Wednesday, 18 January 2017



Mention the name Lembit Öpik these days, and this ex- Liberal Democrat  MP for Montgomeryshire usually conjures up an erogenous image of his dalliance with Rumanian pop tarts  the Cheeky Girls.
But hang on. Lembit’s granddad was into celestial bodies of a different nature, and he’s a link, albeit a tenuous  one, in the more humorous annals of ufology. (Yes, honest, they do exist).
Lembit’s grandfather was none other than astronomer Ernst Öpik, who left Estonia in WW2 to settle in Ireland.
Ernst Opik
He was based at Armagh Observatory, where he worked with none other than the Sky at Night’s monocled, high-trousered space oddity, Patrick Moore.  In 1922, long before space probes, Ernst predicted correctly the frequency of Martian craters. Ten years later he came up with a ground-breaking postulation that comets originated in a cloud orbiting far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Today this cloud is called the Öpik-Oort Cloud in his honour, and the asteroid 2099 Öpik is named after him. The crater Öpik on the Martian moon Phobos bears his name.

    As well as his interest in good time Rumanian girls, grandson Lembit is well known for his enthusiasm for searching for asteroids that may collide with the Earth. However, his grandfather holds another distinction. He seems to be the inspiration for a fictitious stargazer by the name of Dr. Egon Spünraas, created by Ernst’s Armagh colleague, Patrick Moore. Let the fun begin.

    In a Maida Vale bedsit one tranquil night in 1954, the 35 year old tenant was washing his dishes[1]. What happened next was enough to crack a cup and saucer, as a disembodied voice told him

     "Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of the Interplanetary Parliament." A week later, with the bedsit’s doors locked and presumably with the pots all washed, an uninvited stranger materialised in the room. He was without a name, but known to be a ‘world famous’ swami, and he was the harbinger of a new life beyond the tea towel for the new interplanetary spokesman. Four decades later, a long way from Maida Vale, with no need of Fairy liquid, this ‘chosen one’ would be known as Sir George King, O.S.P., Ph.D., Th.D., D.D., Metropolitan Archbishop of the Aetherius Churches, Prince Grand Master of the Mystical Order of St. Peter, and HRH Prince De George King De Santori.
Impressive nomenclature for a former taxi driver whose early oratorical prowess was gained by sermonizing  his passengers in the back of his cab on their lack of spirituality .

    Fortunately, George King (1919–1997) had a head start to equip him for his inter-galactic role. He’d immersed himself in orthodox Christianity, explored spiritual healing, yoga and psychic phenomena. Apparently, the voice he’d heard that night was that of a 3,500-year-old Venusian known as ‘the Master Aetherius’.  King’s assigned mission was to tell the world to pull its socks up, make love, not war, and take better care of planet Earth. Soon, after a series of  successful speeches at London’s Caxton Hall, he had a growing army of followers. The Aetherius Society gradually became a global religion, with offices from London to Los Angeles, with its own journal, The Cosmic Voice. King would speak to his disciples whilst being ‘channelled’ by extra-terrestrial beings, known as Mars Sector 6, Jupiter Sector 92, Saint Goo-ling, and even Jesus Christ himself.  Scientific progress and the negative feedback on the inhabitable conditions on Venus, Mars and Jupiter from US and Russian  space missions could not dent Aetherian belief that these barren worlds were populated by superior advanced beings of high intelligence and supreme power.

    Yet if you can’t puncture irrational faith with practical science, you can always try humour. Laugh, and the world laughs with you, as the saying goes, unless, perhaps, that world is Mars or Venus. Before long, tongues firmly in cheeks, bona fide astronomers were on King’s case, with some hilarious results. Pre-Brians May and Cox, they included Britain’s most popular TV stargazer. Enter Patrick Moore, the man with a comical plan.

    The mid 1950s were Ufology’s heyday. Translated into 12 languages, Flying Saucers Have Landed, by George Adamski and Desmond Leslie was a massive best seller.
But it had the advantage of silvery saucers landing in a California desert, where the wise and likeable fantasist Adamski met with a blonde, jump-suited Abba-esque Venusian who communicated telepathically, and, oddly enough, with his footprints, casts of which George duly took. After all, one
 should never go into a desert without a bag of plaster of Paris. What Britain needed was its own Adamski, and proof that the long-haired blonde aliens didn’t mind a touch of good old British fog and drizzle. So, as George King was dealing with his new role as dictated from Venus and Mars, in London the publishers Frederick Muller got on the Adamski space wagon with an exciting scoop, Flying Saucer from Mars by Cedric Allingham.

