Southern Television broadcast interruption

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Southern Television broadcast interruption
HanningtonTransmitter.jpg
The Hannington transmitter mast in 2006, from where the broadcast signal was hijacked
Date26 November 1977; 44 years ago (1977-11-26)
LocationSouthern Television
ParticipantsUnidentified
OutcomeUnsolved

The Southern Television broadcast interruption was a broadcast signal intrusion that occurred on 26 November 1977 in parts of southern England in the United Kingdom. The audio of a Southern Television broadcast was replaced by a voice claiming to represent the 'Ashtar Galactic Command', delivering a message instructing humanity to abandon its weapons so it could participate in a 'future awakening' and 'achieve a higher state of evolution'. After six minutes, the broadcast returned to its scheduled programme.

Subsequent investigations showed that the Hannington transmitter of the Independent Broadcasting Authority had rebroadcast the signal from a small but nearby unauthorised transmitter, instead of the intended source at Rowridge transmitting station. The hoaxer was never identified.

The event prompted hundreds of telephone calls from concerned members of the public, and was widely reported in British and American newspapers. These are sometimes contradictory, including differing accounts of the name used by the speaker and the wording of their message.

Event[edit]

On Saturday 26 November 1977, at 17:10 UTC, as ITN's Andrew Gardner presented a news summary where he reported on clashes in then-Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) between security forces and Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, the TV picture wobbled slightly, followed by a deep buzz. The audio was replaced by a distorted voice delivering a message for almost six minutes.

The speaker claimed to be Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command (Ashtar being a name associated with extraterrestrial communication since 1952). Reports of the incident vary, some calling the speaker "Vrillon"[1] or "Gillon", and others "Asteron".[2][3]

The interruption ceased shortly after the statement had been delivered, transmissions returning to normal shortly before the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Later in the evening, Southern Television apologised for what it described as "a breakthrough in sound" for some viewers. ITN also reported on the incident in its own late-evening Saturday bulletin.[4]

The explanation[edit]

At that time, the Hannington television transmitter was unusual in being one of the few main transmitters which rebroadcast an off-air signal received from another transmitter, the Independent Broadcasting Authority's (IBA) Rowridge transmitter on the Isle of Wight, rather than being fed directly by a landline. As a consequence it was open to this kind of signal intrusion, as even a relatively low-powered transmission very close to the rebroadcast receiver could overwhelm its reception of the intended signal, resulting in the unauthorised transmission being amplified and rebroadcast across a far wider area. The IBA stated that to carry out such a hoax would take "a considerable amount of technical know-how"[5] and a spokesman for Southern Television confirmed: "A hoaxer jammed our transmitter in the wilds of North Hampshire by taking another transmitter very close to it."[2] The hoaxer was never identified.

Public and media response[edit]

The incident caused some local alarm, with hundreds of worried viewers flooding Southern Television with telephone calls after the intrusion.[6] In the next day's Sunday newspapers,[7] the IBA announced the broadcast was a hoax,[8] confirming it was the first time such a hoax transmission had been made.[9] Reports of the event carried worldwide,[10][11] with numerous American newspapers picking up the story from United Press International.[12][13]

The broadcast became a footnote in ufology as some chose to accept the supposed "alien" broadcast at face value, questioning the explanation of a transmitter hijack. Within two days of the incident's report in London Times, a letter to the editor published on 30 November 1977 asked, "[How] can the IBA – or anyone else – be sure that the broadcast was a hoax?"[14] The editorial board of one American regional newspaper, the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard, commented, "Nobody seemed to consider that 'Asteron' may have been for real."[15] By as late as 1985, the story had entered urban folklore, with suggestions there had never been any explanation of the broadcast.[16]

A 1999 episode of children's television series It's a Mystery featured the event, produced by one of Southern's successors, Meridian Television. The feature reenacted the incident with faux news reports and viewers watching the incident play out at home.[17]

Usage in popular culture[edit]

Author Nelson Algren included a variation of the message in his book The Devil's Stocking (1983), a fictionalised account of the trial of Rubin Carter, a real-life prize-fighter who had been found guilty of double murder. In the book, as a period of unrest within the prison begins, the character 'Kenyatta' gives a speech closely mirroring the Fortean Times transcript of the Southern Television interruption:

"I am an authorized representative of the Intergalactic Mission," Kenyatta finally disclosed his credentials. "I have a message for the Planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius. Many corrections have to be made by Earth people. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. You must live in peace" – here he paused to gain everybody's attention – "you must live in peace or leave the galaxy!"[18]

On his 2020 album, Common Sense Dancing, musician Duncan Parsons included a track "A Breakthrough In Sound" which describes the broadcast interruption from the fictionalised point of view of a person witnessing the event, watching television as it was happening. The underlying soundscape makes heavy use of Mellotron sounds.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paulu, Burton (October 1981). Television and radio in the United Kingdom. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 978-0-8166-0941-3. Vrillon.
  2. ^ a b "Galactic hoax startles viewers". The Daily Collegian. 2 December 1977. p. 18. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  3. ^ Sieveking, Paul (26 December 1999), "100 Weird Years (see number 34)", The Independent On Sunday, retrieved 13 September 2009
  4. ^ http://txfeatures.mb21.co.uk/hannington/spacemessage-offair.mp3. Retrieved 9 December 2021. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "From outer space at short range". The Guardian. 28 November 1977. p. 4.
  6. ^ "Mystery TV voice inquiry". Birmingham Daily Post. 28 November 1977. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  7. ^ Sunday Express. 27 November 1977. p. 28. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Mystery Voice Loses Its Loophole". Los Angeles Times. 30 November 1977. p. B5.
  9. ^ "Source of hoax space broadcast stays a mystery". The Times. London. 28 November 1977. col E, p. 2.
  10. ^ "Mysterious voice shakes up Britons". Chicago Tribune. 30 November 1977. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  11. ^ Smith, Jack (6 December 1977). "Every Bloke for 'Imself". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  12. ^ "British Viewers Hear 'Message'". Ellensburg Daily Record. 28 November 1977. Retrieved 20 September 2009.
  13. ^ "Earth listeners receive 'special message'". Rome News-Tribune. 28 November 1977. Retrieved 20 September 2009.
  14. ^ "Fact or science fiction?". The Times. London. 30 November 1977. col Letters to the Editor, p. 17.
  15. ^ "Pay Attention". Eugene Register-Guard. 15 December 1977. Retrieved 20 September 2009.
  16. ^ "Galactic traveler issued a warning". Columbia Missourian. 21 March 1985. p. 4a. Retrieved 20 September 2009.[dead link]
  17. ^ TheMeakers (1 December 2011). It's a Mystery: Series 3: Show 2: TXN 11.1.99. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2016 – via YouTube.
  18. ^ Algren, Nelson (September 1983). The Devil's Stocking. Arbor House Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-87795-548-1.