Southern Television broadcast interruption
The Hannington transmitter, from where the broadcast signal was hijacked.
|Date||26 November 1977|
The Southern Television broadcast interruption was a broadcast interruption through the Hannington transmitter of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in the United Kingdom at 5:10 pm on 26 November 1977. The broadcast message is generally considered to be a hoax, but the identity of the hijacker is unknown.
A speaker interrupted transmissions for six minutes and claimed to be a representative of an "Intergalactic Association". Reports of the incident vary, some calling the speaker "Vrillon" or "Gillon", others "Asteron".
The voice, which was disguised and accompanied by a deep buzzing, broke into the broadcast of the local ITV station Southern Television, overriding the UHF audio signal of the early-evening news being read by Andrew Gardner from ITN to warn viewers that "All your weapons of evil must be removed" and "You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace."
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.
The broadcast took over the sound only, leaving the video signal unaltered, aside from some picture distortion.
At that time, the Hannington UHF television transmitter was unusual in being one of the few transmitters which rebroadcast an off-air signal received from another transmitter (Southern Television's 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 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 a hoax would take "a considerable amount of technical know-how" and a spokesman for Southern Television confirmed that "A hoaxer jammed our transmitter in the wilds of North Hampshire by taking another transmitter very close to it." However, like the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion a decade later, the identity of the intruder was never confirmed.
Public and media response
The incident caused some alarm locally, and attracted considerable publicity in the next day's Sunday newspapers, with the IBA immediately pronouncing that the broadcast was a hoax. The IBA confirmed that it was the first time such a hoax transmission had been made.
The broadcast also 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 report of the incident in the 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?" The editorial board of one local newspaper—the Eugene Register-Guard—commented, "Nobody seemed to consider that 'Asteron' may have been for real." By as late as 1985, the story had entered urban folklore, with suggestions that there had never been any explanation of the broadcast.
"This is the voice of Asteron. I am an authorised representative of the Intergalactic Mission, and I have a message for the planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius and there are many corrections which 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... or leave the galaxy."
The Fortean Times article went on to criticise reports of the incident appearing in newspapers:
"Inexplicably the News Of The World and D. Mail call the owner of the voice 'Gillon, of the Ashdown Galactic Command' and that he said: "Unless the weapons of Earth are laid down, destruction from outer space invasion will quickly follow." I hope their regular news reportage is more accurate than that, for the indication is that they've simply invented a more shocking message."
Speaking on British commercial radio on 6 December 1977, Sir John Whitmore also questioned newspaper reporting of the incident, referring to a recording of the complete broadcast which appeared to exist at the time.
Usage in popular culture
Author Nelson Algren included a variation of the message in his 1983 book, The Devil's Stocking, a fictionalized 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!"
- Paulu, Burton (October 1981). Television and radio in the United Kingdom. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 978-0-8166-0941-3.
- "'Galactic' hoax startles viewers", The Daily Collegian (Page 18), 2 December 1977, retrieved 2012-10-31
- Sieveking, Paul (26 December 1999), "100 Weird Years (see number 34)", The Independent On Sunday, retrieved 2009-09-13
- "From outer space at short range", The Guardian, 28 November 1977, p. 4.
- Sunday Express, 27 November 1977, p. 28.
- "Mystery Voice Loses Its Loophole", Los Angeles Times, 30 November 1977, p. B5.
- "Source of hoax space broadcast stays a mystery", The Times, 28 November 1977, p. 2, col. E.
- "Mysterious voice shakes up Britons", Chicago Tribune, 30 November 1977, retrieved 2009-09-13
- Smith, Jack (6 December 1977), "Every Bloke for 'Imself", Los Angeles Times, retrieved 2009-09-13
- "British Viewers Hear 'Message'", Ellensburg Daily Record, 28 November 1977, retrieved 2009-09-20
- "Earth listeners receive 'special message'", Rome News-Tribune, 28 November 1977, retrieved 2009-09-20
- "Fact or science fiction?", The Times, 30 November 1977, Letters to the Editor, p. 17.
- "Pay Attention", Eugene Register-Guard, 15 December 1977, retrieved 2009-09-20
- "Galactic traveler issued a warning", Columbia Missourian, 21 March 1985: 4a, retrieved 2009-09-20 Check date values in:
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- Diary of a Mad Planet: Fortean Times Issues 16-25. John Brown Publishing Ltd. 1995. ISBN 1-870021-25-8.
- "Bob Holness interviews John Whitmore". Space message on Southern TV. LBC Archive. December 6, 1977. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
I'd first like to refer to the recording itself of the complete message, one thing that struck me was that there was in fact nothing threatening whatsoever on the tape, and I was aware that most of the newspaper reports said it was threatening and frightening and so on, and so forth, and I just want to point out that that's sort-of a projection of the fears onto the material itself rather than the reality.
- Algren, Nelson (September 1983). The Devil's Stocking. Arbor House Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-87795-548-1.