     Mr. Allingham opened with a run-down of what UFO literature existed at the time, then launched into his captivating story of his close encounter of the third kind. He’d been ambling peacefully along in a remote corner of Scotland when a flying saucer landed close by. Out stepped the pilot, and Allingham engaged him in conversation, using sign language. It transpired that the Highland-hopping space jockey was a Martian. As with Adamski and Leslie’s offering, Flying Saucer from Mars had a collection of photographs, which, unfortunately, weren’t up to Californian standards. The pictures, bearing similarities to Adamski’s, were out of focus, and one blurry shot showed the ufonaut walking away, with his craft out of the frame. The saucer had the characteristic dome, but this had what looked like a radio aerial vertically poking from it, (or, as some sceptics suggested, a wire to suspend it from). Never the less, we had a UK close encounter, and whereas Allingham’s writing style lacked some of Desmond Leslie’s florid flow, the writing was good enough and the story drew the attention of the press.

   However, Cedric Allingham seemed to be a bit of a mystery man. The science correspondent for the Sunday Express, Robert Chapman, was keen to interview the author, yet no one was able to track him down. Yet he did make one public appearance. It took place at a UFO club in Tunbridge Wells. The chairman of the club was none other than one of ufology’s favourite pillars of authenticity, a true believer, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding. Dowding was at Allingham’s one and only talk, and sitting alongside him was the man who had tutored the air chief’s stepson; astronomer Patrick Moore. Anyone present at that talk was privileged, because Allingham vanished into history when it was reported that he had died from tuberculosis in a Swiss sanatorium.

   Robert Chapman did not believe this. He thought there was something fishy about the project, saying:

      “In my view, there is a strong likelihood that ‘Cedric Allingham’ is alive, in excellent health and far from repentant at having pulled a fast one on thousands of credulous saucerers.” But who was Cedric Allingham?

 In his book[2] A Directory of Discarded Ideas, John Grant wrote:

     “I have good reason to believe that Allingham’s Flying Saucer From Mars was in fact written by a well-known astronomer . . . but have been sworn to secrecy.”  Years later, in 1985, Steuart Campbell and Christopher Allan, a pair of UFO sceptics, had similar thoughts and decided to do some digging. They concluded that ‘Allingham’ at least knew his astronomy, appearing familiar with the works of astronomers like H. Percy Wilkins and Patrick Moore.  He had obviously read the Journals of both the British Astronomical Association and the British Interplanetary Society, neither of which graced the shelves of W. H. Smith. So they checked the membership lists of the BIS and the BAA.  No Allingham.

   Oddly enough, Allingham’s name did crop up several times in various works by Patrick Moore.
Considering Moore’s disdain for anything connected with UFOs, this seemed odd. A further revelation emerged.  A journalist from Oxted in Surrey, Peter Davies, had been engaged to add a little semantic polish to one of Patrick Moore’s early books. Moore was living not far away in East Grinstead. The photographs in Flying Saucer from Mars include one of ‘Allingham’ standing by a telescope in a leafy garden. The garden - in East Grinstead  - and the telescope, were Patrick Moore’s, and the man posing as Allingham is, in fact, Peter Davies, wearing the same disguise he used at the Tunbridge Wells UFO club; a false moustache, horn rimmed glasses - and a false nose. The mercurial Moore never owned up to what seems to have most certainly been a literary hoax, and whatever secret he had he took it with him to the grave. He did issue a warning to anyone accusing him of writing Flying Saucer from Mars that he would sue. Yet he never did. But although Britain’s favourite TV astronomer may have been laughing up his sleeve at Adamski and Leslie with this stunt, his irrepressible pursuit of a jokey hoax was far from quelled. Which will eventually lead us back to Dr. George King, but not before we enjoy a reminder of how Adamski and Leslie were themselves hoaxed in their own blockbuster UFO book. As a softening-up process, a tasty entree to prepare the reader for George Adamski’s main course, Leslie’s quasi-academic style was fairly compelling, although had he been more scientifically rigorous in his research he might well have saved some embarrassment. A good example of his scatter-gun approach was his inclusion of what had become a favourite “ancient UFO” story among the growing celestial crockery brigade. This was the Ampleforth Abbey sighting, said to have occurred way back in 1290. Leslie aims at authenticity by quoting the “original” text from the old monks in Latin, then gives a translation in English. He gives credit for the supply of this edifying nugget to a man with a name one might only expect to see in a black-and-white 1940s British public information film – Mr A. X. Chumley. It tells the story of two Ampleforth monks, Wilfred and John, and their abbot, Henry. They are roasting sheep when the crucial line of the Ampleforth Latin appears, with the sudden announcement: “res grandis, circumcularis argenta, disco quodum had dissimilis” (“Lo! A large round silver thing like a disk flew slowly over them”).

