Southern Television broadcast interruption
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Southern Television broadcast interruption
The Hannington transmitter, from where the broadcast signal was hijacked.
||26 November 1977
The Southern Television broadcast interruption was a broadcast interruption through the Hannington transmitter of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in the United Kingdom at 5:10 pm on 26 November 1977. The broadcast message is generally considered to be a hoax, but the identity of the hijacker is unknown.
A speaker interrupted transmissions for six minutes and claimed to be a representative of an "Intergalactic Association". Reports of the incident vary, some calling the speaker "Vrillon" or "Gillon", others "Asteron".
The voice, which was disguised and accompanied by a deep buzzing, broke into the broadcast of the local ITV station Southern Television, overriding the UHF audio signal of the early-evening news being read by Andrew Gardner from ITN to warn viewers that "All your weapons of evil must be removed" and "You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace."
The interruption ceased shortly after the statement had been delivered, transmissions returning to normal shortly before the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Later in the evening, Southern Television apologised for what it described as "a breakthrough in sound" for some viewers. ITN also reported on the incident in its own late-evening Saturday bulletin.
The broadcast took over the sound only, leaving the video signal unaltered, aside from some picture distortion.
At that time, the Hannington UHF television transmitter was unusual in being one of the few transmitters which rebroadcast an off-air signal received from another transmitter (Southern Television's Rowridge transmitter on the Isle of Wight), rather than being fed directly by a landline. As a consequence it was open to this kind of signal intrusion, as even a relatively low-powered transmission very close to the receiver could overwhelm its reception of the intended signal, resulting in the unauthorised transmission being amplified and rebroadcast across a far wider area. The IBA stated that to carry out a hoax would take "a considerable amount of technical know-how" and a spokesman for Southern Television confirmed that "A hoaxer jammed our transmitter in the wilds of North Hampshire by taking another transmitter very close to it." However, like the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion a decade later, the identity of the intruder was never confirmed.
Public and media response
The incident caused some alarm locally, and attracted considerable publicity in the next day's Sunday newspapers, with the IBA immediately pronouncing that the broadcast was a hoax. The IBA confirmed that it was the first time such a hoax transmission had been made.
The event was reported around the world with numerous American newspapers picking up the story from the UPI press agency.
The broadcast also became a footnote in ufology as some chose to accept the supposed 'alien' broadcast at face value, questioning the explanation of a transmitter hijack. Within two days of the report of the incident in the Times, a letter to the editor published on 30 November 1977 asked, "[How] can the IBA - or anyone else - be sure that the broadcast was a hoax?" The editorial board of one local newspaper—the Eugene Register-Guard—commented, "Nobody seemed to consider that 'Asteron' may have been for real." By as late as 1985, the story had entered urban folklore, with suggestions that there had never been any explanation of the broadcast.
The incident was featured on a 1999 episode of children's television series It's a Mystery, produced by one of Southern's successors, Meridian Television. The feature reenacted the incident with faux news reports and viewers watching the incident play out at home.
The Winter 1977 issue of Fortean Times (issue #24) magazine featured a transcript of what they described as the 'short message' that was broadcast:
This is the voice of Asteron. I am an authorised representative of the Intergalactic Mission, and I have a message for the planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius and there are many corrections which have to be made by Earth people. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. You must live in peace... or leave the galaxy.
The Fortean Times article went on to criticise reports of the incident appearing in newspapers:
Inexplicably the News Of The World and D. Mail call the owner of the voice "Gillon, of the Ashdown Galactic Command" and that he said: "Unless the weapons of Earth are laid down, destruction from outer space invasion will quickly follow." I hope their regular news reportage is more accurate than that, for the indication is that they've simply invented a more shocking message.
Speaking on British commercial radio on 6 December 1977, Sir John Whitmore also questioned newspaper reporting of the incident, referring to a recording of the complete broadcast which appeared to exist at the time.
A complete transcript of the message reads:
This is the voice of Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you. For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet Earth. We come to warn you of the destiny of your race and your world so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world, and the beings on our worlds around you. This is in order that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the New Age of Aquarius. The New Age can be a time of great peace and evolution for your race, but only if your rulers are made aware of the evil forces that can overshadow their judgments. Be still now and listen, for your chance may not come again. All your weapons of evil must be removed. The time for conflict is now past and the race of which you are a part may proceed to the higher stages of its evolution if you show yourselves worthy to do this. You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill. Small groups all over the planet are learning this, and exist to pass on the light of the dawning New Age to you all. You are free to accept or reject their teachings, but only those who learn to live in peace will pass to the higher realms of spiritual evolution. Hear now the voice of Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you. Be aware also that there are many false prophets and guides operating in your world. They will suck your energy from you – the energy you call money and will put it to evil ends and give you worthless dross in return. Your inner divine self will protect you from this. You must learn to be sensitive to the voice within that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos and untruth. Learn to listen to the voice of truth which is within you and you will lead yourselves onto the path of evolution. This is our message to our dear friends. We have watched you growing for many years as you too have watched our lights in your skies. You know now that we are here, and that there are more beings on and around your Earth than your scientists admit. We are deeply concerned about you and your path towards the light and will do all we can to help you. Have no fear, seek only to know yourselves, and live in harmony with the ways of your planet Earth. We of the Ashtar Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the plane of your existence. May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the cosmos.
Usage in popular culture
Author Nelson Algren included a variation of the message in his 1983 book, The Devil's Stocking, a fictionalised account of the trial of Rubin Carter, a real-life prize-fighter who had been found guilty of double murder. In the book, as a period of unrest within the prison begins, the character 'Kenyatta' gives a speech closely mirroring the Fortean Times transcript of the Southern Television interruption:
"I am an authorized representative of the Intergalactic Mission," Kenyatta finally disclosed his credentials. "I have a message for the Planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius. Many corrections have to be made by Earth people. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. You must live in peace" – here he paused to gain everybody's attention – "you must live in peace or leave the galaxy!"
The incident was the inspiration for the third book in the Macdonald Hall book series by Gordon Korman, Beware the Fish, where a black box is used to interrupt broadcasts announcing exploits by the students of their school, Macdonald Hall, in order to save it from bankruptcy.