UFO Drawings from the National Archives


Arts & Culture

The National Archives AIR 2/18961. Painting of a UFO spotted on 18 January 1975, near Birmingham. Later identified as satellites Zond 4 and Cosmos 460.

With its origins in the aftermath of World War II, belief in extraterrestrial visitations has grown into one of the most widespread and persistent of modern mysteries. As one measure of its impact on British society, a 1998 opinion survey for the Daily Mail found that one third of the UK’s population believed that “extraterrestrial life has already visited Earth.” Of these, 2 percent (1.26 million people) claim to have seen a UFO or had direct experience of alien visitation.

In conspiracy culture, stories circulate telling of UFO crashes, government cover-ups, and secret agreements between the U.S. military and alien intelligences. In the UK some believe the Ministry of Defense (MoD) operate a “secret army against the aliens” and employ special agents—the legendary Men in Black or MIB—to silence witnesses and remove hard evidence of UFO visitations. But in 2007, after decades of stonewalling questions about its UFO investigations, the MoD announced that it had decided to proactively release all its surviving files. This was, it said, to counter “the maze of rumor and frequently ill-informed speculation” that surrounded their role in this subject. In recognition of the fact that there was public interest in the content of their archives, thousands of pages of formerly secret documents were scanned and uploaded to the Internet. Only a small amount of information was “redacted” to remove names and addresses of people who had reported sightings and, occasionally, secret information that might harm national security if released. These are some examples of what was contained in those files, sent in by citizens to report their sightings. 

The National Archives DEFE 24/1983/1. The “Solway Spaceman” photograph taken by Jim Templeton in Cumbria, May 1964.

One of the most mysterious images in the MoD files is a color photograph of a little girl, holding a bunch of flowers as a space-suited figure looms behind her head. The photograph was taken by a Carlisle fireman, Jim Templeton, of his five-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, on a family day out in May 1964. Jim and his family saw nothing unusual at the time, as they enjoyed the wild scenery of Burgh Marsh, in northern Cumbria. But when he collected the processed film the shop assistant said, “That’s a marvelous photograph, but it’s rather spoilt by the big man behind her!” When Jim took a closer look he was amazed to find that on one of the prints, standing just behind his daughter’s head, was a large figure dressed like an astronaut in a white suit with a dark visor. Jim sent the negatives for scrutiny to Kodak and the Cumbrian police. Both said the image had not been tampered with. After the story was featured in the Cumberland News, Jim’s photograph was republished in newspapers as far away as Australia. Hundreds of letters arrived from across the world at the Templeton household, many offering esoteric explanations for the “Solway Spaceman.” Jim was also visited by two mysterious men dressed in black suits and bowler hats, who drove a brand new black Jaguar and asked to see where the photograph was taken. They referred to each other by numbers and said they were from “the Ministry.” But the surviving RAF and MoD files that mention the “Solway Spaceman” do not provide any clues to the identity of the strange figure in the photograph. Over the years, the case became a cause célèbres in UFOlogy and the image has been featured in many TV programs, books, and articles. Jim died in 2011 at the age of ninety-one with the mystery unsolved. His last words on the subject were “It is up to you to draw your own conclusions. I am sure someone out there knows what it was and where it was from.” 

The National Archives DEFE 24/1206. One of a group of drawings of a UFO seen by school children at Upton Priory Junior School, in Macclesfield, October 1977.


The National Archives DEFE 24/1206. One of a group of drawings of a UFO seen by school children at Upton Priory Junior School, in Macclesfield, October 1977.

The release of the science-fiction film Star Wars in 1977 coincided with a wave of UFO sightings across the UK. So many reports were made in West Wales that tabloids began to refer to part of the Pembrokeshire coast as “the Broad Haven Triangle,” after the notorious Bermuda Triangle. One spectacular sighting was reported in February by a group of ten- and eleven-year-old children at Broad Haven Primary School who told their teachers a flying saucer had landed in the playground at lunchtime. Some of the boys said they had spotted a tall man dressed in a silver spacesuit standing beside the UFO. Then one afternoon in October, ten Cheshire children, aged seven to eleven, saw an elliptical object hovering in trees beside the playground of Upton Priory Junior School in Macclesfield, before it rose and vanished. Their teacher asked them to draw what they had seen, separating them to ensure that no copying took place. The children used pencils and colored crayons to produce the images. Their teacher passed the drawings to PC Jones of Cheshire Police, who sent them to Air Traffic Control at Preston and the MoD. He said, “There is a remarkable similarity in these sketches with regard to the UFO and its location between two trees.”

