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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Men Behind the Flying Saucer Review


A couple of introductory remarks are necessary. The article that follows, which begins serialisation over the next couple of days, arose out of discussions I had with its author, Roger Perry, about the author Charles Bowen. Roger had very kindly taken some time to interview his former colleague Dan Lloyd, the results of which were published here a few weeks ago. Knowing Dan's connections with the Flying Saucer Review, I was interested in learning more about the FSR's former editor, Charles Bowen, who contributed features to Boys' World, which I was indexing at the time—the resulting book was published in September. Roger also knew Bowen's name from his time on Countdown, where Roger was art editor and Bowen a contributor.

Information on Bowen proved to be a little elusive but his career provided a fascinating thread through the publishing history of the Flying Saucer Review / FSR, and Roger has used this thread to take a look at some of the other people who helped put together the magazine, the first magazine of its kind to study the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in a serious and objective way.

So, while we've added only a little to our knowledge of Bowen's freelance career, we hope that you'll enjoy a rather fascinating journey through the history of the FSR. I'll now hand you over to Roger...


Although the subject of this biography centres around the extraordinarily competent Charles Bowen, due to parallel events enacted by other key persons – plus his interaction with some of them throughout the latter half of his life – they too have been brought in to this most unusual story, a story during which certain world governments have attempted to place a lid on the very existence of those things that we commonly refer to collectively as Unidentified Flying Objects.


Charles Arthur Bowen was born in St. Olave, Bermondsey, London, on Saturday, 21 September 1918. His father, Charles Frederick Bowen (1891-1977), had married Annie Gurden (1892-1970) at St. Anne’s Church, Bermondsey, on 29 July 1915 and over the next few years had four children. Charles senior’s father, Charles Richard Bowen (1861-1945), had been an artistic print colourist living in south London districts of Camberwell and Lambeth. The last publicly available census records (1911) reveal that Charles Frederick Bowen, the fifth of ten children, was still living in the family home – then at 74 Patmos Road in North Brixton – and was working as a clerk for the Manchester Book Cloth Co. The 17-year-old Charles had joined the territorial army and served four years with the 21st Batallion London Regiment until 1913.

Other than that he grew up in the Wandsworth area of London, little is known about Charles Bowen’s early life. He had three younger siblings, of whom brother Derek died as a child. His sisters, twins Marjorie and Olive, were ten years younger and were evacuated at the outbreak of the Second World War. Bowen was serving in Norway with the Welsh Fusiliers when it fell to the Germans and his family, whose London home had been destroyed by German bombs, heard nothing for a while. The appearance of a young telegraph boy at their door did nothing to quell their fears until the telegram was read: “In Scotland. Broke. Please wire £5”. Bowen also served in Sierra Leone and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant in Intelligence, working on radio and radar.

Bowen had married Helen Williams in November 1940 and a son, Michael, was born in 1942. She spent part of the war in Chichester with her in-laws after an unexploded bomb under her London home sent her seeking alternative accommodation. Bowen eventually had four children, including Pauline, born in 1948, who in adult life became a competent artist, following in her mother’s footsteps as she was an artist.

For his remaining working life, Bowen was employed as a cashier in the Finance Department of the South African Embassy. It is likely, therefore, that at some point, he must have had some form of training as an accountant.

Sitting in front of his accounts books, it might first appear that Bowen’s major interest outside of work was as a feature writer. It is not known when he began putting pen to paper but it is said that, during the 1950s, a variety of sporting articles had begun appearing in the popular boys’ comic Eagle.

Aside from writing, Bowen had a growing fascination for gathering everything he possibly could on a phenomena that was creeping into newspapers throughout the Fifties despite the efforts of some to suppress information—UFO sightings. The most widely-known of these curious incidents was the alleged crash-landing of an alien craft in 1947. It happened near Roswell in New Mexico and its shrouded concealment had ultimately generated a mini-industry of publications suggesting a government cover-up.

But it was another strange, unearthly happening – at around that same time but closer to home – that had been the catalyst in unearthing Bowen’s ultimately long-lasting interest.

Although first seen on February 26th by Finish observers, it was between the months of May and December of 1946 – mainly over Sweden but witnessed by inhabitants of several neighbouring counties also – this ten-month-long mystery had gone under the auspicious banner of “Ghost Rockets”. Around 2,000 sightings were logged (about 10% having been confirmed by RADAR) with peaks of activity on the 9th and 11th of August.

It was further claimed that authorities had been able to recover physical fragments that were attributed to these “ghost rockets”. Investigation concluded that many “ghost rocket” sightings had probably been caused by meteors particularly as the 9th to 11th August period had dovetailed very nicely with the annual peak of the Perseid meteor shower. However, most of the “ghost rocket” sightings had not occurred during the activity of the precisely-scheduled meteor shower and nor did they display the normal characteristics consistent with the falling of meteors.

Even at this early stage, Bowens’ personal belief had been that these visitors were not from an alien world ... but possibly from a parallel dimension to the one we currently live in.

This story needs to temporarily take a break, so let us allow Charles Bowen to labour away at balancing his books while we take a look at a number of other players in this game, the first of them an ex-Royal Air Force World War II fighter pilot called Derek Dempster, whom we shall meet tomorrow.

(* The photo of the five editors of Flying Saucer Review is from the FSR website; the photo of Charles Bowen comes from the UFO*BC website, which also sells CDs of old interviews, including one with Bowen recorded in 1968.)

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