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Desmond Arthur Peter Leslie (29 June 1921, London – 21 February 2001, Antibes, France) was a British pilot, film maker, writer, and musician, of English, Irish and Scottish descent. He was the younger son, and youngest child, of Shane Leslie, and his wife Marjorie (née Ide) Leslie. His father was a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill.
During his lifetime he served as a Spitfire pilot in the RAF during World War II, became one of the first pioneers of electronic music, and co-authored one of the first books on UFOs, Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), with writer George Adamski.
Desmond is probably most famously known for punching theatre critic Bernard Levin in front of eleven million viewers during an edition of the live satirical TV show That Was The Week That Was in 1962. Ostensibly this was to protect the honour of his then-wife, Agnes Bernelle, in response to Levin's critical review of her show, Savagery and Delight.
Bernelle stated in her biography, The Fun Palace, that the show was poorly received due to Desmond's custom-built loudspeakers being moved below the stage, and that Desmond had failed to check the situation, missing the show for a social appointment. As a consequence no one behind the front two rows heard a word she sang. She claimed he probably punched Levin more out of embarrassment than loyalty. Levin's obituaries described Leslie only as an expert on UFOs.
Throughout his life, Desmond Leslie published several books, including a number on the subject of UFOs—the first of which, Flying Saucers Have Landed, was co-authored with George Adamski. He also wrote a series of satirical books ranging from The Jesus File, dealing with the crucifixion of Christ as recorded through the paper-work and internal correspondences of the Roman Garrison, to How Britain Won The Space Race, which he co-wrote with celebrated amateur astronomer Patrick Moore.
- My Hands Are Clay (1947)
- Stranger At My Door (1950)
- Stranger from Venus (1954)
- Them And The Thing (1960)
During financial difficulties during the production of Stranger At My Door, Desmond opted to compose the music for the film himself. Some[who?] stated the music was the best part of the film. In the early 1950s Leslie designed the world's first effective multi-track sound mixing desk which he had built by Rupert Neve. It can still be seen in his family home Castle Leslie, Monaghan, where it has been an object of reverence for visitors such as Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney.
Electronic music career
During the late 1950s, he began nurturing his interest in contemporary music. In his small home studio, he experimented with the sounds of musique concrète. In January 1960, Leslie pressed a single acetate called Music of the Future. All Leslie recordings were later licensed to Joseph Weinburger, and Leslie's recordings were pressed onto a short series of 78rpm library discs, occasionally being put to use in science and mystery based programing, such as early Doctor Who episodes. He used a great number of tape sources to create his pieces; some sources he mentions in his liner notes are motor horns, humming tops and bells.
In 2005, Jonny Trunk's British record label, Trunk Records, re-released Desmond's 1960 acetate, never before released commercially. The sounds on this release were mastered from the original acetate. The recordings are believed to have been made between 1955 and 1959, and included are Desmond's original sleevenotes, containing information pertaining to each selection.
Marriages and children
His first wife was Agnes Elizabeth Bernauer (Agnes Bernelle) on 18 August 1945. That marriage ended in divorce. The couple had two sons and one daughter:
- Sir Shaun Rudolf Christopher Leslie, 5th Bt (b. 4 June 1947), married Charlotte Bing; no offspring. He inherited the Leslie Baronetcy, of Glaslough, County Monaghan, that his uncle, John Leslie, held until his death in 2016.
- Christopher Mark Leslie (b. 7 December 1952), married Cliona Manahan and had two children, Leah Leslie and Luke Leslie.
- Antonia Kelvey Oriel Leslie (b. 1963), married Colm Nolan, and raised one daughter, Lola Leslie.
He remarried, to Jennifer Helen Strong, in 1970; they had two daughters:
- Samantha Helen Leslie (b. 1966)
- Camilla Patricia Leslie (b. 29 March 1969)
Last years and death
During the 1990s he devoted his time to restoring the aging family home of Castle Leslie which eventually opened to the public. He later relocated to Nice, France. Emphysema claimed his life in Antibes in 2001, aged 79.
- Flying Saucers Have Landed (1957 edition)
- on YouTube
- Levin's obit., The Guardian
- "Sir Patrick Moore's Irish UFO film identified", BBC News Northern Ireland, 16 August 2010
- Leslie, Desmond: Music Of The Future. Audio CD, Trunk Records (2005). Liner notes by Desmond Leslie and Jonny Trunk.
- Yockel, Michael (11 April 2001). "They Came from Out of the Sky". New York Press (Volume 14, Issue 15). Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2007.
- Desmond Leslie: The Biography Of An Irish Gentleman 1921-2001; O'Bryne, Robert ; Lilliput Press, Dublin 2012 ISBN 1843511630
- The Flying Saucerers: A Social History of UFOlogy; Clarke, David and Roberts, Andy; Alternative Albion 2007 ISBN 1905646003
- Desmond Leslie: Obituary; The Telegraph 20 March 2001