The National Archives DEFE 24/1206 Pen sketch of a UFO leaving Saturn en route to Earth, June 26, 1977

Some people see UFOs more than once and believe they are in telepathic contact with the pilots of these “craft.” In 1977, a correspondent from Stockport in Cheshire sent a series of letters to the UFO desk telling of his sightings of flying saucers from Saturn. He enclosed a pen sketch of one UFO leaving the ringed planet en route to Earth. “At approx. 1 am on June 26 I observed [a] UFO hovering low above and near to flats in which I live,” he explained. “I observed the UFO from inside the flat … This object was blacked out except for a flashing spark-like white light. I intercepted the UFO using telepathy, upon doing so the [it] took immediate evasive action. I have reason to believe the object to be Soviet, although the UFO did acknowledge telepathic transmission by transmitting ring type mental picture similar to those used by UFOs identified as Drep spacecraft—indicating [a] UFO from planet Saturn.”

The National Archives DEFE24/1513. UFO seen in North Yorkshire, October 15, 1981.

A motorist from Leeds, Yorkshire, sent this sketch attached to a letter: “At about 2.45 on the morning of October 15 I was driving south along the A1 near RAF Leeming when what I can only describe as a UFO nearly landed on the A1 just in front of me. As I was driving I had noticed a red light in the sky getting nearer and nearer very quickly. At first I thought it must be a plane but as it got closer I was startled to see what appeared to be a flying parallelogram with red and white lights set diagonally. I then saw two white lights as it tilted … I dipped my headlights, it just hovered [and] getting a bit startled, I put the car headlights on, it very slowly veered to its right, my left, directly overhead at very low height and vanished in a field behind some trees.” The driver heard no noise and was certain it was not a plane, glider, or balloon. Wing Commander Barrett of RAF Leeming checked and found there was no military aircraft flying in the vicinity of Leeming at the time.

The National Archives DEFE24/1999. Drawing of a UFO producing a crop circle, November 1998.

This drawing of a UFO producing a crop circle was sent to Secretariat Air Staff 2 (the UFO desk) in November 1998 from a correspondent in Oxfordshire. His letter said, “I have developed contact with these craft and their energy forces but unfortunately the designs I am perceiving are too complex for me to draw … these include anti-gravitational fields that allow the craft to access time.” In her response the desk officer, Kerry Philpott, said, “There is no evidence to suggest that crop circles are caused by anything of military concern and the MoD does not, therefore, investigate reported sightings or carry out any research into them.”

The National Archives DEFE24/1967. UFOs seen near Smethwick, September 1954.

A letter from Warley, West Midlands, addressed to the MoD, dated June 9, 1994: “Over the past 40 years I have sighted many UFOs all of which I have found both interesting and puzzling … Of course over this period of time I have formed an opinion as to the origin of [these] objects.” The letter was accompanied by two drawings, one depicting an object sighted over Smethwick in August 1954 that “appeared to be all of one piece as if cast instead of built.” The letter added, “There are others including ball of light objects, one of which gave a fantastic display of speed … but for now I would be obliged if you would study my reports and let me have an answer.” In appearance it resembles the flying saucer “scoutship” photographed by the Polish-American contactee George Adamski, who claimed to have taken trips to Venus and Saturn as a guest of friendly, angelic aliens in 1952. Images of the Venusian scoutship first appeared in his best-selling 1953 book Flying Saucers Have Landed, cowritten with Desmond Leslie.

Dr. David Clarke is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. His research interests include investigative journalism, contemporary legends and rumors. Since 2008 he has worked with The National Archives during the release of UFO files created by the Ministry of Defense.

Excerpted from UFO Drawings From The National Archive by David Clarke. Copyright © 2018 by David Clarke. Published by arrangement with Four Corners Books UK.