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Monday, October 21, 2013

Desmond Leslie

According to his obituary in the Daily Telegraph,  "The prevailing scientific materialism of Leslie's time held no appeal to him, and he turned his attention instead to the world of mysteries. Attracted to ancient history, archaeology and esoteric philosophy, he saw in them evidence of a world view quite different from that of more soberly academic contemporaries. To Leslie, ancient monuments and artefacts were proof of a sophistication of culture and technology that could not be attributed to the people of their times. The makers, he concluded, were evidently super-human—or came from elsewhere. In the 1950s, there were regular reports of "flying saucers" and of encounters with alien creatures, and Leslie's merger of these accounts with his antiquarian researches led to The Flying Saucers Have Landed."

The latter, described as "a key text of the New Age movement", was jointly credited to George Adamski, a Polish-born American who developed an interest in Eastern religions in the 1930s, founding a group known as the Royal Order of Tibet. In 1952, Adamski claimed that he was invited aboard a flying saucer and taken to Venus.

Aliens from Venus is a key element of Theosophy, which Leslie used as one of the bases of his book, which consisted of his own main part (Book One), taking up over three-quarters of the book, with the shorter Adamski book (Book Two) attached. Leslie's foreword opens as follows: "About eighteen million years ago, say the strange and ancient legends of our little planet" before citing a number of books written by Theosophists—Alice Bailey (→ Wikipedia), Annie Besant ((→ Wikipedia), H. P. Blavatsky (→ Wikipedia) and C. W. Leadbeater (→ Wikipedia).

Central to Leslie's book was Sanat Kumara who, according to Blavetsky, belonged to a group of beings known as the Lords of the Flame. This theme was developed by Leadbeater and Bailey. Wikipedia notes: "C.W. Leadbeater and later adherents of Theosophy such as Alice A. Bailey believe that Sanat Kumara came to Earth 18,500,000 years ago (A.E. Powell gives a figure of 16,500,000 years ago) from the etheric plane of the planet Venus . . . In Theosophy, the beings that helped Sanat Kumara organize the expedition from Venus are called the "Lords of the Flame"."

Mix in numerous reports from newspapers and magazines and Leslie's book alone might have made an interesting read. However, as Charles Davy noted in The Observer (4 October 1953): "Mr. Desmond Leslie's diligent but wildly speculative inquiries into the ancient history of flying saucers are overshadowed by Mr. George Adamski's story of the present day."

Even the book's editor had problems with the story, Charles Bowen later recalled (FSR v.16 no.3, 1970): "When it appeared in September 1953, the book had obviously benefited from Waveney Girvan's editing skill—during our years of close association he told me of the difficulties he had faced, and how he overcame them." Sadly, Bowen never expanded on the topic. Bowen does, however, discuss the reaction to the book's appearance:
A predictable blast effect was the instant raising of the voices of protest among reviewers. The general implication was that Adamski was a liar, a cheat and a hoaxer; others, later, thought he may have been hoaxed by someone else. Some, more charitable, were of the opinion that Adamski had seen, and photographed, a strange aerial object, and that he had suffered an hallucination which gave rise to the sensational story he told.
    An unpredictable blast effect was the enthusiasm with which the public rushed to buy the book, in spite of the reviews. Another effect was the way a "contactee" cult sprang into being around the person of George Adamski, an effect which, according to some, has done more damage to the possibility of serious research on UFOs than could have resulted from the pontifications of a thousand Menzels! While this may be true, it is equally true that many thousands of reasonable people first met the subject through the agency of this book, and thereafter decided, in a rational way, to find out more about UFOs. These people did not join the ranks of the vehement protesters, and they did not become cultists. In fact many of of them eventually became readers of Flying Saucer Review, for another of the effects of the dynamite blast was the founding of this journal late in 1954 by Waveney Girvan and a handful of friends.
    The success of the Leslie / Adamski book prompted these dedicated people to think the time was ripe for establishing a serious journal on the subject. (This is contrary to a view sometimes expressed that the FSR was founded to disseminate the cultist beliefs of the "contactees" and their followers.)
Even Bowen, who believed in UFOs, thought the Adamski story damaged serious research as it was "seemingly ridiculous" and "makes the subject laughable". However he retains his ire for Adamski's followers: "I have long felt that although the story seems ridiculous, and the chief witness created a poor impression of himself, the greatest danger to the subject lay in the subsequent cultism. The story itself is no more "ridiculous" than the bulk of the contact stories."

