26 November 1977 was a deeply cold night in England. The regional station Southern Television was just beginning its evening news bulletin and families across South-East England gathered together in their living rooms to watch the news. Children waited impatiently for Looney Tunes, which they knew would be shown directly after the news programme.
As Andrew Gardner read out news of the conflict in Rhodesia, a hissing, shuffling sound drowned out his voice. Suddenly, a booming voice addressed the startled viewers, as the screen still showed the oblivious newsreader reading through the day’s headlines.
This is the voice of Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you.
It was now ten past five in the evening. With the news report still continuing on the screen, the deep, oscillating voice continued with his message.
For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies.
None of the evening staff at Southern Television were aware of the intrusion to their signal. International Broadcasting Authority engineers in Croydon, Surrey did not hear the rogue signal, nor was it detected at the main transmitter site in Southampton.
The message from “Vrillon” continued for nearly six minutes as stunned families across South-East England tried to comprehend what they were hearing. Some panicked, believing that aliens really were communicating through the television.
A user named Podshell posted his memories of that night on Spiritual Forums:
“I remember nipping into our living room for something for my sister, who was cooking in the kitchen, and the television was on, and then the broadcast started. I watched, or rather listened, mesmerised.”
The full message from “Vrillon” advised humanity that weapons must be destroyed if humans could ascend to the next stage in evolution, prompting listeners to seek out small groups preaching the same extra-terrestrial wisdom.
So how did “Vrillon” manage to spread his alien message on regional television? Surprisingly, it probably wasn’t via UFO laser beam.
The local television transmitter is the likely source of the rogue transmission. Unusually for a transmitter serving such a large area, the Hannington transmitter merely received and rebroadcasted a signal sent from Rowbridge on the Isle of Wight.
With the sound being transmitted as an FM broadcast, it was easy to take over the transmission. All that “Vrillon” needed to do was drive up to the transmitter at Hannington, and broadcast on the same FM frequency as the transmission from the Isle of Wight.
The Hannington television transmitter sits in the English countryside. Whoever took over the signal would have had to travel along the small roads leading to the hillside transmitter.
The story of most rogue transmissions usually ends with a clever misfit owning up and explaining how they did it. Sometimes they want fame, other times they want money. In the case of the Southern Television takeover, the motive was far more mysterious.
Nobody has ever come forward to confess to the “Vrillon” broadcast. In 1967, the Wireless Telegraphy Act was created in the UK, outlawing the kind of rogue signal used on Southern Television. Phreaks and hackers were warned that their mischief could land them with hundreds of pounds in fines, or even a prison sentence.
As nobody has come forward to confess to the incident, we cannot say for sure who was responsible. We can, however, make a good guess that they were a big fan of a UFO cult living in America.
By 1977 Ashtar’s followers were in disarray. The glory days of the 1940s were over. The time travel chamber they had built named the Integratron had still not been completed. Could this group of UFO-worshippers living on an airstrip in America be behind the rogue broadcast?
George Van Tassel worked in the aerospace industry, tending to the planes that formed the backbone of the booming industry. When his mysterious friend Frank Critzer was killed by US police after they suspected he was a German spy, Van Tassel took over the airport that belonged to him, along with the caves under Giant Rock.
Since the 1940s, Van Tassel claimed to have received regular message from a godlike alien named Ashtar. The “Vrillon” message claims to originate from someone in Ashtar’s Galactic Command. The idea of a solar government had been communicated by Ashtar in the 1950s to Van Tassel.
After his messages became more and more elaborate, other UFOlogists began to claim to have communicated with Ashtar. Apocalyptic predictions abounded. All were ultimately unproven.
To keep the UFO fans loyal, a series of guidelines were created for messages from Ashtar. If someone transcribed a message from Ashtar’s government that didn’t meet the guidelines, it was declared fraudulent.
The 1970s were not a good decade for the “classic” alien religions of the ’40s and ’50s. However, a new UFO cult that was flourishing was known as Raëlism. Founded in 1973 by racing driver Claude Vorilhon, this movement preach that Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and all other deities were aliens who came to earth to share the news of the era of UFOs.
One theory claims that the “Vrillon” said to be speaking in the 1977 television message was actually the name “Vorilhon”.
It is believed that the message transmitted across South-East England originates from someone with a keen interest in counter-culture and UFOs. They made the chilly evening drive up to the hillside next to the Hannington transmitter, and pointed their cheap FM transmitter at the tower, taking over the small local channel, and causing international press coverage.
For the struggling UFO religions, any and all press was advantageous. Whether the person responsible for the Southern Television broadcast interruption was a cult member or just a well-read prankster, we may never know.