In his assessment for the Condon Report on UFOs for the University of Colorado, Samuel Rosenberg goes into some detail with his incisive dissection of ancient UFO sightings. For example, the Ampleforth Abbey “sighting” morphs bizarrely into the “Byland Abbey Sighting” as subsequent, post-Adamski authors clamber on to the gravy train. Whoever Mr A. X. Chumley was, he certainly had a sense of humour, for as the archivist at Ampleforth would have told Leslie (had he bothered to check the story), the “large round silver thing like a disk” and the rest of the “monks roasting a sheep” yarn turns out to be a joke perpetrated in a letter to The Times on 9 February 1953 – in a scurrilous communication sent in by two Ampleforth schoolboys. They made it all up[3]. Talking of cod Latin inscriptions, Patrick Moore often mentioned a Roman urn on display in a museum, the location of which he never revealed, but he liked to tell us it bore the inscription

Iti sapis potitis andantino ne.
see final footnote

To get a handle on Moore’s impish sense of fun, just try moving the letters around and you’ll soon realise what a wag he was.

   So, UK saucers duly ridiculed, it was time to boldly go where no hoaxer had yet gone, into the peace-loving corral of the Aetherius Society. Once George had his organisation up and running, the Society's journal, Cosmic Voice became essential reading for adepts. In 1957, a series of articles appeared in the journal, all submitted by eminent scientists and physicists from various countries and institutions.  It seemed to readers, and King himself, that the interplanetary communications were being taken seriously. The lofty proclamations channelled through him from Master Aetherius, Mars Sector 6 and Saint Goo-ling (not forgetting Jesus) were having some positive effect, because these academic contributors were taking notice. Mainly foreigners, they had unusual names. They included the eminent astronomy lecturer Dr. Walter Wumpe, PhD., D.Sc., F.R.A.P.C., reporting on the Geophysical Year Programme. Other top academic names lining up to add kudos to Cosmic Voice were Dr. Dominic Fidler, Professor Huttle-Glank[4],  other pillars of scientific academia including N. Ormuss, L Pullar, R. T. Fischall, E. Ratic, Dr. Hotère, Dr. Lupi, and Dr. Waathervan. Completing this list was a certain Egon Spünraas (remember him?) and two Dutch physicists, Drs. Houla and Huiezenass.

     Step forward the cool voice of spirituality, the cult-watching newspaper Psychic Weekly. The paper’s sense of humour was not as overcooked as that of the Master Aetherius - it was still medium rare enough to spot a cosmic joke in all its glory. John Grant’s Directory relates that “when it was rather publicly pointed out to King, in the newspaper Psychic Weekly, that he was perhaps the victim of an L. Pullar, he furiously cracked down on such spurious contributions to knowledge - accusing the British astronomer Patrick Moore, among others, of being the perpetrator of the hoax”.[5]  No doubt Patrick, sides splitting, was polishing his monocle in glee.

   Eventually plain old George King, Interplanetary Parliament Spokesman, needed to sound a little grander, so a Doctorate might do the trick. According to David Barrett, in A Brief Guide to Secret Religions[6], King’s Doctorate came from "the International Theological Seminary of California, a degree mill with no accreditation." The Knighthood came later, (but not, it seems from Buckingham Palace). The Knighthood  was eventually bestowed on him by a certain Prince Robert M.N.G. Bassaraba de Brancovan-Khimchiachvili-Dadiani. The ‘Prince’, according to William Brynk of the New York Sun, “ran a bogus Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta from his faux-marble apartment (filled with equally genuine Louis XV furniture) at 116 Central Park South. If you had a passage fee, he had a gong for you, and hundreds of men and women with more money than sense each paid him up to $30,000 for his phony knighthoods. Prince Robert styled himself an "Imperial and Royal Highness." This is not bad: A Roman Catholic cardinal is merely an eminence. In a program for one of his ceremonies, held at Manhattan's Christ Church, he described himself as "Grand Master, Grand Chancellor, Grand Bailiff, and Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta." This was a few years before the prince vanished after his 2001 indictment for wire fraud.”[7]

     One would assume that Dr. (Sir) George King would have claimed all these expenses from the Interplanetary Parliament’s Bursary.