Leslie stood by Adamski and claimed that, on a visit to Adamski in California in 1954, he had seen
several flying saucers. Back in the UK, he teamed up with Brinsley le Poer Trench and helped with the creation of the Flying Saucer Review.

Leslie subsequently revised and expanded the book in 1970, but it has been largely forgotten by anyone outside the UFO community.

Leslie himself was also a somewhat forgotten character. Almost any mention of him tells us that he was an Irish aristocrat, who made the front pages in 1963 when he punched Bernard Levin live on That Was The Week That Was after the critic slated his wife's first solo show, Cabaret of Savagery and Delight, based on songs by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

There is a question over quite where Leslie was born, with some sources saying he was born in Co. Monaghan, Ireland (Wikipedia, for instance), while other sources give London as his place of birth (including Contemporary Authors and travel records, from information supplied by Leslie himself). As Desmond A. Leslie, his birth was registered in Marylebone, London, in 3Q 1921, as can be seen from the record below.

He was born Desmond Arthur Peter Leslie on 29 June 1921, the son of Sir John Randolph Shane Leslie (→ Wikipedia), the eccentric and colourful 3rd Baronet of Castle Leslie, Glaslough, Co. Monaghan. Shane Leslie had travelled widely and, alongside his political ambitions, was also an author. The family fortune waned following the Wall Street Crash but picked up in 2002 when Castle Leslie was the secret location of the marriage of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.

Leslie studied at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Dublin, before joining the RAF during the Second World War, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes, destroying several planes (a family historian remarked that they were mostly those he was piloting). He celebrated VE day with his cousin, the Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street.

In August 1945, he married Agnes Bernauer, the daughter of Rudolph Bernauer, a German Jewish impresario who had fled to London in 1936. In 1954, using her stage name Agnes Bernelle, she became the first actress to perform nude, as Salome at St Martin's Theatre, although her career developed as a singer as the decade moved on.

Leslie, meanwhile, worked in the film industry, writing and directing films, and as an author, his novels including Careless Lives (1945), Pardon My Return (1946) and Angels Weep (1946). Later novels included Hold Back The Night (1956), The Amazing Mr. Lutterworth (1958) and The Jesus File (1975). He was involved in the movies My Hands Are Clay (1947), Stranger At My Door (1950), The Missing Princess (1954, starring his wife) and Them And The Thing (1960).

During the shooting of Stranger At My Door, with money short, Leslie decided to create all the music himself. This interest in music developed, and he created a working multi-track sound mixing desk and, later, began recording experimental music himself, beginning with Music Of The Future in 1960 (although not commercially available until 2005). The track 'Mercury', for instance, was created using a spinning top and a horn from an old Morris Oxford. In the 1960s, he was involved with recording a series of Shakespeare plays in stereo performed by Old Vic players and released as 'The Living Shakespeare'. In the UK, the records were produced by Odhams. Some of his many recordings—bees humming, cars hooting, babies crying—were used as incidental music or sountracks to TV shows.

In 1963, whilst expecting their third child, Leslie and his wife moved from London to Ireland and concentrated on rebuilding the fortunes of Castle Leslie, firstly through a club, Annabel's on the Bog (after the famous London nightclub, Annabel's). Guests included Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and Patrick Moore, but it did not last long. Moore later collaborated with Leslie on a spoof book, How Britain Won The Space Race (1972).

His marriage to Agnes was dissolved in 1969 and he subsequently married Helen Jennifer Strong, with whom he had two daughters. They moved to St. Jeannet in the South of France in the late 1980s, where Leslie worked on various books, including an unpublished autobiography. He died in Antibes, France, on 24 February 2001, survived by his second wife and six children, one of them from an affair.


Careless Lives. London, Macdonald & Co., 1945.
Pardon My Return. London, Macdonald & Co., 1946.
Angels Weep. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1946.
Hold Back the Night. London, P. Owen, 1956.
The Amazing Mr. Lutterworth. London, Wingate, 1958.

Flying Saucers Have Landed, with George Adamski. London, British Book Center, 1953; revised and enlarged, London, Neville Spearman, 1970.
How Britain Won the Space Race, with Patrick Moore. London, Mitchell Beazley, 1972.
True Horsemanship Through Feel, with Bill Dorrance. Novato, CA, Diamond Lu Productions, 1999.

(* The photograph of Desmond Leslie is from his book The Amazing Mr Lutterworth; the photograph of Agnes and Desmond is from the Agnes Bernelle website.)

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