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UFO stupidities:

In principle, this is already known. But in August 2002, I was asked for advice by almost every single French UFO web site author and many people through distribution list and emails: what would my opinion be on the famous "Alternative 3" footage? Here it is.

Alternative 3:

On June, 20, 1977, Anglia TV has shown a film entitled "Alternative 3", in which was presented that the atmosphere of our planet will quickly deteriorate and that the "elite" of our world already has an "alternative" which is to emigrate on Mars. Indeed one was shown images from a US Mars manned lander successfully reaching the surface of the planet, and one had a glimpse of a Martian-type of snake-like creature.

The show was originally intended to be diffused on April 1st, as a joke.

The 52 minutes TV movie was directed by Christopher Miles and written by author David Ambrose. The acting was quite pitiful, the plot clearly fictional, full of inconsistencies. But on the next day, many watchers wrote angry letters to Anglia TV and the press, complaining that it's not fair that only the elite will be allowed to emigrate on Mars. Watchers were not so much disturbed by the landing of US astronauts on Mars in 1962, long before the Apollo landings, but they were quite angry at the idea that the Earth is doomed. Anglia TV and several newspaper had to explain that it was only a joke, originally scheduled on April 1st, but unfortunately there has been some delay and it was shown only on June 20. The program was simultaneously transmitted to a number of other countries which included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greece, and Yugoslavia. The trick used by Anglia TV was to broadcast it as the final part of a series of weekly truly scientific documentaries on space exploration.

There were no doubt left that the show was a hoax. One simple reason among other is that all the characters in the movies are actors, for example the scientist warning that the Earth is doomed, dubbed "Dr. Carl Gerstien," was played by actor Richard Marner. At least, there were no doubts left among most of European watchers.

Soon, in 1978 a British paperback written by Leslie Watkins and David Ambrose was published by Sphere Books, presenting the hoax in its "World Affairs and Speculation" catalog, as an adaptation of the "earth-shaking TV documentary produced by Anglia TV."

Except for the very naive, the book appears clearly science-fictional, unrealistic, but it uses real characters in this context. Senator Edward Kennedy, astronauts Mitchell, Aldrin and Armstrong, NASA scientist Otto Binder and even ufologist Dr. David Saunders are in the plot. Also in the plot, extraterrestrial from Zeta, Nazi scientists, Nazi saucers propelled by mercury, NASA nuclear space shuttles, canals on Mars, animal life on the surface, and thousands of Americans, Soviets, British, French, and Australians already living in underground bases on Mars. Scientists are abducted to work on the colony, ordinary people also, to be used as slaves.

On the other side of the ocean, US writer Gray Barker, of "men in black" literature fame, started to write article about a letter from a certain "Major" obviously and fraudulently pointing at Major Keyhoe, retired, director of the private UFO study group NICAP, and Barker claimed the "Major" has informed that the US had already secretly landed on Mars and so on. After NICAP made clear that Major Keyhoe had nothing to do with the ridiculous story, Barker explained that the "major" is a certain Major Wayne Aho, retired, and known for his claims of having been contacted by the extraterrestrials.

Moreover, the fiction book has been published by the Canadian publishing firm Thomas Nelson & Sons, presenting the "Alternative 3" fiction, still in a way that readers with low common sense may not be sure whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

In 1979, Gray Barker started to claim that the book has been "banned" in the US, when it was easy to find in Canada and UK, the book was actually not published in the US simply because the US publisher Avon Books had purchased the U.S. paperback rights, but had not published the book yet.

In the UK, Leslie Watkins publicly said and wrote on many occasions that the show and the book were complete fiction. But when he started to think about writing a sequel, he made vague claims that although the story is a fiction, he received many letter from "vast numbers from highly intelligent people in positions of responsibility" that convinced him that he had "accidentally" found out "big secrets" and that some intelligence sleuth were now spying on him.

As time went by, his claims grew. I found this statement from Leslie Watkins:

"Prominent politicians, including two in Britain, were among those who tried to prevent the publication of this book. They insisted that it is not necessary for you, and others like you, to be told the unpalatable facts."

But the fact is that the book has never been out of print, on the contrary it sells very well and is reprinted regularly and easily available (see sources and references).

