Monday 6 August 2012, 18:22

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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To celebrate today's successful landing on Mars I thought I would show a film of a man who claimed to have got to Mars a long time ago. He did this back in the late 1950s by communicating telepathically with the beings who inhabited the Red Planet. He also claimed that his mother went there on a UFO. And what's more the BBC took him very seriously.

He was called George King. He was a London taxi driver who back in 1956 had a strange experience. He was washing the dishes when he heard a voice which said

"Prepare yourself. You are about to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament"

As a result, George King founded the Aetherius Society - which still exists today. His aim was to spread the messages that he received from what he called The Space People.

In 1959 the BBC made a half hour programme about Mr King, his strange cosmic experiences and his ideas. It is one of the most wonderful, odd and touching films I have ever found in the BBC archives.

Here is Mr King

George King is allowed in the programme to describe what happened to him at length - and the interviewer takes him completely seriously. The result is extraordinary - Mr King tells how the space people have given him a name - they call him "Mental Channel No. 1", how he has met people from Mars, Venus and Saturn and has "telepathic rapport" with them.

The interviewer then asks for proof that he really has met these people. George King says that his mother has proved it. She did this, he says, by being picked up by a UFO and then travelling through space to meet one of the people who regularly communicates with him.

So that proves that - he says.

And they then play the tape recording of his mother describing her interplanetary flight.

And then it gets weirder. The interviewer asks George King to contact - and channel - one of these beings. And he agrees. What then happens is just brilliant.

The film begins, appropriately, with Mars speaking to Earth. It ends - as all good programmes did in those days - with a Jungian consultant psychiatrist assessing George King's claims

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    Comment number 21.

    I can't help applauding the BBC's politeness towards George King and the seriousness with which the experts take his claims. Nowadays poor George would be subjected to a sneer-fest - a looney to make fun of - much as Susan Boyle was subjected to a sneer-fest before she started singing.
    Sadly, the program never suggests that people like George King, or his exploiters, trick the gullible into parting with their money. What I found in Wikipedia rings true:
    "The Aetherius Society usually refers to King as "Doctor George King".[24] The society does not, however, document where King received his doctorate. David Barrett in A Brief Guide to Secret Religions states King received his doctorate from "...the International Theological Seminary of California, a degree mill with no accreditation..."[8]

    In 1980, King was dubbed 'Sir George King' by Robert Khimchiachvili, a man who claims to be a prince and the 74th Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta. ..... In August 2002, Khimchiachvili and two associates were convicted of "conspiracy and wire fraud after they swindled about $3 million from people by promising them riches bankrolled by a make-believe African kingdom."[28]

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The notion of "organic metal" maps to the idea of nanites moderately well. Underlying it are several ideas: an inorganic material that is living, and so can heal itself, etc, the idea of tiny inorganic machines analogous to cells, the idea of manufacturing processes sophisticated enough to create things of similar complexity to living things and possibly others. It's not quite right to describe it as completely meaningless, though it has several flaws in the form given in the interview. It was a fairly common concept in UFO circles at the time, I think, as it's also mentioned in "Devil Girl from Mars" (1954) as I recall. It was also present in the scientific community: in 1959 Richard Feynman gave a lecture There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom. Given Feynman's tendency to hang out with oddballs, I wonder if and how the concepts flowed back and forth.

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    Comment number 23.

    Thank you for posting this strange and wonderful interview. Whatever one thinks of Mr. King's claims, the seriousness of the entire piece is an indication of the extreme anxiety of the period - and might give us insight into our own contemporary anxieties and the claims they generate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Thanks for this terrific programme from the archives. Very hard to believe because it is so far removed from accepted scientific fact. Nevertheless, science doesn't understand everything so who knows what's really out there?

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    Comment number 25.

    i'm struck by the gentle respect the presenter and guests show to Mr King. It's hard to work out if this is due to their willingness to believe in the idea of extra terrestrial life, or whether it is just due to kindness. Either way it's a joy to see.

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    Comment number 26.

