Case Histories : Photo Hoaxes> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ next]


It was during this visit to London in March 1954, that Stephen and his father were secreted into a car and driven to Buckingham Palace to meet one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s private secretaries. It was claimed the invitation came from the Palace via Desmond Leslie who had contacts at ‘the highest level.’ In fact, the Sunday Dispatch got wind of the meeting soon afterwards and reported how Prince Philip had read about Stephen’s sighting in the newspapers “and wanted to know more.” (14)

The Royal Equerry, RAF Squadron Leader Sir Peter Horsley was at that time involved in his own “saucer” study with the blessing of the Duke, and “the Darbishire boys” became the latest in a series of saucer-spotters who were invited to his office to discuss their sightings. In his autobiography, Horsley says he was “impressed by their story and truthfulness” and notes Dr Darbishire “was not relishing the publicity and notoriety the family were receiving from the newspapers.” Horsley sent a report of the meeting to the Duke, who was in Australia at the time, and asked a professional photographer, Wallace Heaton, to examine the negatives. His conclusion said, in summary: “Yes, they could have been faked but they were so good it would have cost quite a lot of money.” This left the RAF veteran puzzled: how could an ordinary farming family find the money to finance an elaborate hoax and even if they had, what was their motivation? “Was there a wider conspiracy?” he mused. (15)

Stephen Darbishire’s visit to Buckingham Palace was just the beginning of a series of adventures which led him and his family further and deeper into the bizarre world of the ‘flying saucer cult.’ Visitors called in at the Darbishire family home without invitation, and letters arrived by the sackful including one from none other than Lord Dowding, the Battle of Britain hero - another highly placed saucer believer at that time. In 1959 Stephen was introduced by Desmond Leslie to George Adamski at a meeting held in London during the contactee’s lecture tour of Britain and Europe. Stephen, who was by then attending art school, remained “unimpressed” by the contactee who he dismissed as “mad, mad as a hatter...somewhere else altogether.” It was at this stage, Stephen told us in 2001, that he asked himself: “How can I be involved in this, how can I actually be sitting here with these people?”

The teenager was by now feeling increasingly that he was pawn in other people’s games, that the photo was no longer his property “...all I was being used for was an instrument of verification.” As a result he decided the best way out was to put the word around that his photos were in fact fakes so he could go back to living a normal life. In a letter sent to UFO author Timothy Good in1986 Stephen told how “…in desperation I ... said it was a fake.” (16)

But as Alex Birch and others who followed in Stephen’s footsteps were later to find, the “hoax” declaration did not bring an end to the notoriety - rather the opposite: “I was counter-attacked, accused of working with the ‘Dark Powers’…or patronisingly ‘understood’ for following orders from some secret government department.”

While Stephen remained “detached” from the strange characters and even stranger beliefs that surrounded his experience, he found the biggest impact of all was upon the lives of his parents. Following the experiences of 1954, Dr Darbishire underwent what his son described as “a mid-life crisis.” The visitors and attention his family received from the flying saucer movement opened up a whole new world of possibilities and Darbishire senior became drawn into the world of the occult, collecting a huge library of books on a range of esoteric subjects. The workshop at his farm became a laboratory where he constructed strange machines that utilised revolving lights to detect the human aura and effect alternative cures. Similarly, Stephen’s mother was also profoundly affected by the experience and became more interested in the spiritual world.

In 2001 Stephen Darbishire - the artist - prefers to play down the significance of his best known piece of work, growing weary after almost half a century of tiresome questions. Yet the central mystery that eluded Sir Peter Horsley remains: just how could a young boy, who claimed he “knew absolutely nothing about flying saucers” manage to “create” one of most mysterious photographs in the history of the subject? And if it wasn’t faked, then what exactly did the photograph depict? “An object,” was the simple but ambiguous answer Stephen Darbishire gave when this question was asked in 2001. What is not in dispute is that Stephen shared his father’s inquisitive nature and creative talents - and clearly his sense of humour too, an attribute also associated with another influential personality entwined within this story, Desmond Leslie.

Interviewed in 2001 Darbishire continues to maintain he had never seen Adamski’s photos when he produced his drawings and photographs, contradicting his own statement to Leslie in 1954 that he had indeed seen the pictures that appeared in Illustrated, the year previously. »

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