He insisted:

"Most people were then only too glad to be reassured. They wanted to be convinced that the program had been devised as a joke, that it was merely an elaborate piece of escapist entertainment. It was more comfortable that way."

But it is quite the opposite. Anglia TV continues to receive letters and phone calls about the show, still nowadays, from viewers who first say that they want confirmation that the show was "the truth." When their helpdesk people explain that it is an April fools joke, many people refuse to believe it and express anger.

It seemed, according to Georgina Bruni, that David Ambrose was only a pseudonym for Leslie Watkins himself. But in March 2006, I learned directly that there is a real David Ambrose behind Alternative 3, who is not Leslie Watkins who was a journalist hired with the approval of David Ambrose to novelize his original script for this show, in which Ambrose owns the total copyright. (His official website, dedicated to his novels is at www.davidambrose.com, where it appears he even worked with Orson Welles of infamous hoaxed Martian invasion fame!)

Still in the UK, ufologist Georgina Bruni spoke to one of the film crew, located the names of the actors, and tried to trace the writers. She says that Christopher Miles, who also directed and co-wrote the documentary, is the brother of actress Sara Miles, but that she was unable to trace David Ambrose, the other writer (Again, in March 2006 I learned that locating or contacting Mr. Ambrose is no problem at all). While she is sure that the TV show and the book were intended to be an April fools joke, she still wonders if there may be some truth that accidentally found its way in it.

The Fortean Times recently printed an article in which Nick Austin, then editorial director of Sphere Books, reveals how he commissioned Leslie Watkins to write the book version at the behest of literary agent Murray Pollinger.

Nick Austin, at the time as editorial director of Sphere Books, wrote in the Fortean Times, April 1999:

"Why a clever hoax, openly admitted to be such by its creators, should continue to exercise the fascination it so obviously does the best part of a generation after its first appearance is beyond my feeble powers of analysis and explanation. After my woefully misjudged attempt to add my personal touch to the developing Alternative 3 mythology, I just sat back and enjoyed the sales."

Later in 1994, the ultra-skeptic Robert Schaeffer explains again the hoax in an article, practically pretending that he is the one that found out its hoaxed nature, and adding some clever insinuation for the naive reader that scientists claiming that UFOs are real such as Hynek, Vallée, ufologist Clark "and many other" do believe the hoax.

It seems obvious that many people are attracted to such tales. Everyone appreciates fiction, and likes to play with the "what if it was real?" thrill.

Moreover, it seems that the bigger the hoax is, the more it fascinates. My impression is that a complex psychological scheme is at work there. In the real world, the US and USSR had the possibility to wipe out the planet with atomic warfare and this terrific situation among other leads a part of the public who refuses to face an unacceptable reality and to find a reassuring refuge in wilder conspiracy theories, maybe because they somehow sense that these wilder types of terrible conspiracy have the smell of fiction, maybe because building around conspiracy theories give them a feeling of being in control of an otherwise uncontrollable and frightening reality.

The same mechanism often seems at work when it comes to the proposition that some UFO have an extra-terrestrial origin; many people who admit that UFOs do exist as solid object driven by an intelligence would not agree with such an origin. They would rather say that the origin of UFOs is "ultraterrestrial" than extraterrestrial, or that they are time traveler rather than space travelers. Some would rationalize that UFOs are not "simple" spacecraft driven by "too ordinary" extraterrestrial beings, but are "tricks" set up by an "intelligence who has been there for ages", some sort of theory that extraterrestrial beings are an illusion created by "an alien intelligence" of some more undefined sort. Other would adore the idea that UFOs are "constructed and flown by NAZI scientists from a secret base" located either in the Arctic or Antarctic or the moon. Some will favor the notion that the frightening extraterrestrial are in business with the US government.

As for "Alternative 3," every one or two years, someone somewhere in my country opens the debate again, seemingly stunned at "that convincing looking video," and most of the newcomers to this "debate" wonder if it is true that the US landed on Mars in 1962...

Some will always answer "yes."

All this for a quickly shot April fools unrealistic movie with poor acting and of course a book sequel...

I say "no."

Sources and references:

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This page was last updated on March 17, 2006.