THE UFO FILES
PETER BROOKESMITH surveys the latest fads and flaps from the world of ufological research
As promised ( FT360:28), Alan Godfrey’s book Who or What Were They? has been purchased, read twice, and here is a considered opinion.
Like the curate’s egg, it’s good in parts. Let’s get the bad bits out of the way first. The typesetting is conspicuously amateur. Having been brought up with hot-metal setting and the craftsmen who came with it, this (a product of no training and the pitfalls of desktop publishing) drives me nuts. And then there’s the Near English, as in: “The metalwork shook as it dipped beneath the Irish Sea and a circle closed in a cosmic symphony riddled with coincidence.” Parse that, and despair, even before you try to pick that weird metaphor apart. From geniuses to jobbing hacks, all authors need an editor (TS Eliot knew he did; so should you), and Oz Factor Books should at least have employed a decent proofreader before committing to print.
As to the story. There are two, possibly three, books struggling to fit into this one volume. One is Alan Godfrey’s strange ‘ufological’ experience on Todmorden’s Burnley Road in 1981 and its not very helpful hypnosis-induced epilogue. Another is Godfrey’s biography and time as a beat policeman before the days of quotas, boxticking and political correctness. This is simultaneously dispiriting and refreshing to read: how things have gone awry since the days of leaving Mr Plod to exercise common sense and his own judgement – but the way these blunt but devious Yorkshire coppers dealt with bright-spark new inspectors with daft new wheezes is both comic and righteous. Then there is the fall-out, and strange internal police politics, from Godfrey’s ‘UFO’ encounter or, perhaps more accurately, from the attention and publicity he had because of it. Granted, these strands are not always wholly distinct, but a greater separation and reintegration would have made a better-structured, and ergo easier to follow, story.
Although we lack any other side of the story, it seems that Godfrey was indeed persecuted as a result of his strange experience and, in baiting him, on some occasions one hand of the police hierarchy didn’t know what the other was doing; so he would be forbidden to speak about UFOs one day, then given permission to do so, then received a right bollocking for it the day after. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Godfrey why the West Yorkshire Police brasshats wanted him to shut up and, preferably, be off the force. I’d imagine it was because they feared that should he one day have to appear as a key witness in a major case, a defence barrister would surely bring all this up to undermine his credibility. Nonetheless, his seniors seem to have had as much skill in man-management as a pig has in poledancing, but without the porcine sense of humour. To his credit, Godfrey withstood their devious, deceitful bullying – albeit at the expense of veering dangerously near alcoholism – until a fracas aggravated an old injury and he retired on health grounds.
Which leaves us with his ‘UFO’ experience. Godfrey is almost reticent about this, although it’s his main claim to fame. There is more informative detail about it in Jenny Randles’s The Pennine
UFO Mystery (Granada, 1983), out of print lo, these many years. Godfrey seems to assume that his readers are already familiar with all that, which is a stretch, after so long. And he doesn’t address any of the questions raised by forteans, notably the detailed analysis of the case presented first at the FT UnCon in 2008 and printed, greatly expanded, in FT itself ( FT269:44-47 and FT270:46-49) in 2010/11. He does make a passing mention of the flying- saucer-shaped Futuro house in Todmorden: “That house would figure in my story years later and gave nocturnal pleasure flights over Tod – if you believe some of the more imaginative UFO skeptics!” This is as daft (and inaccurate) as the claim that critics say that ‘flying lighthouses’ were responsible for the Rendlesham Forest Incident. So Godfrey, however unintentionally, joins himself to the ‘I know what I saw’ brigade of UFO experients. In particular, he doesn’t discuss his other visionary experiences, which are recounted in Jenny Randles’s book, and are scarcely without bearing on his ‘UFO’ episode. Self-examination is not Godfrey’s strongest point, it seems. We don’t get much about the story he told under hypnosis either, except the grim after-effects – and three or four accounts of his throwing up may count as too much information.
Jenny Randles adds an Afterword, in which she sticks to her insistence that there’s such a thing as a plasma vortex the size of a bus, and speculates about parallel universes. ‘New witness’, bus driver Bob Coates, who was on the same road as Godfrey at about the same time as his sighting, saw nothing more than a small whirlwind whipping up some leaves, which doesn’t really prove a great deal about the ‘UFO’.
It’s an odd book, then. But definitely worth a look; especially if you’re interested in the mutations of police corruption, alias normal practice, in the 1970s and ’80s.
ABOVE: A Futuro house; Alan doesn’t think the one in Todmorden had any bearing on his close encounter.