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Arthur Shuttlewood (1920 - 1996)

In the 1960s, Warminster, in Wiltshire, became, a hot-spot for ufologists. Night after night, UFOs were seen gambolling in the local skies. The phenomena around Warminster, known locally as the Thing, had begun late in 1964 as unexplained sounds, but by mid-1965 had given way to classic Lights-in-the-Sky. Warminster quickly attracted big-hitters from the ufological fraternity, such as Gordon Creighton and John Cleary-Baker. But the one man at the centre of it all was local journalist, Arthur Shuttlewood.

Shuttlewood was born in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1920, and died in Warminster in 1996. He had moved to Warminster in 1940, and worked as a reporter, first for the Wiltshire Times, then for The Warminster Journal, from the early 1950s. By the time the Thing started flying around Warminster, Shuttlewood was 44, and had been writing for the Journal for many years. He is still, as Bob Rickard noted, remembered with respect and affection.[1] Before becoming a journalist, Shuttlewood had been a member of the Grenadier Guards and the Air Ministry Constabulary, and had been a councillor on Warminster Urban District Council. While Shuttlewood might be remembered at the Journal with repect, at least one journalist I have talked to, who knew Shuttlewood when he worked at the Wiltshire Times - Shuttlewood's first job as a journalist - remembers that Shuttlewood even then embroidered his reports of local events for dramatic effect.

Shuttlewood always proclaimed his hard-headedness and cynicism, stating 'I am not easily fooled. I dare not be. I have built my reputation as a journalist on the bedrock of integrity.'[2] However, once he had been converted to a belief in UFOs as evidence of extraterrestrials, he quite consciously proselytised this belief. By the time of his first book, The Warminster Mystery, he obviously believes that the Things are alien spacecraft. Given that his position as a journalist gave him access to most of the witnesses of the Thing, he became the primary source of information about the Thing. Shuttlewood was also the first to hear any strange stories. The fact that so many strange occurrences were being reported in Warminster would have made sure of its place in ufological history. It is a moot point whether Shuttlewood's own conversion to the cause fanned the flames, yet it is a theme returned to again and again in UFO books that discuss the Warminster phenomenon. For example, The UFO Encyclopedia notes that 'for around a decade [Warminster] was to remain the British centre of Ufology, largely due to the diligent efforts of a local devotee, Arthur Shuttlewood.'[3] There is no doubt that, as he became a skywatcher himself, he began to generate stories. However, it also cannot be forgotten that, for many months, Shuttlewood was just a reporter of the phenomenon.

That the phenomenon became centred on one man can be seen from books and interviews of the period. When UFO investigators or reporters came to Warminster, the person to whom they were inevitably directed was Arthur Shuttlewood. Shuttlewood's charm won over many journalists, and even sceptical ufologists such as John Rimmer of Magonia. Everybody who met Shuttlewood, it seems, was struck by his sincerity, dedication and rustic charm. These simple virtues, along with his intimate knowledge of, and contact with, the Thing and its pilots, gave him a charisma that appealed to many ufologists. However, even in the 1960s, when interest in the Thing first peaked, skeptics began to suspect that Shuttlewood blurred the boundary between reality and fiction. The Merseyside UFO Research Group (MUFORG), in particular, were deeply sceptical of Warminster's almost nightly displays of UFO activity. Nonetheless, John Rimmer thought it unlikely that Shuttlewood deliberately created the Thing phenomenon, nor did he believe that Shuttlewood deliberately exaggerated the sightings he reported in his books. For Rimmer, Shuttlewood was simply a skilled reporter, doing what came naturally.

However, Shuttlewood did deliberately exaggerate his stories. Shuttlewood's first book, The Warminster Mystery, revisits many of the stories first reported in the Warminster Journal. The stories related in the Journal are nowhere near as hysterical as their later retellings in Shuttlewood's book. Shuttlewood was undoubtedly reworking his material to make it more dramatic, more appealing to ufologists - it is deliberately exaggerated. The stories in his books are also related uncritically, as are the theories and explanations that he received from correspondents. Even as late as 1982 Shuttlewood was still as uncritical as ever. Ian Mrzyglod, in the magazine The Probe Report, discusses photographs of a UFO that had been described by Shuttlewood, in the magazine Magic Saucer, as 'perfect UFO discs, definite and beyond doubt.' Mrzyglod had the good sense to ask Shuttlewood for a copy of these photographs. When he received the prints, Mrzyglod immediately recognised the 'UFOs' as flaws in the development process. Shuttlewood was shown the prints, and Mrzyglod was surprised find that this was the first time Shuttlewood had seen them - Shuttlewood's comments to Magic Saucer had been made without seeing the prints. Despite this, he still asked Mrzyglod for enlargements to be made, as Shuttlewood hoped to interest some colour magazines or the Daily Mirror in the photographs. The enlargements were duly made, which only confirmed that the 'UFOs' had been development flaws. Shuttlewood himself reluctantly agreed that this was indeed the case; the Daily Mirror had returned Shuttlewood's copies of the enlargements, also agreeing with Mrzyglod's verdict.

Eventually, Shuttlewood became a guru for the ufological fraternity that frequented Warminster; not only because of his charisma, but also through his position as the favoured intermediary, and his increasing comfort in the language of the mystic and the visionary. Did Shuttlewood become a guru by simply being the right man, in the right place, at the right time? Partly. While there is no doubt that Shuttlewood played only a small part in the genesis of the Thing - and here, the part of ufologists such as Gordon Creighton should be recognised - we must also accept that his central position in the Warminster phenomenon was aided by his charisma, his own beliefs, and his willful exaggerations.

[1]  Bob Rickard, obituary in Fortean Times Number 96, March 1997, p. 42.

[2]  Arthur Shuttlewood, Warnings From Flying Friends, p. 38.

[3]  John Spencer, The UFO Encyclopaedia

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