In the early 1960s, Charles Bowen – the cashier based at the South African Embassy – was still balancing his account’s books. With his attention having been drawn to its existence by articles offered in the “national dailies”, he too had subscribed and had been an avid reader of the Flying Saucer Review right from its very beginning. For good reason, Bowen now comes back into the story, and although neither a date nor a place is given, the following quote speaks of a time when Girvan must have already taken over the editorship of FSR:
It was just by chance that I met Waveney Girvan. I remember how I had been discussing some small official matter with a colleague, when to my surprise I saw a copy of the Flying Saucer Review among some papers on his desk Surprise indeed, for that particular gentleman was a sceptic if ever there was one! ‘When he learned that I had been a regular reader of the Review since 1955, my colleague observed that it was high time I met the editor. My expression must have betrayed that I expected a leg-pull, for he hastened to add that the editor of the Review had at one time published a book for him."Small official matter" has the feel of a workplace discussion, and the colleague was almost certainly someone Bowen worked with at the South African Embassy. Waveney Girvan's publishing days had resulted in the publication of hundreds of books under a variety of imprints (Westaway Books, Carroll & Nicholson, T. Werner Laurie). But back to Bowen:
He was as good as his word: Waveney accepted his invitation, and we spent two convivial hours discussing every aspect of the flying saucer mystery.The above was written by Charles Bowen following the untimely premature death of Waveney Girvan who had been only 56 years old. It seems fitting to pause the Flying Saucer Review story and pick up the Waveney Girvan story for a moment, as there is one mystery about Girvan that has yet to be resolved.
It was a wonderful evening for me, for I had long been an admirer of Waveney’s work, particularly after he had taken over as Editor of the Review in 1959. When it was time to go, I was delighted to find that our guest and I had to catch the same train from Waterloo!
That was a few years ago, and since that day we travelled together much of the time . . . until August this year.
From the general viewpoint of Odhams Press, and the four titles published by the Juvenile Publications department, Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin in particular, the previous few years had been tough. The original Eagle publisher had been bought out twice times: in 1959 when Lord Hulton had sold the papers to Odhams Press, who continued them under their Longacre Press imprint, and again in 1961 when the Mirror Group bought out Odhams. The four periodicals had also been obliged to move lock, stock and drawing-board twice. The first move – admittedly not all that far – from the main Hulton House building to an extension at the rear known simply as “The Annex”, and, two years later, a rather more major relocation almost a mile to the west . . . to 96 Longacre.
Charles Bowen speaks of Waveney Girvan as having been “a chartered accountant, a distinguished author, a successful publisher, founder and chairman of the West Country Writers' Association, literary executor to the estate of Eden Phillpotts, an inventor, an latterly, a top executive of a great publishing house”. It is a relatively easy task to establish the truth of all of these statements, as indeed we did for the most in an earlier chapter. His credits as an inventor include a series of patents for improved methods of united the ends of metal band straps and making pipe joints. The latter claim is still something of a mystery.
For much of the 1950s, Girvan had been chief editor for T Werner Laurie at No 1, Doughty Street, London WC1. It is not known just when he left Laurie, but they were known as a publisher of risqué titles and, in May 1954, T. Werner Laurie, the printer Northumberland press and author Mrs. Kathryn Dyson-Taylor all pleaded guilty to publishing an obscene book, Julia.
Werner Laurie's former editor and director Gordon Greenfield and Alan Palmer Caldicott, director of the printers, pleaded not guilty (although he changed his plea on one summons in court). Publisher, printer, authoress Taylor and managing director Caldicott were all fined; Greenfield was found guilty on one summons and discharged absolutely on payment of five guineas costs.
In June 1955, there was more embarrassment for T. Werner Laurie when Alfonso Barda, a Tripoli businessman was able to prove that he had been libelled in the book Guns, Drugs and Deserters, published in 1954. Barda also successfully sued Odhams over an article that had appeared in John Bull.
There is a possibility that Girvan joined Odhams Press at around the same time that he took over the editorship of FSR. In the late 1950s, Girvan had moved to The Oast House, Dogmersfield, Basingstoke, Hampshire, but was still commuting into London in the early 1960s, as recalled by Charles Bowen.
For the staff of Juvenile Publications, the on-going interference by the higher-ups in the Mirror Group's own juvenile publications department, had been unnerving. Privately it had been deemed advisable to keep one’s head down, speak to no-one you didn’t know and just get on with the job you’d been given.
Into this environment came Waveney Girvan. A "new boy” himself, he had been allocated a small, obscure office to the rear of one being occupied by the editorial staff of Girl magazine. In that room were Chief Sub-Editor Shirley Dean, Sub-Editors Anne Littlefield and Linda Wheway, and Designer Roger Perry. Girvan’s comings and goings from that back room had – for at least a year – been acknowledged with little more than a “Good morning” or a “Good night”, but due to his quiet unobtrusive manner, his austere attire of black jacket, striped trousers of narrow grey and black, neatly rolled umbrella and a bowler hat, plus the fact that he often only appeared once or twice a week . . . well, he was not someone who one really wanted to know. It was assumed that he had something to do with accountancy. It was only when Juvenile Publications was forcibly relocated to the Old Daily Herald building in Longacre in November 1963 – Girvan having been relocated along with everyone else – that he began to be accepted as not being a spy from the dreaded Daily Mirror camp after all.
