Sunday, 7 August 2016



Trawling through the web looking for something new to read, I happened upon this. It's the novelisation of a documentary made for April Fools day by the ITV company Anglia Television and broadcast in 1977.

Their documentary series, "Science Report" was in the process of being cancelled and the producers decided that, for their last episode, they would make a spoof programme as an April Fools prank.

The programme starts out as an investigation into the disappearance of a number of prominent scientists but quickly develops into the discovery of a huge conspiracy involving both the American and Soviet Union Governments who have discovered in the early 1960s that the Earth is doomed and are trying to save a small population in order that mankind can escape the impending destruction.

A secret meeting of experts had suggested three alternatives to save the human race. The first, 'Alternative 1' was to drastically reduce the population of the planet. The second, 'Alternative 2' was to build giant underground shelters for a select few while the rest of us died out. 'Alternative 3' was to build a colony on Mars and populate it wilh specially chosen people.

As the story developed, it became clear the all these disappearing scientists had in fact been co-opted onto the 'Alternative 3' project. Eventually, we are shown what appears to be a stolen video of a joint American/Russian unmanned probe landing on the surface of Mars in 1962. 

Just to add spice to the whole thing, the first thing the probe discovers on landing is something that appears to be scuttling around under the surface of the sand just in front of the camera: Life on Mars.

This was going to be broadcast as if it were a real event, presumably as a homage the the Orson Welles broadcast of "War of the Worlds" on American radio. While it didn't produce quite the state of panic as the Orson Welles broadcast (we are British after all), it still managed to cause much anxiety to those who were too impatient to wait for the end credits which listed the names of the actors playing the characters in the film.

To be fair to those taken in, the programme was presented by Tim Brinton, a respected broadcaster, later to become a Conservative MP, who had been presenting all the earlier episodes of the series. Also, because of a strike by technicians at the studio (this was the 1970s, everyone was on strike then), the programme didn't actually go on air until 20th June so no-one would have got the April Fools connection. 

There were however, a number of well known faces that viewers should have been able to recognise. Richard Marner who played Dr. Gernstein (one of the principal characters in the hoax story) was well know to British TV audiences as the bungling German Colonel Kurt von Strohm in the BBC comedy series "'Allo 'Allo! 

In any case, I remember the episode, even though I had completely forgotten about it till now, as being very cleverly made and for me anyway, completely spoiled at the end when they show the lander on the surface of Mars. 

As soon as the mysterious life form is spotted, the camera immediately zooms in on it and then pans across as it moves. This would be impossible; it takes at least 20 minutes for a radio signal to get to Mars from Earth which is why all Mars landers are controlled by on-board computers and why it is so fiendishly difficult to make a soft landing on the planet.

Anyone trying to control a remote camera on Mars would have to wait 20 minutes for the signal to get the camera to move, then wait another 20 minutes for the image to be returned.

What I did find while researching this piece is that there is a fair bit about 'Alternative 3' on the web, including a number of people claiming that the story is true and that the programme was put out as a hoax in order to fool the public in case the real story ever got out. There is one example here if you care to read it. 

They claim that the programme was banned, it never was; they also claim that all copies of the programme were destroyed, they weren't. You can watch the whole episode below; or you could even buy the DVD these people say doesn't exist.

Some people 'eh!

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