Alternative 3

Alternative 3

"Alternative 3" is a television programme, broadcast once only in the United Kingdom in 1977, and later broadcast in New Zealand, as a fictional hoax, an heir to Orson Welles' radio production of "The War of the Worlds". Purporting to be an investigation into Britain's contemporary "brain drain," "Alternative 3" uncovered a plan to make the moon and Mars habitable in the event of a terminal environmental catastrophe on Earth.

The programme was originally meant to be broadcast on April Fools Day, 1977. While its broadcast was delayed until June by industrial action, the credits explicitly date the film to April 1st. "Alternative 3" ended with credits for the actors involved in the production and featured interviews with a fictitious American astronaut. However, some conspiracy theory supporters have argued "Alternative 3" is at least partly true.


In the late 1970s the UK's Anglia Television ran a weekly science series, "Science Report". The final episode of the series was due to have been broadcast on April 1st, and as the series was not due to be recommissioned, the production team decided to produce a spoof edition for April Fool's Day, which was duly written by Chris Miles and David Ambrose but retained the series' format and presenter. Music was supplied by Brian Eno, a portion of his score being released on the 1978 album "Music for Films".

The episode began by detailing the so-called "brain drain:" a number of mysterious disappearances and deaths of physicists, engineers, astronomers, and others in related fields. Among the strange deaths reported was that of one "Professor Ballantine" of Jodrell Bank. Before his death, Ballantine delivers a videotape to an academic friend, but when viewed on an ordinary videotape machine the only result is radio static.

According to the research presented in the episode, it was hypothesized that the missing scientists were involved in a secret American/Soviet plan in outer space, and further suggested that interplanetary space travel had been possible for much longer than was commonly accepted. The episode featured an Apollo astronaut — the fictional "Bob Grodin," played by Shane Rimmer — who claims to have stumbled on a mysterious lunar base during his moonwalk.

It was claimed that scientists had determined that the Earth's surface would be unable to support life for much longer, due to pollution leading to catastrophic climate change. It was proposed that there were three alternatives to this problem: the first involved the detonation of nuclear bombs in the stratosphere in order to allow the pollution to escape. The second alternative was the construction of an elaborate underground city, a solution reminiscent of the finale of "Dr Strangelove". The third alternative, the so-called "Alternative 3," was to populate Mars via a way station on the Moon.

The programme ends with some detective work; acting on information from Grodin, the reporters determine that Ballantine's videotape requires a special decoding device. After locating such a device, the resulting video turns out to depict a landing on the Martian surface — in 1962! As Russian and American voices excitedly celebrate their achievement, "something" stirs beneath the Martian soil...


As with Welles' earlier radio production, and the subsequent BBC drama "Ghostwatch", "Alternative 3" provoked controversy, with many viewers unprepared for its convincing presentation and deadpan tone. Further confusion was caused by the fact that Science Report was normally a respected and unsensationalist programme with a solid following, and its misplaced transmission date. The ITV and Anglia Television switchboards were jammed by worried callers, and several newspapers ran front-page stories around the reaction to the hoax.

The programme's environmental catastrophism comprised a mixture of global warming and then-popular warnings of an impending ice age, both of which were high in the public consciousness at the time [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008] . The dark conspiracy theory appealed to an increasingly skeptical generation which was starting to take the Apollo moon landing hoax accusations more seriously.

Shortly after "Alternative 3" was broadcast, Anglia Television issued a statement that the "Alternative 3" episode was a hoax. Conspiracy theorists suggested that the British government forced Anglia Television to issue this statement.


In 1978, Leslie Watkins wrote a book, "Alternative 3", based on the screenplay for the television episode. Watkins had previously written a few moderately successful "suspense thriller" novels, and his "Alternative 3" novelization detailed many of the claims presented in the episode. It was published by Sphere Books Ltd, of Grays's Inn Road, London.

Jim Keith's "Casebook on Alternative 3: Ufo's, Secret Societies and World Control" argues that some elements of the 1977 broadcast were in fact true.

Ken Mitchell's "Alternative 3" (Harper Collins) uses the Alternative 3 scenario as a background to a techo thriller []

Conspiracy Theories

"Alternative 3" proposed that Mars had abundant water "locked up in its soil" and that this water could be utilized by human colonists. Critics of "Alternative 3"'s actuality note that Mars' atmospheric pressure is so low that liquid water at Mars' surface would boil away within minutes. Supporters argue that the water being "locked up in the soil" might be deposited water protected from such effects.