    I missed Nausika's earlier message for a while, and now the discussion has moved back on topic (and very interestingly too, I might add), but just to give my tuppence worth on the Eye of Providence:

    The Eye of Providence was, I believe, a fairly common piece of Masonic symbolism, inherited in part by way of Renaissance Hermeticism, designed to depict the influence of a Deist deity. The pyramidal form with circular all seeing eye may derive from Platonic conceptions, again Renaissance revived, symbolising the wholeness and perfectibility of the universe – and geometrical symbolism, pregnant with spiritual meaning, but divorced from traditional Christological imagery, was always extremely popular with the Masonic orders.
    As far as conventional history is concerned, the reason the ‘Eye in the Pyramid’ appears on the back of the one dollar bill is because it represents the Great Seal of the United States (there are thirteen steps to the pyramid to represent the thirteen original founding states, for instance). Why is the Eye part of the design of the Great Seal? It would appear to have been a decision that was only very gradually reached, in committee, after earlier suggestions for equally ‘faddish’ 18th century symbolism, such as Moses leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land, Lady Liberty leading the people and so on were turned down. It seems that Franklin, in fact, sponsored rival designs initially, at least, rather than the eye. But there is no indication (in conventional historiography at least) that there was anything sinister intended by the use of the symbol: quite the opposite – it was meant to stand as a depiction of hope for future prosperity and unity (‘the new order of the ages’). Similar symbolism was frequently invoked in the early stages of the French Revolution. Of course, the Eye of Providence was/is known as a Masonic, Deist etc. symbol and, as such, was always open to criticism from the more religiously minded opponents of the US administration.
    Many of the leading American Revolutionaries (indeed, many of the leading men of the later 18th century full stop) were Masons, and allegations about their conduct were sometimes bound up in dispute, with aspersions cast against their behaviour by Brother Masons. Washington laid the Capitol stone wearing his Masonic Lodge apron, I believe, and Jefferson was also a staunch Mason (and later made to regret that fact in political dispute). It is probably true to say that, in some sense, the French Revolution *was* an implementing%

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    of a Masonic programme, as so many of the key Masonic tenets (charity to the indigent, the heightening of the quality of human life, anti-clericalism, campaigns against judicial torture and execution etc.) were clearly so rooted in Masonic ideals. But this is not quite the same as saying that a small Lodge of Masons quite deliberately orchestrated the Revolution in order to consolidate their own power at the expense of a feudal, religiously minded, aristocracy – nothing was quite that systematic (although it is true that one particular lobbying group of radical aristocrats, ‘The Society of Thirty’, most of whom knew each other socially, and often through Lodges, *did* try and push forward a specific reformist agenda at the very outset of the French Revolution).

    Now, back to the UFO's

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    Comment number 28.

    Shows the advantages to non-confrontational interviewing doesn't it? These days the interviewer would be attacking the man. It's much better to just let him talk. He seems totally sincere. Fascinating, as Mr Spock would say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @ Leeravitz: Thanks very much for the information on the Eye of Providence. I knew the symbol has often been invoked as "evidence" of an intent to found the US on Masonic or Illuminati principles and that the original meaning has often been deliberately obfuscated.

    Here is a link to a film "Awakening" by Nacho Cerda (1990) which is about a student who meditates on the Eye of Providence on a US dollar bill.

    @ Jayarava: You should watch Julian Assange's "The World Tomorrow" series on Youtube for more examples of non-confrontational interviewing. All are available on Youtube. Second episode is quite funny (Slavoj Zizek hitting JA) and in a later episode JA jokes with Pakistani politician Imran Khan about his sex appeal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Very reminiscent of Clive Anderson's interview with 'man of the year' Norman House-

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    @ Leeravitz: Sorry, forgot to provide the link, here it is:

    Everyone else, feel free to watch as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Like many other working class people at that time, he probably only recently acquired a television set (his mothers description of the flying saucer sounds a lot like a television set). His whole story sounds like a re-telling of the plot of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was released about the same time as his visionary encounter with the 'space people' (1951).

