regular contributor, diplomat, linguist, intelligence agent and long-time friend of Bowen, Gordon Creighton [left, in Diplomatic Corps livery] would be ideal for the job. There was however a terrible fly in the ointment, Gordon Creighton was paranoid to the point of clinical mental illness. John Harney recalls meeting Bowen at a BUFORA meeting some time in the 1970s, where the FSR editor described Creighton as “awfully nice chap, but nutty as a fruitcake”.

His paranoia was of two parts; the first, probably shared by a number of people of his age, class and background was that anyone whose values, beliefs, outlook on life or lifestyle would not meet the wholehearted approval of the more elderly and conservative members of the Rickmansworth Golf Club were agents of the monolithic global Communist conspiracy - this being particularly true of feminists.

Creighton’s additional spin on this trope was that the global Communist conspiracy was behind the scenes being run by the supernatural beings known to the Arabs and the wider Moslem world as djinns and to the rest of us as fairies, boggarts, elves, gnomes, fays, lutins, duendes, etc. etc., such supernatural beings also being responsible for most if not all manifestations that caused UFO reports. Furthermore this gigantic boggart-communist conspiracy already secretly controlled the world and would soon undertake overt world conquest. However this global conspiracy would from time to time divert their attention from world conquest to order the removal of books on UFOs from Britain’s public libraries.

Of course, those of us who argued that the latter was a load of tosh, were automatically assimilated into the conspiracy, AS was virtually every other ufologist in Britain, Jenny Randles and Hilary Evans falling into particular disfavour.

The pages of FSR were filled with doom-laden jeremiads warning that it would not be long now before Soviet tanks would roll through Europe, no doubt accompanied by the elfin hosts in their flying saucers. How unfortunate then that the monstrous evil empire, crumbled like a house of cards from 1989-1991. Soon it seemed the djinns would have to start selling their flying saucers on the street corners of Moscow at a knock down price. Not a bit of it, argued Creighton who like many of the other madder members of the secret services, came to the conclusion that the evil empire had not fallen, how could the empire of the djinns fall? it had only pretended to have fallen so that the West would be lulled into a false sense of security. 

Thus perished FSR, though it is said to have had some sort of barely-read ghostly afterlife somewhere. It belonged to the age that spawned it, that of the Eagle, Dan Dare and boys’ comics, of hobby magazines and aircraft spotting.

Another person who linked FSR to the world of comics, was the former deputy editor, T. Dan Lloyd who had been a writer on the Eagle. Lloyd was also a follower of Rudolph Steiner and his doctrine of anthroposophy. These connections presumably explain why my early teenage copies of the Eagle Annual featured articles by Girvan and another Werner Laurie author, Leonard Cramp.

This booklet opens up a door that it would be interesting to see others follow with fuller, more scholarly biographies and studies of the connections between 1950s/60s comics, occultism, far Right politics and evangelical Christianity. -- Peter Rogerson

2 comments:

  1. Raymond Cox comments: "FSR did not in fact perish, but lay dormant for a few years and was thought to be defunct until, out of the blue, (not a pun) a new version arrived in the summer of 2015. This was an A5 issue which followed on the numbering from where it had left off and continues to fulfil subscriptions. The editor appears to be one Harry Challenger, as he writes some of the features, but that is a pseudonym, and there is no actual name of editor published on the masthead, nor the names of anybody else involved. The articles maintain ETH views but the articles are rather esoteric. There have been two other issues a year apart, in the summers of 2016 and 2017. FSR now seems to exist in a schismatic limbo in which, on the one hand, it wants to hide itself while on the other it needs to be visible to its subscribers, albeit very infrequently".

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  2. I do recall Waveney Girvan, having corresponded with him on Adamski on occasions. Never once did I suspect he was a far-right Nazi sympathiser, which only goes to show how wrong one can be about someone's true colours. Girvan was also a conspiracist who always hoped for the great official 'revelation' that alas never came.

    I think Lobsang Rampa's real name was Cyril H. Hoskins. Didn't he flee to Canada after his true identity was exposed (but continued to write his books)?

    Lord Clancarty was a believer in a 'hole at the pole' idea. An area at and around the North Pole that was nothing but a giant gaping hole. He even claimed that one of the early satellites had photographed this area (which it had) but that the hole was officially blanked out before publication!

    'Pisces' may have been the amateur astronomer Wolfgang Schroeder, who wrote astronomical articles for FSR under his real name in the late 50s and early 60s. He was a non-believer in UFOs.



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