David Clarke and Andy Roberts are best known for their long-running UFO column in Fortean Times, where their skepticism frequently annoyed “nuts-and-bolts” Ufologists (i.e., those who believe at least some of those strange lights in the sky are actual alien ships). Yet underneath their debunking is a deep affection for the subject, one which is thoroughly expressed in this warm, unique history. Although Flying Saucers begins in America with a quick recap of famous cases of the 1940s and early 50s, the focus quickly shifts to the less-anthologised British scene, and the various eccentric personalities, forgotten flaps and generational shifts that drove British UFO research.
A lot of Flying Saucers deals with the kind of tabloid flaps that serious UFO researchers would rather forget. There is a suburban housewife who believes her baby is an alien-human hybrid, a priest who believes UFOs are demonic and writes a letter to the Queen begging her not to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a classic account of alien contact that seems to be a hoax perpetrated by a British television icon. Yet Clarke and Roberts’s humour is always affectionate, and they emphasise that UFO believers are as likely to be pillars of society as they are fringe cranks. (There are probably books on the Second World War that contain fewer mentions of Churchill than this) The book ends before the X-Files-driven revival of the field in the 1990s, partly because you suspect the authors find the latter-day Ufological landscape of government cover-ups, genetic experiments and anal probes much less charming and innocent than the stories connected in this fond, funny, well-researched overview.