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Maybe, maybe. And the impact of primarily American ideas on an English 'contactee' is especially interesting: these may well have been partially inspired by e.g. cinematic imagery. Though there doesn't have to be an inferred direct connection: the whole ethos of the 'flying saucer' obsession of the 1950's is that it was played out under the wing of two essential Cold War preoccupations in the US: the Mcarthyite preoccupation with fifth columnists, infiltration and government surveilling of the 'decent' American householder, and the omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation. The way in which these threads entwined to inform the particular UFO stories of the 1950's is instructive. Authors like Donald Keyhoe (who, like many of the leaders in the written field on the subject, had been a science fiction pulp writer at an earlier stage of his career) popularised the notion of flying saucers existing, and the USAF covering this fact up, at the turn of the 50's, and was one of the first to infer a connection between increased alien interest and the fact that human beings had been conducting ever more regular A-bomb tests since 1945. George Adamski, who was, perhaps, the first of those to claim personal contact c. 1952/3, spoke of meeting with 'Space Brothers' from Venus who looked with distaste and fear on the fact that human beings were threatening to destroy themselves through the misappliance of nuclear power, and whose hyper-evolved society was considerably in advance of that of the earth. Grey Barker started to popularise the notion that mysterious 'Men in Black', who may originally have been presupposed to be FBI agents, were attempting to silence contactees telling of their experiences circa 1955. Carl Jung's book on flying saucers, already mentioned in a prior post, which attempted to explain the archetypal symbolism of the UFO 'scare', and seems to infer a partial 'real existence' for UFO's (in the sense that they are seen as genuine psychical projections fulfilling the needs of the human collective unconsciousness amidst the pressures of a Cold War world) was published in 1959, cited authorities like Keyhoe approvingly, and was itself influential in colouring the perspective taken towards UFO's by writers in the next generation, such as John Keel. Certainly, then, the equation, flying saucers + advanced racial traits + universal wisdom = condemnation of nuclear proliferation and the military industrial complex was certainly a trope of the 1950's altogether.

    Interestingly, perhaps, the thought of George King seems to have been impacted as much by 'traditional' a

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    aspects of British mysticism (such as Theosophy, with its attendant emphasis on Hindu and Buddhist ideas) as by UFO contactee discourse: perhaps, in some respect, this was the more 'faddish' element that was merely grafted on to a wider search for more ‘conventional’ principles of spiritual enlightenment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    Rod Serling captured this perfectly in 1960 Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" in which a suburban street of "decent " Americans becomes so paranoid about extraterrestrials and fifth columnists that they end up fighting one another. This of course makes the actual aliens who are watching the proceedings from their flying saucer laugh at how easy it will be to conquer Earth.

    The story was remade in 2002 as "The Monsters Are On Maple Street." This time it's the fear of terrorists and the aliens watching at the end are actually government agents, terrified at how fast American society can unravel and descend into chaos even without an actual emergency.

    A Canadian friend predicted that within a generation, the US would indeed succumb to this model and be divided into local fiefdoms ruled by warlords. He seemed pretty happy about this actually. No flying saucers though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Saw this and thought of you lot. Think I can get away with it in the context of the post.

    I think it's gold, I'd love to hear people talk like they do in this nowadays on TV. Especially on Panorama. Last time I caught it was awful, and the camera was too close to Vine's face, it was just weird.

    I really love the guy in the extended interview that starts after about ten minutes, and brilliantly his name is Thomas Paine -

    Hope you like it.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    In reply to Fugger (the first comment) It may not have been quite as 'all of a sudden' as you assume. My research indicates that George king had been practicing esoteric yoga for 10 hours per day for a decade prior to the date of that putative event.

    There is an awful lot of immediate explaining away of his claims with zero attendant investigation into his claims in these comments.
    One commenter did look at Wikipedia which is a commendable something.
    I'm not sure how factual the debunking on the titles found there is though. Every writer has their agenda.

    Has anyone commenting looked into the works and life of this man?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Nas I would also encourage you to investigate whether George king tricked anyone into parting with their money.
    It seems to me from having looked into the teachings flowing from him that he could have made a lot more money with slightly more 'acceptable' ideas and teachings if he had wanted to garner a large following.
    Yea there are many self aware con men out there. But whether a person is conning another out of money should be investigated on a case by case basis think rather than from any prejudice / prejudgement based on an associated quality.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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