On Sunday 3rd January 1999 the BBC aired it's controversial Country File special report on crop circle hoaxing - or more specifically Doug Bower; half of the elderly two man team who confessed to the world via The Today newspaper back in 1991 that they had "conned the world". Dave Chorley, his partner in crime passed away in 1997 leaving Doug to recount their evidence on his own.
I knew the programme was out to debunk the subject, ever since I received notification before last season that the BBC were out to commission a formation and produce a "debunking feature". Thus circle researchers were prepared and on their guard. However, I immediately knew that the BBC would portray a biased view as soon as Country File presenter John Craven advocated the vandalism of farmers crops by introducing Doug by saying, "Few appreciate what he calls art". Art it may be, but it's still vandalism and causes damage and loss to the farmer, either by encouraging copy-cat hoaxing or careless visitors trampling down subsequent crop in order to visit the "artform". Craven then went on to refer to Doug as the "great hoaxer" - not only was he advocating vandalism, but now he was trying to build up Doug into some kind of bravado hero! Really? They then showed a video sequence of Doug creeping around fields passing a make-do 'wanted sign' erected by the side of the field, proclaiming "Wanted - Reward". With an intro as tacky as this (or perhaps it was the BBC's idea of humour), we all knew what we would be in for during the following 20 minutes or so.
The on-location reporter for this feature was Rupert Segar, who himself was obviously some kind of joker - so no hope for objective reporting. Doug claimed to have created circles for years (actually, since 1978) and even went so far as to say they created the phenomenon. Of course, no mention was made of some of the early reports such as circles appearing near Warminster in 1972, or circles near Winchester in 1975. Doug said they had originally wanted to make people think UFOs had made them (although it wasn't stated in this documentary, in other interviews Doug has said they got the idea from the Tully circles in Australia). Rupert decided he wanted to help Doug to make a circle - in order to see how easy it was and to gain some experience himself. This was sensible thinking, but oh no that would be too boring. Instead the BBC staged some kind of immature game where Rupert would turn up to meet Doug one evening armed with all manner of military looking equipment, camouflage costume and the car stereo and headlights blaring out into the night. Doug (understandably) was horrified and told Rupert to go home and come back when he was more suitably prepared. This was obviously a joke to watch and I didn't know whether to laugh or feel sorry for anyone watching the programme thinking it was trying to be serious.
Having decided to behave more seriously, the scene jumps to Doug driving Rupert through the country roads of Hampshire - along the A272 towards Cheesefoot Head to be more precise. This is where the first 'interesting' comment was to be revealed. Doug points to a field they pass and claims, "we've hit this field every year for 14 years". Well, assuming they started in 1978 (as he originally stated), this means that the field (although not stated implicitly, but obviously in the Longwood Warren/Cheesefoot Head area of Hampshire) had crop circles made by them every year until 1992 - which is clearly incorrect according to my records. Indeed I can't find any field in Hampshire which is reported to have had a crop circle in it every year between 1978 and 1992. If any readers can enlighten me I would love to receive any evidence to the contrary.
Doug went on to brag how he "rubbed shoulders with the researchers" at the time. He even referred to Colin Andrews (although not actually naming him, but I've heard Doug name Colin in a previous interview) as once having been fooled by them phoning him up to report a new formation and then Colin subsequently going to visit it. Of course, there was(is) no evidence produced to support this claim, so with hindsight anyone could indeed claim to have made formations. It's a pity Colin Andrews wasn't interviewed by the BBC in order to put his point of view across. In fact, there was very little mention of any current researchers at all. There was some footage of the original Operation Blackbird which took place in 1990, presumably because the BBC could use their own archive TV footage, but no subsequent interviews with any of the original people who took part.
There were a couple of interviews with Terence Meaden, one of the early researchers and scientific investigators. Later they showed a more up to date interview with Terence Meaden, but he dropped out of circles research a few years back, so his comments were largely to be predicted - all but the simplest of circles were likely to be hoaxes. I've subsequently spoken to a number of researchers who, knowing the Country File team were making a documentary, contacted the BBC and offered to supply scientific evidence and details of current research. According to the people I've spoken to, the BBC declined the offers of current research, instead obviously deciding to continue with the 100% hoaxing hypothesis.
Another mildly humorous comment was made by Doug's wife when they interviewed her about how she found out about their [Doug and Dave's] exploits. She claimed she noticed the mileage on the car going up. Gee! I'm surprised she didn't notice an empty bed whilst Doug was out most nights in the summer making crop circles every year for 14 years - or perhaps they didn't actually make as many formations as they claim. After all, it's very easy to make claims years after the events have taken place, with no perceivable evidence to back up their claims.
