The harvest season in underway, and there’s one thing that has become conspicuous by its absence in recent years - crop circles, those geometric patterns of flattened cereal that seemed to appear overnight in fields across the world. Scientists could not come up with an explanation. They didn’t know how they were formed, or by whom, or by what. Other people, however, were certain what they were. They were patterns created by aliens of their spaceships. Belief in these crop circles became quite popular for a while, and some people still go looking for them.
Before I go further I should point out that the crop circles I refer to in this article are the ones which began to appear in the UK in the 1970s and were revealed in the 1990s to be a hoax and were created by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, and by other hoaxers.
I also have to admit that I had an open mind about crop circles at the time. I was an impressionable young teenager, though I could never believe they were created by aliens. I grew up in a rural village surrounded by wheat and barley fields but we never had any appear in my area.
One of the “champions” of crop circles was an openly gay ex-Ministry of Defence civil servant called Ralph Noyes (1923-1998).
Ralph Noyes was probably born in South Africa. Ten months after his birth he and his British parents are recorded on the passenger list of a ship sailing from Durban to Southampton. He was definitely a “child of the empire” and spent some time growing up in the West Indies. By 1933 his parents had, apparently, separated because his mother was remarried to a man called Reginald Hanney. Ralph changed his surname by deed poll in 1947 to Noyes-Hanney, though there’s no indication that he ever used it.
During World War II Ralph served in the RAF which led to him becoming a civil servant in what is now called the Ministry of Defence after 1945. In the latter half of his career he was employed at the Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a, what was popularly known as the “UFO desk”. Part of Ralph’s job was to answer letters from the public about UFO sightings. His contribution to the investigations into UFOs is worthy of a separate article, which I may get round to writing some time next year.
At around the same time that crop circles began to appear in the 1970s Ralph Noyes had become an Assistant Under-Secretary of State and had come out as gay. He appeared in one of the earliest British television series aimed at the lgbt community called “Gay Life” in 1981. Ralph retired from the Ministry of Defence a year later.
Ralph was also involved in investigation paranormal and mysterious phenomena. He was the Hon. Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research. While it is certain that Ralph was interested in the paranormal it is also clear that he was equally interested in the proper scientific research into these events and eager to find proof and reason behind them. However, he was often open to less scientific answers to some phenomena, never dismissing them until he could prove they were wrong.
In 1976, the year after Ralph left the Ministry of Defence, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley created their first crop circle. They caused a sensation and soon more appeared around the UK and the world. Ralph Noyes became interested in them very quickly, mainly because of the widely held belief that they were created by aliens and spaceships, and while the scientific world generally denounced such theories Ralph threw himself into research into these strange creations.
After several years Ralph Noyes had become one of the leading figures in cereology (yes, they even gave crop circle research a pseudo-scientific name) and in 1990 he edited and published a collection of writings on crop circles which is still highly regarded in the world of cereology. It was called “The Crop Circle Enigma”. In the same year Ralph and fellow cereologist Michael Green founded the Centre for Crop Circle Studies (CCCS). This too was aimed at proper scientific investigation.
|Ralph Noyes’ appearance in a 1984 Japanese documentary on UFOs; inset, the front cover of the first edition of his book “The Crop Circle Enigma”, published in 1990.
By this time, the beginning of the 1990s, the hoax crop circles of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley were themselves being hoaxed. To Ralph Noyes these fakes were obvious. He wrote to the Times newspaper on 25th July 1991 expressing his dismay that many of these copycat circles were “not only troublesome to farmers but muddies the scientific record”.
In September 1991 Doug Bower and Dave Chorley revealed that they had created the crop circles which sparked off the whole crop circle craze.
In 1992 the CCCS held its first international conference in Winchester. In the same month Ralph joined fellow cereologists in several night vigils at crop circle sites in the area. It seems that, by now, Ralph had become disillusioned by the whole idea of crop circle studies. Dismayed by the confessions of Bower and Chorley, and by the many copycat circles that he thought “muddled” his scientific research into genuine circles, he resigned from the CCCS later that year. It did not, however, dampen his interest in paranormal and mysterious events and he continued to be a member of the Society for Psychical Research and write articles.
Ralph remained a highly respected figure in cereology after his departure from the CCCS. His main contribution to the world of the mysterious and unexplained, however, was in the study of UFOs. It is this subject to which I’ll return some time next year.