   Hoaxing the UFO[8], paranormal and psychic community can be fun, yet as this writer can testify, it is dangerous ground. The borderline between an obsession or cult and religion is to say the least hazy. Tread on a true disciple’s toes and you’re in trouble. However forteans, even with our sense of humour intact, want to believe. The question is, however, what exactly is it we want to believe? One has to remember that in the UK, spiritualism is a bona fide religion. Yet ever since the days of Houdini, the hoax and the fraud remain as the sceptic’s weapons, and they are frequently wielded.

   A report by Matt Roper in the Daily Mirror, on 28 October 2005 exposed a few unwelcome revelations concerning the most over-the-top, melodramatic current medium of them all, Liverpool’s Derek Acorah. Dr. Ciaran O’Keeffe, lecturer in the paranormal at Liverpool’s Hope University, was drafted on to Acorah’s TV show Most Haunted as resident parapsychologist. Dr. O’Keeffe, in speaking out, was in danger of committing media suicide, but he believed viewers should be enlightened as to the real nature of Most Haunted. In an attempt to establish whether or not Acorah was acting deceitfully, Dr. O’Keeffe came up with a ruse which he prepared whilst the team were filming at Bodmin Jail (alternatively Bodmin Gaol), an old prison on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. This historic building dates from 1779 and was closed in 1927. He invented a long-dead South African jailer called Kreed Kafer – an anagram of Derek Faker.

   “I wrote the name down and asked another member of the crew to mention it to Derek before filming. I honestly didn’t think Derek would take the bait. But during the filming he actually got possessed by my fictional character!”

O’Keeffe made up another non-existent character for the shoot at Prideaux Place, Cornwall. This time, it was the highwayman Rik Eedles – an anagram of Derek Lies. It didn’t take long for psychic Derek to begin talking to the fictional outlaw. These are just a couple of the hoaxes Acorah fell for. Dr O’Keeffe’s summing up was pretty devastating: “In my professional opinion we’re not dealing with a genuine medium … all we are seeing is showmanship and dramatics.”

   Doug and Dave’s bogus corn circles, YouTube awash with fake UFO footage, phoney ghosts, cold-reading mediums, all these are simply aggravating speed bumps on the fortean highway that takes us over the hill to give us a glimpse of those genuine unexplained mysteries which add zest to our lives.  Yet as the wily old Patrick Moore has demonstrated, there’s nothing wrong with pulling into a lay-by now and again for a good laugh.
is this Cedric Allingham or Peter Davies - and does that look like a false nose?


[1] This version according to the late Dr. Christopher Evans, Cults of Unreason, Harrap, London 1973.
[2] Grant, John, A Directory of Discarded Ideas  Ashgrove Press 1981, Corgi Edition 1983
[3] For more on this comical prank, Anselm Cramer OSB, Archivist, Ampleforth Abbey, gives a good overview at  
[4] Dr. Christopher Evans, in Cults of Unreason, Harrap, London 1973 tells us that Dr. Dominic Fidler’s article entitled Mescaline and Flying Saucers ‘was challenged for scientific inaccuracies by a Professor Huttle-Glank.’
[5] Grant, John, A Directory of Discarded Ideas  Ashgrove Press 1981, Corgi Edition 1983
[6] Barrett, David V. A Brief Guide to Secret Religions: A Complete Guide to Hermetic, Pagan and Esoteric Beliefs
Robinson, London 2011.
[7] WILLIAM BRYK New York Sun Men Who Would Be Kings (Or Knights, or Counts) June 15, 2005
[8] For a classic case of UFO hoaxing, the Warminster Photographs, go to  Experimental UFO Hoaxing. David Simpson

'It is a pis pot, it is, and a tin one.'


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