One thing I was looking forward to seeing in the programme was how they dealt with being caught out last year trying to make their own formation (presumably to test or catch out the researchers). Unfortunately this experiment failed because all the researchers knew that such a plan would be executed at some point during the season. In any case, most notable circles hotspots in Wiltshire are monitored most nights by bands of diligent 'crop watchers'.
The plan was to commission a formation (eventually constructed just below Milk Hill, Alton Barnes, by a team from London calling themselves The Circlemakers) and also a second neighbouring formation made by Doug and Rupert the reporter. The night got off to a bad start because they were initially caught by observant crop watchers whilst trying to film an interview with Doug in a field near West Overton. Fearing an awkward situation might develop, the BBC called the police who soon arrived, only to find the road partially blocked by numerous cars. In the confusion the BBC managed to slip away and partially evade the field watchers - only to be caught again by crop watcher Matthew Williams, who was armed with infra-red nightsights. The rest of the 'croppies' soon arrived on the scene, but the BBC were allowed to finish making their formation, watched by the researchers. At this point it was nearly getting light and, although The Circlemakers team have finished their formation, Rupert and Doug are having difficulty. Even though their formation was barely 60 feet in diameter, Rupert blusters on about how Doug accidentally made a mistake measuring out the formation, resulting in it being twice the diameter and thus four times the area. Well, if the original plan was to make a 30-40 foot single circle I'd like to see them try to reproduce one of the more elaborate pictograms, say 700 foot long.
In fact, thinking about it, I'm not sure how you can make such a large mistake if you're only making a relatively small formation in the first place. Surely you would be prepared and carry preset pieces of rope, so how could you get to the field to make a 30' formation and 'accidentally' make a 60' foot one. Something fishy methinks! Irrespectively, the point remains (neatly omitted by the BBC's coverage) that in over 20 years of crop circles research not a single hoaxer has ever been caught, yet the first night the BBC go out to make a formation they get caught within minutes of arrival!
Another inaccuracy stated by Rupert was that "this was the first time in history that a complex formation has been filmed without lights and recorded on video tape". They obviously didn't do their background research well enough because they would have discovered that freelance TV producer John Macnish filmed a timelapse sequence of Doug and Dave allegedly making a formation near HMS Mercury in Hampshire back in 1992¹.
Just before the feature drew to a close, there was a short interview with Doug and the other hoaxers, in which he suddenly proclaims that he's "beginning to think that he was programmed to do it [the circles] by some higher power". I truly hope that Doug really believes this, but my personal opinion is that the way he came out with it was almost as if the BBC had scripted him to say something like that in order to leave people guessing and pondering if there really is something 'higher' we don't know about. Rupert then adds that some people think it's probably a conspiracy or a government coverup but "we've won the bet", meaning that be believes all crop circles are man-made - well, no surprises there then!
On the whole the complete programme was a joke. It's hard to be objective when reviewing a programme such as this because the reported viewpoint had such a biased slant itself. It could have been balanced out by interviewing current researchers, or at least reporting on some of the scientific evidence available - such as electronic anomalies, malfunctions, radio frequency fluctuations, mathematical geometries and even physiological effects. However no serious research was even hinted at. Presumably this would have given the BBC a headache in trying to account for the continuing mystery. Programmes like this just serve to confuse, or completely debunk, the subject in the publics eye. Only dedicated researchers who have witnessed first hand anomalies, studied the intricate patterns or counted the sheer numbers of crop circles to appear in the UK (not counting the many hundreds reported from all points of the globe from Canada to Afghanistan and even rice paddy fields in Japan) will know that it's only a foolhardy and closed-minded person who will dismiss the sheer weight of evidence so casually - or proof of a coverup of some kind. It left me pondering whether or not Rupert's comments about a conspiracy or coverup were indeed some kind of double-bluff to dismiss the possibility that the BBC might, just might, be part of a bigger conspiracy. No doubt the truth is out there, but in the case of the BBC I doubt we'll ever know for sure. The only way to get answers is to investigate the circles yourself - something many dedicated researchers are continuing to do the world over - even if the BBC do turn a blind eye to them.
Where's the Prosecution?
Footnote: Presumably the police will be taking steps to prosecute Doug Bower for his arrogant and attention seeking 'confession' of vandalizing farmers crops. I'm sure if someone confessed to carrying out untold burglaries or graffiti painting over a 14 year period, they would soon be getting a visit from the 'boys in blue'. To this end I would urge Enigma readers to contact their local police station and ask them if they saw the programme.....
1. As reported in John Macnish's 1993 publication "Cropcircle Apocalypse" (p.151)