Some expanded accounts, including Milton William Cooper's, are similar to fanon, and state that one of the rejected alternatives was the "elimination" of vast segments of the populace, presumably by some form of biowarfare — in the minds of some conspiracy theorists, this equates to AIDS or some other unknown plague.

Another source of conspiracy material was the fact that the programme was never transmitted in the USA - with some claiming it had been censored by the government. Pirate versions of the programme began circulating UFO theorist networks across the USA, first via video tapes and BBS systems, and later through the Internet. Many of these fan-made versions have been heavily edited to add weight to other prevalent conspiracy theories, often including Biblical references and side notes from other sources.


Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that "Alternative 3" was an utter fiction comes from Nick Austin, who was editorial director of Sphere Books when Watkins' adaptation was commissioned and published. Austin writes that the book was the "best chance I’d ever be likely to get to participate in a hoax of truly Guy Grand proportions — the best thing of its kind since Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' radio broadcast."

Furthermore, Austin writes that he was both delighted and disturbed by the "Alternative 3" controversy, and adds that the reasons "a clever hoax, openly admitted to be such by its creators, should continue to exercise the fascination it so obviously does the best part of a generation after its first appearance is beyond my feeble powers of analysis and explanation." [ [ Fortean Times Magazine | Articles | ] ]

An article by Loy Lawhon reports that "everyone involved with the Alternative 3 documentary admits that it was fiction(.)" []

One unsourced account reports that the producers of "Alternative 3" "announced that the entire thing had been a joke." [ [ Alternative Three ] ]

A more detailed explanation of the hoax is featured in a study of conspiracy theory subculture and literature, "Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America" (2003), wherein Michael Barkun devotes a few pages to "Alternative 3".

Barkun writes that "Alternative 3" was clearly a hoax — and not only because it was intended for broadcast on April Fools Day. The interviews with supposed scientists, astronauts, and others were far too dramatically polished to have been spontaneous, and in any case, the episode's closing credits named the actors who took the roles of interviewees and correspondents. Though artfully produced, the show's counterfeit documentary style could scarcely have been expected to fool many. As an Anglia TV spokeseman put it, 'We felt viewers would be fairly sophisticated about it.'"

Bakun notes that television and newspapers were "swamped" with inquiries about "Alternative 3" and that Anglia Television's sale of the book rights to Leslie Watkins caused the tale to spread far beyond the United Kingdom.

A letter reportedly written by Watkins, however, states that "So, summing up, the book is FICTION BASED ON FACT. But I now feel that I inadvertently got VERY CLOSE TO A SECRET TRUTH." [ [ Alternative 3 DVD ] ]


Bakun notes that "Alternative 3" and the intermittent availability of Watkins' book "lent itself to conspiracist interpretations," and though "Alternative 3" did not mention UFOs or extraterrestrials, many of the plans mentioned in "Alternative 3" have been featured in later assorted conspiracy theories. Bakun argues that "Alternative 3" was important in that its "role in the growth of conspiracy theory lay in a later permutation" related to UFOs and the UFO conspiracy theory. Milton William Cooper, for one, featured similar tales in some of his writings.

An episode of "Dimension X" featured a plot very similar to the later "Alternative 3": On the 14 July 1950 episode "The Man In the Moon", an employee of the fictional United States "Bureau of Missing Persons" overhears a radio broadcast from a man who claims to be held prisoner on the moon. The employee investigates, and uncovers the kidnapping of many persons, including scientists and engineers, who are then forced to toil on the moon by German overseers, who had colonized the moon in the late 1930s, and who are preparing an invasion and takeover of the earth. In turn, the movie "Iron Sky" also tells the story of Nazi moon bases and a planned Earth invasion.

Liverpool doom metal band Anathema's 1998 album "Alternative 4" was also named after the programme.

The novel Stark by Ben Elton features a conspiracy of the rich and powerful to escape a doomed Earth which is very similar to that depicted in "Alternative 3".

DVD release

The film was released on DVD in October 2007, together with a 30 minute featurette with presenter Tim Brinton and writers David Ambrose and Christopher Miles who also directed Alternative 3, a production stills gallery and contemporary press cuttings.



External links

* [ Alternative3] at the Internet Movie Database

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