UFOs in the House of Lords

Robin Ince's Blog

Did a giant spaceship abduct a British regiment in 1915?

Are spacemen helmets drawn on a Mayan codex?

Was the cabbage artificially created so that it could directly communicate with the sun, having been created in artificial light?

Robin Collyns “had basic training in the field of electronics and has also undertaken discussions with Buddhist monks” and I presume this was what led to him writing Did Spacemen Colonise the Earth during the did spacemen colonise the Earth boom of the late sixties and early seventies. This was also a time where Carlos Castaneda became one of the world’s leading anthropologists based on making up stories about sewing geckos’ eyes shut with bramble bush thorns or similar.

Today Professor Brian Cox and I are recording an Infinite Monkey Cage about UFOs.

I have been digging through my boxes of books on UFOs, which manage to take vague similarities to occasional hats in ancient etchings looking slightly like modern space helmets and turn them into a full history of Extraterrestrial invention of human civilisation.

After leafing through Leonard G Cramp’s Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer, Patrick Moore’s Can You Speak Venusian? And Brad Steiger’s Flying Saucers are Hostile, I dug into one of my three copies of Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World. What I had forgotten, or perhaps never noticed, when I watched it as a credulous 12 year old, was that Arthur C Clarke dismissed most of the mysteries in the final minute of his TV show while dressed in his best beach sarong.

“I have now observed so many UFOs that the subject bores me to tears, and I wouldn’t cross the street to see another. Having said that, I hasten to add that in every single case my UFO eventually turned into an Identified Flying Object.”

That seems to be the nub of it. Certainly, there are things that we may not instantly be able to identify as something, but it’s some leap to say, ‘well if we don’t know what it is, it must be something filled with aliens and their carnal probes.

My greatest enjoyment in the UFO chapter of Mysterious World is this quotation from a House of Lords debate about UFOs:

“I have always thought that just as mother, when baking bread, leaves a little of the dough over in order that the children may make funny little men with raisins for tummy buttons and put them into ovens and bake them alongside the bread or the cake for the day, so possibly on the day of creation a little of the Divine creative power was left in reserve for the lesser cherubim and seraphim to use and they were allowed to make funny little objects like the Abominable Snowman and the Loch Ness monster, and therefore by the grace of God since this is an orderly universe and a home is provided for everything, so the snows of Tibet were created for the benefit of the Yeti and Loch Ness was created for the monster”.

This has led to me reading the full thirty four pages of this debate inaugurated by the Earl of Clancarty. When not sitting in the House of Lords, he also found time to write Legacy of the Sky People: The Extraterrestrial Origin of Adam and Eve; The Garden of Eden; Noah’s Ark and the Serpent Race. I now want to adapt these pages of Hansard into a play.

The Earl of Clancarty’s opening statements make clear that he believes UFOs are visits from aliens.

He is disappointed that President Jimmy Carter has not released all UDS government information on UFOs. Apparently, “He (Carter) disclosed during his campaign that he had seen a UFO a few years previously in Georgia, and he added that if he got into The White House he would release to the public all the UFO information in the Pentagon.”

Clancarty ends his opening salvo with a call for the government to reveal everything they know of the increasing alien visits over the last thirty years.

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The Earl of Kimberley confuses a few ideas. Just because Bernard Lovell doesn’t believe in UFOs, Kimberley makes clear that they do and if they didn’t “we should not have throughout the world radio telescopes listening to try and pick up signals from intelligences in outer space.” Kimberley continues by informing the house that scientists poo-poo UFOs as they make a nonsense of our beliefs about the properties of earthly matter before throwing in , “there is an ever-growing belief that space travel has a connection with telepathy and telekinesis, because cosmonauts in orbit have discovered through scientific tests that they have an increased level of telepathic communication.” I also discovered through his speech that jet propulsion pioneer, Frank Whittle, did not believe in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Lord Davies of Leek casts an aspersion on a world that “oozes with intellectuality and at the moment is completely lacking in wisdom.” Being an intellectual means being sceptical of UFOs, being wise means you know the aliens are hovering overhead.

The speeches are all delightful. Lord Davies continues by quoting his mother before moving on to how he has seen lasers used on the European mainland to create holograms that would have confused Macbeth into believing an illusory dagger was palpable. He talks of Einstein, Philip of Spain and HG Wells’ final essay, Mind at the End of Its Tether. Though the credulity when it comes to alien spacecraft can be off-putting, the erudition is a delight.

One of the interesting problems for these noblemen in the debate is how UFOs may confuse the Christian message. “I believe that God may have plans for other worlds,” says the Lord Bishop of Norwich, “but I believe that God’s plan for this world is Jesus.”  Does the Christian who believes that aliens are flying about in our atmosphere see Jesus or an emissary from their God as part of the narrative of every planet with thinking creatures, or are we the chosen ones in this corner of this solar system?

Lord Trefgarne asks if the existence of “race or races outside our Universe is compatible with our Christian principles?”

Lord Gladwyn welcomes the debate as it has “nothing whatever to do with party politics” and “it takes ones mind off the absolutely frightful everyday events.” (the debate happening during the Winter of discontent which would act as one of Margaret Thatcher’s propellants).

Lord Gladwyn covers a lot of ground, from speeds required for spaceships to arrive from the distance of Proxima Centauri to ideas that the star of Bethlehem was a spaceship delivering Cosmonaut Jesus and concludes that you can believe this if you like. For him though, all these imaginings are “chiefly due to the discontent with the present human condition and to an unconscious desire to escape from the horrors or potential horrors of our Earthly life.”

The lack of anywhere else that is conveniently habitable in this solar system plays its part in this misanthropy.

“It was a great disappointment when the moon was discovered to be a mass of grey plasticine, that Mars was even more unpleasant than the middle of the Sahara and that Venus was the nearest thing to Hell.”

Lord Rankeillour sums up his speech with an answer to a previous lord’s question about the lack of audible sonic booms when UFOs are witnessed.

“It is thought that these craft can produce a near vacuum envelope around themselves, which in turn would allow them virtually unlimited speed…Not being a scientist, I cannot enlarge upon this theory.”

Lord Gainford, the tenth speaker, is the first to report a personal sighting of a UFO and admits that, as it was on hogmanay, he is prepared for a drubbing.

The Earl of Halsbury immediately tops Gainford with a story of how he saw an angel at the end of his bed when he was 6 years old, but uses this to talk of the delight a scientist experiences when witnessing something that cannot at once be explained. He then explains the delightful vision of sun dogs, a vision created when the sun is reflected on a cloud containing ice crystals .

Lord Hewlett is the most sceptical voice, fearing that this debate would get more coverage than the one on British industry the day before that barely made the press and that it would be used to mock the house. Living in a neighbouring village to Sir Bernard Lovell, he also took his advice and considered Jodrell Bank’s lack of observations after 30 years of 24 hour observation.  The Earl of Kimberley takes the modern conspiracy approach, “does the noble Lord not think it conceivable that Jodrell Bank says that there are no UFOs because that is what it has been told to say?”

Lord Hewlett is having none of it.

By page 28, things are hotting up with a falling out on the Conservative benches. The Earl of Cork and Orrery is keen to distance himself from fellow Conservative party lord, Lord Trefgarne, on his sceptical approach to UFOs, fearing it may be party policy to be overly doubtful about alien intervention.

The Earl of Clancarty ends the debate with a quotation from Fred Hoyle about all the possible communications across the Universe, the idea that there is something akin to a telephone directory across star systems, “My guess is that there might be a million or more subscribers to the galactic directory. Our problem is to get our name into that directory.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London.

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