In 1943, Dempster joined the Royal Air Force and was sent off to Southern Rhodesia for pilot training. On gaining a commission and receiving his ‘wings’, he volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm in Middlesex, remaining there until he was demobbed in 1947. Thereafter he returned to Pembroke where he earned a BA in Law in 1947 and an MA in 1949.
In 1948 Dempster became a test pilot in the first age of British jet aircraft, joining 604 Squadron, based at North Weald in Epping Forest, Essex.
He initially flew Vampires, later moving onto Gloster Meteors – an innovative development in fighter planes that relied heavily on ground-breaking turbo-jet engines developed by Sir Frank Whittle. Flight-Lieutenant Dempster was chosen to attempt a 1,500-mile record flight from England to Casablanca in a light plane during the summer of 1954. Unfortunately, Dempster, at 14 stone, was considered too heavy for the task and he was replaced by 9-stone John Lee of the same squadron.
When I was at about 16,000 feet I saw a whole lot of contrails – possibly at 30-40,000 feet-over the North Foreland. Through the middle of the trails I saw three objects which I thought were airplanes, but they weren't trailing. They came down through the middle of that toward Southend and then headed toward me.Slandin immediately reported the sighting by radio to the control tower at North Weald, continues Good in his book. "After landing he related further details to Derek Dempster, 604 Squadron's intelligence officer (sic) . . . The report was sent to the Air Ministry but nothing further was heard about it. Had it not been for Derek Dempster, the story might never have come to light." (Good's summary is quoted in full here.)
When they got to within a certain distance two of them went off to my port side – one gold and one silver – and the third object came straight toward me and closed to within a few hundred yards, almost filling the windscreen, then it went off toward my port side. I tried to turn round to follow, but it had gone.
It was saucer-shaped with a bun on top and a bun underneath, and was silvery and metallic. There were no portholes, flames, or anything.
This was a hugely popular book, selling over 50,000 copies in eight editions in its first year, and had generated a great deal of discussion in the media, including a BBC North radio programme in December 1953 involving co-author Desmond Leslie and astronomer Professor Lovell.
Soon after, Dempster was dropped by the Express after he took a stand against Lord Beaverbrook, the paper’s owner, who wanted him to condemn BOAC for grounding the Comet after it had suffered two fatal accidents in early 1954—an action Dempster supported.
This state of unemployment conveniently coincided with the imminent birth of a magazine called the Flying Saucer Review. Having recently met with one of the principals behind the publication of Leslie and Adamski’s book. Within a very short space of time, Dempster found himself installed in an office at T Werner Laurie in Doughty Street, London, as the first editor of Flying Saucer Review.
In later years, Dempster’s own literary output had included The Tale of the Comet and The Narrow Margin (co-written with Derek Wood), which served as a prime source for the making of Guy Hamilton’s 1969 film Battle of Britain starring Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, and Christopher Plummer. He was the director of a number of companies, including Debate Aviation Safety Ltd., Q. Publications Ltd., Aviation Study Group and The Quiet Pint Ltd. as Author, Consultant, Director and Publisher.
He died on 25 January 2012 aged 87. He married Isolde Ustinow (nee Denham, 1920-1987), the former wife of actor Peter Ustinov, in 1951 and became stepfather to their daughter, Tamara. They subsequently divorced and he married Josephine Carole Newton in 1968.
The Inhabited Universe. An Inquiry into the Frontiers of Knowledge, with Kenneth W. Gatland. London, Allan Wingate, 1957; New York, David McKay Co., 1958; as Worlds In Creation, Chicago, Henry Regnery, 1974.
The Tale of the Comet. London, Allan Wingate, 1959.
The Narrow Margin, with Derek Wood. London, Hutchinson, 1961; New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961; revised as A Summer for Heroes, Shrewsbury, Airlife, 1990.
The Frontiers of Knowledge, with Kenneth Gatland. London, Allan Wingate, 1974.
The Quiet Pint: A Guide to Quiet Pubs, with Josephine Dempster. Sandwich, "Q" Publications, 1995; 2nd ed. Sandwich, Q, 1996; 3rd ed. 1998; 4th ed. London, Aurum, 2000; 6th ed. London, Aurum, 2004.
(* The photo of Derek Dempster is from The Haunted Skies blog, which also includes a brief interview with Dempster.)