For Charles Bowen, this re-location to Longacre suited him admirably, for not only was it now little more than a ten-minute walk away from his place of work, but that the three people he most wanted to see – Albert Cosser (Sub-editor of Boys’ World), Dan Lloyd (Chief Sub-Editor of Eagle) and Waveney Girvan (Editor of Flying Saucer Review) – all had offices just yards away from each other. It was particularly perfect as Bowen was in the process of providing the recently-launched Boys’ World comic with a series of sporting scripts.
While calling in to deliver the latest script, it would have been a simple matter of walking just four offices down the corridor to call in and pass the time of day with Girvan. But this had been almost an unnecessary exercise . . . as Bowen’s obituary on Girvan explains:
For me, the drudgery of London commuting vanished from the time I met Waveney Girvan. Ufology was certainly not our only topic of conversation, but at times it was the most exciting one. And amusing too when we considered the evasive antics of authority, and the stuffiness of sceptics! Well I remember the "kick" we had from Aimé Michel's letter and article about Vauriat, and the discovery of global orthoteny. I remember too how proud Waveney was of the new-look cover which appeared on the May-June issue of 1963, an issue which he considered one of the best ever – until others even better came along! Perhaps the most exciting time of all was at the height of the Charlton crater affair, which culminated in Waveney's debunking of "Dr." Randall. I'll always treasure the memories of those evenings in the train.Girvan himself recalled 1960, 1961 and 1962 as "particularly dark".
As far as general interest was concerned, the saucers might as well have disappeared from our skies. While it was true that local reports kept coming in, the public got it into their heads that the subject was indeed nonsensical and that it was nothing more than an out-of-date newspaper stunt. Thanks to the Charlton Crater mystery of 1963, and despite officialdom's attempt (unsuccessful as it happened) to write it off in terms of a meteorite, and other efforts made by exhibitionists to jump on the bandwaggon, the public began to resume an interest in UFOs. The particular issue in which the Review dealt with the Charlton Crater quickly sold out although we had ordered a larger than usual number of copies. This brought in a healthy increase in readership. There is really only one thing that brings us a larger circulation and that is publicity in the press. How can one expect large numbers of new readers if the general public has been brainwashed into believing that saucers do not exist?Aimé Michel was a former teacher and radio journalist, born in St. Vincent-les-Forts in 1919 to a modest farming family. He had suffered from childhood polio which left him with lifelong physical effects, his lower limbs being stunted, although he overcame his handicap by undertaking difficult mountain climbs during his youth. Michel published two early books on flying saucers, amongst the first in France, entitled Lueurs sur les soucoupes volantes (1954) and Mystérieux objects célestes (1958).
When Girvan and the entire Juvenile Publications staff moved to Longacre in November 1963, he brought with him a secretary, Margaret ("Madge") Harman. For reasons not explained, Madge was given desk space in an office already occupied by Eagle’s Chief Sub-Editor Dan Lloyd and Eagle designer Brian (Benny) Green. Madge Harman was a closet ‘psychic’.
An example of her extraordinary sixth sense came to light when one of Lloyd’s drinking pals called into the office late one morning to find out if Dan was free for lunch. In those days, Lloyd would regularly meet with five friends from all walks of life; on this occasion, Lloyd introduced Harman to his flatmate Peter Henderson, and as they shook hands, Harman had suddenly gone quiet and in a disheartened voice had murmured: “Oh dear, you’ve had some bad news this morning . . . I’m so sorry.”
Lloyd had no idea what she was talking about; shortly after, Henderson admitted that, just that morning, he had received a letter from his fiancée in Paris with news that she was breaking off their engagement. The letter had been tucked away in Henderson’s inside jacket pocket.
Through a mixture of visits by Charles Bowen and the flow of conversations and information between the secretary and her boss, Dan Lloyd’s interest in the paranormal was steadily rising. Lloyd not only become well-acquainted with the editor of Flying Saucer Review but, when he went on holiday, he took with him Girvan’s book Flying Saucers and Common Sense, written nine years earlier.
Part way through – in chapter four - Lloyd was suddenly brought up with a start; that chapter included a personal letter written by Earl Mountbatten in 1950 and sent to the editor of the Sunday Dispatch. Girvan commented that this letter had followed an earlier article concerning a wave of UFO sightings in America, particularly of one seen in the town of Orangeburg. The letter said:
These extraordinary things have now been seen in almost every part of the world – Scandinavia, North America, South America, Central Europe, etc. Reports are always appearing and the newspapers generally try to ridicule them. As a result it is difficult for any seriously interested person to find out very much about them. I should therefore like to congratulate you on having had both the intelligence (and, incidentally, the courage) to print the first serious helpful article which I have read on the Flying Saucers. I have read most other accounts up to date, and can candidly say yours interested me the most.Lloyd could hardly wait to return to his place of work so that he could confirm this story—because it was to Lloyd, who, as a 19-year-old stationed aboard HMS Liverpool, that Mountbatten had dictated the letter.
Astounded, Girvan bore Lloyd off to his club near Whitehall where, Lloyd found himself obliged to make a hasty, impromptu talk in front of a large gathering of dedicated followers and believers, verifying Girvan's claim over Mountbatten's interest in the flying saucer question.
(* The photograph of Waveney Girvan is from Flying Saucer Review v.10 no.6, 1964.)