Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World – UFOs


Arthur opens this edition with a forthright statement.  “I think I can claim to be a reluctant expert on UFOs. I’ve been interested in them for almost fifty years, long before the phrase ‘flying saucers’ was invented. UFOs are very common. If you’ve never seen one you’re either unobservant or you live in a cloudy area. I’ve seen half a dozen good ones. And now I have some very definite opinions on the subject.”

The first mystery discussed on UFOs occurred in Wellington, New Zealand 1978.  A plane, with a television crew aboard, had taken the same route as a previous plane which had reported multiple UFO sightings.  The television camera captured some very bright, odd shapes which couldn’t be identified.  “I really don’t know what’s going on” admitted the reporter.  This is a classic UFO sighting – there’s no doubt something was in the air which can be classed as an Unidentified Flying Object, but does that mean it was extraterrestrial in origin?  This brief report, from 2008, mentions that they remained a mystery decades later – as they do to this day.

It was a man called Kenneth Arnold who, on the 24th of June 1947, created the modern flying saucer craze.  His observation of a group of UFOs, which he likened to flying saucers, caused a sensation and from then on the most commonly reported design of UFOs were saucer shaped.  Arnold makes an appearance in this edition to tell his story (as no doubt he did thousands of times during the decades since his reported sighting) and UFOs benefits from his direct testimony.  Whether he was telling the truth is another matter of course ….  There’s a wealth of information about Arnold’s flying saucers out there for the curious to read about.  This is a good place to start.

It’s interesting to ponder whether the publicity surrounding Arnold’s encounter directly affected future sightings of UFOs.  Since so many sightings post-Arnold were also saucer shaped, it’s possible to wonder where were all the flying saucers before he spotted the first one?  Some of the more famous flying saucer pictures are briefly discussed, including the iconic shot by Stephen Pratt of Yorkshire (used as the image on this post).

Arthur then discusses some of his UFO sightings – one of which turned out to be a weather balloon.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he leans towards finding a rational explanation for UFOs if he can.  To illustrate this, the UFO film shot by Lee Hansen in Catalina back in 1966 is investigated and is declared to be an aircraft.  Arthur agrees with this, although there will be many who still believe that it was an alien craft.  As he says, with long-range sightings there’s always room for doubt and that’s why he’s no longer interested in such reports.  But what does interest him are close encounters.

And it’s to Ranton in Stafford that we go, to speak to Mrs Jessie Roestenberg.  “To my amazement there, suspended on the top of the roof of this old farm, was this object that I can only describe as a huge mexican hat. It was that shape, without the bobbles. It must have been fifteen to twenty yards from where I stood. It covered the roof, so in circumference it must have been about sixty feet, it was enormous.  The people in the space-craft were just looking out, I could see them from the waist to the top of their heads. They were very beautiful people. They had long golden hair.”

With no evidence, it’s easy to dismiss stories like Mrs Roestenberg’s, although the programme then teases us that sometimes clues are left behind.  Forestry worker Bob Taylor tells of his strange encounter with an unearthly object just outside Edinburgh.  Even more entertaining than his tangle with this mysterious alien artifact is the reaction of his wife.  “He looked terrible when he came in the door. And he just stood at the door and I said ‘have you had an accident with your lorry?’ and he said no, I’ve been attacked. And I said ‘what with?’ and he said a spaceship. And I said ‘oh goodness me, there’s no such a thing as a spaceship, I’m going to phone the doctor'”.  Wonderful stuff!  Disappointedly he wasn’t able to take a piece of the ship as evidence, but strange track marks did pique the interest of the police.

With a running-time of just twenty five minutes, UFOs can only scratch the surface of this phenomenon.  But it does work as a useful introduction to some of the more famous cases which continue to generate debate today.

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